Photo Shoot for Men's Fitness Magazine

This past fall I had the good fortune of being assigned to photograph Police Officer, Rob Capezio just outside of Pittsburgh, PA for Men's Fitness Magazine. Men's Fitness has a success story in each month's print edition and Rob was chosen for the work he did to transform a bare bones gym at his department headquarters into a well-equipped training space for himself and his fellow officers.

I was hired to photograph Rob working out in a variety of scenarios with his fellow officers as well as to make a few portraits of him. My assistant and I started the day by grabbing a few shots of Rob running outside before moving into the gym. Once in the gym, we prioritized getting shots of Rob working out with fellow officers. Both Rob and his fellow officers were very gracious with their time on their day off of work and were happy to help me get the shots we needed. The gym is well-equipped but fairly small and covered on one side with mirrors. While the mirrors are great when you're working out they are problematic when shooting and lighting a space. This limited me to only a few angles and I chose a shot that had a bit of depth to it for the group shot. 

Once we had the shots we needed of Rob with his fellow officers we moved on to focusing on shots of just Rob. Since we were shooting for a fitness magazine it was important to highlight Rob's physique. Rob has some wicked looking arms so we thought photographing him doing some dips would give him the arm definition we were looking for. For this shot, I wanted the image to be focused solely on him so I didn't mind shooting against a plain white wall. I used two softboxes slightly behind and on either side of him to add definition and used a 36-inch Octabox with a grid attached to light in his front. 

After we had the shots we needed for the story we spent some time experimenting and grabbing a couple extra options which you can see below along with tear sheets from the January/February issue of Men's Fitness.

Album Photography for The Hello Strangers

Band Photography, Lifestyle Photographer, Ryan Smith I have the very good fortune of being married to an amazing singer and songwriter. My wife, Larissa and her sister, Brechyn, started a band named The Hello Strangers in Austin, TX and have worked hard to create an authentic sound that highlights their sibling harmonies. I love their music. It’s not just because I’m married to Larissa. It’s because their songs are filled with stories and each is executed with precision and grace. They are the kinds of songs that you can listen to over and over again without ever getting tired of them.

As someone who spent his youth listening to punk rock and heavy metal I never envisioned myself being married to an Americana musician. The fact is that we all grow in one way or the other and years ago I opened myself to all kinds of music and am a much better person for it. I love music and I enjoy seeing how different bands present their stories, emotions and poetry to the world.

There are numerous benefits to being married to a musician. Aside from getting in to shows for free, hearing new songs first and feeling cool for being married to a musician, I also get great joy from collaborating with The Hello Strangers on their image and identity. Larissa, Brechyn and I have been collaborating on photos and videos for years now and each one has it’s own unique set of challenges and rewards.

I am exceptionally thrilled about The Hello Strangers' self-titled debut album. They worked extremely hard with Nashville producer, Steve Ivey, to create an album that is excellent. And I’m equally thrilled about working with them to create the photographs used in the album packaging. I’ve worked with them on other projects and have worked with other bands for promotional photos, but this was my first time working on photography that would encase the entire album. These photographs needed to introduce The Hello Strangers and to build a story in the viewer's mind about what they were going to hear on the 13 track album.

We worked together to craft a general idea of how we wanted to present the music and this idea changed multiple times over the course of this project. What we ended up with is new and old photography that shows who The Hello Strangers are while also creating a mood and story about music. The images we shot and selected went through numerous changes, and with expert guidance from Designer Carl Nielson, we were able to lay everything out into a unique package that introduces The Hello Strangers and their music to the world.

Their songs have a wide stylistic range, but at it’s core each song is meant to be sung by two voices. The harmonies are key, regardless of whether they are singing a murder ballad, a love song or a honky tonk number. These photos are about the love and respect Larissa and Brechyn have for one another as sisters, musicians and friends while also paying homage to the dark stories they create.

I’m proud of the creativity, love and hard work they have put into this album. I’m also proud of the photographs I helped create. These photos help give their songs and voices a visual identity. I couldn’t be more grateful to have been a part of this process.

If you have never heard their music, take a listen to a couple of my favorite tracks. It's really hard to just pick three, but these are my current favorites live and recorded alike.

