New Blog, New Site!

Hi There. Thanks for visiting my blog! This is an all new platform for my website and blog. It took a long time to get everything together, but it's finally here. My blog and website all in one place. Woohoo!

For those of you with developer experience this probably would have been a piece of cake to make happen, but alas, I'm a photographer. And what do photographers do when they don't know how to do something? They figure it out. I'm stubborn enough that with enough hard work and research I can side step obstacles and get things to work the way I want them to. Of course it took 4 times the amount of time it should have taken a knowledgable web developer. With that said, it sure would have been nice to have somebody smarter than myself to migrate all my old blog posts to my new blog.

Anyway, it's here and it's live! That's the important thing. So, whether you're a new visitor or an old time pal, I hope you enjoy what I have to share. Hit me up with questions, comments and suggestions.  


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

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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Be Flexible . . . But Don't be a Pushover

Sometimes, it's really hard to turn down work. Especially when the work sounds interesting. But, there comes a time in every photographer's career where you are faced with a choice.

"Do I go against everything I believe in and sign this shitty contract to make a few bucks or do I politely decline and stick to my guns?"

I recently had the opportunity to politely decline what sounded like an interesting project because the contract was simply bad. The contract was a "work for hire" agreement which requires that I sign over any and all rights, including copyright ownership to the client. Some people will say work for hire is evil and should never ever be considered. I take a more optimistic approach in that each project is different. If I were approached by a client who required a work for hire agreement and understood exactly what it meant and how much it should be worth then I might negotiate a rate that compensates me for handing over my intellectual property. That's the core problem right there though. If I sign a work for hire agreement then I have no opportunity to make money from those images in the future. Technically speaking, I can't even use them in my portfolio. Shitty. If a client is actually willing to pay a fair price for that, then hell yeah I'll sign it, but I don't know that any company exists that is willing to pay a true work for hire cost.

Here's the thing though. They don't need this kind of agreement. They really don't. It's a contract that was crafted by the company lawyers, who in all fairness are just trying to do their job. In their legal minds they only see one side. The client's side. I get it, I really do. However, it locks creative professionals like myself into a contract that doesn't have any flexibility. If I can't negotiate a fair wage based on the end use of the images I create then how do I survive as an image creator?

The client of the agency that contacted me made it clear to the agency that the contract crafted by the company lawyers could not be altered in any way. No changes, nada. It was a really bad contract and I had no options for negotiating changes.

Despite that, I aired my grievances to the Art Director, who quite frankly is put in a tough situation every time she needs to hire creative services. I suggested changes to the language in the contract that would essentially give the client what they need without asking me to give up everything. She was extremely understanding of my position, but despite her best intentions the contract could not be changed. She seemed really nice and I did want to work with her, but we had no way to change the terms of the agreement.

I really feel for agency creatives that are forced to ask other creative professionals to sign these kinds of contracts. It must suck knowing that you are asking photographers to hand over their rights for a nominal fee, without having any alternatives.

The worst part about this whole ordeal is the fact that the next photographer in line probably signed that terrible contract without a second thought. It's a reality of my profession though and I intend to continue to negotiate each and every contract that comes into my inbox. I know for a fact that all parties involved can reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial and respectful to the rights of one another if everyone involved is willing to communicate and be flexible. So that's what I'll do. I'll remain flexible.



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: 

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

A Milestone

This week is special for me. 7 years ago my wife (Larissa) and I took out a loan from the bank in order to pursue a full time photography career. Back then our business plan was very different than it is now and in all honesty, we were a lot dumber. Despite that fact, we have made good on our debt and consistently paid down our loan total for the last 84 consecutive months. Yesterday, we made the very last payment on a debt that has been a huge financial burden for 7 years. The balance is now at $0.00. Holy shit! Did 7 years really just pass? We have had some good times and some bad times over the last 7 years, but never once did we miss our monthly payment. It blows my mind that even during the worst business months of my life, we somehow found a way to pay back our bank loan. We did so with hard work, willpower, wise financial decisions, great clients and a lot of luck.

Thank you to all of my clients, past and present with whom I have been able to share some great times with. I am ever grateful to do work that I love with other passionate, creative people. Cheers to 7 years!

Champagne Celebration

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.

My 9/11/01

Lifestyle Photographer, Ryan Smith, Philadelphia, PA I was living in Moscow, Idaho at the time of the 9/11 attacks. I woke up with the excitement of living somewhere new and getting ready to start my first semester as a transfer student to the University of Idaho. I was making breakfast when I turned on NPR. That's how my roommates and I heard about the attack. I was shocked, angry and a little scared. I was on the opposite side of the country from my family in PA and living in a place that very few people know anything about.

I carried a portable short wave radio with headphones around all day so I could listen to the news coverage while I went to school. I remember sitting in a computer lab checking email and looking at news coverage online while listening to the shortwave. I remember talking to my family back here in PA. I remember talking to my roommates and to my classmates. But, I was so far away it didn't seem real. It still doesn't seem like it should have been possible. My 20's have been lived in the shadow of 9/11 and every year I think about where I was that day.

I was in Idaho. I was in a remote part of the country, about as far away from NY, PA and DC as possible. The picture above is from the Salmon River in Idaho, about 2 hours from where I lived. I actually took this picture in 2009 when I was visiting, but this same location is where I spent days before and after the events of 9/11. It's a place that always brings me peace of mind and peace of heart. Whenever I'm sad, frustrated or overwhelmed I think of this place. It's my safe place.

My heart goes out to all those affected by the heinous events of 9/11. To all the families and friends of those lost, to all the members of our armed forces, to all the first responders, to all Americans home and abroad and to all of humanity, I wish you peace.

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!


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