It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Ryan Schude!

Photo by Derek Wood

Hello, my name is Ryan and I am a photographer living and working in Los Angeles. My background spans everything from shooting natural light, street photos in black and white film, to the staged tableau that you will see below. The goal of each photo is to create a narrative which has a specific concept, but also allows the viewer to develop their own story.

A common question I’m asked about my work is whether or not it is the result of a Photoshop composite. Generally I would prefer not to spend time behind the computer and so the goal of each shoot is to capture as much as possible in one frame. With the larger group photos there are many people involved and inevitably different frames are pieced together in order to get the best expressions or actions from each character but everything is shot and lit at one time. Here I’ve illustrated one example with a diagram to show you exactly how it was lit. I would also like to open up the remainder of this post to any additional questions you may have about this photo or others from my site. The beauty of this blog seems to be the interaction amongst the readers and I’d love to create a dialogue about whichever topic interests you all the most so please feel free to ask anything tech-related or not.

Here’s a short behind the scenes video of the shoot:

(Click to see REALLY big for all the details)


Lighting Legend:
1: Profoto at palm tree over van
2: Profoto at 3 marching band members outside of van
3: Profoto at man holding flowers
4: Profoto inside of van
5: Profoto behind building shining through back window
6: Profoto behind back wall, bounced off ceiling
7: Slave Light Bulb in ceiling fixture
8: Slave Light Bulb in ceiling fixture
9: Profoto in bushes on woman in pink dress
10: Slave Light Bulb in ceiling fixture
11: Profoto on roof at man with flowers
12: Lumedyne mounted in ceiling at woman in back booth
13: Slave Light Bulb in ceiling fixture
14: Lumedyne mounted in ceiling, hairlight for woman in pink
15: Slave Light Bulb in ceiling fixture
16: Slave Light Bulb in ceiling fixture
17: Lumedyne mounted in celing on woman at cash register
18: Slave Light Bulb in ceiling fixture
19: Slave Light Bulb in ceiling fixture
20: Profoto with green gel bounced off ceiling in back kitchen
21: Slave Light Bulb in ceiling fixture
22: Profoto on waitress spilling food
23: Profoto on marching band members in front
24: Profoto on marching band members in front

Leave a comment with your question(s) and comments, and I’ll respond to as many as I can as quickly as I can.

To see more of Ryan’s work, check out his website and keep up with him at his blog!

  1. Speechless right about now after seeing the big picture. Gonna have to process this a bit more in my head. really neat that you included a diagram. Remember those Tom and Jerry cartoon that spoofed “The Honeymooners”? That’s what came to mind when I saw the cat on the roof. Talk about inspiring viewers to come up with ther own story.

  2. Hi Ryan,
    Very great stuff!! Bravo! I think, it will be interesting that you show u , how do you take photo for one subject in this photo . Do you take all the photo on the area restaurant or is there some characters that you shoot in studio ?? I like to know how do you melt all the photos in Photoshop ?
    Sorry for my bad english i’m french!
    Thanx for your answers,
    Kind regards

    1. All of the subjects were shot on location as you see in the photo over the course of a couple hours. The camera is on a tripod and so I am able to take people from different frames and composite them together into one final image using separate layers.

  3. Hi Ryan,
    Amazing image and project. Very well executed. Hard to believe this was done in one shot — very clever!

    I have a few questions:
    – what time of the day you make the shot? Did you always plan to shoot at that time?
    – How much editing was involved? Did you have to edit out visible lightstands, or reflections in windows? I keep looping at the picture and not seeing how you can’t see a lightstand or reflection…
    – In the video you reference a 200 lbs. pig. I can’t find him in the picture… help me? :-)
    – You used a mix of Lumedyne, Profoto, slave flash bulbs (that’s a lot of equipment you have there). Were you concerned about differences in colour temperature between them, or do they all have the same colour temperature?
    From the shadoes I can tell that some lights were bare-bulb. But in other places it seems the light was softened. WHat kind of Lightmodifiers do you use, even in such small spaces?

    OK, that’s it from me. Tx for sharing your expertise!

    Rotterdam, The Netherlands

    1. We started shooting just as the sun set in order to get the ambient fill light that you see in much of the exterior surrounding the building and the background sky. Shooting continued into night when there was only strobes so the final images blended the strobes and the ambient dusk light from earlier.

