Meet Photographer, Solo Traveler & Author Laura Austin
Photographer Laura Austin (@lauraaustin) is a world-renowned photographer who just published SOLO: A Guidebook To Traveling Alone. Her clients include the likes of Nike, Google, New Balance, and more. She's a serious adventurer, she's not afraid of shooting with film, and her message to you is to "Get off your ass and out of your comfort zone and go out into the world."
Enter to win a copy of SOLO here!
Interviewer Alexi Ueltzen (@alexi) is Ello’s Social Media & Email Manager. If she’s not at the office, she’s probably swimming, getting muddy with her dogs, or baking cookies. The best cookies.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into photography?
I started off working as a graphic designer… well trained in composition, color, and aesthetics. After becoming tired of sitting behind a desk I took a job as the online editor of Snowboarder Magazine where I was both writing and shooting. Snowboarding eventually felt like too small of a box, so I combined my knowledge of aesthetics from design and story telling from journalism into a new career path… photography, where I could tell stories visually. I made the plunge into freelance photography in 2012 and have been doing that professionally ever since.
Are you a digital or a film photographer?
I started off in film. I think that’s the best way to really understand the craft. With film, you’re forced to learn the basics in regards to shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. I also initially developed all my own film in a darkroom, which forced you to be very considerate of every time you clicked the shutter, knowing how much work was required to produce a print.
These days I shoot pretty much strictly digital. Working on commercial work, the turn around time is so quick, and clients like seeing what you are creating as you shoot. But I’ll sneak in film from time to time when I am shooting personal stuff
You live in LA but your photography has a very earthy, natural feel to it. Do you have to get out of the city for a lot of your photography, or do you find pockets of nature within the urban landscape?
Ha-ha, yeah… A lot of my commercial work I shoot in LA. But for my personal stuff, I normally take missions outside of the city to shoot in the sort of locations I prefer shooting. The nice thing about Los Angeles though is that you are surrounded by every sort of landscape you could want in a relatively short distance… beach, desert, mountains, you name it. Whereas if I lived, say, in the mountains in the Northwest, my options would be a little more limited. So for me, LA is a perfect combination with the accessibility to both culture and nature.
What’s a typical shoot like?
I wouldn’t say there is such thing as a typical shoot for me. There are so many variables at play… the client, the location, the models, the budgets. Every shoot is vastly different, and because of that, my job will never get boring… I always have to be on my toes ready for whatever challenge is thrown at me.
You work for a lot of killer brands––is there interplay between your client work and personal work?
Hmmm… generally, I would say my personal work is what gets me my client work. The big commercial shoots are a whole other animal, where I am catering to the client. However, these days with social media… maybe a third of my income is working with brands to integrate their product into what I am already doing and pump that out through social media. And in those instances, I am getting paid to do things I would have wanted to do already, but finding creative and hopefully organic ways to integrate their product. I don’t say yes to just anyone who approaches me about these types of projects… it has to be a brand that fits in with my lifestyle, I need to stay authentic to myself in that regard. “Selling out” is a fine line that you need to be cautious of stepping over.
What kinds of emotions or messages do you try to evoke with your photography?
Not to sound too corny, but my work is definitely an extension of my personality. Some of it is very playful and quirky and in some of it you get a sense of stillness and solitude. With my personal work I’m trying to encourage people to go out and experience all these places I go for themselves. Rather than saying that all these places are out of reach for most people… I want to convey that they are accessible or at least to make people feel like they were right alongside me on the journey. So my message? Get off your ass and out of your comfort zone and go out into the world.
What’s the coolest photo project you’ve worked on...or would like to work on someday?
A few projects come to mind as far as things I have been paid for… generally I get the most excited when I get hired to shoot things that I would have wanted to experience regardless of a paycheck. A while back Cadillac Magazine hired me to shoot my friend and South American chef Francis Mallmann on his farm in Uruguay (link here). Francis is such an inspirational human, and it was amazing to work with him in this capacity and experience his food and lifestyle.
Another one was shooting for the adventure tour company West Tours in Iceland (link here). I stayed with a family up in the West Fjords, one of the most remote places in Iceland, for 2 weeks. I went out and documented all the tours they offered… every day my commute was on a boat to places inaccessible by foot or car. Going on hikes, exploring islands filled with puffins, whale watching. I still can’t believe I got paid to do that job.
Shooting Tiger Woods in Scotland for Nike was pretty insane too. I could go on and on… I feel very fortunate to have worked on a wide range of jobs that have provided me incredible experiences.
What’s your advice for going on a road/travel photo adventure? How do you balance experiencing things while capturing them via your camera?
Oh man… I could go on forever about tips for photo adventures. When I first got into photography, my face was always behind a camera… feeling like I needed to document EVERYTHING. Now that I am a little more seasoned I have a better idea of what I do and don’t want to capture. It is incredibly important to set the camera down every now and then and just absorb the experience for yourself. I think knowing when to do that just comes with experience and being more selective. I have a list of some other tips here.
Favorite thing(s) to photograph:
Wide open landscapes, strong geometric/graphic compositions, and interesting people. When all of those things happen at once I tend to literately jump around in excitement.
What nugget of advice would you give folks trying to break into the photography business?
Hmmm… I’d say photograph what truly excites you and what you’re attracted to. The passion for your subject matter will come through in your work and people will gravitate to it. If you’re just trying to emulate everyone else then you’ll never stand out and you won’t be as excited about what you are doing.
What do you do when you’re not taking gorgeous photos?
Haha. Now you’ve got me blushing. Obviously, I spend a lot of time outdoors… hiking, riding my bike, the usual. But I’m in LA more than people would think… and here I just like spending time with my core group of friends doing whatever we are compelled to do. But then, of course, there is all the stuff involved with being a photographer that isn’t quite so glamorous… a lot of time spent behind a computer, sending e-mails, editing photos, and marketing yourself.
You just published a really gorgeous book on traveling solo. Tell us a little bit about your inspiration for the book...and give us one good tip for when you're traveling by yourself.
Over the years solo road trips have become a tradition of mine and something I have become known for. Every time I set out on one of these trips I tend to get flooded by questions from people curious about solo travel. My friends at Live Fast Magazine approached me about making a zine and I figured a guidebook to solo travel would be a good subject. This book, in particular, is more about providing insights on why solo travel can be so beneficial to introspection, getting to know yourself, and overcoming problems and fears.
As far as a solo travel tip… don’t over-plan. It is good to have a loose idea of where you want to go. But if you try to make yourself stick to a strict schedule, then you could miss out a lot of spontaneous surprises. Take detours, if you want to spend more time in a certain place… stay an extra day… you never know what amazing things you might stumble upon.
You can follow Laura on Ello, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.