Ryan Schude

Interview 013 • Aug 8th 2013


There’s an barely–contained energy in Ryan Schude’s work, as if an electric current runs through every shot. Whether he’s photographing one person or twenty, there’s always a sense of something Happening, of whimsical action about to occur. And while one can spend serious amounts of time perusing the intricate details of his larger scenes, the big picture is just as rich as the smaller flourishes.

This interview has been edited for clarity and content.


How’d you get started in photography?

I was in business school and hadn’t taken a photography class before, so I joined the photo club for fun. I think there were about two other people in it. The school didn’t have a photo department but used a tiny little closet as a darkroom for the newspaper. I shot some sports for them and gradually figured out the basics. By the time I graduated, I realized that I didn’t want to go into business at all and instead went to the San Francisco Art Institute to learn more about photography. I only lasted about a year in that program and just started trying to shoot as much as possible.

I worked at a magazine as a photo editor and staff photographer for about 3 years in San Diego. When that went under, I moved to Los Angeles and started over. I was working in a rental house and assisting for a few years, building a new portfolio. I have been shooting full time for the last 4 or 5 years now.

What was it about photography that drew you away from business? That’s pretty much a 180, career–wise.

I never understood what I was doing in business in the first place. It had nothing to do with whatever I was going to be actually working at, which is backwards. Since I realized how much I enjoyed photography, it just felt so natural to start there and figure out how to make it work.

Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal


Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal

  1. Phoot Camp, 2010. Calabasas, California. Collaboration with Lauren Randolph
  2. Vous, 2012. San Louis Obispo, California. Collaboration with Lauren Randolph

What made you decide on LA?

I always swore I would never move here. I hated it. But I didn’t really know it well. Obviously it’s the center of the photo industry on the West Coast, so I didn’t really have a choice aside from moving to New York.

It’s been 7 years now and I’m completely sold on this town. I could see moving back to San Francisco eventually, but for now I’m happy to stay right here. You can explore non-stop and never come close to seeing all that is available in LA.

But, San Francisco is full of hippies!

Not since the 60’s man. Now it’s just baristas. The landscape and architecture up there is one of a kind. Not to mention the climate, which is so perfectly diverse without being too extreme. It’s 70 and sunny everyday in LA, which is great — but a little boring. I’ll take a little rain and fog anyday to mix it up.

You do a lot of shooting in Northern California too? San Francisco, Big Sur?

I try to get back as much as possible, and drive along the coast to get there. It’s the perfect getaway for a couple of days. I could make a living repeating that trip over and over indefinitely, just need to find someone to pay me for it.

‘The Endless Coast’ with your host, Ryan Schude.

Maybe that’ll be my first book.

I actually had no idea you used to do skate photography. What was the impetus for switching from that style to your current, more elaborate narrative style?

Skate photography was a lot of fun, but it’s a huge bummer to have your occupation be illegal. The run and gun thing is exciting, but I’m more interested in photos where I am allowed to take my time and not have to compromise based on the threat of arrest.

Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal

Colin Carr, 2006. San Clemente, California

Was there a specific moment that led you towards this more narrative style? I would expect someone deep into the run & gun vibe to maybe go into journalism, or documentary work.

Along with the skate photos, I was shooting portraits for the magazine and those slowly started evolving into the staged narratives I’m focusing on now.

I still have one photo from that era of a kid boxing a lamp in a garage. It will always mark the beginning of that evolution for me. I love documentary work but have never been really good at it. I’m much more at home with the premise that everyone involved is on board with making the photo. If I feel like the subject does not want their picture taken — which is so often the case in documentary work — then it will always affect the end result.

How much does the notion of ‘control’ figure into that? The narrative work has always struck me as a meticulously conducted affair, you’ve got your hands on the reins of the whole kit & caboodle, from lighting to subjects to environment.

The general idea is that you have total control over the outcome. You plan so that the image looks identical to one that is already created in sketches and has everything predetermined.

That said, there’s still a lot of room for organic creativity to develop on set. Once everything is in place just the way you planned, you have all the materials to play with and allow new ideas to arise right in front of you. It’s such an exciting moment because every single time, without fail, you are presented with this flash of inspiration that can only occur in the moment.

For example, you may have decided to shoot 6 different options of the subject’s actions and thought of all the possible stories to tell within that frame, but once you’re there and actually doing it, another one always shows up.

Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal


Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal

  1. Elizabeth Bollinger, 2012. Los Angeles, California
  2. Jean-Paul Jenkins and Megan McIsaac, 2013. Los Angeles, California


Which is more fun for you, the sketches, that gestational period where you’re putting all the pieces together, or the shoot itself?

