Laura Grier’s Colorful World of Travel and Adventure Photography
By Tim Cotroneo
Laura Grier wears so many career hats that it’s hard to pick just one for describing this Travel Photographer, Adventure Photographer, and Wedding Photographer.
Grier began globe-trotting at a young age, and photography seemed like a natural bridge for seeing life in the best possible light.
This ever-moving photographic entrepreneur sat down just long enough to share her fascinating story. Let’s catch a glimpse of Laura Grier’s favorite images, destinations, and travel anecdotes from around the world.
Q: Where are you based?
A: I am based between Los Angeles and Miami, but I am a patron of the world.
Q: How did you get started in photography?
A: I am a Travel Photographer specializing in Destination Weddings and Adventure Photography. I am a thrill seeker and obsessed with travel and documenting new experiences. You could call me a Photo-Anthropologist. The entire reason I became a photographer was because I was obsessed with watching Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic channel at a young age. I actually thought I wanted to be a Zoologist or an Archaeologist, my whole childhood, because to me that meant being Indiana Jones☺
My three sisters and I had a very unusual upbringing. Growing up, both of my parents worked for the CIA and we were stationed all over the world. At a young age I was living in Jakarta, Indonesia and Thailand and I was constantly around new languages and cultures. I realized there is a huge world outside of my bubble and it has created this wanderlust/travel bug within me that will always influence my work.
I will never forget what it was like when I was 17, rummaging through my mom’s closet trying to find my fake ID that she had confiscated, only to find all 6 of her alias fake ID’s. Talk about unexpected! But my life has been full of travel and the unexpected and from a young age I realized that I could combine the adventure of being an archaeologist, with my obsession for National Geographic and become a Photographer and nothing has gotten in my way since.
Photograph: City Waters in Valencia, Spain. Laura’s story: I loved walking through the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. The buildings are all architectural wonders and they are so surreal against the natural landscape. I loved playing with reflections, the color, and the geometric designs of the buildings.
Q: What is your favorite camera or “go to” camera?
A: I LOVE the Canon 5D Mark 4 OR the new R5/R6 mirrorless Canons. I just feel like Canon sees color in the same way I do.
Q: How do you educate yourself to take better pictures?
A: Honestly, my education of learning photography on film before digital was invaluable. I learned how to take my time and wait for the right moment to shoot, how to fix things and frame them in camera, and how to see light and shoot lighting correctly in camera. When I was shooting film. I had 36 exposures a roll and only 5-10 rolls per wedding to shoot. So you couldn’t waste your exposures or just shoot hoping to get lucky. You had to time your shots and frame them and light them correctly the first time. It also saves me hours of fixing things on the computer in post-production, so I think just learning the basics of light and shooting on the manual setting on my camera is really the best way to improve your photography.
Photograph: Paradise Shore in the Dominican Republic. Laura’s story: This image just makes me happy and encompasses the feeling I get every time I am in the Caribbean. I step out of my resort in the morning to a wonderful beach day. I photographed this image the morning of a wedding I was shooting in the Dominican Republic. It was a perfect day!
Q: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
A: I wish someone would have told me that I had more control over the types of jobs I wanted and to go brand myself from the beginning. Also, I wish someone would have explained that “success” is not based on getting the most money or celebrity jobs, but based on if you are doing what you love. I would have been less hard on myself. Also, to not compare yourself to others and be ok with being unique and having your own style.
Q: What is your photographic niche and what is it about this niche that appeals, inspires, or satisfies you?
A: I graduated at 17 years old and went to Syracuse University for Commercial Photography and Fine Art Photography. That same year a book came out called, La Chapelle Land, a coffee table book by the famous photographer David La Chapelle, that would forever influence me, my photography, and my outlook on how to create an image. I realized that there was just so much thought put into every aspect of his over the top saturated imagery. As a photojournalist (and especially at a wedding) there are so many elements out of our control when capturing the day, but I found that I could still apply some of those techniques through the use of color, controlling my light and backgrounds, and in post production editing an image in a way that evokes the same emotions for the viewers.
Photograph: Purple Dock on Flores Island. Laura’s story: This photo marks the beginning of one of the most amazing sailing experiences of my life sailing through the Komodo Islands of Indonesia. At night the bioluminescence made it look like the water was purple diamonds, and during the day we would stop at pink sand beaches and snorkel. At night we would watch millions of giant flying fox bats fly over us to hunt. That area of the world is still so underdeveloped and pristine. The only way you can see it is by boat.
Q: Tell us how you added entrepreneur to your photographer repertoire?
A: When I went out on my own and founded Beautiful Day Photography, I had to ask myself “What kind of business do I want to have?”
If I truly wanted to be Indiana Jones and to have this life of adventure, I would have to focus on destination weddings. I also asked myself, “What made me different and unique?” The answer was that I am giving them a vibrant experience. Not only through my hyper colorful imagery, but with the service I provided as well. I love to travel and have adventures and I will do whatever it takes the get the shot. I love to tell a story that takes my clients on a surreal journey during their shoot that looks as beautiful and glamorous as they have envisioned it themselves. For my wedding couples, they are experiencing their weddings with heightened emotions, so I feel like I just enhance my own images to match their vision. I am there every step of the way and filtering their own wedding through my eyes and that is my selling point. So my clients are hiring ME, not just my photography, to capture the fun, beauty and adventure of the entire event. I am branding myself as an experience not just a photographer.
Q: How did you get started incorporating Expeditions and Global Goddess into your skill set?
