Guest Interview with Sonya Dove

Apr 15, 2024 | Creative Guest

“Show Notes”

This week Marcus and Sam speak to Sonya Dove who is ⁠Wella⁠’s Global Creative Director and Marcus’s big sister. Sonya has been with Wella for 40 years and hairdressing for 45 years. On a day to day basis Sonya travels around the US and Canada educating and mentoring hairdressers. She also does classes and photoshoots. Hairdressing has given her the opportunity to travel the world. She still travels at least two to three times per month.

Sonya says photoshoots can be for hairdressers, or for consumers. She used to work in a salon, but now with all her other work she does not have time for that. Sonya has had her work on the front of almost every hairdressing magazine. Sonya says it’s hard to find the right photographer for a hair photoshoot. Most photographers don’t focus on the hair in the right way. Lighting the hair right is really important. With darker hair colours this becomes harder. Getting the texture, colours and dimensions, especially with dark hair is very challenging. All other parts of the model and shot are extra. The hair is key. Sonya says she has done photoshoots where the detail of the hair is lost. However she realised that this was as much on her as the photographer as she hadn’t explained what she wants. As a solution to this she suggests mood boards are a great way to discuss this type of thing before the shoot. Marcus says there is lots of work out there for hair and beauty photographers. If you think about all of the hair dressers and salons out there who need work, as well as manufacturers, the number of potential customers is huge. At the moment Sonya works with ⁠Richard Monsieurs⁠. She has also worked with ⁠Marcus⁠ many times, ⁠Robert Lobetta⁠ and many more. Sonya says the personality of the photographer can make or break a photoshoot. They need to be calm, get on with everyone and really understand what is needed from the end result.

Sonya says there is huge amount of potential work as a hair photographer, even at a local level with all the salons. Studio photography is safe as you can totally control the lighting and environment. But Sonya also says this can be very sterile as sets need to be build or use green screen. So these are great for some shoots, but she prefers location shoots for the atmosphere. But for the photographer there is less control. That background provides so much for the shot. But outside there can be issues with heat, rain, wind, etc. Sonya says she did a shot in the desert which was quite complex and the poor model started to get sun burnt.

Marcus asks if hair shoots are moving to more on location out of studio shoots. Sonya says yes. Campaigns are getting out of the studio and moving to more editorial, lifestyle of shoot and campaign. The idea is the campaigns try to look like getting great hair is simple and easy to do. Marcus asks how a photographer could get into hair photography. Sonya says going to shows is great for building a network. The next thing is putting you out on social media as a hair photographer. Explain you are looking for hairdressers to help them show off their work. Competitions are great to enter and can help boost your visibility.  If you go to a brand they will want to see your portfolio and you’ll need at least twenty stunning shots. So the best thing is start with this and move on to brands once you have experience and a great portfolio.

Sonya explains that hair photography is lots of fun and a very lucrative area of photography. She has worked with a range of photographers with a lot of different approach to retouching. Some people she works with do very little retouching , but spend a lot of time getting the initial shot perfect. Other photographers do lots of retouching. And during a shoot the photographer needs to be talking to the team on a photoshoot to ensure everything goes as they want.

You can get hold of Sonya here





“Show Transcription”

Sam: Hello, Marcus. How are you doing today?

Marcus:  Oh, hi there, Sam. I’m really well. Thank you, mate. Really well. And yeah, hi to our listeners as well.

Sam:  Yep. Welcome listeners and Marcus. We’ve got an exciting guest today who I think you might know. Oh, I get the impression you might know today’s guest a little bit. So today on the show we have, Marcus is going to admit how he knows Sonya in a minute, but we have on today’s show Sonya Dove. Sonya is well a global creative director. Welcome to the show, Sonya.

Sonya: Thank you. Welcome. I’m excited about this. Very excited.

Marcus: Oh, great. And okay, this little secret is that Sonya is my sister. So if you all think, wow, how does Marcus know so much about Sonya Dove? Has he been stalking you or something? No, that’s not the answer. She’s my sister. So there we go.

Sam: And Marcus, and we have been told we have to take big sister, Marcus, not sister. Big sister.

Sonya:  Absolutely. Big sister. The knowledgeable one.

Marcus:  Yeah. All right. Don’t get too carried away. Right. Let’s go for it.

Sam: Excellent. Yeah. And Sonya, what we normally do with guests on the show is asking to introduce themselves. So Sonya, would you like to introduce herself to our listeners?

Sonya: Yes. My name is Sonya Dove. I’ve been well a global creative director for actually 40 years now. And I’ve been hairdressing for 45 and I’ve been very blessed and full of gratitude of my career. I’m very passionate about it and I’m very excited to be here.

