I would have to say yes and no to your question about envisioning my shoot beforehand. In one aspect, I love to discover the light when I am there and let my surroundings help guide me. I love living in the moment and being able to be influenced by what is in front of me, but at the same time most of my shoots take a lot of preparation. By having a plan going into a shoot, you may not always get exactly what you were envisioning but you will always get something awesome. Usually, I am fueled by hearing about an obscure location or adventure that I would like to go on and then I will conceptualize a shoot there just so I can go. Sometimes I have ripped photos out of magazines and asked locals where I can find that place or sometimes I will think of a story or theme to shoot or a lighting technique that I have never tried before and I will then find a local indigenous family to test it out on. The overall theme to my work is “Adventure” and I think that I embrace the unknown and the whole process of getting to the actual photo taking. I definitely have a plan and a vision going into a shoot, but I love having the “unknown” factor. That is the best part!
I actually speak at conferences about how to design your business around the lifestyle that you want to have. I definitely believe that we create our own luck and have a lot of control in creating our careers and lifestyles. I have always tried to focus on a life of travel and have worked hard to build my body of work and persona as a Travel /Adventure Photographer. It all started with just getting out there and doing it, long before I was getting paid to shoot overseas. My 20’s I lived off credit cards to support my travel habit and it definitely paid off. I travel about 50% of the year and sometimes for extended periods of time. I feel like the more I travel, the more I long to travel. I am always planning the next trip before I have even returned from the present one I am on. It defines me and I love it and I extremely passionate about it, but it can also sometimes makes me feel imbalanced. I know it takes a toll on my boyfriend of 4 years and that he doesn’t like when I am away for long periods of time. We miss each other a lot and I long to have our home and exercise routine and more free time to see friends, study my music or do other things. This is the life I have always wanted, though, and I know that I need to soak it all in and take advantage of this while I am young and able.
I think my secret is my pure joy and passion about what I am doing and my extreme curiosity and fearlessness. I don’t just want to take a beautiful photo, I want to give the essence of a place and I want to understand what I am photographing. I also feel like I see light and color in ways that most people don’t. When I am scanning around for photos to take I am looking for light and color more than my subject matter…I look for patterns in human behavior as well as visually. I also think getting in close and personal always gives you more powerful of an image.
I think as the youngest of 4 girls in my family, I was always sort of able to be fearless and not parented as much growing up. As long as I can remember I have been adventurous and I would even plan out exploration expeditions in the woods around my house and map them out and keep a journal about them. I was always obsessed with Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic and have loved animals and exploration for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a traveling family and exposed to many cultures from around the world, so I think that has shaped my view on life and made me very open-minded. I love pushing my fear boundaries and experiencing everything there is to experience in life. I can never sit still and I have this urgent need to see everything this world has to offer in my lifetime….
My long lost childhood best friend Kathryn and I reconnected on Facebook and she invited me to fly out and visit Colorado for the first time to see her after 20 years. So I bought a plane ticket and said , “Let’s do it!”. Knowing I am a professional photographer, she googled the “most picturesque spot in Colorado” and came up with the Crystal Mill. We decided to create a road trip around finding and taking photos of the Mill. After a failed attempt to get there (we made it within 3 miles after driving ALL day to get there and found out that there are no roads to the Mill. You either need an ATV or have to hike in the wilderness for 8 hours to get to the Mill), I was determined to come back and “conquer” the mill. Luckily, I have an awesome boyfriend who is always up for one of my crazy adventures:) So once I got home, I decided to research the best time of year to come back to the Crystal Mill and found out that I should go during the 2 weeks when the Aspen trees have all turned a brilliant Yellow in the Fall. Jason agreed to hop on a plane with me with no plans, no hotels, and no clue how to get there, just to try to find an obscure Mill from the 1890′s, in a ghost town, deep into the wilderness….my kind of man:)…So we did JUST THAT.
I have done a ton of traveling and been on many adventures in my life, but that Sunday was one of the most fun days of my life! Armed with a picnic from Whole Foods, a map and an ATV, Jason and I rode for hours along gorgeous scenic roads, some just boulders 11,000 ft in the air on a cliffside, to find the Mill. EVERYWHERE you looked was glowing yellow with the blue, ice-capped Rocky Mountains in the distance and it was just breath-taking…literally. I am so glad that Jason drove the ATV so I could sit on the back and take photos. It was an amazing, intimate adventure and something I will never forget. When we finally reached the mill, we sat and had our picnic and just took it all in. It’s hard to believe that people found their way this deep in the wilderness 100 years ago and were able to build a town and mine for silver there; braving the frigid winters there. The time of year we chose was PERFECT though.
