Saturday, December 4, 2021

An Interview with HRH Princess Sophie of Romania


HRH Princess Sophie at Książ Castle, Poland

HRH Princess Sophie of Romania is the author-cum-photographer of a new book, Manastirea Romana The Romanian Monastery, which was recently published by Editura Corint, a Romanian-based publisher.  The book is in English and Romanian.

The Princess agreed to an interview about the book and her work as a photographer.   She is the fourth of five daughters of the late King Michael and late the Queen of Romania.   

Although she was raised in exile in Switzerland, Princess Sophie lived for some time in the United States where she studied in North Carolina and Washington, D.C.   She now lives in Romania where she is involved in several organizations and carries out engagements on behalf of the Romanian crown.

What was the inspiration for this book?  

I longed t travel throughout the country with my camera. Romania has some of the most remarkable rural areas and cultural heritage in Europe. From the magic of the Carpathians to the rolling hills of Maramures with their characteristic dwellings, to the unaltered splendours of the Danube Delta, and a wilderness to be preserved and treasured, all these things offer a magnificent spectacle and bear witness to a way of life that has remained unchanged for centuries. 

In 2017 I created the "Romania, a Celebration" project. It is an umbrella project that consists of an assortment of specific subjects presented through books and exhibitions which would allow people to discover Romania from the unique perspective of a member of the Romanian Royal Family. 

I had visited and stayed in several of Romania’s monasteries during my travels throughout the country in the 1990s. Some of these remarkable places date back to the Middle Ages. Several are recognized as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Yet despite being celebrated as international treasures nestled in foothills, hiding in the folds of mountains or in full view around cresting heights, life for the residents of these spiritual and cultural treasures has remained hidden from public view. 



There was no question in my mind that the first topic of this project should be the monasteries of Romania. Though this book entitled, The Romanian Monastery  “Celebrating Romania’s Spiritual Communities", I am bringing to the forefront a rarely seen side of the Romanian Monastery, that of a human experience in a spiritual setting. 

Did you need to approach the different monasteries and receive permission to photograph them?

Despite having been to dozens of them, it took time to find those I wished to highlight publicly, for their specific characteristics and location. I ended up focusing on four of them, in different parts of the country. 


It was only when I had made the preliminary selection that the Church was approached for advice and permission to carry out the photography after which it would notify the chosen monasteries.

Covid-19 aside, how long did it take you to photograph the book?

The groundwork was all completed well before the pandemic. Being rigorous in the organization allowed me to travel from one monastery to the other with efficiency. I stayed in each one for an average of about a week which gave me the time to cover the material I needed from dawn to nightfall. I was able to immerse myself completely in the life of these sacred places and to have the opportunity to interview members of each monastery. I was on location for approximately a month and a half.


Can you talk about the process of preparing for a photographic shoot of the monasteries and their residents?

In each monastery, I let the inhabitants lead the way and set the pace according to their schedule and the monasteries timetable. 

The nuns and monks I met were very open, kind, and generous. I had long conversations with some of them about their lives and their activities. They showed me around with enthusiasm and grace, explaining how things work every step of the way. I listened and followed with my camera. Nothing was staged, everything was photographed in situ. I wanted the images to translate the reality of their activities. 

 They took me behind the scenes so I could truly understand the monastic life beyond prayer, which enabled me to experience aspects of their spiritual lives with total openness. I was able to photograph them cooking, cleaning, tending to their vegetable gardens, caring for their animals, working in the restoration and craft workshops, and other fascinating places not seen by the public. Each evening, I would go over all the photographs and material I had collected during the day so I could start afresh the next morning. This allowed me to take additional photos of a certain aspect if necessary and delve deeper into some of the information already given. 

Presenting the book at the Horezu Monastery

How did the book come about?

I had done some research about different publishers, and I looked at several photography books some of them had done. One of them had already published several books concerning my family and were of very good quality. This was very helpful in making the right decision.  

Work on the book began a few months after the shooting on location. We set a book launch date with the publisher for the following spring, and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The book was put on hold and the organisation of complementary exhibitions came to a complete halt. 

Work on the book didn’t start again for at least a year and was delayed more than once. It was finally published at the end of October 2021, 17 months after the original launch date, and online, due to the continued issues with Covid-19. 

Tending to the graves

What cameras do you use - and what lenses did you use for this book?

My cameras are Canon. For this book, I used a 7D and a 7D Mark II and I used a 50mm, a 15-85 mm, a 70-300 mm, and a 10-18 mm.

How many photos did you take- and how many were used?

I took about 2000 photographs in all. The weather was not always cooperative, so some images were not suitable. This is a normal part of the job as I try to get the best image directly “in the box” as opposed to heavy manipulation while editing. 

The number of images for the book was limited to about 150. Photographic books, particularly those in colour are expensive to produce. This was not an issue for me but narrowing down and selecting the right photographs was a challenge! 

Vegetable garden

On another note, tell me about the Warsaw exhibit - and how that came about?

Over the past 150 years, the members of my family, especially women, have made a real contribution to the arts, not only as patrons but as artists themselves.

Through my photographic work, I contribute to my family's continued commitment to celebrate our country and raise awareness around the world about its priceless heritage, culture, and natural beauty. 