If you like what you hear, then please consider downloading an album. The albums aren’t yet available for mail order so when the opportunity arises for you to come to a show, be sure to check out the schedule. You can pick up a real hard copy of the album then.

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A Look Back At Winter

Lifestyle Photographer, Ryan Smith, Philadelphia, PA

Although I try to send out a newsletter every 4 - 6 weeks it doesn't always happen that frequently. Sometimes it takes longer for me to get around to and sometimes it's faster. Regardless, I like to use my newsletters as a way to look back at recent work. This months newsletter takes a look back at winter. Check it out HERE.

And if you like what you see and want to stay up to date with what I'm working on, you can subscribe to the newsletter HERE: 

Making Awesome Photos While Drinking Great American Beer - Part 4

I have never written a blog post that was so long I had to separate it into 4 parts. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever written a blog post that was more than 500 words. Anyway, this is the last part of this series. I promise. If you’ve been following along with the last 3 posts then you know the story about how I got this assignment, what the production day was like and how I learned to be a product photographer in a day. Well, in this post I want to talk about retouching and the reasons for stylizing the images in the way we did.

Way back in February in my initial meeting with Yuengling we discussed the retouching style. The creative team wanted these images to have a gritty feeling to them and they had seen these shots of JP Harris and The Tough Choices in my portfolio.

Lifestyle Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

They were interested in how I created the gritty texture and if it could be applied to other photos. I said absolutely as I had been wanting to apply this kind of treatment to another assignment for some time. It’s not the kind of aesthetic I would use all the time, but in certain situations I think it works really well.

In this case we knew that our final images would have multiple layers of texture, but would be very different from these shots of the Tough Choices. I collect textures. Sometimes I see a wood grain or a rusty tank and photograph it for later use. Other times I download textures from online sources. In the case with these Yuengling photos I ended up using anywhere from 2 texture layers to 6 texture layers on each photo. Each texture requires a different approach and different level of opacity. I mask certain areas, enhance others and play with various blending modes. No combination of textures is ever the same for every photo so this can at times be painstakingly slow.

I consider myself to be more of a shooter, but I also really enjoy cranking some music and getting lost in photoshop land. Each of the final images ended up somewhere in the range of 15 layer files at around 1 - 1.5 GB each. They’re big.

I went back and forth with Amy Whitehead and Regina Fanelli to fine tune the layers and finalize each image for delivery. This kind of retouching is very much a trial and error kind of approach. Sometimes it’s easy to go too far or not go far enough. I find that if I work on an image and get it to a stage I like that it’s good to take a break and come back to it hours later or even a day later. Taking a break gives me perspective and helps me to see areas I like and areas I don’t like. Ultimately, my goal is to deliver final images that my client will love while maintaining my personal style and vision.

I am really proud of the photographs I created for D.G. Yuengling & Son. I love making photos like this and working with clients who are willing to take chances. I love when work is really play. That’s why I became a photographer in the first place.

I’ll leave you with a few behind the scenes photos from our shoot day. Here’s to doing good work and drinking great beer!


Making Awesome Photos While Drinking Great American Beer - Part 3

I’m not your typical product shooter. I’ve shot various products over the years, but I have never considered myself to be a product photographer. I enjoy the process, but it’s not my standard subject matter. This is what I told Yuengling before getting this assignment. The thing about being open and honest (aside from being a good person) is that most of the time people respect your honesty, and in this case, my modesty. The creative team at Yuengling was actually excited that I wasn’t a product photographer because they wanted to see something different than what they had in the past. They wanted to see their flagship brands (Lager and Light Lager) in a new way and from a slightly different perspective.

We agreed to shoot the bottles together on a seamless white background so the bottles could easily be clipped and used in the various design elements with the other images from our day of shooting at the old brewery. This shot was done on a separate day in my home studio. Even though it was one shot of two bottles, it was by far the most challenging shot for me. The other shots were challenging in their own ways, but they are the kinds of subject matter I am used to. This shot presented a whole new set of problems to solve.

Commercial Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

I wanted this shot to look like how I see beer bottles in the refrigerator. There is something about opening the fridge and seeing beautifully back lit bottles just waiting to be drunk. It’s really about where the bottle is in relation to the light in the fridge. I knew I had seen it before and really wanted to create the same aesthetic for our shot.

