With his home in Kansas City and his frequent flyer number memorized, Austin Walsh has been creating award-winning content for global brands for over a decade. Austin has quickly, and successfully, made the transition from photographer to director while putting Austin Walsh Studio on the map as one of the Mid-West’s go-to production studios.
DESCRIBE YOUR PATH TO BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHER. WAS CREATIVITY ENCOURAGED GROWING UP? WHEN DID YOU KNOW PHOTOGRAPHY WAS WHAT YOU WANTED TO PURSUE?
I DON’T FEEL LIKE I EVER HAD A LONG TIME DESIRE TO BECOME A PHOTOGRAPHER. I don’t think I ever even realized that you could make a living as a photographer until I was already enrolled at the Art Institute of Colorado.
I was always in art classes, creative writing classes, and creating things. When I realized I couldn’t draw very well I decided I’d try making an image with a camera. My high school only offered 2 photo classes so for my last 2 years the photo instructor let me do an independent study for credits. As long as I was making photos and improving I got credit.
After high school I went to 1 year of “normal college” in Arizona still not knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went to Denver with friends for a weekend, toured the Art Institute to kill time, and then signed up on the spot.
BEFORE STARTING AUSTIN WALSH STUDIO, YOU TRAVELED THE COUNTRY AS A FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER. HOW DID THAT DIFFER FROM THE TYPE OF WORK YOU’RE DOING NOW?
I THINK OVERALL THE WORK IS ABOUT THE SAME. The projects have gotten bigger, the budgets have gotten bigger, and I’m no longer working out of our spare bedroom at home, but the hustle is still the same and I’m actually traveling even more now.
The biggest difference is the behind the scenes work that goes on now. With all of the bigger projects comes bigger responsibilities. When a brand is paying six figures or more to create images you have a lot of pressure to give them exactly what they want.
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO OPEN AUSTIN WALSH STUDIO IN KANSAS CITY?
TO BE TOTALLY HONEST, IT WAS ALL FOR A GIRL. I’ve now been married for over 10 years but when I finished at the Art Institute I moved back to KC to marry my 6th grade girlfriend.
At the time that was it, but as I got more into the advertising world I realized it was actually a great place to be and KC agencies were doing some great work. Looking back it couldn’t have been a better place to set up shop. I get to travel and work on awesome projects for brands all around the world but I always get to come home to KC where I have a family, a studio and great friends that are all doing awesome work.
“I REALLY DON’T THINK I COULD BE WHERE I AM, DOING THE WORK I AM,
AND HAVING THE LIFE I HAVE IN ANY OTHER CITY.”
HOW HAS YOUR STUDIO EVOLVED SINCE IT STARTED?
WHEN I FIRST STARTED OUT IT WAS JUST ME, a computer, and a camera in the spare bedroom of our house. I was only shooting still images. Shooting motion and being a Director had never even crossed my mind.
Now, the studio is larger than just me hanging out in a spare bedroom. I have an awesome team that make it possible for us to do the work we’re doing. We’re a full service studio capable of producing still and motion content for global brands and agencies. Our Executive Producer Katy really makes it all come together. She juggles multiple projects, for multiple agencies, and does a great job.
YOU SHOOT A WIDE RANGE OF STYLES—CORPORATE, LIFESTYLE, PRODUCT, A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING. IS THERE A STYLE YOU’D STILL LIKE TO TRY OR A DREAM PROJECT YOU’D LIKE TO WORK ON?
NOT TO BE CLICHÉ, but everyday I’m out doing what I’m doing is OK by me! In the past 12 months I’ve been to both coasts multiple times, a ton of places in between, shot 10K footage from the 53rd story roof of a building in Chicago, filmed in deserts, beaches, CLEVELAND!! and on and on.
When I think of dream projects I think of brands like Nike…brands that have the same passionate and forward thinking ideas that I have.
SEVERAL OF THE CAMPAIGNS YOU WORK ON INVOLVE BOTH MOTION AND STILL CONTENT. DESCRIBE YOUR PROCESS IN SHOOTING A LARGE CAMPAIGN SUCH AS “THIS IS CLEVELAND”.
“THIS IS CLEVELAND” WAS ONE OF THOSE DREAM JOBS YOU ASKED ABOUT…I literally got a phone call from MMGY’s EVP of Creative at like 4:00 on New Year’s Eve about that project. I could tell by how passionate Stew was that I wanted to shoot it. And, I think it’s because of that passion from him, CD Brandon Sanders, me, my team, the city, and everyone else in Cleveland that the project was as successful as it was.
I got off track…The process…I think the process and approach is the same as anything else. It doesn’t really matter if it’s still, motion, or both…we approach every project as one of a kind and figure out the best solution. Do your homework, assemble the best people possible, and understand the goal of the campaign.