A: If I am honest with myself, I have been doing “expeditions” and “goddess shoots” since I was a little kid. I was always adventuring in the woods and documenting and mapping out my adventures with friends. When my mother gave me her camera at age 11, I started dressing up my friends in costumes and doing photo shoots of them. Now 30 years later, I find that nothing really has changed. I just started packing long flowy, colorful fabric on my adventures to enhance my photos on my travels and once people started seeing those images, they wanted to have the same adventurous experience with a dramatic photoshoot attached, thus “goddess” shoots were born. I found that they always coincided with a major life event, like a milestone birthday or transitional period in someone’s life and that doing a shoot like that was fun, empowering, and very personal for the person who I was photographing. I love combining an adventure to get to the actual photoshoot location with my goddess shoots, because I think the journey sometimes is more important than the shoot itself. The images will always remind you of your journey to get there and that is why they are so powerful.
Q: What are the typical preparations that go into your photographic shoots?
A: Storyboarding out the looks and colors and what locations we are wanting to do is always part of the preparation. Researching the weather, locations, lighting, and the cultural customs of where I am going to is always super important. Also, making sure I have everything charged and extra batteries and that I have everything I could possibly need packed in a carry-on bag is also important, because sometimes you have to hike far to get to where you are going and you won’t have power or basic necessities.
Q: How did you get involved in National Geographic’s Artisan Catalog?
The most satisfying work that I have done in my photography career has been working with Novica, National Geographic’s artisan catalog, which is a global catalog that represents artisans from the around the world who are practicing “Vanishing Arts”. Over the past 12 years, I have traveled to India, Bali, Thailand, Guatemala, Mexico, and down to Peru many times through photographing their artisans. I originally met the CEO of the catalog while putting on my shinguards on the side of the field on my Monday night soccer league in Los Angeles. I had been playing soccer for years with him and one night he said they needed a photographer to go to Peru last minute and I accepted and the rest is history.
In Peru, I fell in love with the country and the Quechua culture. While on a hike in the Rainbow Mountains with my girlfriend Pats we came across many amazing Andean women. We were captivated with their unique hats and weavings. Determined to share the energy of the Sacred Valley with the world and to help bring awareness to these female artisans and their cultural practices, we came up with the concept of a hat company that combines their traditional hat styles and weavings called Andeana Hats. Creating Andeana Hats combined all of my passions in life : mentoring, women’s education, photography, travel, Peru, and wearing hats into one passion project. Andeana Hats works closely together with multiple indigenous communities in the remote Andes mountains of Peru to empower women and connect them to global market places. I am proud to have used my photography to create a business that invests in women’s skills, connects them to market access and supports their leadership so they can increase their income and transform their communities. Our mantra is to empower artisans, connect and mentor, and preserve endangered traditions. These are all powerful, fundamentally important mantras that drive us all to work together in this shared goal of spreading global happiness.
Photo: Lava Magic at Yellowstone National Park. Laura’s story: The Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone National Park doesn’t look like much when you are standing at ground leve and next to it. You can only see brownish red edges. But if you hike up to the top of a nearby hillside and look down, you can see all the colors of the rainbow in this geyer’s eye and it it so beautiful to behold. I wish I could have flown a drone over it to really capture all of its glory, but that was not allowed.
Q: What do you try to say in your photographs?
A: I feel like I find the beauty, fun, and color in any subject that I shoot whether it’s a young or old person, rich or poor, a landscape or party…I see the happiness and beauty within it and I try to highlight it. It is a bonus that I get to travel, create and go on adventures, and shoot beautiful images of beautiful exotic places through my work. Not only do I feel like what I am doing is relevant and important to my clients, but I feel a lot of love and appreciation for what I do. I am capturing memories that will be cherished for many lifetimes for some people and for the most part I am always surrounded by happiness, beauty and love.
Photograph: Colors of the Rainbow I at Kathmandu. Laura’s story: Traveling to the Boudhanath Buddhist Stuppa in Kathmandu during a Buddhist holiday was such a treat. We got to see all of the Buddhist monks preparing and decorating the stuppa all day. We also observed them praying and walking around the stuppa in circles. The younger monks were sitting, reading prayers, and playing all kinds of musical instruments while wearing thier red, orange, and yellow monk cloaks. It was just a vibrant image wherever you looked.
Q: Anything I haven’t asked that you’d like readers to know about you or your photography?
I think that no matter what stage you are in your career you will always have to “hustle” and keep putting yourself out there and keep creating and evolving. It’s about positioning yourself to be in front of the right door when it opens. I call that hard work and preparation, not luck.
I think it is super important to work underneath another photographer as an apprentice to gain invaluable experience. Back in 2000, I was 21 years old and I walked into a local photography studio and refused to leave until they gave me a job. I didn’t care what they hired me to do, I just wanted to work in a photography studio. So I started working for them and I was having the time of my life. At the time I was getting paid $8 an hour to shoot weddings and run the studio. What I didn’t realize was that I was getting a priceless education into how to start and run a business without having to make the expensive mistakes on my own.
I was able to see where and how they were getting their leads and how they were wasting their money on advertising. I got to see the mistakes they made with clients and learned from their trials and errors. I ended up working there for 4 years managing their headshot photography studio. We started getting wedding referrals and it got so busy that I helped them launch their wedding photography business at the time. I learned how to handle inquiries, how to handle client consultations, shoot weddings, put orders in the lab, create contracts, put together albums…I did everything but write the checks. It was an invaluable education on how to run a small business without having to put my own money into it or make expensive mistakes. This experience not only taught me how to set up and structure my own company in a successful way, but it gave me the courage and confidence to start my own company and feel prepared to run it.
Learn more about Laura Grier and her photography at https://lauragriertravel.com/