I gave myself a crash course in how to shoot beer bottles. I tried a variety of light setups and ultimately landed on a setup that consisted of a strip box on either side of the bottle, with a fill card in front and a strobe with reflector and grid coming directly from behind through a hole I cut in the background. Since the bottles are two different colors, balancing the light was challenging. The green bottle transmits light much easier than the brown bottle. I built various flags and reflectors to control the light from behind, but ultimately the major light control came in the form of multiple exposures combined in post. This gave me the most control over the final image.

To give the bottles that frosty cool look I would stick them in the freezer for about 20 minutes immediately before shooting. I would take them out and spray with a mixture of 50/50 water and glycerin. The glycerin helps keep the beads of water from immediately running. These bottles were specially prepared with waterproof labels so the labels would look good for longer periods of shooting. I had a total of 12 bottles to work with. Six of each brand. And yes, I did drink them when I was finished shooting.

I shot a few different angles and communicated with the creative team remotely during the shoot day and with their approval moved forward with this setup. We all liked the low angle and how it gives the beer a towering, powerful feeling. This was the angle and feeling that Yuengling was hoping I could bring to the product shot.

Part four to this epically long blog post is coming soon so stay tuned. I’ll talk about the final retouching of our select images.

Making Awesome Photos While Drinking Great American Beer - Part 2

I love Yuengling beer. I love the brand and I love that it’s still family owned and operated. Dick Yuengling shows up to work every morning at 5 am, works until noon, takes a long lunch break and then often works until 9 pm. At 70 years old, he does this every day. It’s his name on the package after all. This is what I love about the company. It’s blue collar to the core. One person does the work of two and they serve a loyal consumer base. It’s an original American story. It’s this sense of pride that drove the creative direction for this project. I worked with a talented group of people from Yuengling’s internal marketing department. Creative director/Art Director, Regina Fanelli and Graphic Designer/Art Director, Amy Whitehead worked tirelessly to fine tune the creative direction and overall concepts for our photographs. My goal was to create images about the American Story. I wanted these photos to represent the proud heritage of America’s oldest brewery by creating authentic images that would resonate with Yuengling’s loyal customer base. Thus, we settled on photographing 5 scenarios in the old brewery and 1 product shot in studio.

I’m going to skip over all the pre-production steps involved in this process and get right to discussing each scenario on the actual production day. Yuengling chose to license an unexpected shot we captured later so I’m going to skip over our first setup, which was a portrait in front of the brew kettle. Instead, let’s start on the bottling line.

Institutional and Lifestyle Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

We had a few setup ideas from our scout day that we knew we wanted to try, but the most important thing was to be able to show a proud, confident and relaxed employee with the bottling line and classic green lager bottles in the background. This proved to be a bit more challenging than anticipated because the line was actually scheduled to be running cans on the day of our shoot. We discovered this the day before and luckily, Jennifer Yuengling was available and she quickly made the adjustments necessary for us to be able to run bottles on the line.

The tricky thing about shooting on a bottling line is that it’s fully operational and production doesn’t stop for anyone. Especially me. We had to make sure that our gear was out of the way and our setups wouldn’t interfere with line operations. We knew from scouting the day before that we had this nice open space to work with so this is where we set up first. I used a simple two light setup for this shot so it gave us the maneuverability to experiment with a couple different angles in the same space. Ultimately, we settled on this straightforward, symmetrical angle. Our employee was Mike Bowers, a 33 year veteran of D.G. Yuengling. He was incredibly relaxed and easy to work with. He was quiet, friendly and took direction very well. In my opinion, this portrait of Mike embodies Yuengling beer.

From here we moved up to what is called the depalletizer room. We had a lot more flexibility here in terms of space to work in. It was arranged for us to use one whole end of the room and three pallets of lager cases were waiting for us. Having ample space also gave us the opportunity to shoot multiple angles here as well. This was the second angle and by far my favorite. We shot this around noon so I had to create the sun. Jared Gruenwald (my assistant) and I crawled in and out of a window to set up two lights that would act as our early morning sun. We set up a softbox to fill in the cases and the worker and another light to fill in the back wall. Four lights for one of my setups is pretty extravagant. I’m typically a one to three light kind of guy, but when the opportunity presents itself I happily experiment with adding additional light.  My goal in all situations is to make the light look good, but not be overtly “flashy.”

