Over the years we’ve seen Ryan Schude dominate the action sports photography scene and grow into a full-fledged commercial photographer. His work is large scaled, highly produced and done with an incredible amount of detail. He has developed a style that not only pushes the boundaries of the still photograph, but tells a story at the same time.
Ryan, Let us in on your background and how you came to be a photographer.
I went to school for business and took up photography for the school paper as a hobby. By the time I graduated, I had decided to pursue photography full time and so enrolled at an art school to take photo classes. After a year, I began freelancing and a year after that began working full time as a photo editor and staff photographer at a small magazine. The next 3 years were spent shooting and traveling non-stop until the magazine went out of business. I moved to LA and built an entirely new portfolio in a more narrative and fine art direction as opposed to the editorial style I was focused on prior. It has been 6 years since that move and I continue to live and work in LA while my photography evolves. I now find applications in the fine art world as well as in editorial and advertising.
How would you describe your current work?
Narrative and conceptual frameworks surround a carefully structured environment, sometimes in the studio but more often on location. There is generally some movement and multiple stories existing in one frame. Attention to detail in production design, styling, and lighting are key to the overall look of each image.
Your work is very detailed and appears to involve extensive planning and coordination. What does your work flow consist of from the initial concept through the completion of a final piece? Maybe you could elaborate about a particular photo from your portfolio and give us a breakdown.
There is a picture taken at a backyard pool party scene. This was a collaboration with Lauren Randolph during the 2010 Phoot Camp, which is a creative retreat for photographers. We all stayed at this house over the weekend to hangout and make pictures. The backstory for the image was a loose narrative about what happens to high school students when their parents go out of town and a party is thrown in their absence. We chose roles for each member of the camp as high school stereotypes and created a scene near the height of the party when things are going just right. The band geek gets pushed in the pool by the popular kid for hitting on his date, the punk rock kid is stuck in back chugging whiskey out of the bottle by himself, surfer bro is mid-jump off the diving board, party girls/boys are chicken fighting, etc. We spent a few weeks scouting the location and determining our exact frame, sketching each person’s role into an outline, shopping for props and wardrobe for each character and planning how to light it at the particular time of day we wanted to shoot.
In a majority of your photographs there are sometimes more than a handful of people in one frame, How difficult is it to maintain control when you are on set and need to receive a unique expression from each model?
This can be extremely difficult depending on the time constraints. If you are fighting against a setting sun, or the talent’s availability, technical issues and so on, a million things can get in the way of forgetting to focus on the most important part, which should be directing the actors. Each experience has it’s own challenges but the more you do it, hopefully the more comfortable you get locking down all of the extraneous factors and allowing your mind to be free to pay more attention to the storyline.
How are you promoting yourself these days? Do you take on all of your own PR or is that something that your agent takes care of for you?
Glasshouse Images in New York, as well as F.A. Cesar in Hamburg and Instanbul help me promote with email blasts, setting up meetings with potential clients and showing a physical book around for my commercial work. Galerie 64bis in Paris and Eye Buy Art in Toronto represent me for fine art. A good majority of work always comes from the personal relationships I have developed myself. I am also fairly active on social networking sites such as Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
How do you balance your style with what a client has previously envisioned for a project? Do you find that most clients are controlling or do they let you have a lot of freedom?
A client is hiring you for your specific style so they want your influence on the end product. However, I don’t try and over control commercial work, I am there to see their vision through and treat the process as a complete collaboration where we work together to best accomplish a clearly defined goal.
Do you manage all of your own retouching? How many hours does it usually take retouching a photograph?
I have retouched most of my personal work, if there is budget, I would prefer to work with a dedicated retoucher. The larger tableau scenes take me anywhere from 6 to 24 hours to complete.
There is a very cinematic feel to your photography, It appears to be larger than life offering the viewer endless detail to absorb. Do you ever feel limited by trying to fit all of your ideas into a single frame?
Just the opposite, I actually feel limited more when working on motion projects because I want to spend more time perfecting each shot as if it were a still. Ultimately you are trying to actualize different results with motion and stills, even though many aspects crossover, their narrative qualities operate separately. The approach and follow through are not so cohesive as we believe just because they take place on the same playing field and sometimes with similar equipment. Even though I take a lot of visual inspiration from films, the images don’t strive to give the viewer the same experience. Many of my narratives are conceived with a specific storyline, but left to a much wider interpretation in the end; whereas most films generally need the specific storyline to be clearly understood in order to succeed.
Is there an underlying message that you are consistently trying to convey with your work, or is each piece different and unique in its own right?
There are certainly many underlying themes tying most of the work together simply because they inevitably are influenced by my life experience but I don’t make a point of linking the images into a whole body of work when each new piece made. I am more interested in the images standing on their own as opposed to having to compromise a concept by forcing it to share itself with the others.
What direction are you headed in the next few years with your work? Will the sets get even larger and more elaborate?
I try not to think too much about a specific direction for the work. I still spend a good deal of time with much simpler work and have a blast with snapshots just the same. There is a lot to be said about documenting your day to day life as those experiences lay the groundwork for many of the stories I like to tell in the more elaborate sets. I do hope to always be progressing and evolving and believe that can happen just as easily with a single portrait as with a huge, chaotic scene. I would like to get better at bringing the feeling of a candid, documentary photo to a controlled, staged scene.