Elisabeth Hoff: Making subjects feel fantastic
Elisabeth Hoff is a London-based fashion, celebrity and beauty photographer working for major advertising and editorial clients such as Adidas, Coca-Cola, Nike, Vogue, Glamour and the BBC in the UK and abroad. She has photographed such celebrities as Bob Geldoff, Dannii Minogue, Emily Blunt, Naomi Campbell and many more.
Born in Norway, Elisabeth spent five years of her childhood sailing around the world aboard her family’s sailboat. After graduating from university, she attempted to become the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic. After a near-disaster at sea, she realized the importance of making the most of now and decided to pursue he lifelong dream of becoming a photographer.
You’ve been doing this for quite a few years. How do you think your work has changed over time?
You get more levels of awareness as you get older and intellectually understand more. You develop a skill set to see what’s going on. When you are younger, it’s more of a gut feeling. When I look at my early work I don’t think it has enough layers.
How do you use light?
I’ve used Profoto throughout my career. I recently got a Profoto B1 and have found myself using a mix of daylight and flash. Using a mix of different heads you can get amazing results. It almost looks like daylight but with a better result.
The women in your photographs are not shrinking violets. A lot of bold personalities come across in the images. How do you bring that out of the subjects?
I’m really happy you said that. My job is to make people look like a better version of themselves. I work on making my subjects feel fantastic and like they can’t do anything wrong. I never use negative language, I just nudge people in the right direction. Sometimes you have members of the team judging the subject, like a stylist crassly pointing out how the model doesn’t fit the sample size clothing. I don’t like to work with people like that. You should not leave a shoot feeling neurotic!
In the shot with the young ballet students, they all look so happy and are smiling so naturally. I know from my daughter’s school photos that that is no easy trick. What’s your secret?
When shooting children I really steer away from telling them exactly what to do. There is no stand up straight and smile from me as I think that is the wrong approach. I try to create a fun environment and gently nudge them along with words of encouragement. I played Justin Bieber during this shot, and they started singing at one point while I was shooting, which proves how incredibly comfortable they all were. I think I asked them not to look at the camera. They were allowed to have a little chat if they wanted.
How important is it to just go with the flow?
Sometimes I’m not ready but if the subject is in a moment, I’ll just take the picture anyway. I also sometimes have to shoot through the person being “not ready.” It can take a while for people to get used to you before you can get something good. You have to be very present.
You’ve taken a lot of photographs of famous people. Do they tend to be difficult? What’s the secret to working with celebrities?
With famous people, you have to be quite confident. You have to sell your idea in. Sometimes, they have a strong resistance to an idea or a strong idea of what they want instead. So you try it their way first. And then you say, “How about if we just try this and see what you think.” It’s psychology. You have to listen to people before you can bring them around.
What is the secret to getting a great shot that people will remember?
It’s easy to become obsessed with technology. But if there isn’t a performance, it won’t be a great picture, no matter how perfect the exposure. The subjects have to share a bit about themselves or I’m not going to get the result I’m looking for.