Laura Stanley joined Canadian Geographic as photo editor in the summer of 2012. She has worked at National Geographic Adventure, Owl Kids and Hello! magazines, fulfilling her childhood dream of contributing to glossy magazine pages. Whether she’s shooting people, pets or places, she has a special skill in drawing out personality. She calls Toronto and Tweed, Ont., home.
First camera A Pentax ME. I was 12 or 13 when I bought it with the birthday money I’d saved up. My mom took me to Henry’s to pick it out.
Memorable photo destination Sapa, Vietnam. There’s something about the vibrant colour of the rice terraces. It’s just an unreproducible green.
How does being a photo editor influence your photography?
As a magazine editor, I get to see photography through the eyes of other people. I think it helps me see things differently as a photographer and as an editor. When I’m looking for photos for the magazine, subject matter—who, what, where, when—is very important. Positioning, too: being able to see a person at the base of a mountain, for example, or on the top of a cliff overlooking a beautiful landscape. Details are also important, whether it’s somebody’s muddy boots or even details in food, because they’re what draw people in. You get a sense of feeling, location and even a sense of comfort. That’s important for magazines, because the editors like photos that speak to the articles and stories. We want to see that ‘wow’ photo that has a bit of everything.
I take all that with me when I’m photographing. Through my photos, I want to show not only the hills and the mountains; I want to see somebody there. I want to relate to that person there. I want to feel what they’re feeling, even though they’re in the photo. It just brings life to it.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
When I was growing up in Tweed, a small town north of Belleville, Ont., I just loved animals and photographing them. It was my big dream to see my nature shots in the glossy pages of a magazine.
Then when I was 15, I saw an ad in Canadian Geographic, ironically, for a Students on Ice contest. The program (which takes students between the ages of 14 and 18 on educational expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica) was looking for applicants to write about the environment or submit a video, and the winning entry would get a trip to the Arctic. I didn’t enter the contest, but I did find my own way to apply for the trip. I ended up using 30 rolls of film in the Arctic. It was my ultimate goal to see and photograph a polar bear. I just loved it, and I was hooked.
I took some photography classes in high school, shortly after I got back from the Arctic, and did my coop placement with a photographer in Toronto in my last year. He photographed commercial stuff: portraits, headshots, theatre—he shot for the Stratford Festival—and I just loved the industry. I especially liked seeing people’s reactions to their photos, and I realized I could make a career out of commercial photography.
What’s your vision for Canadian Geographic?
I want to continue to keep bringing unseen photos to Canadians. I think Canada has so much to offer, and that as much as everything has already been done or seen, there will always be something new to see in a different way through somebody else’s vision.
Tell us about some of your side projects. What’s with all the dog photos?
My sister worked at a vet clinic and she was an animal care specialist. Being a full-time dog groomer, she had a number of clients that were interested in having their pets photographed. I thought this would be a fantastic way for people to get interesting, regal-looking photos of their dogs.
So every year, during the holidays, I set up a studio with a nice grey background. A lot of people think it’s silly, but I’ve had so many people come back to me asking if I still have their photos because the dog will have since passed, and they want to see their old pet again. It means so much to me that they want those photos.
What does it take to get a good pet portrait?
It’s a matter of getting them set up in the right spot in front of the lights with their owner nearby or directly behind the camera. We use a treat to get them to sit and to stay. And then I have a very small window of shooting opportunity. So I click, click, click, and get as many shots as I can before the dog moves, lunges, jumps or drools. Some dogs are more hyper than others, so you get really interesting photos with their mouths open and tongues lolling. They really show off the dog’s character and I think those are some of my favourite shots—the ones where they’re salivating for a cookie or their ears are perked up at the sound of the squeaky toy.