Laura Austin Wanted to Travel the World So She Bought a Camera And Learned How to Use it. Real Good.

From spending her entire savings on an entry-level camera in high school to becoming a professional photographer capturing many versions of beauty for clients and herself, Laura Austin shares her perspective on photography.

GIRLS ARE AWESOME: Hi Laura, do you remember your first camera?

The first camera I bought with my own money was probably a digital Canon Rebel when I was still in high school. It was what you would refer to as a “prosumer” camera: an entry level DSLR camera, which means you could change the lenses on it. It was a huge deal for me, and probably the most money I ever spent on something at that age. Now when I hold one of those cameras in my hand, it feels like a toy.


Do you have any memories of photographs that really moved you?

Interesting question. I don’t think I have ever been asked this in an interview before.

Growing up, my stepmom had a large collection of old National Geographic magazines. I remember flipping through those when I was a kid and being absolutely blown away by the images inside, realizing how big the world was, and how different it was from the world I knew. I could spend hours flipping through those magazines, feeling like I was traveling the world from the comfort of my own living room. I knew then that I wanted to see these places for myself, and that photography could be a vehicle to do so.


What led you to pursue a career in photography?

That’s a bit of a long story that I will try to condense. My career path has been one of trial and error. I started as a graphic designer in my late teens and early twenties. Realizing I was too young to be cooped up in a cubicle, I took a job as the online editor of Snowboarder Magazine where I got to travel the world, write, and shoot photos. After two years of that, I realized snowboarding was also too small of a box for me to be contained in and that photography was where my passion really lied. It was the perfect marriage of the aesthetic knowledge I gained from graphic design and the storytelling I learned in journalism. So I left and set out to be a freelance photographer in 2012 and have been doing that ever since.


Tell us about some of the hurdles you have faced in sculpting out your own space. 

I can’t say I’ve had too many hurdles in that regard. I’ve always had an unwavering ability to be true to myself in what I create. Authenticity is key. If you don’t try to emulate others and just do what feels right to you, I think you will naturally sculpt out your own space in your vision. 


What does it take to be a great amateur photographer, and what does it take to be a great professional photographer?

I think my answer to the last question applies here: authenticity. However, when you are an amateur photographer, I think it is more about mastering the technical aspects of photography, and really becoming comfortable behind a camera. And then if you become a professional from there, your camera is more of an extension of your body. The technical stuff becomes second nature and you can focus on the creative aspects. I think a great professional photographer is one who can take direction from a client, while still infusing their own style into it. Creating something that both the client will be happy with, and that you will be proud of. That is key, and will keep you enjoying what you are doing.


How much time do you spend managing and how much time do you spend making, and how do you feel about that?

I am lucky to have an amazing agent: Dara Siegel of I Heart Reps. She handles most of the managing when it comes to budgets, scheduling, etc. That way I can spend more time focusing on creating. However, I still spend more time behind a computer than a camera. Beyond just shooting photos, I need to take time to keep my site updated, responding to e-mails, brainstorming, and marketing myself. Luckily I enjoy that side of photography. I treat myself as a brand, so it is very necessary to build that beyond taking pictures. As long as I am creating, I am happy, and that can manifest in doing a photo shoot or writing a blog post.

I’ve heard you say you never say no to shooting. You must do! Tell us about saying no.

Well, that is mostly true. Generally the only time I say no to shooting things is if my schedule is full or if the budget is just way too low for what the client wants. Even if I am approached by a company that I don’t consider cool, I take that as a creative challenge to still create something I am proud of. I enjoy that challenge.


Tell us about problem solving.

Photography is problem solving in my opinion, especially when working as a commercial photographer. You are given these models, this product, that location, and this light. It is up to the photographer to take all those elements and create the most visually pleasing result. Give ten different photographers those same things, and you will get ten very different results. Their knowledge, taste, and personality will all affect the outcome.


Do you see photographs in everything?

Another interesting question. Everything can be photographed. I see light, color, and composition in everything. If those three things come together harmoniously according to my taste, I will be compelled to pick up my camera and make it into a photograph. It forces you to look at the world differently, and be excited by things most other people wouldn’t even notice.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Contrasts in life are important. You need to sleep under a tree to appreciate the luxury hotel room.

Do you find it easy or hard to stay motivated and inspired?

That all depends on what is going on in my life outside of photography. Inspiration and motivation can come from both highs and lows. I tend to go with the flow and take it when it comes, and put my energy elsewhere when I’m not creatively inspired. I consider staying motivated to take care of yourself physically and mentally just as important as staying motivated to work.


What makes a good client?

Someone who provides at least some direction, but lets the photographer infuse their own style into the work. Trust is important in this regard.

What makes a good subject?

Anyone can be a good subject. But comfort is key if you want to create something authentic, and I think this responsibility is divided equally between the photographer and subject. If the photographer is nervous or off, the subject will reflect that, and vice versa. Of course it is easier to work with someone who has spent a lot of time in front of a camera and knows what to do and how to move, but I’ve made even the most camera shy people become comfortable in front of my lens. I love breaking down that barrier and making people less self-conscious.

What’s the dream?

The answer to this question is constantly changing and evolving for me. In general I want to always be getting paid to do something I love, but as I grow and my interests change, that might have nothing to do with photography. My overarching goal is to inspire people to live a better life, chase their dreams, and appreciate the world around them. Currently my vehicle for doing that is photography, but that could eventually evolve to film, writing, or something that isn’t even on my radar yet. I tend to go wherever the wind blows me, and I am excited to see what direction it will push me in next.

Do you have a favourite among your photos?

Considering that I have shot thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of photos that is a difficult question to answer. Without overthinking it, I will just throw the first thing that comes to mind at you (see image below).

I shot this on my first trip to Iceland where I spent two weeks road tripping around the circumference of the country with my family. This image is of my sister overlooking a lake full of icebergs. I sprinted up a hill in the pouring rain leading to the lake and screamed and jumped for joy like a little kid when I saw what was on the other side. This trip was a catalyst for me to pursue photography full-time. I felt so in my element, excited, and fulfilled shooting photos on this trip that I quit my job two weeks after I returned and haven’t looked back since.

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