photography

Creating a Lifestyle Image Library

Creating a Lifestyle Image Library

Any reader of this blog will know that I have a wide variety of interests and that I photograph a diverse range of subject matter. One area where I feel that I particular excel photographically is in creating lifestyle image libraries. I'm not sure if it's my training as a photojournalist at the University of Idaho (Go Vandals!) or if it's my many years of photographing for higher education and independent schools, but I enjoy exploring angles and turning what might be one single image into a series of images that help to tell a story.

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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 NYtimes.com or pick up a copy of her book on Amazon.

Celebrating 10 Years!

10 years ago, with a passion for photography, a strong work ethic and just the right amount of naiveté, I struck out as a professional photographer with the support of my wife. I haven’t had a real job since. There have been some major highs and major lows during the past decade, but as my 11th year in business begins I feel as if I’m finally on solid ground.

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Rodney Mullen - Skateboarding, Passion and the Tech Industry

“If you do it for the sake of loving it, and you don't care whether you're seen or not, or paid or not, all that stuff will come. But enjoy the process! If you start doing things for the sake of selling up front, for rewards, then it's going to catch up to you. The other guys not chasing money are going to outdo you in the end, because real innovation and grit come from loving the process.”-Rodney Mullen

Read the entire article titled "Silicon Valley Has Lost Its Way. Can Skateboarding Legend Rodney Mullen Help It? on Wired.com

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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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.

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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: 

Cell Phone Cameras Are Fun

image Clearly I haven't updated this blog in months. While that saddens me it's also a good indication of how busy I've been, which as it happens is a good thing when it comes to business.

I've been enjoying working with clients new and old on a wide variety of projects over the past few months. I'll be talking about some projects in more depth later, but for now I just want to share an image I like. I like it for two reasons. One, I think it's interesting. Two, I shot and edited this entirely on my cell phone. This second point is interesting to me because I think it represents the future of photography. Hell, it represents the now of photography.

While I don't think I'll be trading in my Canon 5D mark III anytime soon, I have really been enjoying experimenting with my Galaxy S4 phone. It really is a pretty amazing device and some of the images really are quite nice.

I just got back from a personal trip to Jackson Hole, WY and shot everything on my phone and a GoPro. It was fun to use only small cameras and really allowed me to focus on the experience. To keep in line with this mobile trend I'm posting to this blog from my phone for the very first time. I don't think I'll do that too often because typing with my thumbs is tedious.

If you want to see more mobile photos of mine follow me on Instagram. My handle is @ryansmithphotog

The Opportunity To Choose

I've been thinking a lot lately about a post I wrote the other week. It was about an ethical dilemma I had in regards to a particular assignment. In short, I turned down a job because I couldn't reconcile my feelings about the client's product. You can see the original post HERE. I wrote about making a decision to turn down a good paying job and how that decision was difficult for me. The thing is, I keep coming back to the idea of "choice." I can't stop thinking about that concept. It's given me the opportunity to reflect on a number of aspects of my life and career that I would like to share here.

I am lucky that I have the opportunity to put my personal feelings before business from time to time. I am lucky that I even have a choice to say "no." Not everyone has that option and there are times throughout the past several years where I would not have been in a position to turn down work. People all over the world struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis. Not everyone has a choice.

Sometimes you have to do whatever job comes along in order to buy groceries or make rent. I've worked all kinds of jobs over the years in order to become a photographer. I've been electrocuted on an assembly line. I've stuck my entire arm into a vat of liquid cow shit. I've hauled fireworks all over the northeast and mid-atlantic. I've worked in a coffee shop, a garden center, photo labs, ski resorts, a climbing gym, camper manufacturer, tractor dealership and all sorts of under the table landscaping and construction jobs.

I come from a middle class family of small business owners that understand hard work. You learn how to work and how to make and save money. I've been given all the tools necessary to succeed as a photographer and to create the lifestyle that I desire. I have a loving family who has supported me and given me the ability to take risks. I am lucky and I want to say how grateful I am for the opportunities I have had over the years. I am thankful that the opportunity to say "no" is occasionally available to me.

I hope that I continue to be fortunate and that I can make the right decisions for me, my family and my professional life. I am grateful for all that I have and hope that everyone reading this has the opportunity to say no from time to time. Be thankful for what you have, work hard and enjoy life.

I Could Be Shooting Right Now. Instead, I'm Writing This.

Lifestyle Photographer Philadelphia, PA Ryan Smith Photography

I have had many, many times when jobs fall through for reasons that are outside of my control. There haven't been many times though when I've actively said no to a job and until last week, there had never been a time where I turned down a good paying job from a respectable agency because of ethical concerns.

That's right. I left money on the table because I didn't feel comfortable using my skill set to promote this particular client's product. It was an extremely difficult decision. August is traditionally a slow month for me so when work comes along, and it's paying reasonable rates, it's really hard to say no. In this case however, I just couldn't bring myself to work for this client. Without naming names (and please don't try to guess), I will say that this client promotes a particular product that I just don't fully support. I don't think it's good for people, the environment, our country or our future.

The reason I don't want to identify this client is because the people who work for their agency of record are good people whom I like and want to continue to work with. I don't want my ethical dilemma to reflect negatively on the agency's business. This is an important point because I greatly value relationships and as a freelancer and small business owner it's paramount that I maintain good working relationships.

The agency understood my position and even respected my decision. Which is pretty amazing when you think about it. There they were, offering me good money to shoot a job that countless other photographers would probably jump at. And here I am saying no to a job that didn't even require any negotiation. Here's the budget, here's the shot list, it's yours if you want it.

And, here's the kicker. The actual assignment sounded interesting to me. I think it would have been a lot of fun to shoot, but I just couldn't reconcile my feelings about how the images would be used. I thought long and hard about this assignment, but ultimately I had to turn it down. I like to think that I'm sticking to my ethical code and that I'm above selling out, but I wonder how the decision would have been different if the fee for the job could have been "life changing" for me and my family. Where do you draw the line and how do you balance supporting your family and maintaining a good conscience? There is a lot of gray area and only you can make the decision.

For now though, I feel good about not taking the job. Do I wish I was making money right now? Yes, but there are other jobs out there. Just to prove my point, literally within one hour of deciding to turn down this job I received an email from another agency asking me to bid on a much better job for a client that I can really pour all my energy into. Now just keep your fingers crossed that I win the bid.

 

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!

Cheers!