- Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you grew up. Was it work or pleasure that brought you to Hong Kong?
I grew up in Macon, Georgia in the USA. As a teen I was a cheerleader and competed in pageants… a typical Southern upbringing. But I was oddly tall and cheerleading uniforms and evening gowns were too short on me so I set my sights on the wonderful world of fashion. I started modelling at the age of 14 (I was 5’10” and a size 0/2) and travelling to New York where I later moved when I was 19. It was then that I met a boy, as you do, and followed him to Asia for his career. I could work anywhere after all and Hong Kong sounded like a fun new adventure and a place to build my book. I had been shooting on the side since 2004 as a photographer but mostly just for fun and for a little extra pocket money. After several months of exploring in Hong Kong I decided not to return to modelling but instead to focus entirely on my photography. And that was that!
- Has photography always been a passion of yours?
Yes, making beautiful images has always been a passion of mine! Growing up I was able to do that as a model thanks to the visions of the incredible teams around me. I loved it when I would see a photo and not recognize myself. I knew how to move and how to style to get a great image but I didn’t know how to capture it with the camera once I found myself on the other side. After literally hundreds of shoots and dress up sessions with new models I felt I knew a thing or two about how to shoot and felt comfortable putting a price on it. Now I shoot a mix of fashion, portrait, and family. When people ask what I shoot I typically respond “ Anything with people.” I particularly love working with new models and people who aren’t often shot as they are amazed by how I see them. The point when they look at the back of the camera and see just how beautiful they truly are is the best part of the day!
- How did you transition from photography being a hobby to a career?
It was the move to Hong Kong that helped me make that leap. I had been modelling full time in New York and shooting in my spare time. I had planned to do the same in Hong Kong as well. Typically when I moved to a new city I was there for work so on day one I’d hit the ground doing castings and end up getting lost and upset and yelled at by my agency for being late. I didn’t want that in Hong Kong so I decided to take the first three months and just get to know the city. I planned to sign with an agency in January after I was all settled in and knew my way around. Well, three months turned into eight years and counting! Instead I decided to turn my attention to the other side of the lens and spend more time working on my photography. There is just so much to shoot here in HK! I set up meetings with a few magazines in town and was added to their roster then I linked up with Sassy Hong Kong (I also contribute fashion and beauty articles as well) and began shooting their That Girls and That Mamas. Slowly by word of mouth my schedule got busier and busier and now I typically shoot about three to four times a week and am booked a month in advance. I also shoot for my own blog, The First Wife.com.
- Do you believe you have a distinct style as a photographer?
Most of my photos are full of light and color. If I am shooting with natural light I love flooding the image with it. If it is studio work then I love bold colors and lots of expressions and movement. An image should draw you in and speak to you. Beyond the images, I think I’m best known for how I interact with the subjects helping them to emote and move on film. That comes from my years in front of the camera. Most of my clients are women and I love shooting women. I can guide then on how to move to help them feel powerful and confident all while still holding a ladylike aspect to it. Plus, I know a few tricks on how to move to contour the shape where you won’t need to be retouched!
- What is the most memorable moment or moments in your career so far?
Shooting with Coco Rocha last year was certainly a highlight! She was pregnant at the time so we chatted babies as we worked. As fun and natural as it is for me to guide my subjects sometimes it is nice to just sit back and watch them work their magic! She moved like the wind changing effortlessly from laughing to angry and made the most beautiful “ugly” faces! I couldn’t wait to get back and unload the card!
- How do you find time in your busy schedule to balance work and family?
Balance is a word that I haven’t yet found the meaning of and I don’t think any mama who works every truly does. When you are at work you wonder about what is going on at home and when you are at home you feel guilty that you aren’t working. For me, I am lucky to have my son hang with me at the studio on off days so I can do the editing and retouching while he plays. Then I take play breaks and we color together or build towers and…BOOM… knock them over. Right now as I answer these questions he is playing by my desk. I am very lucky in that I am mostly in control of my schedule so I don’t schedule more than I can handle. I used to shoot four times a week and then do events in the afternoons and at night. Now I shoot quite a lot but I have toned down the events and I make sure I am home at 5:30 for bedtime. Saturday is date night with my better half and Sunday is usually family pool day. When one week gets manic then I try to tone down the events for the week following so we can have our time together.
- Can you tell us about your career before and after you had a child/ children? Was it difficult getting back into your regular working routine after having a child/ children?
