Douglas Walker is not your typical travel photographer. In fact, Walker comes to the genre of travel photography by way of his long-time career as an advertising location photographer for such multi-million dollar clients as General Motors and Allegra, among many others. “I am not really a travel photographer. It is more that I travelled to locations to shoot big advertising productions,” Walker says.
Walker, who comes from Oxbow, a small town in southern Saskatchewan, studied photography in high school before taking a train to Toronto to continue those studies at Ryerson University. However, in his third year at Ryerson, Walker had the opportunity to be an assistant to Peter Croydon, a photographer who shot large format images for advertising clients. Walker could not pass up the chance to work with a professional and acquire hands-on experience.
“I like to say I got kicked out of Ryerson,” Walker says. “My instructor told me that I would learn 10 times the amount assisting Peter than I would learn from being in class. I was 21 years old and that’s what I wanted to do.” After three years as a photographer’s assistant, Walker got his big break: the chance to shoot for the revered Saturday Night magazine.
“At the time that I was starting out, Saturday Night was the magazine to be in; there was no question about it,” Walker says. “Art directors usually don’t or won’t see you. They are too busy. But I begged my way in, knowing that if I could just crack the door open a little, I would do okay.” Walker’s strategy worked. His first assignment for Saturday Night was shooting John Neville, then artistic director of the Stratford Festival.
Walker’s career took off from there, and he enjoyed solid success as a location photographer for major advertising clients, usually with a crew of eight to ten on shoots with him. After several decades of high-profile on-location shoots, Walker decided he had reached his goals and was taking a break. “I literally put my camera down for three years,” Walker says. “Now I just go out and shoot with my buddies and it’s like a beginner’s mind. For my Mexico series, it was purely personal; it became a state of mind. It was a feeling of, ‘I’m getting out of Dodge and I’m
going to Mexico for four months.’ I was energized and just felt like taking photographs. I did a lot of portrait shots and hired locals to meet people I could photograph, like windsurfers. On location shoots, I went back and back until I got the shots I wanted.”
Recently Walker’s focus has been on having fun with his photography, working on projects that are personal to him. “And as it turns out, I’m travelling,” he says. Walker’s passion is shooting endless horizons, which he credits to being from the Prairies. “There’s an irony in the expression ‘Prairie boys make great sailors,’ because in fact we are landlocked. But if you put us on a ship we get it, because of the endless horizon. Generally speaking, being deep in the mountains is not something that appeals to me. I love shooting people in the context of the landscape: portraits in the environment. I call it environmental portraiture. I am also comfortable around the ocean as it represents the endless horizon to me.”
Walker believes that no matter what you are shooting, it is all about the light. “You have to understand light. It drives everything,” Walker says. “When I was in the advertising business we would use whatever it took — a full truck of lighting if we needed it. What I have found is that pre-planning is key and patience is important. You see a lot of photographers who run out trying to get 10 good shots in a day. I go out, see where the good light is, then go back for days until I capture the light that I am looking for. Five percent of what I shoot happens spontaneously. But then I go back to the location that I want and I just wait; I just keep going back until I get the image that I want. That’s the discipline; that’s how I was taught.”
Walker, who has a contract for his travel images with Corbis Images, advises photographers who want to shoot travel to just get out there and shoot. Work as an assistant with as many top pros as you can. Preparation is also crucial. The most important thing is to edit your images. Only show the best of the best of your images.
To see more images from Douglas Walkers adventures, check out his website:
This article originally appeared in our Winter Issue in 2013. Get it HERE.