In this month’s Real Artists Real Stories series, Ryan Serrano, winner of Your Art Gallery’s Splash Photo Contest, shares his unique vision of how he brings the emotional quality of real-life experience into his photographs of vast landscapes and cityscapes. His journey of photography, beginning with disposable film cameras and inspiration from his brother, has taken him all the way to stunning images he makes with some of the most contemporary processes available in today’s world of photography.
How did you get started taking photographs?
I was always interested in photography. As a child, my mother would give me disposable film cameras when I went away to summer camp. I would use them to take photos of animals and landscapes. As I got older and got a cellphone with a camera in it, I would use it to take photos of scenes and views of my everyday life and travels.. With the help of my parents, I purchased my very first camera, a Canon Rebel t3 with an 18-55mm f3.5/5.6 lens for a photography course in my senior year of high school. I loved it. Around this same time, Instagram was becoming a popular platform for sharing photos. It played a big role in fostering my interest in photography and creativity. My older brother, Christopher, liked the way I was using Instagram and also became interested in photography. I taught him what I knew and he would use that same camera to go out and shoot. He would not wait for a moment to come to him, rather he would go out and find moments to capture. My brother’s drive for photography motivated me to take photography more seriously. Our shared love for photography allowed us to teach and learn from each other as we ventured out to capture scenes, mainly of our home – New York City.
Several of your photographs are shot from elevated positions. Is this your preferred vantage point? What are the advantages of shooting from this angle?
I really enjoy shooting from elevated positions on rooftops or locations with valley views. I feel that the perspective you get from these higher positions helps to show just how vast a landscape can be. Shooting from an elevated perspective helps remove distractions and obstacles to a landscape. It is a way to zoom out and look at the bigger picture of a location. The addition of people or human elements (such as a point-of-view photo with legs in frame or silhouettes of people) further helps to provide a sense of scale and depth, hopefully bringing viewers to contemplate their relationship to space and the world around them.
Subtle cascading light variations seem to be a recurring element in your work. Do you scout out locations and light scenarios before shooting? Or, are these lighting situations more of a spontaneous occurrence?
A little bit of both. I definitely prefer to shoot when the conditions are present for interesting and aesthetically pleasing lighting. I look out for foggy weather, lightning storms, and snowstorms. I typically shoot at times of day that produce dynamic lighting such as golden hour or sunset. I may also scout locations or events that will create opportunities for powerful photographs,, such as the Tribute in Light Memorial in Manhattan. I try to take advantage of moments where colors and light mix to produce a wide range of hues and strong lighting. Despite my best efforts to plan for desirable lighting situations to shoot, some of my favorite captures have come from spontaneous occurrence. Examples of this include a sunset I witnessed on a bike ride to Williamsburg where the clouds parted and allowed powerful beams of sunlight to shine down on the Manhattan skyline or when lightning began to strike unexpectedly over Jersey City while I was wandering around Lower Manhattan with my camera.
Gradations of color in sunset, sunrise, or twilight hues are also evident in much of your work. For example, in your winning photography in the Your Art Gallery Splash Photo Contest. How much does post-production play into the images, and how much of it is a result of what is naturally taking place in the sky?
Post-production plays a large role in the images I create. My philosophy on post-production is very similar to that of professional landscape photographer Peter Eastway, who sees post-production as the process of interpreting an image. In an age where the majority of people are equipped with a high quality digital camera in their phones and millions of photographs are being taken everyday, post-production plays a big part in making my images unique and truly my own. While I may be taking a photograph of a landscape that anyone can see, the same photograph as someone right beside me, post-production allows me to fine-tune my photograph into the way I saw or interpreted that landscape. As of now, all of my post-production happens in Lightroom. I mainly use post-production to alter details in shadows and highlights, exposure, contrast, and colors. When I interpret images, I change these elements of my photographs to emphasize what I saw and the feeling or mood I want to evoke in my viewers. For example, intensifying the colors and range of hues in a sunset can help give viewers the sense of awe that I felt when I was taking that photograph or lowering the clarity and saturation of a foggy night creates an eerie or mysterious mood. My final images may tend to be much more intense and dynamic after post-production than they were originally. However, the final post-processed image is how I personally witnessed and experienced the scenes I captured.
Finally, what has the reaction been to your winning Splash Photo Contest image? Has it given you insight into what types of images resonate with the public?
I was very honored when I found out that I won the Splash Photo Contest. There were a lot of really beautiful photographs in that contest and I am very surprised that I won. I was thrilled and it provided me a great deal of confidence in my work. It was also humbling and inspiring to see the work of the other participants in the contest. Winning the contest has given me some insight into what type of image resonates with the public. The photo was very colorful and vibrant, which may have played a role in catching attention. I will continue to take photos and interpret them in ways that resonate with me, and I hope that they will continue to resonate with others.