BUSINESS AND ART: BEYOND THE LENS OF AN NYC PHOTOGRAPHER
January 12, 2022
My guest for today is an incredible photographer based in New York City. You may have seen some of her work with me on my Instagram feed as I have been so lucky to have been photographed by her! So, I asked if I could interview her for my podcast!
Tune in to this episode to know more about Sophie Sahara! We talk about how she began growing her photography career, shooting for big brands and personalities. She also shares with us who her biggest influences were in terms of balancing the artistic and business sides of being a freelance photographer. Get to know her and more in this episode of the High Functioning Hotspot!
[00:00:00] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Hi everybody. It's me, Dr. Chloe Carmichael, Clinical Psychologist, author, and your host of the High-Functioning Hotspot, where I get to interview interesting high functioning people and learn about how they do what they do. And today's guest is Sophie Sahara. She's an incredible photographer. And when I say incredible, I really mean incredible as she's young and talented.
[00:00:24] Already shooting for big brands with a million plus followers. I had the opportunity to actually be shot by Sophie. And I was so impressed by her, not only for her talent, but her personality and her business drive and her level of organization and frankly hustle. And so I asked her if she would let me interview her for the High-Functioning Hotspot. She said, yes. So without further ado, here is Sophie Sahara.
[00:00:52] So Sophie, it is truly an honor to just chat with you. I watch your Instagram and it is really inspiring. I'm not an artist but the images that you capture. I have to say I admire them so much. And as you know, I saw you on Instagram and I admired your work so much that I actually reached out to you.
[00:01:18] And I said, Hey, would you take my picture? And I was so impressed by the whole experience because I think a lot of people who are good at art maybe they're not always necessarily so good at communication and organizing and getting their work out there and all that other stuff.
[00:01:38] So if you don't mind sharing, Sophie. Because my show is about high functioning people. People who can juggle multiple balls well. Can you tell us about your path? And when I say us, I mean, my listeners and me.
[00:01:54] Sophie Sahara: Well, thank you so much for the kind words. That's so sweet of you to say, and I really appreciate it. Yeah. It's hard to quite say how I found myself in the situation where I balance both business and artistic endeavors. I think it really came from my parents. My father, he was in film and production design, so that was sort of the artistic side. And my mother's always been in communications and very type A, so I got that sort of business side from her.
[00:02:26] And I think those two parts sort of influence who I am today and how I go on as a photographer. So you were saying what was your question about the journey?
[00:02:36] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah. So, but I want to pause though, because it's so funny that you went to your parents, because that was literally one of the questions that I had is like, who are this young person's parents and how did they support or inspire you?
[00:02:51] So it's interesting that your dad was on the video side, video production, and then your mom was on communications. And I mean, really Sophie, I don't know all of your stats. I haven't been totally stalking you. Like I've seen on some of your Instagram, like not only are they beautiful pictures, but then I click on who were you shooting for?
[00:03:14] Who was the account? And these are accounts with like a million plus followers. These are big high fashion brands and companies. There's a lot of people that have great skills and they're organized but they're not able to connect into those kinds of spheres. So do you mind sharing, like how you went from being Sophie, a girl with an art degree to how did you break the barrier and start getting into those brands? Like the first few times.
[00:03:47] Sophie Sahara: I appreciate that. It's funny hearing you say that. Cause I hear that and I still feel like I have so much further that I want to go as well. When I moved to New York, I moved here for my MFA and I had just graduated with my Bachelor's in Arts. I had done theater as my background and I knew I wanted to do photography because throughout my arts degree, I was always shooting kind of on the sides.
[00:04:13] All of my extracurricular time was spent doing photography. So I moved to New York to pursue my MFA in Fine Art Photography. And while I was here, I think I was just so excited about the city and the opportunities. And I started shooting with bloggers just for fun. I was so excited that all the people I had followed for years lived here, like it was happening here.
[00:04:35] And through that I feel like that was pretty much my entryway into working with bigger brands, because as I was shooting with these bloggers, they had connects to these brands and we would produce a campaign quite collaboratively. You've worked with me. I'm quite collaborative in the way that I work.
[00:04:51] It's not “my way or the highway'', it's let's work together to create something beautiful. And I think because of that, that's kind of helped me work with brands and kind of get me more of an in.
