Laurence Geai

An elderly man stands amidst the ruins of a bombed out street, in a photo taken by Laurence Geai, on assignment for Le Monde, on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Photojournalist Laurence Geai took this photo while on assignment for Le Monde in November 2017, during her extensive coverage of the Syrian civil war. Ibrahim Akouch, aged 85, never left Raqqa in Syria, despite the fighting. He stayed with his wife, in the house he built in 1983, and the pair were helped by neighbours who had joined the Syrian Democratic Forces. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/320 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 100. © Laurence Geai/Le Monde

"I tell stories of people who are living through hard conditions, like a war or a crisis," says Paris-based photographer Laurence Geai. "I was a journalist first, then I decided to be a photojournalist. I love still images because they stick in your mind. This is very important for me, that pictures stick in your mind – that's what I want to do."

Regularly on assignment for French newspaper Le Monde, both abroad and covering domestic politics, Laurence has also seen her work published by The Washington Post, Elle, Paris Match and Polka, among others. She's worked for NGOs including Amnesty International, and she's represented by the MYOP photographic agency.

As a child, Laurence was inspired by her father's passion for photography, but while he turned his lens on trains, Laurence loved to use her disposable cameras to photograph animals on her grandparents' farm. "This was the time I discovered the job," she laughs. "But there were no humans in my pictures when I was a child, only animals." Later, when her grandfather passed away, she used a small inheritance to buy a camera, and that Canon EOS 50D would be the starting point for her career.

A headshot of Canon Ambassador Laurence Geai, holding a Canon camera to her eye.
Location: Paris, France

Specialist areas: Photojournalism, conflict photography

Favourite kit
: Canon EOS R5
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
Women and children, seated around a candle on top of a plastic water bottle, at a refugee camp in the Turkish town of Suruç, near the Syrian border. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Laurence Geai.

Refugees in the Turkish town of Suruç, near the Syrian border. Around 200,000 people fled the fighting in northern Syria in November 2014, many from the city of Kobanî. "In war, you have to deal with propaganda, so you have to do a lot of checking and verifying," says Laurence. "For me, what is important in conflict is to understand every position and I try as much as possible to cover every side." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM) at 1/50 sec, f/1.8 and ISO 3200. © Laurence Geai

Laurence studied business at university, first working in the fashion industry, before deciding at 25 that she wanted "to tell the stories of the people of the world". It was, she says, "very naïve", and without experience in journalism or telling visual stories, she decided to do internships in TV to learn her craft. At the same time, she also started photographing weddings at weekends, honing the skills that would come in useful in the future. "What is wedding photography?" she asks. "You have to be quick, and you can't miss the right moment. It's reportage."

A turning point came when Laurence met renowned French war photographer Patrick Chauvel. "I wanted to understand why someone risked their life to tell other people's stories," she says. "I asked him a lot of questions and it made me want to tell those stories." In 2013, two years after the start of the war in Syria, Laurence packed her camera bag. "I was curious about how people react in war zones, how do people deal with their lives," she recalls. "I wanted to see if I was not too scared, and if I could make this a job." Laurence has since gone back to the country 13 times.

Women and children seated in a container, some with their heads in their hands, after fleeing Bangui in the Central African Republic in March 2014. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Laurence Geai.

Muslim women and children hiding in containers after fleeing Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), for Cameroon, in March 2014. The convoy was protected by the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA). "Some were happy, others crying, but all were sad to leave their lives behind," says Laurence. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/2 and ISO 1250. © Laurence Geai

Refugees in lifejackets, one carrying a baby, crammed onto a boat as it arrives on the Greek island of Lesbos in October 2015. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III by Laurence Geai.