Our employee, Ed Leibel Jr. had to stack and unstack numerous cases of beer. Ed has been employed by Yuengling for 16 years and was happy to work with us to capture this shot. He helped us move things around and he even let me move pallets around with a hand lift. We added some ambiance to this shot by kicking up some dust. Amy, Regina and Jared went wild with a couple of brooms prior to each take which made for a some really filthy equipment at the end of the day. In hindsight a smoke machine probably would have been more appropriate.

Institutional and Lifestyle Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

This shot may be my favorite from the entire series. To me, this is an iconic, moody image of a classic brand. It represents hard work, dedication and tradition. It’s everything we originally envisioned when deciding to shoot in this room.

By the time we wrapped up here it was getting on to mid-afternoon. We finished up a late lunch and moved everything down to the cellar room where we would photograph lead brewer, John Callahan. It was during this next shot that I got to drink the best Yuengling ever. The tanks pictured here don’t store beer anymore, but we were right next door to some tanks that did. Jared and I set up our shot while the rest of the team caught up on email and phone calls in the break room next door.

This was another 4 light setup so I was feeling pretty good about my lighting skills. We set up 3 strobes with silver reflectors on them to light the tanks and used one octabox with a grid to light John. Once we had the lighting dialed in we stepped into the break room and had a beer with the rest of the crew and John. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how good this beer was. I’ve been drinking Yuengling for a long time, but never has it been so fresh. And, while we were taking a break I got to talk with John a bit about his experience working for America’s oldest brewery. I talked a little bit about John’s back story in Part 1 so I won’t go into detail here. If you missed it click on this link.

Like everyone else we worked with John was great. He took direction well, was friendly and very generous with his time. I can’t say enough good things about Yuengling employees.

Institutional and Lifestyle Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

As we finished photographing John, we got word that Dick Yuengling was somewhere on premises. He typically goes back and forth between the old and new breweries in Pottsville and I had been told that if we timed it right we might be able to corner him long enough for a portrait. He’s a busy guy so we knew we had to move fast and make it easy for him. He’s running a company that produces over 2.5 million barrels of beer a year after all. I photographed Dick outside of his office in an alley that is historic to Yuengling. Dick was patient with me while I experimented with different angles and we got some great shots. However, Yuengling opted to license another shot instead of any shots of Dick by himself.

Apparently it was a rare occasion for Dick, his daughter Jennifer, and his daughter Wendy to all be in the same area of the brewery at the same time for more than a few minutes. The shot below was totally unplanned and happened only because Yuengling’s marketing manager saw the opportunity to get a shot of the 3 of them together. We persuaded them to let us photograph them together in the Rathskeller. They agreed so Jared and I hustled all our equipment over to the Rathskeller and set up our shot in less than 20 minutes. Amy, Regina and Jared busted their asses to help me get this shot ready. We were limited by space as the Rathskeller is a narrow bar, but we wanted to make sure that some Yuengling products and the dark wood around the bar were visible in the background.

We finished testing light just as the 3 Yuengling family members arrived. I positioned them at the corner of the bar and started firing away. These are three very busy people so I was trying to be respectful of their time, but also wanted to make sure we got the shot we needed. Because it was unplanned I didn’t know exactly what that would look like. We captured a number of great shots, but this image of Dick with his arms around two of his daughters is the image that the marketing department ended up licensing. I think it’s a classic shot of an extremely hard working family and I was really happy I had the opportunity to photograph them together.

Institutional and Lifestyle Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

As soon as we finished up in the Rathskeller we packed all our equipment and headed outside for our final shot of the day. The old brewery has been in on Mahantongo St. in Pottsville, PA since 1831. It has a ton of history to it and is still 1 of three breweries producing Yuengling beer. It’s a structure that has weathered the Civil War, 2 World Wars and prohibition. And, all that time it was run by 5 generations of Yuengling family members. It’s an icon and it was known from the beginning how important it would be to have a strong image of this building for the 185th Anniversary. We looked to historical photos for inspiration and found a photo from the mid 1800’s that was shot from a similar angle to what we have here.

