We share hundreds of home tours and interior design projects each year, and our focus is always on the design. We chat with designers and architects about their creative process, and ask homeowners what they love most about living there. However, there’s another key person involved when you look at images of a gorgeous interior: the photographer! It doesn’t matter how beautiful a space is — if it’s not photographed well, it won’t make it onto our website.
Over the years, we’ve catalogued a list of photographers we admire and are always grateful to work with, and often feature their work time and time again. For California-based talent, Dustin Walker is at the top of the list. Though he was born in Australia, he came to the US for college and has since put down roots here, growing his business and shooting for some of the top designers and agencies in the region. We recently sat down with the photographer to chat about everything from his love of photography to the advice he’d offer to those just starting out:
When did you first start taking photos? Is it something you discovered as an adult or were you always interested?
When I was young, our hallways were lined with my uncle’s black and white photography prints (Ansel Adams style) and they always intrigued and provoked my imagination. This led me to take a photography dark room class at the age of 12. So okay, seriously – watching an image appear on a white piece of paper in a chemical bath for the first time was like “Wait, what?!” It was nothing short of a magical experience! But it wasn’t until I was 21 that I realized photography was going to be my life’s great adventure.
Tell us a bit about your background! Are you self-taught or did you study photography?
Okay, so I’ve always had an unusual attraction to really cool gadgets. I found a Swiss Army knife to be fascinating, but once I was introduced to a quality SLR camera with its black and smooth sliver, the shutter release button, a hot shoe, mode dial, exposure and aperture controls… did I mention interchangeable lenses? I had hit nirvana. I started out learning photography on my own, but just like musicians who have an innate talent, I thought why not combine that with theory and learn everything I can about this field. So I got my BFA at Brooks Institute of Professional Photography in Santa Barbara. Through Brooks I was able to get a much fuller grasp of the technical elements within photography to achieve imagery I had only aspired to shoot. It also introduced me to a much broader range of photography styles, as well as a firm knowledge of the business aspects, including budgeting, scheduling and interacting with clients. During my final year, I had my photographs is galleries, I was selling prints, I was shooting for The Santa Barbara Magazine and working at a photo agency in Los Angeles. It was a busy, exciting year, but a year that helped set the course for my career to come.
What inspired the move from Australia to California? What do you love most about living and working here?
Well, the initial inspiration to move to the US was for ‘the love of the game.’ You see, I grew up playing baseball in Australia. (Yes, we really DO play baseball Down Unda.) But unlike America, once you graduate from high school, there really isn’t anywhere to go within the sport, so California – here I came, to play for a college team in Orange County. (Now might be a good time to mention a funny thing I’ve learned about life — sometimes your goal destination in your head, is really a secret journey to somewhere else even more wonderful. You just don’t know it yet.) As my interest in baseball grew a little dimmer, my discovery in the beauty and diversity of the California landscape grew brighter. And what follows a magnificent discovery? Capturing and sharing it. I’ve spent the past decade of my life traveling the California highways and byways, photographing its beauty and getting to witness its majesty. It truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Other than Australia, of course.
With this strong passion for travel photography, what do you like about that versus interior photography, or vice versa?
Let’s start with this. I just love to travel. I love the adventure; to witness new sights, new cultures and new beginnings. Because of this, travel photography has always been a great passion of mine. Particularly landscape photography. There’s something special when it’s just you, mother nature, and your gear – getting up before the crack of dawn to capture that perfect moment, patiently waiting for 4000 pound elephant seals to realign themselves into the perfect composition, or spending hours on end waiting for the light to hit the Earth just right. What enthralls me about travel work is that the photos often find you! Yes, you have to put yourself into those environments, but watching the moments unfold naturally and unknowingly is simply profound.
What I love about shooting interiors is – well funny enough, it’s just the opposite. You have to find the photos within a controlled environment. You don’t wait around for the sun to set – you make the lighting happen. It’s about understanding the product, the selling points to a room, the features, the focuses and how to create singular imagery that will showcase all of it, or feature just one special piece. I also love getting to work with such a variety of clients, as everyone has a different approach, a unique angle or a vantage point separate from the rest. This keeps it interesting, and I pride myself on being able to adapt my own style to meet and fit each designer, company or magazine for which I’m hired. In short, I love the creative problem solving, the collaboration process and the people.
What have been some of the top milestones in your career?
Of course in anyone’s career there are so many defining moments that stick with you, some obvious and some very personal. Each milestone is relevant to its stage and progress of its time so it’s hard to define which ones are most impactful. If I had to pick a few, I would say that landing my first Ad Campaign felt pretty bad-ass. Getting my work into publications such as Architectural Digest, Elle Decor and of course, Rue made me honored and humbled. Getting my first Cover Image was a moment I’ll never forget. But funnily enough, when I was starting out, I had a gig with a renowned photo agency (ABImages) that worked the Oscars every year. So when the gig came up, I was assigned card runner duties. That meant I ran memories cards back and forth from the Oscars’ red carpet and ballroom, back to our hotel room for upload – all night long. The job was definitely ‘low man on the totem pole’ and the duties were simple, but being a kid from Australia, and to be working at the Academy Awards? It just felt like I was doing something right and still to this day it is one of my most cherished career milestones.
What advice would you offer those who are just starting out in the industry?
The key thing I would say to anyone starting out in this industry is to find a mentor – find one and learn from them. Listen, watch, observe, absorb and be humble. No matter if you are self-taught or have studied photography, remind yourself that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know until you know it.’ There is always opportunity to learn. Most importantly, get a mentor who understands how to run a photography business. It’s one thing to be ‘creative’ and take beautiful pictures; it’s a whole other thing to be your own accountant, office manager, CEO and marketing director. You must learn to wear all hats to run a successful photography business. Everyone has their own trajectories for their careers, but for me, being easy and fun to work with, building a solid reputation and creating a good network of people has been the best sources for that next exciting job. So be kind, reliable, honest and hard working to each and every colleague you come across, as you never know who will find you work down the line. Lastly, be open to any kind of alternate routes your career may take. Sometimes if we focus too hard on the career we ‘think’ we should have, we potentially risk missing the opportunities for something else… maybe something greater. I started out wanting to be a sports photographer. I now work with Interior Designers and Marketing teams, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Finally, we know it’s hard to pick favorites, but do you have any recent work that you’re most proud of?
Over the summer I photographed an Ad Campaign for a really cool furniture subscription company called Fernish. Ends up, I got to work with an old colleague I knew from early on in my career, which made an already cool job, a really great gig. I’m very proud of the work we created together for Fernish, and am delighted to see it doing so well for them.