Georgetown native discovers his calling in his adventures
Ask Dustin Smith how he ended up dropping a career in physical therapy to become a worldwide explorer, and he’ll say it started with a long walk home. That walk took place in 2007 as Dustin left the Watkins Memorial Health Center on the University of Kansas campus, where he worked as a physical therapy aide. As the senior sports science major contemplated grad school, fear gripped him. “I was twenty-two, and I wasn’t ready for three more years of school and more debt,” Dustin recalls. “I felt like I hadn’t lived yet.”
Why wait until I’m sixty and retired to fully enjoy life? he thought. Dustin decided it was time for adventure, and Australia seemed like a great place to start. Months later, after a seventeen-hour flight, Dustin stepped off a plane and into a different life. As the city of Sydney beckoned him, he grabbed his backpack—filled with his best clothes—and set out. He rented space in a downtown hostel, a dorm-style environment for travelers in which guests sleep in bunk beds with six or more in a room.
The rent was cheap, leaving more money for Dustin to explore skydiving, white water rafting, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and deep sea fishing. “I never got homesick, because I never allowed myself to get bored,” Dustin recalls.
Dustin worked odd jobs and bravely extended his exploration to other destinations—New Zealand, Southeast Asia, Europe—snapping many photos with his point-and-shoot camera. Photography became a new hobby.
In 2010, Dustin grabbed his camera again and moved to Busan, South Korea, where he taught English to elementary students. In his spare time, he set out to explore. In New Zealand he’d met a young British woman, Danielle Sykes, who joined him for this new adventure. Eventually, they got engaged. The two enjoyed traveling and sorting through photographs that Dustin took, but he was frustrated by the photos’ quality. He bought a more professional camera, a Nikon D3100. Now Dustin could produce better quality images because he had “the ability to change lenses and control all the settings of the camera” and set up “more artistic shots.”
As a self-taught photographer, Dustin turned to the Internet for more training. Then he moved to one of his favorite cities, Edinburgh, Scotland, where he “interned with a photographer in Edinburgh who helped me learn quite a bit.”
In 2012, Dustin started his first professional photography business. A friend helped him get a volunteer photography position with The Hearing Fund Gala—a black-tie affair that attracts British and American celebrities. “Prior to this gig, I had taken only travel photos for myself,” Dustin says. “But I surprised myself and did very well. Everyone was pleased with my work, and that was a massive confidence booster!”
It’s not the only recognition he’s received. After honeymooning friends visited him in the UK, they entered one of Dustin’s photos of them overlooking an ocean bay in a Travel Channel photo contest. Dustin’s picture won the grand prize of a $500 gift voucher, and the Travel Channel reserved rights to use his photograph.
Dustin’s career continues to shine. He has a passion for getting the best shot. “Lighting and capturing emotions have the biggest effect on an image,” he explains. “The same setting can have a completely different feel with different types of lighting, and the greatest photos in the world are the ones that create emotions within the viewers.”
Dustin has spent seven years visiting more than forty countries and living in six. Today, Dustin and Danielle are married and reside in England, where Dustin plans to expand his photography business. Find out more about his work at his website, www.skywallphotography.com.