LIFE IN FRONT AND BEHIND THE CAMERA WITH SABRINA
The tales of a model turned photographer
If doing what you love is indeed the secret to happiness, then Sabrina Sikora has more than one reason to be one of the happiest and most enthusiastic people we know.
Model, photographer and, most importantly, mother, Sabrina took her passion for fashion all the way from Georgia, USA to the always surprising Hong Kong. She traded photoshoots with Tom Ford and Harper’s Bazaar for a shot on the other side of the camera, applying her experience as a model to help uncover new talent.
But I’ll let her tell the story – spoiler alert, Coco Rocha and Caroline Murphy might make an appearance – and then give a handful of tips to all stylish travellers heading to Hong Kong.
Three things we need to know about you:
Family first. Sample sales second.
Since I was 13 years old I have been working in the fashion industry and it is the only thing I have ever wanted to do. I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to turn my passion into a career and I try to remember that on the hard days.
I eat chocolate everyday and have M&M’s hidden around the house. My son is starting to find my hiding places (i.e. I need new hiding places).
Photo | Sabrina Sikora Photography
Do you have the wardrobe of a glamorous model or a practical photographer?
As much as I would love to say it is all glam gowns with chic jackets, it is actually quite divided. About 75% of the wardrobe is over the top crazy colours, prints, and textures which work for style shots for the blog and social media but the other 25% is worn-in jeans and black tank tops, perfect for lying on the ground to shoot someone else. When I go out for events I have full hair and makeup, but when I am the one behind the camera I’m clean faced with glasses and my hair in a bun. Some people don’t recognize me if they have seen me dressed one way and not the other. I have actually been asked if my sister is “that model girl”. Ouch.
You appeared in Vogue as a model and photographed Coco Rocha after switching behind the lens – there must be plenty of fun behind-the-scenes stories to tell from your career. Anything you can share?
A few favourites come to mind. When I was 17 years old I landed my first magazine cover- a dream come true! I remember having to go on casting after casting with the photographer to convince him that I was the right girl for the job. He would just sit there and stare at me for nearly an hour each time. Finally, he picked me and I got to hike around in stilettos and hang out of a helicopter in decadent furs- this was the end all be all for me as I was still a student in high school in Macon, Georgia. We shot in Italy up in the mountains with a helicopter and an incredible wardrobe. I landed the cover thanks to my flawless hands. It was the first parts modelling I ever did and I had no idea that it would be photos of my hands (and lips) that would land me my greatest bookings.
Photo | Everett Rodriguez | i-er.me
Another amazing shoot was when I got to work with Tom Ford and Caroline Murphy for Estee Lauder. I walked in not really knowing what the story was, other than the fact that I was booked for lips and hands, and then I saw these two icons. She was as sweet and down to earth as can be and he was just walking perfection. Seriously, how could jeans and a white tee look so polished?! I tried to be cool but in reality could barely form the word ‘hello’. Luckily, my job was just to writhe around in gold satin sheets and try to sell a lipstick so I didn’t need to say much. Unfortunately, my images never ran but I have the memories (and the pay check).
As a photographer you do what you need to get the shot. There are always days on location that are too hot or cold to function but you buck up and get it done and make sure the client is happy. I’ve had a to hang off buildings or set off in a dingy in rough waters to get the shot but we always end up with something that we are proud to show. When you get to shoot a dream like Coco it seems all too easy. Just set up the lights and let the model shine!
Photo | Sabrina Sikora Photography
What were your favourite projects, both as a model and as a photographer?
As a model I loved the parts bookings (lips, hands, legs, etc). I fell into this type of modelling and did it in addition to traditional print and runway work. It is quite specialized and so your day rate is higher and you get more direct bookings, which is nice. The clients tend to be bigger names as well and so it’s always really exciting to get a call from my parts agency and see what’s in store for me.
I also really love the high from strutting it hardcore down a massive runway with amazing hair, make up, and wardrobe. The energy, the frenzy backstage, the lights and pumping music… it’s addictive! Plus, I learned so much about styling from the shoots and shows and it was really interesting to work with so many different creatives and see how they put looks together into a cohesive story.
As a photographer I really love shooting beauty and portraits. I find it really rewarding to shoot with new girls who haven’t really seen themselves professionally shot and watching their reaction when they see what they can transform into… even though I knew it was there all along. I remember that feeling the first time I saw my first comp card at age 13. I didn’t even recognize myself! At the time I was all knees and elbows and would cry in the dressing rooms in stores because nothing fit and I looked so boyish. It was then when I saw the images that I felt that my differences may actually make me special and I actually felt pretty. Feeling special is huge to a teenage girl and so I love working with them to help them embrace what makes them unique- freckles, gap teeth, crazy curly hair, etc. and showcase it in images we are both proud to show. The beauty is in the differences. It is those qualities that hold your eyes to a photo and make it stand out.
Photo | Martice Milton | marticemiltonphotography.com
Your work as a photographer is very diverse, from children’s portraits to fashion editorials, but is there a certain photo that has a really memorable story behind it?
There is a shot from when I first got started that I love and still have in my book. It is of a young model (age 14) who was magic to work with. Normally, girls this age take a lot of directing but she moved like a pro and had such a range of expressions.