[00:05:04] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: So, the reason I'm asking is [because] for example from my side, a lot of people will say, “Chloe, how do you get on TV?”
[00:05:12] And once you've been on TV a few times, you've what they call “broken the TV barrier”. And then stations start calling you cause they see you on TV. They know you can handle yourself on TV and there you go. But the question is, how did you get it in the first place. And I don't think my listeners are necessarily trying to figure out how to shoot for big brands per se, but I think we're all interested in people that are able to figure out that little piece of that hustle of how did you break through?
[00:05:44] So you moved to New York and you started shooting bloggers that you admired. Did you just reach out to them proactively and say, “Hey, can I give you a complimentary shoot? I admire you.”
[00:05:57] Sophie Sahara: Exactly, exactly. That's exactly the way it went. And it is quite hard to start shooting for free and then transition into a paid space.
[00:06:05] Like that's something that a lot of artists find challenging. But it did help me create those connections and create that network. So that by the time I graduated with my masters, I stayed in New York and I said like, “Oh, let me just see. If I can work freelance, great.” And I've been working freelance ever since. So I hadn't really realized that I'd built a network by doing that throughout my degree.
[00:06:31] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: That's beautiful. So it kind of happened underneath you through your own natural passion and taking advantage of the opportunity as an MFA student. It kind of gave you that in. That's one thing I suggest to a lot of people that are in any way early career that are thinking of, how they can grow is I'm like “You're in a limited window of opportunity where you can hit LinkedIn and ask people for informational interviews and they'll say, yes because you're a student or you're young.” So you took advantage of that window.
[00:07:05] Sophie Sahara: Definitely. And something that always would say to myself especially when I was in my earlier days trying to figure out if really what was for me was just about what you put out there and what you get back. So when I started off in theater, I had grown up thinking I was going to become an actor. That's what I had my sight set on. I had all the ego wrapped up in it. I loved it so much. But I put it out there and I wasn't getting the kind of feedback I wanted or the kind of response I wanted.
[00:07:35] But once I shifted into photography, it all changed. So everything I put back, I got everything I put out there. I got back tenfold.
[00:07:44] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: That's awesome.
[00:07:45] Sophie Sahara: Finding the right fit.
[00:07:47] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah. So you were adaptable. I always just like in the High Functioning Hotspot, I like to just really highlight what helped you to thrive?
[00:07:57] So you had one thought that you conceived of as a child, right. Without understanding so much about how the world works and you said, “Oh, it'd be fun to be a movie star, a broadway star” or whatever. And then as you started getting more information about what that world and that path would be like as well as the level of uncertainty within that path.
[00:08:20] And then you said, “Okay. Well, I'm not sure that's for me”. And you are willing and able to adapt and then find some other way to make that happen for yourself. So that is awesome.
[00:08:32] Sophie Sahara: And it's funny how when I look at photography and the kind of career that I have and would like to have, I see so many of my favorite elements of theater are in my photography practice. Like the collaboration, working as a team, creating something like creating art. Almost hosting a show on set. There's so many elements that I feel translate between the two.
[00:09:00] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Totally. I mean, you're conveying relationships and storytellings, and the moment before, like conveying all of that with people.
[00:09:10] Sophie Sahara: Definitely, when we were shooting together, I feel like there were a few times where we were kind of getting into it. I was trying to see what I could pull out of you. Like with some moods we were talking books were talking about things that were important to you to sort of elicit that and almost to get you in that Headspace.
[00:09:28] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: You know what I meant to do? I'm sorry?
[00:09:30] Sophie Sahara: I said as if you're in character.
[00:09:33] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Totally, totally. And I hope I do get to shoot with you again, because what I meant to do, which I did not do, I did as much preparation as I could, but if I prepared more to your point about pulling out different moods from people because as a psychologist, that's oftentimes what I'm trying to do too, is suppose that I'm talking to somebody that is trying to deal with their anger management problems, but they come and they talk to me and they're kind of in their normal self.
[00:10:02] I wanna get at who they are when they're angry. So that I can help them. I don't want to make them angry. But so, but what I was thinking I could do if I shoot with you again, is I was thinking I might also even like print out a bunch of my different blogs about different topics. Even have different music, because I swear, like you put on different types of music and I become a different person.
[00:10:25] I'm mean not, but yeah. So I think there's a lot of Psychology. And as you said, a lot of theater in what you do as well. I'm curious though, Sophie do you ever get in front of the camera much yourself?