I certainly was on the go before kids but in a different way. The day consisted of shooting most mornings then I’d come home get fixed up and head out to fashion events for the blog then come home and write an article then back out for evening fashion events. I wore loads more colors and heels and drank a good bit more champagne. I started slowing down while pregnant as I was wildly sick the whole time (glamorous, I know). I was actually hospitalized a week before he was born because I couldn’t stop getting sick! Ugh! I shot regularly up until about eight weeks before he was born but then the ups and down of shooting resulted in horrible Braxton Hicks so I had to stop earlier than planned. I then focused on waddling to events and writing as many articles as possible so that while I was away on maternity leave there was loads of scheduled content to go up.
After Adam was born I needed time to heal and wasn’t keen to leave him or haul gear. I did my first shoot as a blogger where I modelled for Shanghai Tang five weeks after he was born. I had done the traditional Chinese confinement with him so I was excited to get out of the house for one day and have a little breath of the old me. It was also the day he was starting a bottle and apparently it is best for the mom to leave as the kiddo can smell her up to 20 feet away. He took to it like a champ. My first job as a photographer was about two months after he was born and it was a six-hour shoot which turned out to be a bit more than I could handle so I toned it down for a while after that. He fed every two and a half hours for five and half months so I would only accept one to two hour shoots at first to make sure I was home to feed/pump as often as possible. Slowly but surely we found our way. I felt like to took about five to six months to feel like myself again and from there I felt more confident to add to the work schedule.
- Has having a child changed your outlook on your career?
Yes and no. I have always followed my heart with my career working towards goals but staying true to what inspires me and brings me joy. I have never really been driven by money so if I missed a shoot or two it didn’t bother me. I don’t have goals to be the biggest or the best so those never needed to change. Luckily, what brought me joy also paid the bills. What did change was the management of it all. I would say yes to any and every job before because I like to stay busy and it was exciting. Now I have to say no more and pick and choose what gets my time. For instance, I block out Monday and Friday mornings so I can take my son to school then I plan shoots in the afternoons. My son and my family will always be more important than any career or job.
- What are some of your favourite places to hang out with your family during the days you don’t have to work?
We live in Chai Wan and so we spend a good chunk of the spare time going to Chai Wan Park where we feed the fish and the turtles, watch the remote control boats in the pond, or slide at the playgrounds. Adam loves to swing and play ball in the playground behind the studio so we go there loads too. On the weekends we typically head to either the Chai Wan pool or the American Club where he can run in the grass, drink smoothies, and swim. My little Pisces is indeed quite a fish!
- When you are not working where are some of your favourite family restaurants to eat with your family in Hong Kong ?
Family restaurants are tricky in Hong Kong. Most of my favourite restaurants are little holes in the wall that serve messy spicy food so I try to hit those up on date night instead. We eat a lot at home and cook loads but when we do go out we typically hit up the American Club as Adam can run in the yard while we eat outside and watch him. I also love going to either The Diner or Burger Circus and getting a massive burger, shake and fries to share. Oolaa is always a good spot with kids but it gets really crowded on the weekends.
- There are many people who aspire to be a photographer, as a professional. What would you recommend people do to transition from photography as a hobby to a career?
I think it depends on what style of photography they want to do. For fashion, a good tip is to start by reaching out to local modelling agencies and seeing if they have any new talent that is in need of testing. This way you get practice and the new model gets images to build her book. Once you feel confident shooting this then send samples of your work to magazines in your area and set meetings with the Photo Editor where you can be added to their roster and called for jobs that you fit the bill for. Magazines typically don’t pay much but getting your work published builds credibility.
For family/maternity/kids shoots you can start by shooting friends and family and their kids. Then make sure they give photo credits when they post the images. After you have a few shoots that you are happy with then send your work to parenting magazines and blogs and ask to shoot for photo credits at first. That can lead to lots of word of mouth jobs as friends ask friends who took the images!
The hard part is deciding when to step away from your full-time job, if you have one, and make the leap. That is a personal choice but basically you should have several months savings built up to cover you if things don’t take off right away. That is the thing with working for yourself… you have to keep plugging away to secure a steady paycheck and even then there are busy months and dry spells. But if you love it and you keep getting your work and your name out there then hopefully the work will pour in!
If you love Sabrina as much as we do follow her on Instagram @sabrinasikora and check out her blog www.TheFirstWife.com