New York photographer Sami Hobbs: ‘creating beautiful things is the oxygen I need to breathe’

Photographer Sami Hobbs took a leap of faith and moved to NYC to pursue her passion for celebratory and body-positive fashion photography. We spoke to her about her life, her iPad workflow and the changes she wants to see in the industry…
Tell us a little about your career and how you got started in photography.

I was always an “art kid.” From a young age I was drawn to drawing, painting, and jewellery making. I even attempted to play the violin—which my mother can confirm was a mildly entertaining and slightly cringeworthy stint in my elementary school years. Luckily for my family and friends, by 15 I picked up my first camera (my Dad’s rickety Nikon D80!) and never looked back.

I started taking pictures of ladybugs and leaves with a macro lens, often scuttling around the backyard looking for more tiny creatures to photograph. I photographed anything that I could get my hands on. I came alive whenever I spent all day shooting outdoors, sparkling with joy even when I returned home, and my mother scolded me for tracking in dirt from the forest and pond. Once I had developed an eye for composition and depth of field, I started photographing fellow students from my high school in Needham, MA. My favourite place to shoot was this massive construction site across from my house. The contrast between ethereal subjects and a chaotic, dilapidated location—now that’s an interesting balance I’ve always yearned to explore.

What does a typical day in the life of Sami Hobbs look like?

Coffee, reading, editing, repeat. Emails—so many emails. As they say, the hardest part about being a photographer is not the photography itself, but instead the business workflow and time management. As a freelancer, my working hours are essentially 24/7, so I have to mindfully allocate time off.

The dialogue surrounding work-life balance is so important to me—especially since I live in New York City, it sometimes feels like I’m never hustling enough. Imposter syndrome in the creative industry is a forcefully limiting feeling, and I think it is imperative that we surround ourselves with other creatives that carry the same ideals. I am proud to say I am developing a wonderfully supportive and talented network of photographers here in NYC.

What do you love most about portrait and fashion photography?

Working with both experienced models and camera-shy subjects carry different benefits. Working with models leaves more room for experimentation, especially when it is a test shoot. Test shoots are opportunities to work with signed models and create content for portfolio use (often referred to as contributing to your “book”) without the deliverable being tied directly to a brand or product. However, when I work with business-owners, bloggers, and other artists, it feels incredible to guide the session in a way that makes them feel comfortable, and see that transition happen in front of my camera. By introducing a safe and welcoming platform, I’m reinforcing the idea that photoshoots are opportunities to celebrate yourself. I also love that I have the opportunity to make some changes in the industry.

“I’ve seen the positive role social media can have on female empowerment, and I’m determined to push this forward as a photographer.”

As a young female photographer, I am introducing a whole new set of ideals surrounding beauty, fashion, and inclusivity. I grew up in the sunrise of the social media age, which informed my desire to equip young women with tools to navigate your 20s in a self-assured and healthy way. I’ve seen the positive role social media can have on female empowerment, and I’m determined to push this forward as a photographer.

What changes do you wish to see in the industry?

The overall industry is becoming more mindful of body-positivity, but I think a lot of the hype is based around being “trendy.” Discussing selective retouching allows us to go deeper. There is a great deal of skin retouching that goes into an “unretouched” photo. Marketing campaigns and advertisements, for example, will deliberately leave stretch marks, moles, and scars in the final photos, but retouchers will absolutely use frequency separation or other techniques to smooth the overall look of the skin. So, embracing obvious skin blemishes is a trend that benefits corporations, which allows them to jump on the body-positive bandwagon and still push subliminal messages of beauty ideals.

I also partake in this by using frequency separation to smooth skin, and purposefully keep birthmarks and scars. If I’m asked to do so by a client…I have to oblige. But I try to have mindful conversations with everyone about why this is the new standard. Photography documents our current understanding of beauty for future generations, just as Renaissance paintings provide historical context for us today. I want my photos and words to have an impact moving forward and leave the world better than I found it.

What do you love best about being a photographer in New York City?

I just moved from Boston, MA to NYC this past June. This city is teeming with opportunities around every corner. The infrastructure and culture is built around that, so everywhere you go and everyone you meet could be the connection that gets you your next big job. The air is honestly imbued with creativity.

What or who have been your biggest inspirations as a photographer?

So many talented artists have inspired me: Peter DeVito, Jessica Kobeissi, Marina W, Nesrin Danan, Benjamin Ellis, Miles of Color, Rosie Hardy, and Karen.

What photography equipment could you not live without?

My Sigma 35mm f1.4 ART lens is my everything.

How did you discover Affinity Photo and what impressed you about it?

I switched my workflow over to a 12” iPad Pro in March and immediately recognised the need for an editing software that carried the advanced capabilities I needed to properly edit photographs and create composites. Composites are images created by layering different images on top of each other, often with the goal of creating a fantasy image that looks real (but isn’t). Therefore, accuracy and detail are super important to the end result. As an illustrator, I knew that working with the Apple Pencil and a responsive editing application would completely change my world—and Affinity Photo really has done just that.

“I knew that working with the Apple Pencil and a responsive editing application would completely change my world—and Affinity Photo really has done just that.”

What are the main advantages or main tools that you use in the app?

Affinity’s Develop Persona (an equitable, but more streamlined, Adobe Camera Raw function) frequency separation (an all-round super easy process in Affinity Photo!) and the all-mighty refine selection tool, which allows me to effortlessly layer selections to create composites. Affinity Photo plus an iPad Pro makes for a wickedly powerful combination!

How has working on the iPad changed your workflow?

Workflow on an iPad Pro is truly amazing. I can manage everything from client emails to specific, advanced editing techniques all on one gadget. I often joke that my iPad is my best friend, but then I feel bad for my actual human best friends.

Do you have any tips for photographers who want to create more work with models?

Test! Test! Test! Do as many test shoots as possible. This is how you develop your portfolio.

What achievement are you most proud of in your career?

2019 was a year of big changes, and success can be measured in different ways. For me, this was the year I needed to set myself up for success—by moving to a new city, creating a new network, and working on my technical skills in Affinity. Taking a huge leap of faith, leaving a corporate job that wasn’t right for me, and honouring that I need to be doing this because creating beautiful things is the oxygen I need to breathe, and the way I see the world. It’s my passion. Most recently, it was a huge achievement to photograph my very first NYFW (New York Fashion Week) show at Spring Studios in Soho. This was such an inspiring and validating experience. I hustled extremely hard to make that happen.

“I am actively pursuing fashion work with body-positive and inclusive brands”

What’s next for you in your career?

I am actively pursuing fashion work with body-positive and inclusive brands and hope to develop a consistent client base here in NYC.

My friend Christine Jiang and I are collaborating on an exciting project tentatively titled, “In Her Words” which will be a photojournal that explores how young women navigate personal growth, health, love, and modern dating in NYC. This idea is thanks to my incredible friend and talented musician, Channing Rion. Sharing ideas + creativity is everything, friends.


Sami Hobbs by Christine Jiang

You can see more of Sami’s work at samihobbs.com and on Instagram.

Models featured: Image one and five: Tessa Sugarman, Image two and hero banner: Venance Chiepodeu, Image three: Jennifer Morris, Image four: Caroline Blake, Image six: Yeshe Pfeifer.