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


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.