I knew this shot would be weather dependent. When dealing with mother nature all you can really do is cross your fingers, hope for good weather and do your best to deliver a great shot regardless of what is thrown at you. Fortunately for us, the weather turned out to be exactly the kind of light and sky we needed to make this shot into what we originally envisioned.

I knew from our scout day that we would need to do this shot between 5:30 and 6:30 to get the best light. We set up on the corner at almost exactly 5:30 and continued to shoot multiple variations until about 6:30. We shot this in early April and even though it was sunny, the temperature quickly dropped into the 30’s. We stood on the corner talking, blowing on our hands and watching the light change while I grabbed frames. We were able to get a local Yuengling box truck and had the driver swing by at the end of his shift so we could add it into the shot. We tried a couple of variations, but ultimately this was the angle and truck position that we all liked the best.

Institutional and Lifestyle Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

We wrapped up our shot and Jared and I packed all our gear in the car and said goodbye to our Yuengling friends. After a quick bite in town we hit the road for home knowing that we had just created some fantastic new images for Yuengling.

Stay tuned for Part 3 where I get to talk about the product shoot day


Making Awesome Photos While Drinking Great American Beer - Part 1

I’ve been drinking Yuengling beer as long as I can remember. It’s hard not to know the iconic Yuengling brand when you grow up in Pennsylvania. In my hometown I can walk into any local bar and ask for a lager. There is no need to say anything else. It’s understood that I am asking for a Yuengling Lager. This spring I had the opportunity to drink Yuengling straight out of the cask. It’s the best Yuengling Lager I have ever had and probably ever will have. It was great on a multitude of levels, but the best thing about it was that I was drinking it with Yuengling’s lead brewer (John Callahan) moments before getting to photograph him in the old cellar. He’s a fascinating man and is truly a great American story. He started working at the brewery in 1980 cleaning tanks. Over the past 33 years he has seen Yuengling grow immensely while slowly working his way up the chain of command to become Lead Brewer of America’s oldest brewery.

Institutional and Lifestyle Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

This assignment came about in a very roundabout way. It proves that personal projects play an important role in landing new work. I had been working on a personal project exploring rural communities in Pennsylvania and decided I wanted to take the project to a different level of storytelling. I had the idea of focusing on iconic Pennsylvania companies and photographing their employees at work in a similar style to what I had been doing for the rest of my project. The first company that came to mind was Yuengling so I called them up and talked with their Marketing Manager, Jen Holtzman. She was interested in my ideas and thought she would be able to get me access to the old brewery. Long story short, we had difficulty scheduling and then my son was born. In the chaos of becoming a new dad I tabled the project and Yuengling dropped off my radar.

Fast forward 9 months to February, 2013. I got a call from Jen Holtzman saying she would like to talk with me about a photography project for 2014, Yuengling’s 185th Anniversary year. She had just gotten out of a meeting in which they were talking about photography direction for the 2014 materials. She remembered me and my project and looked me up. She and her creative team loved the work on my website and then went to my blog to see more. On my blog they read my post about a Dodge Ram Superbowl commercial. You may remember this post. They had been talking about the same commercial in their planning meeting as inspiration and were thrilled to see that I was already thinking some of the same things.

We scheduled an informal creative meeting at Yuengling’s headquarters in Pottsville, PA for the following week. What is great about this is that they brought me in on the ground level of creative discussion. This gave me the opportunity to give a lot of input into the creative direction of the photography for this project. I took all my information from the meeting and started working on a proposal with Craig Oppenheimer at Wonderful Machine. Craig worked with me to put together an initial estimate and then I put together a kick ass proposal and sent over to Jen. We had a few rounds of negotiating before we finally settled on the creative direction, total number of images and overall budget. I got the job and immediately went to buy a case of Yuengling Lager to celebrate.

I am incredibly grateful to the creative team at Yuengling for taking a chance in hiring me for this project. I don’t mean to say I’m risky. Quite the contrary. I knew I could deliver exactly what I said I would, but the risk for them was that they had never used photography like this in any of their marketing materials. This is uncharted territory for Yuengling and I am thrilled that even after 185 years of continuous operation they still know how to change things up a bit.

