A chat with Laura Grier

A childhood spent between the US and Indonesia planted the seed for top travel photographer Laura Grier’s quest to document the world. Now based in Venice Beach, California, her dynamic career has seen her travel through six continents, publishing her work in over 25 magazines and winning awards such as National Geographic Traveler’s Top Ten Best Travel Photos of the Year.

Woman walking away on sand dune, Huacachina Oasis, Peru, South America

How did you first get into photography?

At 13 I really thought I wanted to be a zoologist. My mother plainly asked me what I was good at, not what I loved to do. So I said: “I am adventurous and fearless, I am creative, and I am good at talking to people.” Then my mother said: “OK, based on this I don’t ever see you being a scientist. I don’t see you sitting in a laboratory for hours on end with a microscope. What is it about zoology that you love?”

Wild monkeys, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India
Wild monkeys, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

I said that I wanted to travel the world and be around animals and study them, and that I wanted to experience new people and places. So then my mother said: ”Why can’t you be the photographer filming the show instead of the scientist?”

It was like a light bulb went off. It made complete sense. From that point on I decided I was going to study photography and nothing has gotten in my way since. She taught me that I should create my dream job around my strengths, weaknesses, and passions and not try to force something that is not in my nature.

American Ninja Warrior Acrobat, Travis Brewer, does a back flip off a boat in Tulum, Mexico
American Ninja Warrior Acrobat, Travis Brewer, does a back flip off a boat in Tulum, Mexico

Where are you now and what are you shooting?

I just got back yesterday from an epic James-Bond themed roadtrip/assignment funded by the Board of Tourism of the Czech Republic where my boyfriend and I did a series of styled Bond-esque photo shoots through the Czech Republic, Monaco and Italy in locations that were featured in the movie Casino Royale. My next trip is a press tour for Princess Cruises through Alaska.

Floating on a gondola, Venice, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Veneto, Italy, Europe

What are your favourite destinations to photograph and why?

I love going anywhere new where I am out of my comfort zone and discovering new cultures. Shooting in Peru, India, and Bali have been my favorite places I have taken photos of to date by far. They still have places that feel untouched by modern civilization and I like being transported back in time, not to mention they are very colourful cultures to photograph.

Holy man smoking, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, Asia
Holy man smoking, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, Asia

How would you describe your style?

I have a very vibrant, colourful, impactful style. I am known for my adventurous clients and jobs and I feel like that energy comes through in my photos.

Two indigenous Toltec men performing a sunrise ceremony on the beach of Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Two indigenous Toltec men performing a sunrise ceremony on the beach of Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Can you recall a favourite experience on your travels?

My long lost childhood best friend Kathryn and I reconnected on Facebook and she invited me to 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. After a failed attempt to get there – you either need an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) or have to hike in the wilderness for 8 hours – I was determined to come back and ‘conquer’ the mill.

The Crystal Mill, Marble, Colorado, United States of America, North America

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. My boyfriend 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 1890s, in a ghost town, deep into the wilderness. So we did just that.

Aspen trees in the Fall, Aspen, Colorado, United States of America
Aspen trees in the Fall, Aspen, Colorado, United States of America

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, a map and an ATV, my boyfriend 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. It was an amazing, intimate adventure and something I will never forget.

Quechua man rowing a boat on the Floating Grass islands of Uros, Lake Titicaca, Peru
Quechua man rowing a boat on the Floating Grass islands of Uros, Lake Titicaca, Peru

Can you recall a particularly challenging experience while taking photos and travelling?

While shooting a destination wedding in The Republic of Georgia only days away from it being invaded by Russia, political protests were so intense that my taxi refused to drop me off at my hotel. After a 17 hour flight, I had to drag my bags two miles through protests just to check into her hotel. My quest to find the couple and the wedding party began..

Peace Monument, Caucasus Mountains, Border of Russia and Georgia, Central Asia
Peace Monument, Caucasus Mountains, Border of Russia and Georgia, Central Asia

With no instructions, a driver that spoke no English, and a three hour drive high up into the Caucacus Mountains, my assistant and I feared that we were being kidnapped. Suddenly, an avalanche takes out the road and we see a group of people pushing a van through the snow…only to realize that the van was the wedding party! We had to abort cars and jump into jeeps. Finally, the road ended and the only way to get to the monastery perched high in the clouds was by climbing on our hands and knees up the mountain through snow. Finally, we reached the summit only to be told by the Black Monks that ‘no women or photography is allowed’. I was like ‘hell no!’, so the groomsmen had to throw a monk’s cloak over me and sneak me and my camera in!

Driftwood in Golden Bay, Tasman Region, South Island, New Zealand, Pacific
Driftwood in Golden Bay, Tasman Region, South Island, New Zealand, Pacific

What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite piece of equipment?

A universal international travel power adapter, my Canon 5D Mark III camera and Adobe Lightroom, and I love my 16-35mm lens for dramatic clouds and landscapes and well as my 50mm 1.2 lens. It can shoot in candlelight and be crisp…an amazing lens.

Night portrait of Pyramid at Tikal, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guatemala
Night portrait of Pyramid at Tikal, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guatemala

What are your tips for taking a good photo?

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. 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.

Men throwing colored pigment, Holi Festival, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India
Men throwing colored pigment, Holi Festival, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India

I wish someone would have told me..

That I had more control over the types of jobs that I took and to brand myself from the beginning. Also, to not compare myself to others and to be OK with being unique. My lack of confidence in the beginning was the only thing that held me back when I was starting out.

Little girl standing in her window in the blue houses of Jodhpur, the Blue City, Rajasthan, India

What are your future plans?

Teaching international photography workshops, living and working abroad and splitting my time between Europe and the US, selling more fine art, having a TV show about my exotic travel adventures in photography, and having a life partner to share these things with.

See more of Laura’s work