I think that’s the way it was in Cleveland, and more recently for Samsung…the client, the agency, and our whole production team was into the concept and we made some really great work.
“IF YOU JUST POINT AND SHOOT IT MAY LOOK FINE, BUT IF YOU’RE INTO IT, AND EVERYONE ON SET IS INTO IT…SOMETHING REALLY COOL HAPPENS.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS COLLABORATION WITHIN YOUR PROCESS?
I LOVE COLLABORATION. I think that is when some really great things happen. Especially when you know you’re surrounded by really talented people.
Whether it’s a photo retoucher, audio engineer, editor, or anybody that is involved in the project, if you let those talented people do what they’re really good at, good things will happen.
HOW DO YOU AND YOUR TEAM APPROACH EACH PROJECT TO CREATE CONTENT THAT STANDS OUT?
WE APPROACH EVERY PROJECT AS A ONE-OF-A-KIND CHALLENGE THAT NEEDS TO BE SOLVED. We look at it from every angle and come to the table with an approach that will get attention and make the brand stand out in the crowd. With our small core we are able to stay nimble and crew-up for every job in the perfect way. Whether we’re shooting a portrait in the studio, or a broadcast production across the country we find the best crew for the job and hire them. A few years back we shot print and broadcast content for the “Tunnel Dog” campaign that involved a dog running through a series of clear plastic tubes. They were insane to light so we hired the gaffer that rigged the car scenes for Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
HOW DOES LIVING IN KANSAS CITY IMPACT YOUR PROCESS AND THE WORK YOU DO?
I DON’T THINK I COULD BE DOING WHAT I’M DOING IN ANY OTHER CITY. There are so many reasons that living in KC is perfect. The talent in KC is amazing. The creative/advertising community is amazing and close knit enough that you can really get to know a lot of talented people quickly. Some of my best friends own design shops, restaurants, and small businesses so I’m always surrounded by people whose work I admire and are super creative.
Above all else is the quality of life. KC is a great place to live and have a family. I think that the lifestyle that I can have makes work that much more rewarding. If I was in a tiny apartment, stressing about the cost of living, and not able to enjoy a house with a yard, etc. I would be less happy, and therefore my workwould suffer.
Because of our success here in KC, we’ve been able to grow and work all over the country/continent. There aren’t many places in North America that we can’t get to in under 4 hours. KC is central so it makes working on either coast pretty easy. Just yesterday I went to Atlanta and back in the same day for a tech scout. If I was in LA that wouldn’t be possible.
“I THINK IT’S THAT CREATIVE ENERGY THAT KEEPS US ALL LOOKING FORWARD AND GROWING.”
ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY PERSONAL PROJECTS RIGHT NOW?
WE’RE ALWAYS WORKING on a slew of projects that we think will help the studio or a technique that we want to try or learn more about. As a business owner I try to look for things that I think will help us improve and grow. If we see a hole in our portfolio we’ll concept something and shoot to fill that hole. On a personal level, I look outside of the photo/video world for personal projects. I’ll build something for my house, paint something, or anything else that uses a different part of my brain. I think it’s that outlet that helps me reset and come back to work with a clear head and ready to go again.
IF YOU COULD MOONLIGHT AS ANOTHER PROFESSION WHAT WOULD IT BE?
When I was growing up I always wanted to be an architect. I still think that seems like a really cool profession. We just built a new house and I was very involved in the process and had a lot of fun during the design phase.
Or, (usually around tax time) I say I want to sell the studio and gear and move to the Caribbean to rent jet skis to tourist on a beach and just chill!
WHERE DO YOU SEE AUSTIN WALSH STUDIO FIVE YEARS FROM NOW?
WHO KNOWS!!! 5 years ago I had no idea we’d be where we are now so it’s hard to say what the future holds. I do know that we’re continuing to grow, we’re continuing to get great projects, and we’re hustling just like it was day 1 to keep the momentum going. The sky is the limit. As technology and the way people view content continues to evolve, so does how we create that content.
“IT’S ONLY GOING TO KEEP GROWING AND WE’RE READY TO GROW WITH IT.”
IF YOU COULD SELECT ONE PIECE FROM YOUR PORTFOLIO THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
NO WAY! THAT’S LIKE ASKING WHICH KID YOU LIKE BEST….I can say that in the past 12 months I’m really proud of the work we did for Samsung. It is the style of work I love to do and want to do, and we nailed it. It got over 1.5 million views in the first week!
UNIQUE TO KANSAS CITY, WHAT IS ONE LOCAL RESTAURANT, STORE OR SPACE YOU LOVE?
RIGHT NOW NOVEL IS MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT. It is such a great space, in a great neighborhood, and the food and drinks are as good as anything I’ve had. Ryan Brazeal nailed it from the beginning and it keeps getting better.