Sam: Amazing. So, now are you actually hairdressing now or you’re more sort of guiding things and well, what are you doing on a day-to-day basis?

Sonya:  What I do on a day-to-day basis is I travel all through the United States and Canada and I teach and educate because hairdressing is a more face-to-face profession for education. I mentor a lot of hairdressers. I do a lot of photoshoots all the time and I also do small classes. I do classes from about 50 people up to large shows up to 15,000 people. So, it has given me the opportunity to travel the world and I still do it. I don’t travel as much now as I used to do many years ago, but I definitely still travel. I think I travel at least three times a month, two to three times a month.

Sam: Amazing. And then the photoshoots, I always, we always pick up when someone says photoshoots at me. What are the photoshoots about?

Sonya:  The photoshoots are really important actually because for the brands that I work for, they are the visual image of my creativity and also it’s using well as products to show the customers the stylists. So, when I say customers and stylists, customers are either salon owners, stylists or even the consumers. So, I have to put my foot in different buckets, you know, is it for the consumer? Is it for the hairdresser? So, the photoshoots are probably the most important aspect of my job as well as teaching. I used to work in a salon, a couple of years I started it from the very beginning, but two years ago I stopped working with salon only because of the overload of work of going virtual with classes, still traveling, so I had to let something go, unfortunately.

Marcus: Obviously, as Sam said, you know, our audience is primarily photographers on you. And that’s why we got you on the show, because as you said, you’ve done a lot of photoshoots, you’ve done advertising campaigns, you’ve worked on a lot of editorial. I mean, you’ve probably had your work featured on the front cover of just about every hairdressing magazine there is.

Sonya: Yes, I have a very, you know, very blessed for that opportunity. And also, it’s a great marketing tool having work published. It’s a win-win for whether it’s the manufacturer that I work for or for myself personally, because photographic work can get you out all over the world without even stepping on an airplane, to be honest. And it’s a very hard thing to pick the right photographer for a hairdressing photoshoot, because it’s very particular. The reason is a couple of points that I wanted to mention is a lighting for a photoshoot, for a photographer is primarily focused on the hair. Their hair has to be so well lit. And I learned that early on in my career, because I remember picking a photographer that was a wedding photographer or a photographer that did the photography for a newspaper campaign in the local newspaper. And they got a great image of the model from head to toe, but the hair just was not lit at all. Darker hair is harder to light than light blonde color hair. So a brunette brown is much harder to get the detail in the style and the color compared to a blonde. And that’s something that’s very important. But you want the hair to be photographed to show the texture, the colors, and the dimension within that shot. And then everything else, sort of the rest of the body, the arms, the eyes, the face, they are an additive to the hair. A little funny story, I remember photoshoot I did, and it was in London. And I got a top photographer, not a hair photographer, but a top top photographer. And I did dark brown hair with pieces of purple and blue in the hair. It was back in the 1990s, early 90s, and there, when I saw the images, you could not see any blue or purple, it just all looked black and dark brown. And I was really disappointed. But then I realized it was back on me, the hairdresser, not having that clear, concise conversation with the photographer to explain it. Because I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t really explain it enough. So something I really do now, and I encourage photographers to ask for if they’re doing hairdressing photoshoots, ask for mood boards or storyboards, because verbalness, like if you speak what you want, it can really be crossed. But if you show pictures of what you want and you explain what you’re going to be doing, it’s a clear, precise win. It really is.

Marcus: Fantastic. I mean, that’s a great information there. And I think, you know, it’s easy to forget, I mean, people get, photographers get so caught up in shooting fashion, you know, and that kind of work. And yet, hair photography and beauty is a real, it’s a very rich area. There’s lots of employability, there’s lots of gigs going for hair photographers.

Sonya: Yeah, you’re absolutely right, Marcus. To be honest, if I could explain the amount of hair companies in the world, it’s in the thousands and thousands, then you’ve got all those salon owners in the world, the owner salon that wants their work to be big size posters in their hair salons. So that’s number two. Then you’ve got all the hairdressers, like myself, that want their work to be published in magazines. And when it’s published in a magazine, it’s got to be stellar, it’s got to be stellar, because they won’t publish it if it’s not good. And there’s millions of those. So the revenue a photographer could really get by doing hair photography is, it’s incredible.

Sam: Yeah. It’s really what it is. And then to many people tend to specialise in this, or if somebody kind of decided to that be a fairly good market to go into, because, you know, I mean, you don’t, I suppose, I don’t look for hair photographers really, it’s not something I’ve put off before, but I mean, are there many people competing for this, or is it more you trying to find people?

