Ryan Schude is a Californian photographer who has spent time studying, working, and evolving his creative style in San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Moving to Los Angeles eight years ago, Ryan Schude found himself reinventing his photographic style and feeling like a novice all over again. Previously living and working in San Diego, Schude was a photographer and photo editor for a small-scale action sports magazine, which was quite a coveted position for a new graduate; however, it was following his move to LA where things really started to take off for him.
“During my undergraduate degree, I just decided that it was time for me to get out of the academic world and see what it was really like out there. When I came to LA, I was looking to create a new style and even now, when I think I am going in one direction, it changes again,” Schude reflects.
For Schude, the pull between commercial photography and fine art will always be equally weighted. His personal style is also a continual debate, as he struggles to find a concise definition for his photographic approach. “My style is still evolving. Right now, I would describe it as a blend of documentary and fiction,” he says. This documentary fiction style is what lends itself perfectly to his impressive and unique large-scale tableaux images; a style that he is widely known for, exhibiting a personal collection in 2014 in X-Ist Instambul, Galerie 23, France, and bG Gallery, Santa Monica.
Originating from a desire to tell a story with a detailed narrative, Schude started to stage scenes, instead of finding them naturally in a documentary landscape. It is this aspect of controlling the story that led Schude to developing this style of photography. “I originally started to create staged narratives with single portraitures and then, as the stories became more complex, I needed support actors which then blossomed naturally into these large tableaux,” says Schude.
He began shooting these production narratives in 2008, completing four in one year, and realized that it was the direction into which he wanted to go; his passion for this type of photographic execution is unmistakable “If I had unlimited resources, I would put it all into large scale narratives,” he says. Following this discovery, Schude joined a creative camping trip in 2009 which gave him a group of willing participants to populate his images each year, further developing his unique style.
Going back to the start and during his first placement in LA, at JPEG Magazine, Schude met magazine editor, Laura Brunow Miner and was invited on a camping trip with a group of photographers. Laura started the camp, now known as Phoot Camp, to encourage fellow photographers to get together and share ideas and work on creative projects. By its third year, the annual escape from Los Angeles had become a large-scale creative retreat where approximately 40 photographers spend the trip working on personal projects, inspiring each other, and learning new skills. Needless to say, getting an invite is now a sought-after achievement and currently involves an online application process open to photographers from around the world.
“These photography boot camps are a form of constant inspiration and we have really become a great community,” he says. “We are all able to pick and choose where we put our creative energy over the weekend and some amazing concepts have come out of it.”
The first camp in 2009 came at the perfect time for Schude, as he had just started channeling his work into large-scale narratives and the camp gave him access to a collection of willing subjects as well as creative influence and gear from other photographers; Schude naturally became the annual group photographer for the event. Each year, Schude conceptualizes the coveted group shot and develops the scenes to create a narrative with an overall story and smaller pockets of action and interaction. The pool party and after party shots have gained a lot of notable industry and public interest, due to the complexity of the scene and the flawless production.
“Lauren [Randolph] and I collaborated on this pool party scene, where we let everyone go wild and choose their own high school alter ego,” Schude says as he describes the pre-production work and the way in which the concept came to fruition. “Lauren and I went out to scout the location and ended up right where we started; at the house where we were staying that weekend. It was the perfect place for a ‘parents out of town’ rager.”
“You may have a big idea,” explains Schude, “but once you get there and start placing everyone, it’s hard to envision the scene."
While Schude credits Phoot Camp as a fantastic concept that brings creative minds together, developing a mini-community of photographers, it was not integral to the direction his create work moved. “Phoot camp came at a convenient time for me, but there are certain images that I really see as game changes for me… the diner shot and the very first one I did with the suitcase being thrown off the balcony, these shots shaped my work,” says Schude.
During Phoot Camp, Schude is consciously aware that there are a lot of photographers working on their own projects during the camp; therefore, he tries to work as efficiently as possible when working on the annual group shot. For the pool party and after party scenes, Schude and Randolph worked against the clock for more reasons that this. “Lauren and I did a scout day where we spent time finding the exact angles, working on camera placements, and sketching out where each action or interaction would take place,” he says. From there, he had a short window of time to get the shots needed to create the scene he had in mind. “The light changed very quickly and we really wanted to get the scene during that peak time of dusk,” says Schude, as he describes the shoot that he likened to shooting a movie due to the scale and production values.
“We wanted it all to look as real as possible, so everything was shot in-camera at the same time, directed at the same time, and lit at the same time.” This approach meant that the post-production process was minimal with only a small amount of time required to blend the frames together.
As time was a consideration, so too was the budget, and if it wasn’t for the collaboration of everyone at the camp, it wouldn’t have been possible to execute such a shot. “We saved costs on styling and costuming as we gave everyone free range to create their own look. We also had a lot of help from other campers who bought their own lenses and lighting which we borrowed when needed.”
With one of his more pivotal shots in developing this tableaux style, the diner shot, Schude describes that
For these large-scale pool party shoots, Schude used a Canon 5D Mark II with 50 mm L-series lens tethered to Mac book pro using Capture One. “The camera was triggered remotely using Pocket Wizards so that we could direct talent up close and release the shutter from anywhere,” he says.
As for lighting, strobes ranged from a variety of profoto acute 600rs heads with grids, Dynalite 1000-watt pack with a softbox, slaved light bulb flash above the grill, and another Dynalite 1000 pack with a 30 degree grid super-boomed out on a high roller stand over the roof to ensure full coverage. A norman monoblock and another profoto monoblock rounded out the lighting gear used to create the final shots.
Schude is currently in the process of releasing his first book, where the pool party scene has advanced to the coveted position of front cover shot. It is through this book release that Schude has found an opportunity to not just talk about his unique process of photography, but to demonstrate it. While his first book release followed the typical formula, the second release in LA was much more interactive as Schude used the audience members to workshop one of his shots. “I wanted to develop [the book release] into a large scale thing – rather than talking about the images, I prefer to show people how it is done by creating a photo with them.”
While also working on another personal project, ‘people and their cars’, Schude is finding a way to execute some personal work that is a little more cost effective and spontaneous. “This project has allowed me to keep working on my personal style in a more efficient way,” say Schude. By using people and their actual cars in locations where they spend time, Schude is creating authentic scenes and stories about ‘people and their cars’. “Each one is shot with a documentary vision and natural light. We will either shoot with opportunity or subject narrative,” says Schude, meaning that he is always looking to tell the true story of the subject, whether that is done at an opportunistic time (meeting someone on their lunch break out the front of work for example), or staging a scene that is also true of their experiences. “I tell them that we can shoot at your home, your work place, your hang place - it is totally open and can go in many directions dependent on the subject's involvement,” says Schude.
Schude is also planning to continue exhibiting his personal work with solo shows already booked for 2016 and 2017. Meeting with a production crew on the day of the interview, Schude is also being asked to work on some TVCs in the role of director, so the world of motion may just be pulling him in too. “I developed a large-scale scene for a Motorola campaign recently which had a motion element as we dove into pockets of the image to play out the scene… maybe motion has something for me in the future,” says Schude.
No matter which direction Schude takes his career in the future, he is, and will remain, completely enthralled with the process of creating an image. In an industry where social media is making photographs disposable, Schude is confident that the process is the one thing that will remain. It is in this process that Ryan finds his inspiration and sparks the evolution of each creative vision.