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.

Photo Shoot for Men's Fitness Magazine

This past fall I had the good fortune of being assigned to photograph Police Officer, Rob Capezio just outside of Pittsburgh, PA for Men's Fitness Magazine. Men's Fitness has a success story in each month's print edition and Rob was chosen for the work he did to transform a bare bones gym at his department headquarters into a well-equipped training space for himself and his fellow officers.

I was hired to photograph Rob working out in a variety of scenarios with his fellow officers as well as to make a few portraits of him. My assistant and I started the day by grabbing a few shots of Rob running outside before moving into the gym. Once in the gym, we prioritized getting shots of Rob working out with fellow officers. Both Rob and his fellow officers were very gracious with their time on their day off of work and were happy to help me get the shots we needed. The gym is well-equipped but fairly small and covered on one side with mirrors. While the mirrors are great when you're working out they are problematic when shooting and lighting a space. This limited me to only a few angles and I chose a shot that had a bit of depth to it for the group shot. 

Once we had the shots we needed of Rob with his fellow officers we moved on to focusing on shots of just Rob. Since we were shooting for a fitness magazine it was important to highlight Rob's physique. Rob has some wicked looking arms so we thought photographing him doing some dips would give him the arm definition we were looking for. For this shot, I wanted the image to be focused solely on him so I didn't mind shooting against a plain white wall. I used two softboxes slightly behind and on either side of him to add definition and used a 36-inch Octabox with a grid attached to light in his front. 

After we had the shots we needed for the story we spent some time experimenting and grabbing a couple extra options which you can see below along with tear sheets from the January/February issue of Men's Fitness.

The Colonization of Mars

"And life needs to be more than just solving problems every day, you need to wake up and be excited about the future. Be inspired and want to live.” - Elon Musk

In a recent speech at the 67th International Astronautic Conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk gave a speech about Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) plans to put humans on Mars. Whether you believe this is possible or not is irrelevant. The important point is that someone believes it is possible. Instead of simply talking about it Elon Musk and SpaceX are actually working toward achieving their goal. This is a private company who is building rockets and sending them to space. And while they are doing it, they are driving down the cost of sending rockets into space. Occasionally, they have problems, but they are doing it. 

Because of this vision and a relentless drive to achieve it for the good of all humanity, SpaceX is actually doing the impossible. The reason I'm writing about this on a blog that mostly talks about photography projects I have done or am working on is because this is just damn inspiring shit. If you are an aspiring or professional photographer you need to have the same drive that Elon Musk has. Well, maybe not to the extreme extent to which he lives his life, but at least sharing a bit of that enthusiasm for the future will be helpful.

As an aside, I recently finished 'Elon Musk,' a biography by Ashlee Vance and highly recommend checking it out. If you're like me you will find Musk to be equal parts inspiring, equal parts despicable. His vision for humanity is incredible while the appearance of his personal relationships seems quite dismal. Of course, I don't know him, but from Vance's reporting it doesn't seem like he will be winning any awards for greatest husband or father. But, I suspect he will be looked upon as one of the greatest industrialists of our time in the years to come.

His ability to think on a timeline well beyond his own lifespan is very humbling. How many of you can actually say you think about the state of humanity 1,000 years from now? I think about what the world will be like for my kids, but beyond that, it becomes hard to fathom. Just try for a minute to imagine humanity in 1,000 years. Will we still be here? Will Earth still support us? How will we evolve? What will society be like? Will we be traveling around the universe in space ships? Will we still argue about which bathroom people use?

I'm trying hard to bring this post back to photography, but honestly, I'm forcing it a bit. I just like this quote and I like talking about space exploration and the future of humanity. Let's leave it at that. I hope it inspires you in the same way it does me.

Oh, and here is the video about making humans a multi-planetary species. 

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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Why You Should Watch "Make" This Weekend

I feel that I should give a warning before you dive into this blog post. It contains a lot of links to other websites where you will likely spend a good deal of time watching, looking and listening to great art. If you're at work, you may want to wait to read this until you're on break.

I recently stumbled upon a documentary on Vimeo On Demand called “Make” and have been thinking about it ever since. The film is expertly produced and well shot. It’s a beautiful film that tells the stories of multiple artists and really reminded me of why I do what I do. 

I’ve been in the photo industry long enough that sometimes I forget why I got into photography. This is my job. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes it’s just a job. One truth that continues to hold up no matter what my day is like, is that I get to make things on a daily basis and that makes me happy. Sometimes I get to make pictures that I want to make. Most of the time I get to make pictures that other people want me to make. Other times I get to make my own rules and that feels pretty good too. Regardless, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to make photographs for a living and I try to remind myself periodically not to take it for granted. 

When I watched “Make” I was reminded of the drive that creators have to make things. Artists are compelled to bring new things into the world over and over again. The film features artists that I am familiar with like Miller Mobley, the band Sylvan Esso, and Elliot Rausch. Each person has something interesting to say about their lives and their art. After I researched Elliot Rausch a little more I was excited to learn that he was the director of a music video of a song that had a dramatic impact on my adolescent life, “Bro Hymn” by Pennywise. The influence of Pennywise on my younger self cannot be understated and to hear from the director of a music video of the song that defined my youth is particularly inspiring.

Just a quick warning. If you go to Elliot's website and watch "Last Minutes With Oden" you are going to cry. If you don't, then you are a heartless bastard. If you want to be inspired and moved without crying, you can do it for only $3.99 this weekend. Rent “Make” on Vimeo and enjoy this honest look into what it means to be a creator.  

Mercersburg Outdoor Education Book

Back in June I had the pleasure of photographing a rock climbing trip to the New River Gorge in West Virginia. The 10-day trip was put together by The Mercersburg Academy Outdoor Education program and I was hired to document it. I love climbing so it was a thrill to climb and photograph in one of the greatest climbing destinations in North America. 

The book above was created using my photos from the trip and quotes I collected from each student during short, informal interviews. It was written, photographed and designed by me and published through Blurb

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 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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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.