Sonya:  There’s a lot of people competing for it, the way it is, like some of the photographers I’ve used in the past, they’re like their top photographers. I remember I did a photo shoot with Tien, and he was just like stellar, the top of the top. But then his personality sort of, he was so big that his personality intimidated a little bit. Some of the people, the models especially, at the moment I use a photographer from Holland called Richard Montserse, he’s great, Richard really makes the model and the hairdresser feel really, really as if they’re brilliant, he’s very calm, he’s brilliant, like that. I’ve used Marcus many, many times, Marcus’s work got him magazines, and he’s very easy going, but I do, I’ve used Robert Levetta, I’ve used, oh gosh, just numerous, numerous photographers, but if I may say to a photographer, the personality is key. It really is. They can make or break the photo shoot because they’ve got to listen to what the hairdresser wants, and they’ve got to understand the end goal. What is the end goal? Is it in the magazine? Is it in Vogue, or is it in a small little local magazine, but oh yeah, the opportunities for making money are insane. And I really hate that, because when I talk to some of the top hairdressers that are looking for photographers, there’s a lot of hairdressers that are looking, and there’s not that many photographers, and it’s fun, it’s really creative, it’s such a lot of fun, it really is, and it can build the image of the photographer, very freakin’ fast.

Sam: Yeah, so I was wondering about local as well, because you were talking about the top level, the big rider that took, but I mean, in every local town, in every local area, there’s an awful lot of salons, so if you were just in your local town promoting yourself as a hair photographer, presumably at that level, there isn’t actually that many, but there’s an awful lot of opportunities.

Sonya: Absolutely, really, the opportunities endless, it’s really endless, then you’ve got to think of as a photographer, what does the client want? So the client being the hairdresser, or the salon owner, or the brand, weller loyal, whatever the brand may be, you’ve got two types of photography, the safe photography is in a studio, that’s always safety, you’ve not got the hair blowing around, the studio photography is brilliant, you can really focus more on the hair and the colours and the tones and the texture by setting up the lighting, the only thing about studio photography, I find it personally can be sterile, because you can’t create a feeling with studio photography, you either have to build a set, or you have to do it on the green background, the green background, and then drop in something, so that’s more where it’s head and shoulders or body, but with a white background, grey, a tone of paper, a tone of colour, but you can’t get a feeling from it, so I do prefer location shoot, I love location.

Sam:  So you could kind of be stepping off the street, be in the park or whatever it is, but you’ve got that whole ambiance and around you rather than just being on the white screen.

Sonya: A hundred percent, that’s the one I like the most, because you’re where you do it, whether you’re in the desert, or whether you’re in the street park, or whether you’re in the town, it creates an image as a background that the hairdresser can then set the clothes, the makeup, the mood, can fit into that image. A lot easier. Downside, if you’re in England, it may be really fair.

Marcus:  Or if you’re like an elation, we had a lot of them, the heat in earlier, make up running and stuff.

Sonya: Yes.

Marcus: In other countries, so it’s always a problem.

Sonya:  And the hair’s very susceptible to the conditions of the very susceptible makeup, I know I did a makeup in the Mojave Desert, it was a great idea, and when we got there and the sun was so intense, I unfortunately decided to have reflective clothing, and what with the sun, the poor model was getting burnt a little bit, so I had to come out with the sunscreen, so there’s a lot to it. But there’s more planning on location and studio shooting.

Marcus: Do you think so? I mean, in the studio, you say it’s a sterile environment and you’ve got to bring the environment to it. It’s also, I think, in the studio, it’s more lit, isn’t it? It’s more technical.

Sonya:  Yeah, it’s technical in the studio, whereas you’re relying on the sun and you’re relying on the daylight for location. You know, we shot at 5am in the morning on the one in the Mojave Desert, and we had to be done by eight completely. And then everybody rested, and then we started picking it up back up again at sunset. So you’ve blank six hours in the middle where you just have to relax and sleep. Or, you know, just, yeah, it’s harder, it’s harder.

Marcus:  Sonya, do you think future trends, we’re going to see more shots on location and of a loose style? Because when we were working together, it was very, you know, about 10 years ago, it was very controlled, very tight, very typical, if I may say, hair. Do you think it’s going to change and the future become looser than look of it?

