Sometimes, seeing the beauty in your everyday surroundings can be difficult – this is not so for travel and landscape photographer, Julien Grondin, who has made his name in the very place that he calls home.
Hailing from France, this digital artist is well-travelled though these days, has become a proponent of exploring locations closer to home and shedding new light on familiar places. This month, we caught up with Julien to discuss the virtues of patience in landscape photography, the importance of focusing beyond the gear, as well as finding inspiration in planning.
Hello Julien! Thank you for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself with our Iceland Photo Tours readers today. You’ve led a very adventurous life. Tell us a little bit about your background. How and when did you become interested in photography?
I have always been interested in images in general. Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated by drawing, painting, playing with colors, etc and I grew up preserving this passion for art. I didn’t have the opportunity to study in this field (I left school when I was 17 years old) but I learned a lot by myself. Then when we had our first computer at home, I started to create my first drawings and designs on it. During that time, it was amazing to see colors appearing on a screen, even a few dozens of colors were already impressive! Mixing traditional drawings and computers quite naturally led me to graphic designs and the first releases of Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop were a game changer for me! I became addicted to these programs and used them all day long during many years, non-stop until… now! Graphic designer was my main job for a long time. Over that period of time, the first digital cameras reached the consumer market and I got my first one! A very small digital camera with an astonishing image size of 640 x 480 pixels! My journey in the photography industry started from there.
Croatia Plitvice. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
You have travelled extensively over the last few years, fulfilling your passion for landscape photography. What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of being a professional landscape photographer?
In short… Money! In my opinion, being a landscape photographer is the worst choice anyone can do to make good money in the photography area! Only a few landscape photographers can make a good living of it. Some can make it but they are exceptions. To the contrary, shooting weddings or portraits are far more lucrative. But wait, money is not everything, and being a landscape photographer can bring you much more than that. Something that money can’t buy is freedom and time. And being a landscape photographer gave me a ton of this!
Horseshoe Bend. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
How much preparation do you put into each photo that you capture?
Let’s make it clear, I don’t like going to some places randomly. The more I can plan things, the more I do it. When I consider going to a new place to shoot some landscapes, I check some photos on Google to have a better idea of how the place looks like. I check where the sun will be at the specific time that I’ll take the shot. If I plan to shoot seascapes, then I check the tides. If I shoot nightscapes, I check where the milky way will be, etc. Nowadays, thanks to many apps, it’s so easy to plan almost everything and optimize your chance to get the perfect shot.
Auvergne. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
You’re now predominantly based in France and your focus has been on the beautiful purple lavender of Provence. What captivates you most about this area?
Traveling full-time is great but can also be very tiring. Now, I spend a bit more time at home exploring the landscapes in France a bit further, as well as the nearby countries. Talking about the lavender fields of Provence, I love that area so much! I have been there these past 7 years in a row, that says it all! I love everything about the lavender fields – the colors, the natural leading lines of the fields, the shape of each lavender’s bouquet, etc. On top of that, the global mood of Provence makes up a big part of my love for this area. It is a feeling that no one can know if they don’t visit Provence for themselves. Listen, can you hear the bees working in the field? Take a deep breath, can you smell it? The amazingly sweet smell of the lavender flowers dancing in the cool morning breeze. This is only a sample of what Provence has to offer. I never get bored of taking photos under such soothing conditions.
Senja in Norway. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
The light and composition in your images are striking. What do you look for when you are scouting an area for photographs and what makes you decide where to stop for photographs?
My approach is kind of radical when it comes to getting the best shot as possible. I mean I can stay a week or two (sometimes more) in an area to wait for the perfect weather conditions. My goal is not to get many shots, I just need a few. A few photos only but with the best light and composition as I can get. And as I mentioned before, because I plan in advance where I go, on which location, it’s quite easy to optimize the chances to come back home with good photos.
Auvergne in France. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
What is your creative process when you go out shooting by yourself: do you normally have an idea in mind or do you simply take it as it comes and let yourself be surprised by what happens?
I have a to-do list, a « to-shoot » list, which is the result of the research I will have done before traveling. I keep on my phone some example photos of the places I’ll visit. These photos are simply an inspiration and tell me “ok, the place I’ll go soon looks like that, fine”. From there, I explore by myself and try to find a composition, a framing that has not been taken before, at least not taken too many times. Nowadays, it’s very hard to take a unique shot but there is still space for creativity if you take time to think twice before pressing the shutter. Nevertheless, if I can’t find something unique to shoot, I won’t worry too much taking a classic shot of an iconic place. That’s better than nothing.
