Happy Monday! This week we are featuring a photographer whose work is instantly recognizable – Laura Morita. You’ve undoubtedly seen her incredible underwater images in challenge Top Ten lists across the photography community. In additional to being a photographer, Laura is also a teacher and mentor and creator of the popular SHINE workshop. So let’s dive right in (see what I did there?) and learn more about Laura Morita Photography.
How long have you been a photographer?
Well, if you’re asking when did I learn how to use my camera properly, then I would say 6 years ago. If you’re asking how long I’ve been shooting pictures, that’s for as long as I can remember. My dad’s a photographer too, and he’s my biggest fan. When I was in physical therapy school, I lived with him. At that time, he was shooting slides, so I was lucky to see his slideshows every week or so where he would talk about composition and bracketing and all sorts of things I didn’t understand. I started to develop my eye just from seeing his work.
I seriously got into photography 6 years ago, a year after my husband gave me my first digital SLR (Canon Rebel). I wanted to know what all those dials on my camera were, so I took some beginning camera classes at a local adult school. I quickly became obsessed, as I’m sure many photographers do and dove into the online community, soaking up every bit of information that I could. I’m lucky in that I improved quickly, which I think has something to do with the fact that photography must be in my genes. I’ve been obsessed ever since.
When did you start your business?
I had my first paid stranger client in 2009. I was SO NERVOUS but to this day, I’m still happy with the images I got. I have never been a full time photographer, and as of right now, I’m not taking clients. I’m a home health physical therapist and while there was a period where I considered leaving that profession and focusing solely on photography, I love physical therapy and love helping people regain their independence. It’s a very fulfilling job.
In 2010, my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. This was a game changer for me. While she made an amazing recovery with her first bout, she then had a recurrence that really knocked her down and from which she has never fully recovered. Since then, she’s had a couple more recurrences. I was constantly stressed about taking clients. What if she got sick again? What if I had to cancel and then try to reschedule when I was so distraught? It was a really tough time for me, and I didn’t like what it was doing to my love of photography. I wanted my weekends to be for my family and not for shooting strangers. I decided to close my doors in 2012, and that was one of the best things I could have done. It renewed my love of photography and gave me the ability to really focus on capturing my family and the people that I love. My mom has been cancer-free now for over a year now. I pray that she never gets it again. I pray for her strength to return every day and am so blessed that she is still here and still my amazing mom.
I started teaching workshops (SHINE–Unleash Your Awesome) and doing one on one mentoring and portfolio reviews instead of taking clients. All of my siblings are teachers, and I definitely have the teaching gene too. I LOVE teaching and LOVE editing, and to be able to combine both of those is very gratifying to me. I love when I know I have taught a photographer something that will improve their craft and love love love seeing them improve, not only in their photography (use of light, composition, lens choice, etc), but in their editing. I’ve watched several photographers make amazing progress after taking a workshop or doing a portfolio review with me, and it feels good to know that I helped them along on their journey.
Sometimes I really miss having clients, though. I love figuring out a way to get true expressions in people. I have a psychology degree and a love of people, and it’s a special challenge to me to find what makes a person tick and be able to get them to let go so I can really capture who they are. I miss doing that.
With my recent obsession with underwater photography, I am considering going back into business but only taking underwater clients. I don’t know how big of a market there will be for that, but the idea of making fine art underwater imagery for clients seriously makes me a little giddy.
What’s in your camera bag?
I shoot with the Canon 5D MkIII, which I LOVE, and also still have the Canon 5D MkII, but haven’t used it once since getting the MkIII.
Lenses: Canon 16-35L f2.8, Canon 24-70L f2.8, Canon 24-105L f2.8, Canon 50mm f1.4, Canon 85mm f1.8, Canon 135L f2. I also occasionally borrow my dad’s Canon 15mm fisheye. I should say that my dad gave me both the 24-70L and 24-105L. Kind of nice having a photographer as a dad, huh?
Oh, and there’s Smarties (candy) in my bag because that’s some seriously good bribery.
What is your favorite lens and why?
That’s a tough choice. I have to decide between the 16-35L and 135L, but I think the 16-35L wins. I LOVE the look of wide angle images and love to use it to get beautiful skies in my imagery. I feel that it’s great for getting fun, whimsical pictures. When I’m shooting with that lens, I feel like I just intuitively know what I want to do with it. It’s an easy lens for me. I like being close to my subjects because it allows me to easily interact with them, which helps with getting truly real expressions. I also find that it’s a GREAT lens for underwater photography. You NEED a wide lens when shooting underwater because you need to be close to your subject. The more water that you have between you and your subject, the less visible your subject will be.
How do you protect your camera underwater?
I put my camera in a large balloon and hope for the best….
I am currently using SPL waterhousing. It’s meant for surf photographers, but it’s working for me so far! I don’t have full access to all of the controls of my camera, which I am getting used to, but I’m learning to work with what I have. Last year, I was putting my camera in a DiCAPac bag and saying a little prayer every time I put it underwater. I wanted something that I could trust more and something where the port didn’t show in every single image, so I started researching for housing this year. Earlier this year, I won a settlement after finding out that 20 of my images had been stolen and used to stage a million dollar home. I used that extra “income” to purchase my housing.
And I can’t emphasize this enough: if I didn’t have my gear insured for water damage, I would not be putting my camera underwater. No way. No how.
Can you tell us what’s different about shooting underwater? How does light, focus change?
There’s a lot that is different about shooting underwater. The rules of gravity do not apply, and apparently my butt is very buoyant! I also don’t have the best lung capacity yet, so am constantly coming back up for more air. I do sometimes use a snorkel, but sometimes I’m going lower than the snorkel will allow, so it doesn’t work. To me, one of the things that’s most different about shooting underwater is the pure joy that I feel when I’m doing it. I just love going underwater and looking around. There’s a peace that takes over me, and truly, I feel so deeply happy. Light still matters when you’re underwater, and I’m finding that I prefer to shoot in the morning or late afternoon, when the sun isn’t directly overhead. Backlighting is still my favorite regardless of being on land or in the water. It adds a whole new level of awesome.
Focusing can be challenging because your camera could easily grab focus on bubbles or something. I find that stopping down to a smaller aperture helps me to keep decent focus, but this is still a work in progress for me.
Who are some of your favorite photographers?
My dad is probably my favorite photographer. His images constantly wow me. I wish he’d hurry up and get a website so I can brag about him. He is always pushing the envelope and trying different things, which I really appreciate. He’s an inspiration to me, not only as a photographer, but as a human being. I love my dad beyond words.
Describe your ideal session.
Well, since I don’t currently take clients, an ideal session would be shooting my kids and husband in the water, either in a pool or in the ocean, with beautiful light and color. We are going to Hawaii this summer, and I am hopeful that I will come home with some images that make my heart soar.