Sonya:  I think it will be, to be honest. I think the type of photography now is more relaxed for the hair industry. Let’s say, for instance, the big campaigns well I was doing now, it isn’t as strict as it was before, and it’s more relaxed. They want more, but like an editorial to be on it, editorial lifestyle is the number one thing that lots of brands want, because they want it to have that not so hard sell of the hair. We want it to look like it’s just organically happened, and oh, the hair looks nice.

Sam:  You could be like this too, and it won’t take much effort, sort of thing.

Sonya:  Exactly. Effortless hair, the hue at the moment, but it’s actually not effortless, a lot of work. The ironic thing, it’s like what it’s called bed hair, bed hair, was a big trend. It’s the hardest hair to get, bed hair.

Marcus: What do you mean? Yeah, yeah, like not in safety. Oh, yeah, bed head, yeah, yeah.

Sonya: But it’s funny because it’s not as easy as getting the model just turn up, which she won’t help with. It’s not that.

Marcus:  No, no, for sure.

Sonya: It’s not lifestyle, so it’s funny.

Marcus: You’ve wet in our appetite wonderfully, or our listeners about the benefits of getting into hair photography. Let’s talk a little bit more and pack a little bit more how people might go and about it. Maybe I can just start you off in one direction, talking about competitions, and maybe the one that happens at Salon, the London show where they have the competitions there, and I think which you’ve judged, I think?

Sonya:  Yes, yes. The Salon International in London, which happens every year, and there’s thousands of hairdressers, thousands of photographers, makeup artists, clothes designers that go there. And that’s a networking of where you might meet other people, where you might meet clients. I personally think going to things like that is great, but the better draw is putting yourself out there as a photographer on social media, or LinkedIn, or that you are a photographer. You’re looking for hairdressers that want to shoot their creative work, whether it be for their Salon, whether it be for the use of their clients in the client book, because there’s the clients that come into this salon, so that’s consumer work. So there’s so many facets, but Salon International and going to competitions will find you more of a brand. So if you want to hook up with L’Oreal, Weller, or Mitchell, or some of the brands, you need to hand round hairdressers. She needs to sort of define as photographer what you like to do. Going to a brand, if I may say, and I don’t mean to sound rude in saying this, you’ll have to have it pretty buttoned up to shoot hair to go to a brand, because they will ask for your portfolio. They will ask to see images of what you’ve done. And if you’ve not got a good 20 shots of total look or maybe head and shoulders, the hair well lit, it’s your sort of you’re running before you can walk, you need to see the baby steps. So it depends.

Sam: Start with the salons and stuff. And then I’m also wondering if you can help us on you, because photographers more generally, so you know, whether they’re in weddings, whether they’re in portraits, but other things for those general photographers can just think about in terms of hair. So, presumably as a hairdresser, you look at people saying you’re thinking of all sorts of things. But if somebody’s just, you know, they’re doing the wedding photography, they’re doing the portrait photography, are there things they can just keep an eye on for their clients that could just help them with their hair or make their hair stand out hints and tips sort of thing?

Sonya: Yes. What I would do is what I would suggest is to look at hair magazines. There’s so many. There’s a really incredible one in England called hairdressers journal. So it’s hairdressers journal and the work, the photographic work in there, it will you’ll get to see what you don’t know. Another one is Salon Evo. Evo is out of Glasgow. Incredible magazine.

Both of these so get to start to look at magazines, go to like a local newspaper, a local place where you buy magazines and look at the hair magazines that are being sold by them and then just look through them and you’ll start to get a very quick understanding of what that is, what type of work because it’s just full of thousands of hair pictures. So it’ll give you an idea. You want to go the magazine route. If you want to go the Salon route, you can just walk by in the high street or walk by any salons and they’ll have big posters in the salon. That’ll give you an idea of that type of hairdressing. But the big one is to attach yourself to major manufacture but you have to have a really pretty decent portfolio to do that.

Marcus: But you build your way up to it. You build your way up picture on your Sonia. I mean I did it. We started working together in the early days and we in the salon then gradually you know we started working obviously with yourself with Weller and Colston and Evo and other makes. So yeah you can build your way up through it.

Sonya: Yeah but honestly for photographers listening it is a lucrative way of doing photography. And honestly it’s so much fun with models.

Marcus: Yes. Headless is all fun.

Sonya: They’re good for their hard team. They yeah and it’s the energy in a photoshoot with hairdressers and the photographer because you create a team. You will be part of a team.

You’ve got the clothing stylist, you’ve got the maker parties, you’ve got the models. It’s so much fun. And I am not dissing catalog work or whatever. Sometimes it could be a bit sterile. I’m sorry. Do you know what I mean? A photographer is a creative human being.

And sometimes you just need that spark of fun in your life to do something different. A change.