They’re all so different… The preproduction is dragged out forever and allowed time to marinate. The shoot happens so quickly that it’s a whole separate type of energy, which is great for its unique intensity.

My favorite part is the moment when the post–production is finished and I can just sit with the final image. The interaction with the photo itself at that point is its own experience, which is always more enjoyable to me than the actual creation of it. This is especially true when the outcome exceeds your expectations and you have produced something far better than you ever thought was possible at the beginning stages of the concept’s inception.

That actually brings up something I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately. Which is the important part: the process or the result? For me, if the shoot was a mess but the photo is good, I don’t see that as a success.

That completely makes sense. We do this for the process and not just for the result. If we just wanted to churn things out without enjoying the experience on the way, then we might as well be robots. It all needs to be there.

It’s what makes creating photos so much fun, and also why I hate picking favorites. Sometimes the end result is awful and nowhere near what you expected but the shoot itself was a good time, so you still have a success. I definitely would like to put more effort towards enjoying the early stages of the process and not get so caught up in the practical notion of the end result.

I suppose it can’t be helped a lot of the time when the result determines getting paid, getting work in the future — eating soup in a can versus some sweet BBQ in Compton.

For sure. Sometimes you just need to eat. Generally I’m going for the BBQ though.

Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal

Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal


Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal

  1. Red House, 2012. South Pasadena, California. Collaboration with Justin Bettman
  2. Phoot Camp, 2012. Olive bridge, New York. Collaboration with Lauren Randolph
  3. The Inn, 2011. Baker, California. Collaboration with Dan Busta


How much do the professional concerns guide what kind of stuff you shoot these days?

The amount of commercial versus personal work has stayed fairly consistent over the years. I feel fortunate with how much they actually overlap. I don’t spend a whole lot of time shooting unrelated commercial work and wishing I were spending more time on what I really want to do. I try to avoid that type of work because it defeats the reason I got into this in the first place. I get excited about most of the commercial work because it generally is in line with my style.

Also, I try not to think too much about directing my personal work towards some sort of commercial goal, but often the lines blur and I’m okay with that. It seems more ideal than having to accept a scenario where I’m always saying, ‘I just do this because I have to but I would really rather be doing something else.’

Because you go back and forth between bigger scenes and smaller portraits, do you see your work heading in a particular direction? Bigger? Smaller?

Ideally the smaller and bigger scenes have a consistent enough look that they work together. I wouldn’t say I’m pushing towards one or the other. It depends again on each individual concept and what is required to communicate that effectively. I have a lot of fun with the big scenes but I don’t want to arbitrarily throw a bunch of people in there for no reason.


Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal


Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal

  1. Theater, 2012. Los Angeles, California. Collaboration with Tamar Levine
  2. Caitlin, 2011. Los Angeles, California. Ryan Schude

You don’t feel the urge to move to even bigger narratives?

If the concept calls for it. The scope of the scene isn’t a driving point for me.

What do you want people to take away from your images?

I don’t make a conscious effort to direct their experience. I wish I had some highfalutin artist–statement–type–thing to interject here, but the truth is that it’s all relatively shallow.

You can look at the images and argue against that quite easily since there are obvious themes being communicated within each story, but that’s not the point for me. As an after thought, I suppose I hope what any artist would hope — that people like the work. Maybe it’s because they were simply entertained, or maybe they felt challenged to question the impact of divorce on a child’s development. Either way, that’s up to them. I think the options are there but they don’t need to be force–fed.

So you’re trying to make work that’s aesthetically pleasing, versus work that conveys something specific?

It goes both ways. The image always leans heavy on the visual, but depending on the context, the level of concept varies. If it’s a simple portrait, there tends to be less of a narrative. Many of the larger scenes have more specific stories to tell and they are intended to communicate a bigger picture. This relates back to the overlap that happens if you look at everything together. Each one exists on its own, and has its purpose — so it’s difficult to make such a broad statement about what I want to accomplish as a whole.

One of the things I love about your work is, whether it’s commercial or personal, it’s still got a heavy Ryan Schude stamp on it. What kinds of subject matter pull you in most when deciding what to shoot?

I’m not sure there’s a specific subject matter I’m drawn to in a general sense, but if I were to step back and look at images as a whole, there definitely seems to be a few things that tie them together. It’s people in a place specific to its aesthetic, meaning that the environment is playing a significant role in the narrative. And this narrative is mysterious in that you can interpret what’s going on in a few different ways but hopefully you’ll leave it thinking you have a pretty good idea what was intended. And maybe chuckle a little bit before moving on.

Interview 013: Ryan Schude for The Photographic Journal

Phootcamp (after), 2010. Calabasas, California. Collaboration with Lauren Randolph