Italian Dolomites. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
What is your workflow? Do you tend to achieve most of your image in camera and then work very little in post, or do you spend a long time enhancing the image afterwards?
In fact, I’m totally ok with the two approaches. If I can get it in camera, that’s the best option for sure but I’m also comfortable with heavy post-processing if necessary. I have a deep background in graphic design, so using the editing tools, even the more complicated, is something I’m lucky enough to be able to handle easily. I find that photo editing is really fun to do and I can spend hours checking small details that no one would probably never notice! You know, editing is like a hobby, a game for me, I love that!
Clarée in France. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
Do you feel that your work echoes the work of those landscape photographers who have gone before you, or do you think your work stands on its own?
What a tricky question! I don’t have the feeling that my work reflects any particular trend or something, maybe it does but I’m not trying to follow any rule or a general trend. I do what I like at the present moment, nothing more.
If you were to pay homage to any landscape photographer, who would it be?
I really like the work of Felix Inden. His photos are really great and, on top of that, he’s a nice person. I’m also a big fan of the work of Stian Klo, he has tons of photos and all of them are pure magic! Many other photographers catch my attention with their stunning work, such as Daniel Kordan, Iurie Belegurschi, Michael Shainblum... but should I mention them? Everyone knows them! They are superstars in the photography industry!
Provence in France. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
Do you identify yourself as a photographer or an artist or is it a combination of the two?
Many people say that my photos are pieces of art, they are amazing, blablabla. That’s always great to hear but I really don’t think that my photos are so exceptional. Maybe my photos are great for some people, and pure shit for others! It’s a matter of personal taste and perception. In any case, I think that I’m definitely not an artist, I consider myself as a photographer, someone who loves taking photos and making it with passion, trying to make it as good as he can.
Mont Saint Michel in France. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
Your photography is renowned for being local to the area where you live. How do you capture the essence of your homeland in your photos and what advice would you give to people who have never really explored their own country?
It’s a well-known fact that we don’t see the beauty of the place we live in. Each time we want to travel, we want to go far, in another country. The further it is, the better it is. Well… exploring new horizons is great, you feel like Indiana Jones discovering an untouched land but wait… have you ever explored your nearby area? A few hours drive can often push you into a totally unknown place that you have never heard of before. I always say that if I don’t know a place, it must be a nice place because everything will be new by exploring it. And you know, the beauty of a shot is more about light and atmosphere than the place itself. Even a small village that no one knows, surrounded by wonderful fog and morning light, can become an astonishing subject! Look twice, you are surrounded by beautiful places, it’s all a matter of good light, atmosphere, and composition.
Monument Valley. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
For someone just finding that they have a passion for photography, what would you say is the best thing for them to focus on from the very beginning?
Anything, except the gear! Come on guys, stop buying new cameras, stop focusing on pixel peeping, on dynamic range, and other marketing arguments! Save your money for traveling! Sure, you need to buy your first camera but this is the least important thing about capturing great photos! As mentioned before, the most important thing you should focus on is beautiful light and a perfect composition! Any camera nowadays is more than capable, even the entry-level cameras.
Sunflowers in Provence. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
What is one very valuable lesson that you think every landscape photographer needs to learn?
To be patient, very patient! Patient if you want to get the perfect light, patient to learn and practice again and again. Patience in learning how to edit your photos. Many years are required to become skilled in photography and the learning process never stops.
The world is full of amazing places and photo opportunities – what are some of the countries or regions you would like to visit and photograph in the coming years?
Please bring me straight to the Faroe islands! I have seen so many amazing photos of this place that I now want to go so badly! By the way, I’ll book my flight tickets very soon. Another country I would love to visit is Peru! I would do anything to see and photograph this temple, the big one made by aliens, you know, the Machu Picchu!
Lavender in Provence. Photo by: 'Julien Grondin'.
Finally, where is your photography going next? What would you like to accomplish?
I hope to keep shooting what I love the most, landscapes at sunrise and sunset, I can’t get enough of it. Improving my editing skills is also a big part of my goals. And the last thing, that has nothing to do with photography, I want to get my 6 pack abs before my forties! I’m on the right track to achieving this goal, haha!
Join Julien on a lavender paradise photography workshop in Provence!