Meet Lucia Griggi, the surf and aerial photographer afraid of open water and heights

Lucia Griggi
(Image credit: Lucia Griggi)

Most people try to avoid the things that scare them, but British photographer Lucia Griggi has made a career out of her fears. Lucia falls into the camp of photographers that never really intended to be a photographer – it just sort of happened. For Lucia photography was a tool, a means to an end, a way she could travel and see the world without having to have a “real job” – but she found a niche and before she knew it, she was shooting with the pros. 

Having grown up in London before moving to Cornwall on the south coast, Lucia hasn't always been surrounded by water. As a keen swimmer, surfer, and traveler of the world, Lucia’s life goal was to find a way of living simply but with no ties. “Photography was never something that I studied, but I got into it when I was older as a way of having a purpose in what I crave, which is a very free life,” she tells me with sincerity in her voice. 

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Lucia Griggi
Lucia Griggi

With her roots in surfing, skateboarding and the outdoor adventure world, Lucia focuses on travel and adventure for editorial and advertising clients. Combining her English precision with her Venetian creativity, Lucia captures moments with clarity and wit that are fresh, vivid and full of energy. She has worked with National Geographic, BBC, Conde Nast, Patagonia, Vans, Redbull and Jeep, just to name a few, and since 2020 has been a Canon Ambassador. 

A tortoise on the Galapagos Islands (Image credit: Lucia Griggi)

Lucia never set out to be "super successful financially", she just wanted to earn enough to pay for her next adventure; a plane ticket here, a car rental there. She started taking photos of surfers in cool places and, before long, she started getting more commissions and recognition from bigger brands and magazines. 

"I had to start educating myself around the business side of things and actually start to take it all a little more seriously."

Lucia's photography career hasn't been plain sailing by any means. She might have got her big break under the waves but, like so many women in photography, she has felt the overwhelming effects of misogyny and at times she's struggled to gain the same respect and recognition as her male peers. 

Underwater Surfer, Bali (Image credit: Lucia Griggi)

"For most of my career, I was never respected for being a woman. There weren’t even that many female surfers when I started out, maybe five or six, but now there are loads of female surfers. There were never any female photographers out in the waves, and getting published at a serious level was male-dominated and political, so there was a huge struggle to get those images into the hands of the editors."

High-end, lifestyle surf shots ended up being the style of photos that got Lucia noticed. One particular shot she took of a diver in Bali was picked up by National Geographic, and from there her career flourished. Suddenly she was being published in global surf and adventure magazines, but getting to that point was "very challenging" and rife with inequality.  

(Image credit: Lucia Griggi)

More often than not, female photographers and surfers have been portrayed in the media wearing bikinis, rather than doing the role they're employed to do – namely, surfing or photography. Regularly magazines would feature 50 or so photographers in the credits without featuring a single woman, and while that is changing it's slow progress – and the women fighting for their place in that work are described as "brave" by Lucia.

Being a woman in photography isn’t all doom and gloom. It can also be a rewarding, humbling and transformative experience. Yes it can be difficult but, as Lucia explains, "If I wasn’t a woman, I probably wouldn’t have got to where I am now. I stood out and got noticed and people were like, 'Ohhhhh!'"

Throughout her career, Lucia has shot everything from polar bears and penguins to indigenous people and the icy landscapes of the Arctic. Her work has taken her deep beneath the waves and high into the sky, so the last thing I expected her to confess was a fear of open water and heights. 

Penguins in Antarctica (Image credit: Lucia Griggi)

But for Lucia, fear was a driving force and photography became a coping mechanism. "I love water, I swam all my life as a competitive swimmer but the ocean, I don’t know, it’s an environment where I don’t feel in control. But the camera really helps me push through, it focuses my mind and I think photography allowed me to start loving the ocean."

When she’s not underwater, Lucia hangs out of planes, capturing stunning shots of the Icelandic icefields or the braided rivers of the Arctic from above. "It’s such an amazing way to see the world. So even though I would struggle to go up to these heights by myself, I let the beauty overtake the fear so I’ve gotta focus and get the shot." 

Putting so much trust in other people is a massive leap of faith, but Lucia knows she is safe, the adrenaline dissipates and her love for seeing the world from under and above takes over. 

(Image credit: Lucia Griggi)

In 2020 Lucia became a Canon Ambassador, and since then she has had the opportunity to focus on the educational side of photography as well as explore her own photographic pursuits. 

"I really enjoy public speaking," she says, and I can tell she does because of how well she interviews. She’s passionate about supporting other photographers and in particular, other female photographers who want to a career in wildlife or adventure photography. 

"I think a lot of the time, the females in the group really do gravitate towards me. There aren't many of us doing this and access to ladies in the field is quite limited. I’m able to support more women to get out there and work in a predominantly man’s world."

Since her appointment as a Canon Ambassador, she's fully made the switch from DSLR to mirrorless trading in her trusty Canon EOS-1D X Mark III for a Canon EOS R3 as her main camera, and she uses Canon EOS R5 as her second camera. Combined with a range of telephoto primes like the Canon RF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM or the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM when shooting handheld, whether shooting underwater or in the air, she knows she can rely on the speed and precision of her kit to get the shots she needs. 

(Image credit: Lucia Griggi)

Lucia’s photography career is truly inspiring; it’s enabled her to fulfill her dreams of traveling the world and it has opened doors that she never thought possible. There have been blunders along the way (shooting a celebrity event with a fisheye lens is something she’ll never do again) but it’s also taught her massive amounts about herself and the things she is capable of when she puts her mind to it. 

When asked about the best bit of advice she could give, her reply was simple. "Don’t focus too much on what other people are doing. Although there's some inspiration in that, it can pigeonhole you. Don’t feel the need to compare yourself, you’ll get noticed when you find your own path." 

Lucia never set out to be a successful photographer and yet that’s how her life has ended up. The more I interview photographers, the more I realize that perhaps there is some real truth in never putting too much pressure on yourself to succeed; it might just happen when you least expect it. 

(Image credit: Lucia Griggi)

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.