A boat arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos in October 2015, a place that has become indelibly linked to the European refugee crisis. After working in Syria and the Central African Republic, Laurence covered military conflict and refugee movement across the Middle East and Europe. "I learned on the job," she says. "How to deal with people and how to take good pictures. It was daily training." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM) at 127mm, 1/640 sec, f/4 and ISO 250. © Laurence Geai

After returning from Syria, Laurence spent three months in 2014 in the Central African Republic, where she "learned how to make pictures". Self-taught, she has been helped along the way by the likes of Associated Press photographer Jérôme Delay. Laurence's work has since taken her across the Middle East, from Gaza in 2014 to Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, further afield to Azerbaijan, where she covered the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and most recently Ukraine. Having moved up the 5D series to the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which she describes as a "close friend", Laurence has now switched to the mirrorless Canon EOS R5.

Her coverage of Covid-19 at home in Paris won her third prize in the General News category at the 2021 World Press Photo Contest. Other awards include the 2020 Grand Prix Les Femmes S'exposent, the 2019 Reuters Grant and Polka Photographer of the Year 2017.

What do you want to achieve with your imagery?

"I want a picture that sticks in your mind across the years. I don't take many portraits, and I feel less comfortable leading a person. What I prefer is a scene, like the paintings that came before photos, which are an inspiration for me."

What did you learn from your early experiences in the field on your first trip to Syria?

"My pictures were not good, to be honest – but I knew why. I was shy to enter homes and shy to speak to people. To be a photojournalist, being a good photographer is not enough – you have to be confident, and that's something you need to learn. Working in a warzone is hard. Empathy, curiosity and patience are three qualities which I think are very important. I also need to sometimes be stubborn depending on the story I am working on – when I cannot go through the door, I try the windows."

How do you deal with the challenging aspects of the stories you are covering?

"The first hard things I saw, I cried. I couldn't stop crying. Now, I try to contain my emotions in front of everyone. When I witness hard things, it's destabilising and scary, but I have to focus on what I am there for. Actions must be decided quickly. I needed to learn how to deal with stressful situations and with my own fear. I don't behave in the same way today as I did at the beginning of my career. I have a lot of empathy. I can be affected by what I witness, but it is the price that I am ready to pay to do this job."

What's your advice for people who hope to become photojournalists?

"If you want to be a photojournalist, it's an advantage to be able to take nice pictures with a good frame, but according to me, you have to be a journalist first. My advice is to study journalism and to practice photojournalism everyday; it is the only way to improve ourselves. The advantage of this job is that everywhere, there is a story to tell."

One thing I know

Laurence Geai

"Humans are all the same. We have the same emotions. It helps me a lot to understand that, and not to be shy to approach someone. It also helps in the way I photograph people. I try my best to take pictures in which everyone can recognise themselves. When I speak to people and take pictures of them, I want to make their voice heard. I know I can work in war zones; I can find the stories. And when I publish my work in Le Monde for instance, there is an impact. Even if our report will not change the situation, we are here to bring back information and I feel useful doing that."

Instagram: @laurencegeai

Twitter/X: @laurencegeai


Laurence Geai's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Laurence Geai's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.


Canon EOS R5

A professional full-frame mirrorless camera offering high resolution stills at up to 20fps and 12-bit 8K RAW video. "It's perfect – light and very reactive," says Laurence. "You don't miss a picture."

Canon EOS R6 Mark II

Capture fleeting moments at up to 40fps with sensational image quality, even in near-darkness. AI-based, deep-learning AF locks on to fast-moving subjects wherever they are in the frame.


Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

A super-fast 50mm prime lens with a very large maximum aperture for fine depth-of-field control. "I love to be close to things," says Laurence, who prefers to use fixed lenses wherever possible.

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

A 24-70mm zoom boasting a fast aperture and 5-stops of image stabilisation. For covering demonstrations in Paris or conflict in Ukraine, Laurence relies on the professional's favourite zoom.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

A high-performance telephoto zoom lens that is compact and manoeuvrable. "When I cover politics, I need to have a 70-200mm," says Laurence, to capture the action from further away. "I also use this lens in warzones, when I can't get too close." Now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM.


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