This trip in general was exactly what I needed. I didn’t bring a laptop, took naps, read an entire book, woke up early, hiked, ate great meals, had wine in the hot tub…and just ENJOYED nature and time together with Jason minus our dueling laptops…EVERYONE should take a trip like this…sooner than later. You can see a blog post I did about the Mill here.
This is a tough question and to be honest, I feel like that is one of the things I need to work on: Curating my work more.
It is so hard when I take hundreds of thousands of photos a year, to narrow them down to the best of the best. I will say that I KNOW when I am traveling when I have taken “the shot” that I am most excited about. You know it the second you take it.
When I choose my photos to blog from or use to describe my trip to others, I always find that I have a handful of shots in my mind that stand out and those are the winners. Usually, it would be an epic moment, something with vibrant color or lighting or patterns.
I always edit my work with vibrant colors and I want to take a photo that can stand alone as an art piece and not just be about a local woman sitting on a curb or a typical landscape. Most of my photos have people in them, but it’s about the overall cinematic scene that I look for. I discovered while going through my images that I shoot mainly in a horizontal format and I think this made me realize that I DO look at the scene cinematically.
Deciding to sell my work was a natural progression. I have been creating fine art travel work since I was in my early 20’s, but I never felt confident about it. That it was “art worthy” more than just a hobby of mine. (Yes, professional photographers think this way too).
It wasn’t until I funded a trip to go to Peru with just the SOLE purpose of shooting travel fine art that my perspective changed. That trip changed my life and helped give me the confidence to start my travel Wanderlust website. It is amazing when you go into a trip with a clear focused mind and are not being commissioned to be there, that your real creative juices come out. I love having a blank slate without a specific story to tell and then having to find that story. To this day my favorite image I have ever taken was of the thousands of storks at sunset flying away from my boat in the Amazon . I think I love that photo so much, because that moment for me was one of those moments I knew I would look back on when I was 100 years old and on my deathbed and think of how beautiful life was. There’s more about this moment in a video post here.
Try to get out of your comfort zone and shoot differently and from different angles than you are used to.
Go up and meet people and then ask their permission to take a photo. Spend the day with their family instead of just stealing photos as you walk around.
I always carry a little bit of pocket change to tip people when I ask to take their photo. It definitely makes them more receptive to posing for you.
Compositionally, there are certain “photojournalistic rules” that they teach you in Photo 101, but are really true and are used by any professional National Geographic photographer.
Some of those tips are:
-Shoot through something to frame your subject; like a fence or branches
-shoot at low, high, and wide angles not just straight on at eye-level
-Don’t always center your subject. Using the rule of thirds putting your subject off center is more powerful
– Edit your photos when you are home.
There are many softwares out there and you can learn how to use them on YouTube or by asking a friend. Most are very easy to figure out. I use Adobe Lightroom and it has changed my life in terms of getting the final image that I love and really reflects my style.
For Laura Grier, growing up in Indonesia and the US planted the seed for what would become a life-long quest to travel and document the world. With a dual degree from Syracuse University in both photojournalism and art photography, Laura has always blended the two genres to create a unique, vibrant, conceptual style that allows her work to stand alone.
By age 18, Laura obtained top secret clearance with the Central Intelligence Agency working in their photo imaging department. She then went on to work in London for the rock and roll-themed magazine, Mixmag. Two years later she understudied with National Geographic photographer, Ed Kashi, in Florence Italy which launched her career with that magazine.
Since then, her photography has taken her to six continents. She has worked freelance for a variety of media giants as well as entertainment studios. She has been published countless times in over 25 different magazines and won the Nationwide photo contest in American Photo Magazine for the Top Ten Best Wedding Photos of the Year. Recently, one of Laura’s photos won the World Wide National Geographic Traveler Contest for the Top Ten Best Travel Photos of the year and PDN Magazine’s Top Knots Contest in 2013. Laura has been a platform speaker for WPPI, WIPA, Catersource, Step Up Women’s Network, and the Wedding MBA Conference and has launched her first International Photography Workshop in Guatemala in 2014.
Presently, Laura is a Los Angeles based Photojournalist, and the founder and owner of both Beautiful Day Photography, one of LA’s most highly regarded wedding companies specializing in Destination Weddings, and Wanderlust by Laura Grier, her travel blog about her fine art and, behind the scenes of her jetsetting around the world. During the year, she can be seen overseas shooting weddings, balancing language books in one hand and camera in another. Laura’s ability to combine her love of travel, adventure, weddings, and art into a chic, vibrant perspective, has made her a renowned International photographer.