Marcus:  I totally agree and I think you know that’s one thing you said creative. I think hairdressing photography is very very creative. You know it’s technical. There’s no denying.

It is a technical. It’s going to trap technical photographers. But there is a lot of creativity in there. And retouching skills indeed as well if you can do that kind of that all helped isn’t it?

Sonya: Yeah. Yeah. Now it’s funny enough you said retouching. I’ve worked with photographers like Nicholas Tronson. I’ve worked and he’s an amazing photographer. I used him a lot in the past and he is more of an old school person and he likes to shoot it perfectly and do very little retouching. Whereas Richard Montser he shoots the image. He shoots the image and if we need to negate this and add that and add this. He’s a massive retoucher like the image before in the image after retouched is like night and day. So you have to see do you like to be touch or do you prefer not to. So that’s something the photographer needs to work out. And also for the photographer get connected with the hairdresser because then you’re going to get connected in the team of clothing stylists and you all meet together and talk about what the end goal is. And the photographer has a say. He has an amazing say because he’s the main man. He also is the main person. Absolutely. Some incredible women photographers out there.

Marcus: Do you know Sonya? We’re coming to the end of the show but I’m so pleased we managed to get you on the show. I know you’ve got an incredibly busy schedule and it’s still rocking it away there in the hair world. But hopefully our listeners have really got across how much potential that is in hair and beauty photography.

Sam: And how fun it is. I mean it’s really come across the kind of the fun side. How much you actually really love it. \

Sonya: Oh yes and the fun side I think now in life in general and in the world fun is the key thing. You know jumping up out of bed knowing you’re going to go to do something so stimulating and inspiring for you compared to like wow wow you know really I think that’s what we have to think about. That’s what life is now to be honest.

Marcus:  Yeah and add healthy budgets as well with hair salons. You know there’s big bucks out there in the hair and beauty industry. I mean God you know I mean what’s the turnover well it’s billions isn’t it?

Sonya:  Oh it’s billions.

Sam:  Yeah and that’s before so it’s like I was going to say before we go from you though are you going to give us a little a little story about Marcus?

Marcus:  Oh no you’re not. No no that’s the end of the show. Thank you. It’s happy to say here.

Sam: We’ve got a little story about Marcus.

Sonya:  I don’t know how he put up with three sisters to be honest with the beach.

Marcus: It’s me who should be telling the stories here 70.

Be honest. He’s a medium. He’s put up with this.

Sonya: Actually he’s right. He’s right. That’d be great.

Marcus: Very very good. Very good. The wonderful world of hair and I’ve certainly benefited from it and I’ve had my foot in that camp and it’s been I had a great time. Travel around the world, work with you, other hairdressers, parties, producing some nice work, seeing your work on billboards in Times Square and stuff like that. It’s brilliant yeah.

Sonya:  Yeah oh it’s fabulous.

Sam: Okay amazing. Well thank you so much Sonja for sharing all of that with us. That has been amazing. We will share all of your contact details on the show note but you want to share that as now how people can get in touch if they want to catch up with you?

Sonya:  Oh yes. Actually I would like to my Instagram is that my Instagram the Sonja Dove and I hate to say so it’s T-H-E-S-O-N-Y-A-D-O-V-E that’s my Instagram and my Facebook is Sonya Dove.

Sam:  I will put links to those in the show notes too for everyone.

Sonya: Oh I tell you what I forgot yes that would be amazing because I got hacked and I used to have 60,000 followers and it went to zero and I’ll be fine to build up. I forgot about that actually there that would be amazing for me. It really would it would and if any photographers want to write I can definitely help and guide them at DM. They want to DM me seriously actually if they want to DM me I would definitely help them or put them in touch with people I know.

Marcus:  Fantastic.

Sam: That is so so kind Sonya. Thank you so much and as usual with all our guests there will be a little bit extra from Sonja in our newsletter bonus so if you’re already signed up to the newsletter this will be arriving in your inbox shortly or may have done already depending on when you’re listening to this. If you are not already signed up to the newsletter list then you need to be so you get these in your inbox as well as all sorts of extra hints and tips and markers and are you get past content and all sorts of bits and pieces so to sign up it’s really simple you go to the website and then you just click on the bit that says sign up to the newsletter put in your name and job done and it arrives in your inbox Bob’s uncle so everybody’s happy. Thank you Sonya that’s been amazing.

Sonya: Thank you it was so fun it really was.

Marcus:  Thanks Sonya

Sam:  And Marcus I will see you next week.

Marcus: yeah see you all next week bye.