One might assume that Elliot Layda, in-house photographer and photo-editor for Giro Sport Design, easily found his way to a profession that ‘clicked’. Take one look at his stunning photography and you’d think his career path was straight forward from day one.
Instead, Elliot shares that he felt discouraged after graduating from art school.
“I was so preoccupied with trying to make my work seem smart and important that I essentially thought my way out of making anything at all,” he said. That’s when he picked up the camera as a hobby. “Photography felt like a way to keep my hands moving – a way to keep making things without the pressure of trying to make anything cool.”
Elliot’s dad, a professional photographer for the city of Nashville, taught him the basics and it wasn’t long before Elliot was booking freelance gigs, including shooting adventure races in Chicago and photographing his friends rock climbing.
After pursuing photography full-time, Elliot landed a job at backcountry.com, where he honed his abilities as a product photographer.
Then he found Giro. For the past four years, Elliot has created photographic assets for Giro’s business and consumer facing platforms. He produces in-studio and on-location images for e-commerce and catalogues and also generates photographs for key product launches, POP displays, social media, and ads.
“When I began my career in photography, the mountain in the distance was working for a brand like Giro. I feel fortunate to be doing creative work in the action sports industry. I love working alongside other athletes – people who live for the work they do outside, on a bike or a surfboard or on pair skis as much as they live for the work they do in the office,” Elliot said.
At Giro, Elliot is a photography team of one, but prior to working with the brand, he rapidly assumed leadership roles with prior employers. As for his current role, Elliot says he feels valued across the brand in a way that makes him feel like a leader.
“When I began, it was made clear to me that I’d essentially own all things photography at Giro,” he said. “I’ve tried my best to live up to that responsibility.”
Elliot has been working on perfecting renderings and sizing standards, so the brand’s helmet and goggle images are scaled in proportion to each other across the website and catalogue. Elliot also works closely with Giro’s Art Director to build an updated action/lifestyle guide for freelance photographers and has been learning to use 3D modeling and rendering software to eventually create high quality commercial renderings in-house.
“Small changes like these have a significant impact on how a consumer views our products. We’re a premium brand and our product images should reflect that,” he said.
It’s clear his work ethic is legendary, so you won’t be surprised to find Elliot’s personal life is equally as intense. He has a history of taking physically demanding adventures that leave sleep by the wayside.
Many mini adventures have added up to an adventurous life: such as routinely driving eight hours from Chicago to Kentucky on Friday nights to rock climb all weekend in the Red River Gorge.
“We’d get back to Chicago in the middle of the night Sunday, returning to work bedraggled and half asleep on Monday,” he said.
Or, when living in Utah, he’d sometimes leave work and drive to Moab, Bryce Canyon, or Zion to take pictures.
“I’d get there late without a place to stay, cram into a sleeping bag in the back of my cruddy sedan. One winter, I went down to Bryce after a fresh snowstorm. When I got to the park, a full moon had risen, and it was so bright that I could walk among the snow-covered hoodoos without a headlamp. I was alone and it was so quiet that it felt like I was walking into an abandoned city. That was pretty cool,” he said.
When asked about a personal accomplishment he’s most proud of, a three-month-long, company-wide annual “outdoor adventure contest” at Backcountry.com came to mind. The competition encouraged employees to log outdoor activities for points.
When all was said and done, it’s probably a good thing the competition didn’t extend any longer.
“I decided to try to win the rock climbing category which was graded on both the difficulty and volume of completed climbs. Every day (and sometimes twice a day), I did some form of rock-climbing. I was in a constant state of fatigue, but at the end of the summer I won!! I earned first place in all the sub-categories of bouldering, sport climbing, and trad and placed third in the company overall! I won a new bike and a ton of climbing related merch. Mostly, it felt pretty cool to set my sights on something daunting and then actually pull it off,” he said.
So where does Elliot get his competitive nature? His childhood. He’s a triplet along with his two brothers, which is the reason he says he’s “overly competitive” and hates to share.
Elliot currently lives in San Francisco with his girlfriend, Krystelle and her dog, Otto. The couple spends weekends working on small home-improvement projects and evenings enjoying the back yard firepit.
The last book I read was “The Brutal Telling.” It’s the fifth book in a series of detective novels by Louise Penny. Her characters are lovely and her stories are both fun and edifying. I wish I was as good a man as her protagonist and lead detective, Armand Gamache.
Go-to meal when you’re cooking?
Anything with eggs! I probably eat too many, but they’re quick and easy.
Advice to the younger you?
If I could talk to my 20-year-old self, I’d say, “Stop acting like your life is about to begin! It’s happening right now!” I spent years thinking the work I was doing was only temporary. It put my career and life in a holding pattern.
How you’d spend a day off with no obligations:
I’d wake up early and stake out one of my Bay Area landscape locations for photos. Afterwards, I’d eat a big breakfast in a greasy spoon diner, maybe sit at the counter with a novel. Midday I’d go climbing or hit the trails on my bike while everyone else was working. That afternoon, I’d run through SF MOMA or the DeYoung Museum and then chill in Golden Gate Park. In the evening I’d order a pizza and binge cruddy movies.
What decade do you love the most?
The late 80s or early 90s seem like a sweet spot. The music was great, people were getting excited about human rights and protecting the environment, the middle class was growing. In general, I’d say: any time period that’s post-polio vaccine and pre cell phone would be nice to live in. I think cell phones, social media, and the internet have basically ruined everything.
Favorite physical activity?
I’m most committed to rock climbing. There are grades I’d like to achieve before I’m 40, which is coming up fast! Mountain biking is a close second. The pandemic has disrupted my cycling but, whenever I’m able, I love going moderately fast on some single track with my friends.
What a person needs to be happy in your opinion?
I think they need a clear set of achievable goals and it’s also important those goals not conflict with each other.
Key “must do’s” in your daily routine?
Most days I wake up early (5:30am). Two cups of coffee is a must. Usually, I try to do some form of exercise before work, whether it’s climbing, cycling, or weights. I feel somewhat restless if I don’t do anything. Finally, I can’t go to bed without eating dessert. That’s probably my biggest compulsion. Even when I’m camping, I bring chocolate or Oreos or something sweet to eat before bed.
Secret talent / Claim to fame
When I was a lifeguard, I could do amazing belly flops from the diving board – heroic, award-winning belly flops. There’s still a video on YouTube, I think.
Beverage of Choice
Lately, I’ve been enjoying any of the hard kombuchas by June Shine. For the longest time I thought I hated kombucha, but these are just delicious! They’re so refreshing, and it only takes one or two to get a proper buzz going.