[00:10:38] Sophie Sahara: I do. Sometimes I have. For friends and definitely during my MFA, we were always working collaboratively and photographing each other.
[00:10:47] I don't do so much professionally, but more so on my Instagram, a lot of my work comes through social media and I like to be able to. Often, I think there's a trend for photographers to sort of be faceless. And I think, especially for me, I'm who you're hiring. I'm part of it.
[00:11:03] It's about the dynamic. So I like to inject a bit of my personality into my feed or into my social media. So people know kind of who they're hiring, what they're getting into. That I'm approachable and that sort of thing.
[00:11:16] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Little gal, big camera. That's your Instagram tagline. And I mean, I just have to say it worked, on me at least. Cause when I saw that, I was like, “Well maybe I'm not too intimidated to just reach out to her.”
[00:11:31] Sophie Sahara: Sorry, I cut you off. It's interesting that you mentioned that because that's actually a phrase that I'm testing taking out of my bio. I've had that in for a really long time, but I don't know if you've experienced this, but part of being a female in a quite a male-dominated industry, I'm finding that I'm testing it out, taking it out. Because I want to really emphasize being taken seriously and kind of taking it to the next level. So we're doing a little testing of the waters of having that phrase out of there, but I definitely identify with little gal, big camera.
[00:12:03] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: No, I actually, it's so funny you say that and I can see where that might even be what you need to do potentially. It's like, you know that old saying, “What got you here won't get you there”. And you talked about how you have some goals and I do want to take some time in a minute and learn what those are too. But yeah, it's funny that you say that about wanting to be taken more seriously, because actually what I was about to say is when you said that, and as you said specifically about a woman.
[00:12:29] When I saw a little gal, big camera, I thought to myself, “Okay, well, this is somebody who doesn't take herself too seriously”. Which again, maybe isn't what you want, that you saying you want to be taken more seriously, but there was something for me when I see those high, I mean guys who are listening, please know, this woman is shooting like these high-fashion like gorgeous models and it was a little intimidating for me.
[00:12:53] And when I saw a little gal, big camera, again, also as a woman, I thought she's also not gonna be I don't know what would be the word, but somebody who's got some kind of a hang up about being a woman who's got a chip on her shoulder about being a woman.
[00:13:10] So I thought, you know, a little gal, big camera. I thought she's going to be fun, you know? But on the other hand, I do hear what you're saying. There've been times in my career where there were things I was doing that were working for me that were making me seem relatable or it was helpful at a certain point.
[00:13:28] And then I actually needed to pull it back at other points. So I respect that. Can you talk about what are those career goals that you think about for yourself?
[00:13:39] Sophie Sahara: Yeah, definitely. I would say especially this year. I've got career goals and lifestyle goals. Career-wise I would say, a lot of how I started was working with individuals and I love working with individuals.
[00:13:56] It's really great. [I was] able to form this personal connection. I love working with people who aren't used to getting their photo taken and having that moment of like, “Oh, I look like that? Like, wow”. Like I feel good and it translates visually. I love that. It's like one of my ultimate favorite things in my career, I'm moving towards more branded work and working kind of like a larger scale is basically where I'm moving towards. Working less often, but on larger projects.
[00:14:26] So a project that takes a few weeks as opposed to a small shoot every day, which is where I started. So that's kind of where I see myself and hopefully in the next few years, one of my goals is to get an agent and to be represented. Cause that's really one of the best ways to get to that next level.
[00:14:47] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: And what would be some examples of projects that take a few weeks? Does that mean like shoot the spring collection for a clothing brand or?
[00:14:58] Sophie Sahara: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I can't give you all the details, but I'm actually traveling tomorrow for a big project. That's been in the works for a few weeks. In terms of what we have been planning, the shoot in Las Vegas. It's a few days there, so I need you to arrange camera gear, equipment rental, that sort of thing, as well as we talk about creative. We make sure that we have everything there that we need to achieve. Cause I won't be in my usual studio space. So things like that and making sure creative is aligned and basically just setting yourself up for a successful shoot.
[00:15:34] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: And I understand that shooting longer, bigger, more involved projects is where you're moving towards. But as long as you're potentially still shooting individuals, I'm curious do you shoot men? Because I see a lot of, again, awesome shots of women on your profile. So much so that I said, “I want her to take my picture”, but I'm curious, do you shoot men?
