Photographer Sophie Elgort Talks Music’s Supporting Role, On Set and at Home

Fashion and portrait photographer Sophie Elgort knows that music sets the mood—on set and off. While she’s shooting, she keeps the vibe chill and creative. To relax, she goes for classical. And when spending time with her young daughter, she lets loose with musicals and sing-alongs. Appropriately, the playlist she put together for New York Fashion Week (NYFW) is an eclectic, intriguing collection that spans many genres.

This year at NYFW, Sophie will be behind the camera, and she’ll also be directing others on how to capture the catwalk. For the past few seasons, Sophie has been taking Through Our Lens fellows to NYFW to experience and photograph the shows first hand. We sat down with the photographer to learn more about the organization as well as the role of music in her work. 

Before we get to the music, talk about your work with Through Our Lens.

My good friend Carolyn Pride and I started Through Our Lens with the goal of promoting more inclusion in the fashion industry by empowering young women from different backgrounds to explore careers behind the camera. Our program provides high school-age girls from underserved communities who are passionate about photography with the skills, tools, and access they need to succeed in the industry. Our first session, on September 7, brings the girls to experience and take pictures at NYFW.

What genres or artists do you play as your inspiration while you’re gearing up for a shoot?

If I’m photographing a musician, I definitely listen to their music as research. Otherwise, I like to listen to music that inspires me and brings out creativity without being too distracting—artists like the bird and the bee, Brazilian Girls, Chairlift, Gipsy Kings, Getz / Gilberto, Buena Vista Social Club, and The xx. I also go for music that makes me feel confident and powerful. Recently, I’ve been listening to Beyoncé‘s Homecoming album all the way through.

How about the music when you’re in the studio? What kind of music maintains the vibe you’ve set and keeps the momentum going?

I like to play a scattering of songs people know and love when we’re setting up, and in hair and makeup, so as to create a chill, fun vibe. When we start shooting, I always ask the subjects if they have something specific they want to hear—and most of the time the answer is Beyoncé. Other go-to’s are James Brown, Prince, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, and some pre-made playlists I have ready to go.

After the shoot, when I’ve had music playing all day, I need a complete change of pace. The only thing I want to hear is classical music. I played classical piano growing up, so some of my favorite pieces are the Chopin Ballades (especially No. 1 and No. 4).

Do you approach working with musicians differently than other subjects?

Like with everyone else, I’m sure to ask what they want to listen to—and I love hearing what they like to listen to that’s not their own. A while back, I was assisting on a set with a really famous musician and I was in charge of playing the music. I asked her what she wanted to hear, and she requested “Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo on repeat. I thought it was such a cool choice, and it’s been one of my favorite tracks ever since. (I included it on my NYFW playlist.)

What kinds of music do you play with your daughter? Is she showing an affinity for any particular artists or genres yet?

We play music all the time at home with my daughter and also sing constantly. At one and a half, she already knows tons of songs. We hear her in the morning in her crib singing, which is one of my favorite things. As much as we expose her to lots of music, she really does love Mother Goose Club Sings Nursery Rhymes. I play the guitar, so I’ll play and sing them for her, and she sings along and dances around. She also loves the songs from Sing and The Sound of Music.

What podcasts are you listening to?

Right now, I’m mostly listening to NPR’s How I Built This, SkimmThis, and A Drink with James. I am also a substitute co-host on Moms Got This, and I have a weekly podcast coming out called Two Aging Millennials with my friend Nneya Richards. We’ll be discussing current events, pop culture, and life as an (aging!) millennial. That will launch early September.

Take a listen to Sophie’s NYFW Playlist below. Plus, check out our interviews with other NYFW attendees, including Natalie Lim Suarez, Anna Sui, and Rebecca Minkoff.