      The only light stand that I had to remove was from a light that was on the roof pointing down on the man with the flowers. The rest were placed out of frame or behind walls so you couldn’t see them. We also had to adjust some of their positions to avoid reflections but it wasn’t a problem for the most part because the windows aren’t facing the camera directly.

      The pig didn’t make the cut into the final image because he wasn’t very visible. It was a black pig against the dark pavement background and so he didn’t stand out enough to make a good visual. We tried to lighten him up by smearing flour all over him but he just ate all of the flour and became difficult to work with, hah.

      I wasn’t worried about the color temperature differences between the various strobes. They are all supposed to be balanced for daylight and even if they were slightly different, it wouldn’t be enough to notice.

      I think almost every strobe was a hard light using standard reflectors, barn doors, or larger magnum reflectors. If there are soft shadows anywhere it would be from bouncing light off the ceiling.

  4. Hum… two of the kids appear twice? At the car and on the right.

    The guy in front of the windows has a stronger shadow away from the window, but the girl on the right hasn’t… looks kinda strange to me.

    The background (trees and chimney) doesn’t fit to my imagination of such a scene.

    But i love the amount of details. It makes it really interesting to watch is for a while (longer as other photos). Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. Yes, all three of the marching band members in the back by the van were also in the front at one point.

      I am guessing the girl on the far right’s shadow isn’t as strong because there was light bouncing from the back wall to fill her shadow in which didn’t reach the boy throwing the cards.

      I agree that the trees and chimney don’t necessarily fit with what you would imagine to be the background and if I was better at bringing in outside elements into the scene, I probably would have replaced them. But, Sun Valley, where this was shot, is a strange place and that WAS the actual background. Everything you see in this frame was really there.

      1. Sorry i didn’t mean the guy who is throwing cards but the man with the flowers in his hand (on the left of the restaurant).

        But the “car headlights” would explain the different shadow on the right side of the image.

        Thanks for you answer.

    1. (Sorry, my laptop submitted the comment before I was finished. No idea why.) To continue … it reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

      Questions: How did you shoot the tray of food spilling? Did you have a number of takes on that or was it done in post?
      Are the kids sitting on the sidewalk far right in such bright light because a car with headlights on is supposedly pulling up to park?

      1. The tray of food was shot in two takes. My brother Collins, who was a huge help in this photo and a direct collaborator in many of my other photos, was standing inside the diner just out of frame on a cel phone. I was outside, in front of the marching band, just out of frame on my phone and holding a remote trigger for the camera. He gave a countdown of when the waitress was gonna spill the food and I watched and listened for the right time to hit the trigger. It was a huge mess and the reaction you see from the family being spilled on is real. I did blend both the frames of the food spill for the final image.

        Yes, the idea of the light on the marching band in front was to mimic car headlights. There were two strobes with barndoors on them and orange gels.

  5. Wow, that is a lot of detail and it is sharp all the way through. I love how it is choreographed with tons of story everywhere in the shot. How many shots did you have to take to make it work?

  6. I give up. Where’s Waldo?!? :-)

    Nicely done, Ryan. Did you plan out all the individual “stories” ahead of time or was it more a case of seeing who showed up and working with what you had at the time? Also, what was the end purpose of the photo? Portfolio? Client?

    1. Each character was placed into the photo according to a predesignated position based on a scout photo I took weeks earlier. All of these shots are planned this way but the reason I like to shoot everything at once as opposed to individually shooting them in the studio and then compositing is because you never know how the characters will end up being able to interact with each other unless they are physically there at the same time. For instance, the boy pulling on the waitress’ skirt was an impromptu addition that just made sense once we had everyone positioned.

      The end purpose of the photo was for my personal portfolio.

  7. Hi Ryan,
    This shot is amazing. This obviously took some imagination, and lots of foresight. Those two human assets are what I am missing. In fact, I typically shoot blind in the sense that when I am shooting I don’t really know what the end result is unknown. I just know what I like when I see it.

    Do you have any suggestions how someone can groom the area of imagination & foresight in order to go out and shoot with purpose?



    1. Many times I will let the location determine the story. Before even finding this diner, I had been wanting to shoot a scene in a restaurant where a couple sat at a table silently staring at each other during a breakup while a chaotic spill was happening behind them. When I found this location, the idea changed very much. It went from being an interior shot to an exterior and then I had to figure out how to make the scene interesting to me with all of this extra space to fill. I think this is along the lines of what you are talking about when you say you just know what you like when you see it.