[00:16:02] Sophie Sahara: I do shoot men. I shoot men less often than I shoot women. Part of what got me into photography and got me into the commercial space was just the desire to see more women shooting women. I think it's really important. I think we've seen a big shift in the past couple of years with girl gaze with just the desire for a female perspective in mainstream media.
[00:16:27] And that's really what got me here. So I think with that, I sort of gravitate towards shooting women. And as a woman myself who has been in front of the camera, I feel like I'm more naturally in tune with body positioning, that sort of thing. I do shoot men, but I gravitate towards shooting women.
[00:16:46] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: And then you also mentioned that one of your goals is to get an agent. I can't imagine that you couldn't get an agent if you wanted to right now. So what does that mean? Do you have a certain list of agents that you want in particular and have you submitted to them yet? One of my areas of interest is goal attainment. So I'm curious about how this one's working for you.
[00:17:12] Sophie Sahara: Definitely. So I've had a list for a little while and with photography agents, they say that timing is everything. And timing's right when the time is right for you. And when the timing is right for the agency, when they're looking to take people on, and when you need someone, I've heard lots of different things about it's time for an agent when you can't handle your workload yourself.
[00:17:33] I'm quite high functioning. So I am able to handle my workload, but it's more so that I want to kind of get to the next step. I have reached out to, well actually in the past few weeks, I have reached out to my top agencies and I'm in discussions with them. So we'll see kind of where that's going to go in the next few weeks. But yes.
[00:17:51] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: That's great. And do you mind sharing what are a couple of the things that you look for? Because again, I think people listening, they're not necessarily a photographer looking for an agent but I have an agent. I know other people listening, probably have an agent. Or even just people who are curious about what agent discussions look like. What kind of stuff are you looking at when you have those agent discussions?
[00:18:21] Sophie Sahara: Definitely. I think one of the main things that I'm looking for is fit. I want to feel really comfortable with my agent. I want there to be a really good fit because this is someone that you will be talking to potentially every day. They're going to be representing you when talking to clients. So you really want to kind of have a good understanding of who they are and how they present themselves.
[00:18:45] That's the main thing. And I guess also, an agent doesn't come cheap. They take quite a significant chunk of what you're earning. So I think for anybody really looking for management of any kind, you need to make sure that you understand that it's an investment and it's hopefully going to be worthwhile and it's waiting for the right time for it to be worthwhile.
[00:19:11] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Is it about 20% usually?
[00:19:13] Sophie Sahara: Yeah. 20 to 30.
[00:19:15] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Wow. 20 to 30. I haven't ever heard of 30, I mean 30. Wow. Are you reading any books about negotiation? My dear?
[00:19:25] Sophie Sahara: I'm not, but maybe I should be, maybe that's an issue.
[00:19:28] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah. Yeah. I think this is the time, probably, to know about those things. When it comes to negotiating, I just have to share with you one of the best tips anyone ever gave to me. Because they said that typically women don't ask for enough in negotiation and that's true. It's just statistically speaking, I think men do tend to strike a more favorable deal for themselves. And I don't think anyone really fully knows why. And I'm sure that there's not one single one size fits all of why. And what I just mentioned that it might even be a fact that it's changed since I learned it five years ago.
[00:20:12] But as a Psychologist, one of the things that I think about is that I think women have a higher level of what's called “rejection sensitivity”. So whether it's a social script, biological reasons or whatever when we hear no, we just tend to oftentimes more, I think, feel like, “Oh, I did something wrong or maybe that question was out of line” or whatever.
[00:20:38] So when somebody told me that was really helpful is they said, “Chloe, when you are negotiating, if you don't get to No, then you haven't asked for enough”. And so what that did for me is it reframed that when I hear a, no, it doesn't mean I've done something wrong. It means I've done something, right. It means I'm getting into the limits and that's what I'm supposed to be doing.
[00:21:04] Sophie Sahara: That's great. That's great advice. I love that reframing.
[00:21:08] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah. Yeah. I certainly found it helpful. So anyway, Sophie time always just flies when we have the chance to talk. So there's just a few minutes that we have left. And you also mentioned not only about career goals, but also that you have lifestyle goals and I love the way that you're pairing them together right?