Stay tuned to learn more about the production in Part Two


Pregnant in Jail - The Hello Strangers

I'm going to go back in time a few weeks to recap my most recent shoot with The Hello Strangers. If you read my previous post then it's no secret that my wife and I just had a baby. And if you have read earlier posts (like this one), then it's also no secret that Larissa is one of The Hello Strangers. The reason this is important is because The Hello Strangers have a song called Pregnant in Jail. The song takes inspiration from a friend's true story. No really, it does.

Here's the chorus. "Pregnant in Jail, won't somebody pay my bail, wastin' away in a cell, I'm just Pregnant in Jail." But, my favorite line of the song is, "Well these days ain't sunny no more. With all these people talkin' I'll be damned if I'm a two bit whore."

Last fall when it came to be known that Larissa was pregnant, Dave, the bass player of the band, asked if we were going to do a Pregnant In Jail photo shoot. We realized that this would be a great opportunity to bring this song to life in a photographic way. We decided to wait until Larissa was good and pregnant. The timing on this was tough because we didn't want to shoot too early and we didn't want to wait too long as the chances of going into labor increased. And, I definitely didn't want my son to be born in a jail cell.

The most difficult part of the shoot aside from the timing was securing a location. We wanted something with bars that had a turn-of-the-century kind of feeling to it. Well that should be easy, right? All jails have bars. Unfortunately what you are used to seeing in the movies is not quite like most prison's these days. To find our location I started by calling the mayor of my town since he works with our local police force on a regular basis. As a fan of The Hello Strangers, he agreed to help connect me with the Chief of Police. He informed the chief that I would be stopping by to take a look at the jail cell our small police office has. Unfortunately, the cell didn't have the space or the look we needed to complete the shot, but the Chief sent me to another Chief a few towns over. I followed a few more leads like this until I finally ended up at the Old Jail in Chambersburg, PA. It was perfect. Black bars with white walls and officially closed to detaining prisoners. The Old Jail now houses the Franklin County Historical Society. If you're ever on a road trip through PA and want to check out a fascinating museum be sure to stop in.

We had our location, and after some back and forth were able to schedule a suitable date for us to shoot. Now we needed wardrobe. Dave, the band's master of disguise, happened to have a vintage prison uniform. We decided to maximize the use of this and have both Larissa and Brechyn wearing a piece of it. Obviously, we wanted to show off Larissa's belly so she wore the pants while Brechyn wore the jacket.

Now for style and concept. The protagonist in the song is tough, yet sensitive. She's been dealt a tough hand, but has to keep moving on. Larissa and Brechyn already know their part because they wrote and perform the song regularly. As with all of our shoots, they make my job much easier by quickly getting into their part. As for light, the location actually had some beautiful natural light. Most of my previous shoots with the band had been much more heavily lit, but for this particular scenario I wanted to use as much natural light as possible. This served a double purpose as it helped us to move a little more quickly (see above about not wanting to have my son born in jail) and it gave the photos a feeling of authenticity.

I love photographing bands because of the collaborative nature of the photos. All of my projects are collaborative, but band photography really does extend that collaboration by merging music with photography. We take the creativity of the music and bring its visual form into existence.

That same creativity and process can be applied to all the work I do. There is creativity all around us. It's in our schools, hospitals, backyards, local pub, etc. It's everywhere and I see my job as being that of explorer, and of problem solver. Each place presents its own unique set of problems and my job is to solve that problem. It's like a mathematician working out an equation, a writer doing research for a character, or a dancer choreographing a new dance. You look at the pieces already in place, sort them out, and turn them into something that didn't exist before. Here is the result of the problem we solved this time.



Eat Local - Nate Luke Photography

What is food? Food originates within plants, animals and water. It contains nutrients that enable us to survive, but it can also contain ingredients that threaten our health. For thousands of years, food has played a significant role in our social interactions as humans and it is central to spiritual traditions throughout the world.

Food is simple, complex, spiritual, commercial, social and controversial. Where do you get your food? Do you know where it came from? Who grew it? How?

Nate Luke is a friend and photographer living in Missouri. He has been searching for answers to these questions through the photographic study of the local food movement. When I met Nate a few months ago I learned about a personal photography project of his that truly comes from the heart.

It just so happens that this year's Blog Action Day topic is food. I thought what a great opportunity to talk with Nate about his project. Below is a short interview with Nate along with some of his images.

