Hold Still by Sally Mann

I don't usually use this blog to discuss the work of others, but occasionally I see something that I feel warrants my sharing on this site.

I have loved Sally Mann's work for years. Her work has always felt magical to me and despite her numerous detractors, I think her work is beautiful. It's not often that I find a book about photography that really inspires me, but Sally Mann's book, "Hold Still" really got me excited about the still image once again. She discusses her relationship to photography and she shares some of her families most intimate stories in her memoir. Stories that are both good and bad. Her writing style is genuine and engaging. Her artistic sensibilities inform her writing style and help make what is already a fascinating life even more enthralling to read.  For example . . . 

"The Japanese have a phrase for this dual perception: mono no aware. It means "beauty tinged with sadness," for there cannot be any real beauty without the indolic whiff of decay. For me, living is the same thing as dying, and loving is the same thing as losing, and this does not make me a madwoman; I believe it can make me better at living, and better at loving, and, just possibly, better at seeing."

Read a thorough review of the book on or pick up a copy of her book on Amazon.

From One Road To The Next

Last night as I drove home after a 16 hour day of photographing and being on the road I was suddenly struck by the glaring contrast of where I often work and where I live. From country roads, farms and rural living to the hustle and bustle of NYC and back in a day. It almost feels like I'm living two lives on days like this and as much as I love it, sometimes it's challenging. The transition from one life to the other can be difficult because of it's stark differences. I'm required to shift gears from being the slow, easy going country boy to the aggressive driving, fast moving photographer in the same day. I just always remind myself to enjoy every day, regardless of the role I have to play. Usually, I'll stay in a hotel near the shoot location, but sometimes the way the schedule lines up it just makes sense to save the client some dough and make the long trek in the same day. And, when it happens like that I don't mind, because I love coming home. I love driving out of the loud and raucous city and then getting out of my car at the other end to silence. Some people might think I'm crazy for commuting 4.5 hours for one day of work, but I love what I do and get a thrill out of transitioning from one life to the other. That's why I live where I do and do what I do. I get a little taste of both worlds. And although some days can be extremely long and tiring, I have plenty of days that are filled with gardening, drinking coffee in the fresh morning air and playing with my son to make up for that time spent in the car and in hotels.

From one road to the next. Here's to enjoying every day.

57th Street, Manhattan, NY IMG_20140714_223617

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 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