Women In The Field-Meg Haywood Sullivan

Words by Matthew Vanatta
Photos by Meg Haywood Sullivan

Meg Haywood Sullivan is an East Coast native and third generation photographer who has traveled the world shooting awe-inspiring outdoor, lifestyle and action photos. Cutting her teeth in the backcountry amongst the mountains in the male-dominated snowboard industry, the young photographer honed her craft shooting in rugged outdoor conditions. Since then, she’s become an in-demand editorial, travel, and fashion photographer.

Traveling the world and working with a number of A-list clients like Teva, Patagonia, and Jamestown Revival, Meg has developed an approach that is equal parts stylish and documentarian. Her work tells a visual story, and she has recently taken on a number of stewardship projects to balance out her commercial projects, meeting her needs as an avid nature ambassador and activist. Both her documentary and commercial work blend a narrative of beauty, exploration, and passion – following her work is like being transported into an inspired world of cultural and outdoor exploration.

Meg Haywood Sullivan has seems to have found her niche, perfectly balancing her life as an outdoor enthusiast, traveling photographer and activist. We caught up with Meg in her Venice studio, as she had recently returned from a surf trip to Morocco, to talk about growing up with creative parents, managing work-life balance, and finding inspiration in nature. While established, Meg is young and inspired, and her immense talent mixed with infectious energy surely indicates that she will continue to grow and prosper as both a photographer and an inspiration for fellow creatives. While the sun is already shining on the young LA resident, her future is looking to be intensely bright.

Tell us a little bit about growing up in a creative household and how that impacted your work?

My folks are freelance artists/photographers, so I feel fortunate to have learned some of the ropes of the creative world at an early age. From day one, my family has been the ultimate role model, and I can’t tell you how proud I am to say that I’m a third-generation Nikon shooter. I still shoot with some of my grandpa’s original lenses.

What was your first experience with a camera? Was it always your preferred medium?

While I can’t pinpoint my first experience with photography, there were always paints, colored pencils, and cameras to play with in my childhood home. It wasn’t until early high school that photography really took a turn from something that was just a habit to a craft I wanted to pursue and perfect.

Was nature and the outdoors always present? Did you initially set out to be an outdoor photographer?

From an early age, my parents instilled a deep reverence for our natural world. I remember being fascinated by the landscapes that flew by my window when my folks and I would travel –  it really made a difference. That’s why I pushed hard for a degree in environmental studies; to add another level of expertise and legitimacy to the environmental stories I wanted to tell as a photographer.

You have a unique path as a female photographer as you spent a lot of time shooting snowboarding. How did you get involved in the snowboard world?

Shooting snowboarding was a perfect nursery grounds for a budding photographer. It taught me how to think on my feet and how to creatively make use of the surrounding environment – no matter the conditions. It really all started when my good friend/pro snowboarder Aaron Robinson took me under his wing. He had two nickels to rub together, but did everything in his power to make his dream of being a professional athlete a reality. And it worked. Sadly he passed away shortly after I photographed him snowboarding for the first time, but his love for the mountains and for making his passion come alive stuck with me for life.

How do you balance having a normal life and traveling?

Haha honestly there is no separation between who I am and what I do, and I’ve worked damn hard to have that balance. It’s not easy, but it’s important to find familiarity in the small things, like my lavender essential oil I travel with, or my well-worn leather sketchbook that has been all over the world with me. Home can be a state of mind if you put the effort in.  

How would you define your style, both personally, and as a photographer?

It is incredibly important to me to practice what I preach, which is why I try my hardest to be aware of my carbon footprint in every aspect of my personal life and career. Living simply keeps the mind focused and is gentler on our precious planet.

You recently moved to Venice from the Bay Area, how has the transition been?

The past 5 years I had been calling northern California home, from living in a tiny home on a dirt road to a sailboat in SF Bay, and as of this past March, finally migrating south to Venice. I’ve been blown away by the creative community in LA brimming with inspiration and opportunities for collaborations. This place is hard to beat. Not to mention 15 minutes from my doorstep in Venice, I can be on a remote trail in the Santa Monica mountains, or surfing the iconic beaches of Malibu. I’m truly smitten to say the least.  

If you could give our readers one piece of sage wisdom when shooting outdoor photos what would it be and why?

I wouldn’t say I’m at sage-level yet, but I sure hope to be someday. Best bit of advice I’ve been given so far? Learn how to see your world with fresh eyes. Perspective is everything, and challenging how you see things – from a foreign mountain range or that everyday view on your backyard trail – can mean the difference from a mediocre image and an iconic one.

Are there any big projects that you have coming out that we should watch for?

Keep a lookout for the series I started with Clif Bar that showcases leaders in the sustainable food movement throughout the country. It’s been the most inspiring project I’ve worked on to date and I’m super excited about it. I also am currently working on a trio of backpacking stories highlighting at-risk glaciers across the American West. It’s going to be a summer chock-full of adventures!

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