ME: How did you become interested in photographing local food?

Nate Luke: I became interested in the local food movement approximately two years ago.  I wanted to contribute in some way and I knew that I could lend my photography skills to help promote and bring awareness to the cause.  My first project was photographing the local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm, documenting both the food that is produced and the people that make it happen.  I've expanded that to working with the local urban farm, co-op and Slow Food chapter.  

ME: How long have you been working on this project?

NL: I'm entering into my third year. 

ME: What does this project mean to you?

NL: This project demonstrates my passion for educating people on why it's important to eat non genetically modified foods and how healthy and organic foods can enrich their lives and their health. 

ME: Do you feel that local food is having a renaissance in America? If so, why do you think that is?

NL: Yes. People are looking for better quality of life without spending a lot of money.  Growing your own food and supporting your local farmers in a great way to do that.  

Nate has been working as and advertising photographer since 1997 and specializes in commercial still life, landscapes and lifestyle photography. Check out some of his other work at and see what else he's up to on his blog:




It Takes Guts To Make a Print

I read this great interview with photographer Kurt Markus on A Photo Editor recently and wanted to repost this section on PlayingWork. You can read the full interview here. That’s the revolution, because I’ve always thought of photography as an object. It’s not electronic information, it’s an object. I don’t believe in a photograph until I make a print. It doesn’t exist for me. It’s just like thin air. So from that perspective it looks to me like people are afraid. They’re afraid to commit to putting their name on an object and claiming it. They’re dodging the biggest bullet of all which is standing up for your work.

It takes guts to make a print. You know you have to convince yourself that this is you, that you’ve made this and that you’re putting your name on it, and you also have to believe that maybe somebody else either can appreciate the work you’ve done or can appreciate the fact that this is you. There’s nothing else to hide behind.

-Kurt Markus
These two paragraphs really stuck with me. When was the last time you made a print? It's easy to be consumed with bits and bytes and to forget that photography can be an object. I've been making more prints lately just to see how they feel in my hands. Most of them end up in a box. Some hang on my wall for a while. And others go straight to the recycling. Regardless of where they go, it just feels good to hold them and look at them in a different way.

Pennsylvania Project

Ammon and Mervin take a break on a hot July day.

Recently, I wrote about the beginning of a new personal project. Since that post I have logged about 30 hours on the road in Pennsylvania and have many new photographs of the Keystone State and the people who live here. If you remember, the project began with the exploration of an abandoned building in Northern PA. I decided that I wanted to continue this study of vacant spaces but also begin to talk to and photograph the people that live near these places. The result has been that I have met some great people and subsequently learned a lot about the varying perspectives on the state of our economy and way of life.

With each trip I learn more about the state I have spent 23 of my 31 years of life in. I am discovering places I never knew existed while learning about my fellow Pennsylvanians. So far this project has been about exploration and discovery. I am enjoying the developmental process and still really don't have a definitive theme. Right now this project exists as a very broad story about Pennsylvania and I kind of like that.

Below is a gallery of a few recent images. I'd love to hear what you think about them so if you feel inclined, please leave a comment. And if you know of any unique areas in Pennsylvania I should explore, let me know and maybe I'll check it out.

Jake catching helgramites

While photographing at a tire center I met a man who invited me to his house for coffee. This is the view we had as we talked and drank coffee.

Frank, a retired mechanic poses for a portrait outside his house

Sharlene smokes a cigarette and checks her phone just off the PA turnpike.

An abandoned motel in Breezewood.

Abandoned Restaurant

Given some of the comments from my last post, I thought it would be interesting to show a little more work from the abandoned restaurant that started this new project. Maybe some of these images can give you more information to create your own story about this place. Why does this restaurant sit empty? Who were the people running this business. Where are they now? What kind of food did they serve?

Clearly, this door has not been opened in some time yet the screen door hangs open as if waiting for the next person to enter. I wish I would have tried to open that door.

A child's bike was left behind. Why? Does someone still play with it?

An advertisement for the Eagles Mere Chamber Music Concert sits in the window. Someone took the time to organize the pine cones and position the flower on this shelf. Was it the owner of the bike?

Pennants still hang and the welcome sign is still out. What happened here? Is this an indicator of our current economy or was it something else? What do you think?