I had found this burned down trailer park earlier that week and wanted to shoot there before it was demolished. I was still doing all the styling, hair, make up, photography, and retouching at this time so we loaded up the trunk of the car with clothing and shoes and makeup and drove down and shot all morning. The final shot was her in a child’s party dress sitting on a cinder block yelling at a busted tv set in front of this burnt trailer. As we shot the Steven Steigman Blown Away Man image flashed in my head. She was too young to know the reference though so I ended up sitting on the block showing her what I was going for.
Behind the camera, do you prefer working with professional models who know what they’re doing or do you enjoy the challenge of guiding people who just stepped inside your studio for an engagement photoshoot or a family photo?
Both are fun to shoot, and some days you just like sitting there and letting the model do all the work. After all if you continue to pose people then the shots can start to “look like you”. I also like to learn new moves from the models and am constantly impressed by the skill and creativity of the girls I work with.
But honestly, I love working with people that are new in front of the lens. I talk to them as we shoot telling them why this works and what little tricks can make the legs look longer, waists look smaller, and a chin more defined. Some of my knowledge is from my years in front of the camera, some of it is from pageants, and some is just from shooting shooting shooting! The before and afters are especially fun and I get such a kick out of the look on their face when they see what I see.
“Most people don’t know how beautiful they truly are and I hope that I can capture that and show it back to them. “
What made you change New York for Hong Kong? And how big of a style shock was it; does HK fashion differ much from the big fashion capitals?
I had never thought about moving to Asia until my then-boyfriend-now-husband told me he had a job opportunity there and asked how I would feel about relocating for a few years. He asked me how I felt about it over lunch and I said okay. That was that. I then texted my mom under the table “Moving to Hong Kong. Call you later,” which in hindsight was a terrible way to break the news!
It took me longer than I would like to admit to get settled but once I did I really loved it. I switched from modelling full-time and shooting part-time to the opposite, as I didn’t want to have to stress about the size of my hips anymore.
Photo | Bonnie Iris | bonnieirisphotography.com
There was a bit of a style shock though as people in HK dress for the season not the weather. I learned this tidbit when I was walking around in a floral summer dress and sandals in late September (still melting) and I realized that everyone around me was wearing grays and blacks and jeans and boots. It is hot for nine months out of the year so you have to be creative about layering and how to wear your boots and leather jackets when it is still 80 degrees out. Now it is quite easy for me to spot a tourist, as they are the ones dressed for the tropical weather in October when I’m in my leather layers.
“Hong Konger’s aren’t afraid to take risks and sometimes I can’t tell if someone is dressed terribly or just so fashionable that I don’t get it. Either way I applaud them for their efforts.”
I tend to dress up more in Hong Kong than I did in NY as most of my events are in the high-end Central district where you are frequently walking through office buildings and past lovely shops and five star restaurants. Plus, taxis are cheap and plentiful, the MTR is clean and efficient, and Uber is everywhere, so you end up in air-conditioned spaces so you don’t have to dress for the weather or hills/stairs that HK is famous for. You never know how your day will unfold or where the next event will take you so it is best to look nice and be prepared. Hong Konger’s love a nice handbag so even if you wear ripped jeans and a t-shirt make sure your bag is on point and you are set.
Since moving here and working as a blogger I have come to really appreciate the local talent present here. I try to attend as many events for local creatives as possible and love to wear local labels. It is so nice to see someone go from having the spark of an idea to a full-blown designer and being there to support them along the journey. If I find a label I love you can be guaranteed that I will tell everyone I know (see this for proof)!
Photo | Inga Beckmann | ingabeckmann.com
What are the style essentials that we should pack when visiting Hong Kong?
– Breezy dresses and chic flats for touring around town during summer. Add a leather jacket and ankle boots for fall or “winter”.
– Sweater/wrap/jacket for the ever-present air con
– Great going out outfit that you can dance in until sunrise and then some complete with killer heels (who cares if you fall on the hills/stairs… we all have).
– Blotting papers/handkerchief/fan/umbrella… all of which should be carried with you everywhere no matter the weather.
– Stylish hat and sunglasses for the summer sun (and by summer I mean April- November). If you want to go local then use your umbrella in both sun and rain.
– An ‘it’ bag- a Hong Kong look is never complete without it.
– A nice manicure because your hands will be in lots of the instagrams you will be taking around town (throwing peace signs, holding up gai daan jai or egg tarts, stirring milk tea, etc.!
Photo | Martice Milton | marticemiltonphotography.com
For someone who has never been to HK, what is the city’s best kept secret? Maybe a hidden cafe, a vintage store or a beach only known by locals?
Read my city guide for all the best bets both hidden and on the scene! You can also check out Sassy Hong Kong for anything and everything you need to know about Hong Kong. I have been blogging for them for four years and I still learn new things about HK through them!
If you’ve enjoyed the story (and how could you not?), see more of Sabrina’s portfolio on her website or find her on Instagram for snapshots behind the scenes. And that’s not all. How about some shopping tips? Sabrina knows all the best Hong Kong fashion designers. Happy shopping!
Read this and more at Wearona!