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Ryan J. Weiss: conceptual cinema photographer

by Ian Munro

Photography is the perfect challenge: a delicate balance of perspective, style, and technology for
Ryan J. WeissHe has approached this challenge over the years through different means, constantly making modifications to his art, discovering new methods and techniques.


Escape Artist


For the people reading this article, please tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Ryan Weiss, I live in a once booming, now decaying, coal mining town in the North Eastern United States. I create cinematic inspired photos, most of which are dark in atmosphere and mood and are usually recognized for their dramatic lighting and "movie-like" feel.




What triggered you into this type of work? Did you shift from any other type of photography or have always been interested in this line of work?
I began venturing into the visual medium by means of moving images. I acquired a video camera and began shooting small pieces to work on lighting and camera work, but from the beginning I wanted to have a large scale feel with dramatic lighting, props and talent. Unfortunately, I had no money and I hit a stand still. Luckily someone had introduced me to Greg Crewdson's work, which said so much with a single image. I began to explore options for creating cinematic still photos. Aaron Nace at Phlearn can solely be credited with helping me understand and utilize Photoshop to create my photos. Before using his tutorials, I knew absolutely zero about Photoshop.

I can see by admiring your work that you put an awful lot of effort into the mood of the image. This is done by fantastic colour grading, giving it a great cinematic feel. Can you tell us about the software you use, and where you get inspiration from?
My post production approach is pretty basic, Photoshop CS6 is used for everything. The overall mood and colour grading is accomplished with basic curves, level and hue adjustments layers, though it usually ends up taking many (30+ layers) to get where I want to be, in regards to colour and tone.

My inspiration is drawn from the landscape that surrounds me. I live in an area that has been on a steady decline since the coal mining boom of yesterday. I draw inspiration from the decaying structures, and melancholy feel that looms over a great portion of the decaying North Eastern landscape. Driving around, and seeing all the forgotten places that were once thriving, has always impacted me and invoked images that I wanted to recreate.

Do you plan your ideas then carry them out or do you get a series of images and work from there? Your composite skills are fantastic so do you collect the images first or the idea?
I almost always work in reverse, usually starting with a background "plate" that I've collected while exploring. I'll load the background image into PS and colour grade and tone it to my liking and then I'll usually sit on the image for a while, and ponder over what events could have taken place there. I've always been drawn to places, and I just allow them to say something and flesh out the rest of the story from there.

I see that sometimes you model yourself, is that because you know exactly what you need from a model? I think sometimes only you know what story you are trying to tell.
I'm usually the model mainly, because I just don't have access to many people who want to be in front of my camera and secondly because I feel like I've got a better connection with the overall feeling I'm looking for. Also, logistically it's always been easier to shop for wardrobe that would fit me and I can basically shoot whenever I want without having to coordinate with busy schedule of outside talent.


Serenade the Storm


How do you set about compositing your work? Do you try for a clean background or studio shots etc to get the light to match? Then how do you start your workflow?
I have seen a few tutorials and your youtube page, and there seems to be a small toy car that you used in one image. It appeared then to be a full size vehicle. Can you explain to us a little how you went about that image?
I really enjoy the control you have when shooting miniatures. Most of the vehicles or large props that are used in my photos are usually miniature models that I shoot on a small green screen and light accordingly to the scene. The image you mentioned was shot with a basic model car. I spent a few hours creating the light from some small hot shoe flashes to match the scene. I've come to realize that if you spend enough time while shooting, matching light, angles etc; there's not a ton of Photoshop work that's required. The model car appeared full size and realistic mainly because of the consistent light and angle that were obtained while shooting, the post work consisted of a few basic colour curves and toning layers.




Out of all your work which image is your favourite and which one gave you the most heartache to complete?
It's tough to say, but I'm always very proud of the final images for "Vultures" or "Away from Here", both were the culmination of a lot of different elements and I think I blended them into one narrative scene very well. "Simplicity of Flight" was definitely the most difficult for me to complete. It was done very early on, when I wasn't totally comfortable with Photoshop and it really stressed my computer out with 280+ layers it took to complete.

I see that you are out and about, hiking and camping. Do you enjoy the outdoor life and does that in any way help you get ideas? Maybe the solitude to think alone?
Being outside, meandering through the wilderness is something I've always been drawn to. Backpacking for hours or days on end, sometimes with little or no idea of the exact place you'll end up parallels the scattered process I usually follow when making a photo. I may start a composite with a background image and gradually add characters or props to it and it eventually will flesh out an image, that even I'm surprised with. I still enjoy feeling surprised and accomplished at the end of an image.

What is next for Ryan Weiss? What can your followers expect in the future?
My main goal for this upcoming year is to finish some long standing composites that are near completion. I'd also like to refine my style and work on a more minimalist style that says less with more, while still retaining the cinematic qualities I'm drawn to. Maybe some video work as well!

What other photographers do you like and who inspires you?
Greg Crewdson really attracted me to cinematic style photos, as well Erik Almas and Eugenio Recuenco. I've always been very interested in motion picture cinematography and I'd consider most of inspiration to be drawn from Cinematographers like Roger Deakins, Harris Savides and Darius Khondji.

What are your favourite images from your collection and why?


" I've waited "
 - This image was shot using multiple miniature models, the car which appears to be life sized, is actually a 1:24 scale model car that was photographed separately on a green screen. The bench the woman is sitting on, and the lamp post are also miniatures that were found in a Christmas village set. The background was photographed in a snowy area I stumbled upon while backpacking.


" Simplicity of Flight "  - This was my first large scale Photoshop composite. It was very experimental and ended up being a great learning process, though it was maddening at times. The plane wreckage was photographed with a miniature plane model and the vintage truck was also a 1:24 scale model.


" Everyday Hero's "
 - I made this image soon after rescuing a neglected dog from a shelter in rural Kentucky, though I did not do anything nearly as heroic as running into a burning building I ended up driving nearly 1,000 miles to pull him out of a terrible place and I felt like I really did save his life.


" Fly Away "
 - I'm very proud of this image from a cinematic and Photoshop standpoint. I feel like it came out with a lot of emotion and seamless editing work. I recently had a large print of it made on metallic stock, and it just looks amazing.

Can anyone see or get access to your tutorials, behind the scenes etc of your work?
My website is currently under renovation, but in the future a full collection of my work can be found at , check out my website and my Youtube page for some behind-the-layers videos that breakdown some of my images.

Where can we all see your work? Do you have a website or social media site?
In the near future, my website will be revamped with new work, keep an eye out on

Can we ever expect you to try in the future? has so much great content, and I hope to be contributing to it very soon. It's an awesome resource for photographers or for someone who just wants to be inspired.

Finally, Ryan thanks very much for speaking with me here at I look forward to seeing some new work soon, it's been a pleasure to get an insight to you and your work.
Thank you for the opportunity to show my work and explain a little bit about the inner workings of my composites. Photography is such a powerful medium and I truly thank for being such a great outlet for inspiration and motivation!

I really enjoyed interviewing Ryan. He is very inspirational.
Wonderful work and creations, my compliments!
Jalili PRO
Brilliyant .
Beautiful images. Compliments
wow impressing stuff! Love it!
In this series of photos photographer with professional layout components together to see that the viewer is striking concepts, Peace be upon you Ryan J. Weiss and thanks to U yvette for selecting photos and read interview!
Beautiful work and great interview !!! Congratulations to Ryan J. Weiss and Ian Munro ...