      As for grooming the area of imagination & foresight, well there are too many places of inspiration for that. People keep mentioning this looks like a Hopper painting, you can bet his Nighthawks was referenced for this shot. Other than that I am inspired a lot from literature, film and of course other photographs.

    1. Cat’s are always impossible! We got a ladder up to the roof, and the cat’s 13 year old owner climbed up there and put the cat where you see it now. He’s actually stepping over the neon and we were all afraid he was going to jump off of the roof.

  8. Hi Ryan

    I’ve been following you on Flickr for a while now and it’s great to see you blogging here. Your shots are slightly surreal and I really enjoy them.

    I’m not sure of your influences but something makes me thing of a modern day renaissance painting. Everyone has a purpose and the lighting tells leads the viewer to the story. Almost like it is a puzzle to be solved.

    You have an amazing kit and I’m sure every shot has the production planning of Ben Hur!



    1. It was personal and I funded it by myself. At the time, I worked at a rental house and the deal was that I could pull as much gear as I wanted while I worked there. This obviously was a huge help, thank you PIX! (

      The location was a different story since they are used to people with big film budgets. They did give me a discount since it was for a photo but it remained to be my largest expense.

      All of the talent and crew were generous enough to donate their time for the cause and I can’t thank everyone of them enough. This would have been impossible otherwise.

  9. Ryan, I have been following your work for some time (first saw it on John Nack’s blog) and I can’t wait to see all the questions answered above! I have one, what is on top of the van? (I can’t find the pig either)

    Your photography is awesome and to a new level!

    1. Believe me, I felt the same way. We did turn the neon lights on and I had fully intended on incorporating them into the final image. Once I saw it all together though, the neon drew too much attention to itself. It is a messy photo to begin with and so there were some decisions made to pare down the image visually. The same went for some of the neon signs on the inside.

  10. The Pig is on the lower level of the roof, over the band. Wait until PETA get ahold of this one! Great picture, reminds me of some of McNally’s productions.

  11. Ryan, your production values and design are fantastic. Obviously your ability to pre-visualize a project in your head is a real talent.

    I looked at the rest of your work and I have to admit you have a odd sense of humor and the only word that I can think of is macabre. Would be great to hear your view on your work and is most of this work on your site person or commercial ? You have an impressive list of clients and wondering if this is the kind of work you are doing for them ?

    Thanks for your guest post and the behind the scenes video.

    1. Hah, macabre, I think that fits with my view on some of my work. Hopefully many of the darker concepts are offset by a little humor. The shot of the girl with the bloody face next to the birdcage ( is a good example of an image that I felt was purely comical but some people are offended by it. I guess it depends on how the viewer interprets each image.

      The majority of the work on my site is personal. Many times I am hired because of this work but end up creating something completely different as it is tailored to a client’s specific use.

      1. Well that answered my question and is a trend I see quite often. Art Directors will go straight to your personal work because that is where they see the most creativity.

        And thanks for not being offended by my description of your work. What is hilarious is the girl that ate the canary was one of my favorite. While feathers sticking out of her mouth and on the floor would have accomplished he same effect, I still enjoyed the juxtaposition.

  12. Wow.

    I’d like to second the request about howdo you come up withthis sort of idea? Do you happen upon a place and create an appropriate story to match?

    How much does it cost to hire models for this sort of thing? Or do have friends willing to bet on your vision?

    Thanks for sharing.


    1. The ideas definitely work both ways with a predetermined concept that allows the location to develop stories of it’s own. For example this photo’s: story started colorful patchwork window in the school to the left. Then I wanted an excuse to use the car and so we (my brother Collins and I) came up with a scenario that also incorporated the various people that specific neighborhood sees on a day to day basis. Other photos like this one: were conceptualized with no location in mind and simply needed a place to shoot it.

      Most of the models are actors from Los Angeles who are generously willing to donate their time just to be a part of the project. They are always professional and wonderful and I am eternally grateful for their participation. I also have friends who have been involved both on the model and crew side who are due equal gratification.

  13. Great work, Ryan! I love photo scenes where there is lots to look at. You can really get deep into the stories behind every character. One could get lost in photos such as yours for a very long time. They are sooo much fun.

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