[00:21:29] Cause they do pair together. And I think younger people especially are really weighing all that together. They're thinking about the career, in many ways, its purpose is to help the lifestyle. Especially if you're fortunate enough to be able to have a career centered around what you love. Do you mind sharing about what the lifestyle goals are?
[00:21:49] Sophie Sahara: Yeah, of course. I think this past year 2020 was really a wake up call for a lot of people. And my wake up call, at least from it, was realizing the importance of slowing down. I think even just existing in New York, it's such a fast paced city and my typical days were packed.
[00:22:08] Packed back full. I had just like minutes to spare between different things and slowing down really helped me kind of check in with what's important. And so I'm really taking that into this year and want to be able to apply that for the rest of my life by having time to slow down and really leaning into that and enjoying the time off and enjoying work because of the nature of my job.
[00:22:34] I'm not working every day. And not always shooting every day, but I am doing emails or admin, that sort of thing. And so really leaning into when I'm working, I'm enjoying work or when I have a day off, I'm enjoying having a day off. Because I think oftentimes I would catch myself in a narrative of saying like, “Oh, I have to work today or, oh, I'm not working today”. Like, and it was sort of a catch 22 and I wasn't enjoying either. But really just basically practicing mindfulness and trying to be a little bit more present in what I have and in my day to day life.
[00:23:08] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Definitely. I think time off is so important, especially if you're in a job, again, that is your passion. And so you're just really putting your all into it to be able to really give yourself time to recharge. A lot of high functioning people are very driven and they are so busy and they're often kind of intrigued to know or learn, or to be reminded of the fact that downtime and boredom like literally boredom is often one of the key situational circumstances that precedes a creative breakthrough.
[00:23:43] So when we actually get into the mundane feeling where we're staring at a wall or watching it rain so to speak. Those are not the time to get down on ourselves for being unproductive, those are really important moments. And so I'm so glad you're making space for those moments.
[00:24:03] Sophie Sahara: Completely. I completely agree. Time to recharge. And it's why they always say that the best ideas come in the shower. Exactly what you're saying that downtime of just pausing to allow for something to come in.
[00:24:16] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Well, Sophie, I can't believe how our time flies. It is so good to have spent a little time with you and I can't wait for the chance to do it again.
[00:24:28] And anyone who's been seeing these fun photos of me on Instagram, this is the woman behind them. So thanks so much again for joining me today. So.
[00:24:38] Sophie Sahara: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:24:40] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Yeah. One more quick question though. What is your website? Where can people find you?
[00:24:44] Sophie Sahara: Oh yes. My handle is Sophie Sahara and my website is sophie-sahara.com.
[00:24:50] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Okay. And that's S O P H I E dash S A H A R A .com. And we'll drop those handles in the show notes too.
[00:24:59] Sophie Sahara: Perfect. Thank you so much.
[00:25:00] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Thank you. Take care. Bye-bye.
[00:25:02] Sophie Sahara: Bye.
[00:25:03] Dr. Chloe Carmichael: Well, that was such a nice opportunity to chat with Sophie. What an interesting, lively, engaging person. It’s, for me, wonderful to get the chance to really talk with a very talented working artist and learn about how all of those dots connect for her. I'm so glad to hear as well that she's making time for downtime and making time for creativity. And I love that she's got all of her career goals laid out. What an inspiration. And if you haven't had the chance to check out her work at all, I do suggest you check out those handles in the show notes.
[00:25:38] Personally I found your work to be beautiful and inspiring, but I know everyone's got different stuff they like. So if you do want to share with me on social media, what kinds of images and photography and all that kind of stuff you like, I'm curious about that too. So thanks so much for checking this out.
[00:25:56] And if you found it helpful or interesting, please give me a good rating. Give me some comments, all that kind of stuff. It really helps me in the algorithms to get founded and discovered. Thanks so much guys. Talk to you next time.
- The High Functioning Podcast Homepage - www.TheHighFunctioningHotspot.com
- Dr. Chloe’s Homepage - http://drchloe.com/
- Sophie Sahara’s Website - https://www.sophie-sahara.com/
- Sophie Sahara’s Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/sophiesahara/
- Sophie Sahara Photography’s Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/SophieSaharaPhotography
- Sophie Sahara’s LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/sophie-sahara-barkham-06487340/
- Sophie Sahara’s Twitter - https://twitter.com/SophieSahara