The journey of an Instagram-famous photographer
There he stood in the silence of nature, on a wet and chilly afternoon at Samish Overlook. Thick fog filtered through the moss-covered trees as we sloshed along the muddy trail. Amazed by the conditions, Dylan Furst pulled out his Canon and began capturing photos.
Furst is mostly known for his moody photography on Instagram as @Fursty. About 1.2 million people follow him as he travels around the world, creating beautiful images.
For a few hours, I watched him capture images of the most unsuspecting things and engage with the other people on the trail. The further we walked on the trail, the richer the colors became. It was as if one of Furst’s haunting images had come to life.
“I really do enjoy the rain. It’s kinda weird,” he said. “I prefer it over the sun.”
The 26-year-old has called Bellingham home for his entire life. He was raised in a small cabin on Chuckanut Drive. As an only child, Furst was constantly outside trying to keep himself entertained. “I think it’s amazing here,” Furst said. “I think it’ll be my base camp forever.”
Bellingham’s energy and rainy weather inspires Furst, and you can see this influenced throughout his work. “Bellingham, to me, is like a blank canvas for an artist especially,” he said. Furst has explored some of the most beautiful corners of the world, but a strong sense of community keeps him here. “I just love how passionate the people are,” he said.
There was never a day that he decided to become a photographer. Photography has been his passion for eight years, and it’s been his career for three of those.
“That’s not why I started or anything,” Furst said. “It just happened.”
After graduating from Sehome High School in 2009, Furst attended Whatcom Community College. He said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, but he thought this would buy him some time until he figured it out. After a year of taking classes, Furst realized college wasn’t for him. So he bought a one-way ticket to Australia. A couple weeks later, he boarded a plane with nothing but a backpack.
Furst had no plans once he got there, but ended up staying for a year. He said it was on this trip that he picked up his camera.
“I came home with a big passion for [photography] and it kind of shaped everything else,” Furst said.
When Furst returned to Bellingham, he got a job at UPS. He loaded packages into the trucks from 3 a.m. to 10 a.m. for the next four years.
“I don’t know how I did it,” he said. Furst said he really didn’t like his job but his work schedule made it possible for him to shoot in daylight.
After a few years of working at UPS and feeding his passion, Furst was offered his first photography job. “It tripped me out,” he said. “I didn’t believe it.”
Nature Valley saw one of his photos on Tumblr and signed Furst on as an ambassador to give them content for a year. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool. I didn’t know I could actually make money from this,’” he said.
Over time, Furst started to get more and more photography jobs. He started to wonder what would happen if he was able to put all of his time into it. “I was next up to go full time driver and I said, ‘You know I’m going to regret it if I don’t try it [photography full-time]. I’m just going to get out while I can and see what happens,’” Furst said.
This was a hard decision for Furst to make because he was about to enter a stable career, as UPS gave driver positions based on seniority. But he noticed that the drivers were never happy coming to work, and that made him realize he didn’t want it.
“If I can afford ramen like every night and I’m doing what I love, like, heck yeah,” he said.
At times, Furst misses having structure. He said it can be harder to work for yourself than it is to work for someone else.
“It takes a lot of discipline and you gotta fight for yourself,” he said.
The reality of what Furst does is often sugar coated by the illusions of Instagram. “I think that’s the biggest misconception. People think it’s easy,” he said. “It’s not. It’s really, really not.”
He said there is a lot of time, money and energy that goes into it and sometimes he doesn’t get the shot he needs.
“It’s an extreme amount of work and stress sometimes, and no one sees that,” Furst said. “You have to put food on the table. You have to pay your bills.”
Instagram plays a big role in what Furst does but, from the way he talks about it, it doesn’t consume him. “I try to disconnect myself from it enough where it’s not my life,” he said.
Furst thinks Instagram should be about what people create before how many followers they have. If he could change anything about Instagram, he would take away follower counts. “I think there would be 90 percent less people doing it,” he said. “We could focus on the art and not the numbers.”
Furst believes that Instagram won’t last forever. “I’m not going to put all my eggs into one basket,” he said. Social media is constantly evolving and Furst said he is preparing for his next move — something of his own.
“I’m expanding myself,” Furst said. “I’m creating my own company right now.”
Furst sees a lot of opportunity here. “I think right now it’s just on the edge of blowing up,” he said. “I want to be a part of Bellingham and its growth.”
“If I can afford ramen like every night and I’m doing what I love, like, heck yeah,”
Now, his focus is more to film. He said he doesn’t want to be categorized as just a photographer, and prefers to be seen as an artist because he also makes films, writes and produces music.
“He’s a really talented producer and beat maker,” his friend Rob Sese said.
Sese has traveled with Furst to assist him on his big projects. “We’ve been to really beautiful countries,” he said.
The pair traveled to Norway for a job Furst had shooting for Amazon Kindle paperwhite and stumbled upon a man that had a lasting impact on the both of them.
The trip was coming to an end and Furst remembers not getting the shots he wanted. They saw an old fisherman with his small green and white boat by the water in a fjord. They asked the man if they could take photos of his boat.
The man didn’t speak any English and they didn’t speak any Norwegian. The language barrier didn’t stop Furst and Sese from learning about the old man.
“He was one of the nicest people we ever met,” Sese said. “He was really happy.”
The photos went on to be the face of the campaign. “It was in all the national magazines which was like my biggest achievement in photography,” Furst said. The photo of the Norwegian fisherman is Furst’s favorite photo he’s ever taken.
Witnessing other people’s situations while traveling has been eye opening for Furst. “The best part of trips is meeting the people on them,” he said.
Furst hopes to give back to his community with his new company, Raincamp.
“In a way, I almost branded the rain, so Raincamp just seemed so fitting,” he said.
Raincamp is a production company as well as a lifestyle brand. Photography will be a part of the company but the main focus will be on film and storytelling.
Along with films, Raincamp will eventually have workshops, a clothing line, collaborations, creative writing and will work towards building awareness on certain issues such as the environment.
He wants to use Raincamp to give back by putting on events, doing fundraisers and working with local businesses. “I really do want to give back to Bellingham because I have been here my whole life. I was born and raised here,” Furst said.
Creating a company has challenged Furst. “I’d say this year was the hardest,” he said. “It’s just become so much more real.” Furst says he is still trying to figure out how it should operate but he plans to do a soft launch within a month.
“Everything has fallen into place for myself with what I have created and built up over my career so far,” Furst said. “Raincamp is just a new place I want to excel in.”
Looking forward, Furst plans to continue traveling, creating and growing Raincamp.
“I feel like I’m happy and I just want to keep being happy,” he said. “I just want to keep working hard and stay inspired and hungry for it.”