Poland and Romania have strong historical links. All generations of the Romanian Royal Family have contributed to the deepening of relations with Poland, especially King Ferdinand and Queen Marie, King Carol II, and King Michael I,  my father. 

My exhibition in Poland called “Travels Through Romania” was yet another connection between the two countries. It took place in the Książ Castle located near the town of Walbrzych in lower Silesia in Southwestern Poland, about 275 miles away from Warsaw and about 19 miles from the Czech Republic.  

My first visit to Książ Castle was in the summer of 2019, the year that marked the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. It was during this first visit that I was offered the opportunity to have an exhibition there. This was all the more meaningful to me because my great-grandmother Queen Marie had stayed there as a guest of the princes of Pless having been a friend of Princess Daisy. The exhibition was all set to take place in September of 2020. 

Like the monastery book, this exhibition was postponed because of the pandemic. It was nevertheless a joy to promote my country there through my work for the months of September and October 2021 a year after it was scheduled to show. 

The exhibition presented 3 different angles of Romania. The first displayed the beauty of the landscapes and rural life through the seasons. The second showed various photographs taken on location in the monasteries. The last group of photographs consisted of a collection of black and white portraits, depicting some of the memorable people that I have met during my travels in the country. 

Do you prefer to shoot landscapes or people?

I have been shooting landscapes since I became serious about photography and like a lot of landscape photographers, I have been accustomed to working alone. 

The seed for stepping into a different subject matter was planted in 2018 when I became the recipient of the “Award of Excellence in Photography Art 2018” from the “Kotinos International Awards” in collaboration with the Philanthropy International Organization, member of the United Nations and the “Grupo Saned. I didn’t realize it at the time, but receiving this award was a turning point in my career.

Like every artist, I was slowly becoming aware that I had reached a point in my work where I had to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to grow and move forward as a photographer. 

When I decided to do the monastery theme, I knew I would be confronted with the challenge of working alongside other people. It was difficult at first, but after a while, I became accustomed to getting on with it and working out how I wanted to present a given scene, such as nuns praying in a dark church which in itself presented a whole new set of challenges or watching them work the ovens in a steamy and hot bakery. 

How did you get interested in photography and when did you get your first camera? 

Since I was a little girl, I had always seen my father with a camera. He used to show us his slides during family evenings I greatly looked forward to those moments and they remain cherished memories of my childhood. 

Ever since I can remember, my sisters and I always had a camera. As a young girl, I wanted to take pictures as beautiful as my father's, so I applied myself. 

During my studies, later on, I took photography at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. I then attended the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington DC, where I studied Graphic Design, and after which I was aiming at a master’s in photography. 

However, the events of 1989 in Romania changed the course of my life. I interrupted my studies and returned to the family home in Switzerland to work alongside my father and do what I could to contribute to the spiritual and social renewal of my country through the Royal Margareta of Romania Foundation of which I was vice-president for several years. 

Do you shoot in raw or jpeg?

My career as a photographer didn’t start until 2007. I was lucky to have a mentor. He was a seasoned war photographer who supported and encouraged me enormously and from whom I learned so much in the early days about the art of taking digital photos and how to edit them. This is when I stopped shooting in JPEG and started shooting in RAW and I’ve never looked back.  

He taught me that one does not need the latest and most expensive equipment to take decent photographs. Some people have complimented me on my work, by saying things like “Wow, you must have a good camera!”. They mean well, and I’m grateful, but this is like telling a Chef that they have good saucepans, or that a hairdresser has a good pair of scissors. 

Are you planning another book of photographs or another project?

Romania a Celebration is still in its early days. “Travels Through Romania” hung for 2 months in Poland and has been seen by hundreds of people. Now, this first book is finally in print. The project will grow and evolve with time. 

I am already doing the research for the next topic. Hopefully, I will be able to start shooting during the spring of 2022. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic which is wreaking havoc all over the world and creating such hardship for all of us will dictate if this will be possible or not. In any event, it could easily take a year or thereabouts to complete the photography, no matter when the shooting starts. 

Any other exhibitions upcoming?

Exhibitions are never far from my mind. I am hoping that at some point in the future, the talks for the complementary exhibition to the book that has just come out can be reactivated. This would involve a traveling exhibition to major cities in Romania as well as various European capitals, but again Covid-19 will control the possibility of making this venture a reality. 

Can the book be ordered internationally?

Here is the link for ordering the book in the European Union:

For those living outside the European Union, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and everywhere else, please send an email to Mrs. Gabriela Mitrovici at the publishing house. She speaks English and is eager to assist anyone who wishes to purchase the book:

The book makes for a lovely Christmas gift for anyone who wishes to discover little-known aspects of my country and find some solace in these spiritual dwellings found on the pages of the book. 

If you want to learn more about Princess Sophie and her work, please visit (and enjoy) her website, where you will find more of her photos.

My thanks to Her Royal Highness for agreeing to this interview.


  1. I live in Newlands Manor near Lymington in the New Forest (UK). It was Daisy Princess of Pless’s childhood home. Interesting that princess Sophie’s grandmother Queen Marie and Daisy were friends - as above in the interview.

  2. the two moms arranged a marriage between Ileana and Alexander of pless (engagement announced), but then Marie learned (as did the Romanian government) that Lexel was gay so the engagement was broken