By Jasmine Lee
Starting photography in the 80’s Warren Ryley, was a young self-taught photographer with a fascination of revealing secrets of the world through photography. Through experimentation and passion, Ryley has developed his own “style” that is continuously being sought after by leading brands. In recent years, he has turned his attention to the demanding fields of drinks and liquids photography where he has quickly grown a reputation as one of the leading photographers in this arena. Read the interview below to learn more about how Warren Ryley combines his lighting techniques with his knowledge of post production to produce breathtaking imagery.
Production Paradise: We have read that you started photographing splashes at a very young age, where do you think this fascination with water and movement comes from? Do you keep any of those early photos?
Warren Ryley: I believe we are all attracted to images where we have a moment frozen in time, revealing secrets that as a viewer we wouldn’t normally see. Freezing water in motion is typical of this, we all see running water every day without ever seeing the intricacies of how it is formed and moves as it flows. So I have always had a fascination of capturing these moments.
No two images are ever the same no matter how much you try to control the movement, each image is unique and beautiful in its own right.
The first roll of film I put through an SLR as a teenager, contained images of water sprinkling out of a fine hole in our garden hose like a miniature fountain. I guess the writing was on the wall even then, and yes I do still have a few early photos, mostly buried in the loft.
Production Paradise: You’ve worked with many big brands including Jim Beam, Smirnoff, Beefeater, Chivas, and others – with big names as this, how do you find a balance between the client’s brief and your own style of photography?
Warren Ryley: Most clients will approach me already knowing my style, they do their research, so I know if they are approaching me for a project they will almost definitely want the style they associate with me. Occasionally I might try to persuade them into a slightly different direction if I feel it would enhance the story of a shoot, and normally clients are receptive to new ideas.
Production Paradise: What do you consider to be your biggest professional achievement or most enjoyable shoot?
Warren Ryley: There have been a few along the journey like seeing my first billboard but I guess from a technical standpoint it would be the Beefeater Perfect Serve image. This was the brief I saw and thought ”WOW, this is going to look amazing”, shortly followed by ”s**t, how am I going to recreate that?!” It’s briefs like this that I love, the thought of creating something special, new and different inspires, whilst the complications of how it’s going to be achieved can be initially daunting.
The trick is to break down the shots into the individual elements required and treat them separately, carefully working out all the elements ultimately required for the final composition. This particular brief was to illustrate the ideal serve of a Beefeater gin and tonic, with ice shards, lemon and orange wheels in a dynamic way where a slashed glass reveals the key ingredients in a disruptive composition. Several versions of the key visual were required, one featuring a highball glass for the American market, the other a goblet for the European market, both with and without the Beefeater bottle and in portrait, landscape, and 64 sheet formats. The overall look was to be very graphic with contrast, giving an almost illustrated feel and prominently feature Beefeater’s signature red. It took a week of testing, shooting, and splashing, to create all the elements required with a healthy back up of alternatives for the retouching process. It was very satisfying to see the final results very close to the original concept visuals.
Production Paradise: We understand that you are a “one-stop service” for your clients, meaning having a studio, executing the shoot, and applying your post production skills, what is your favourite and most challenging part of this process?
Warren Ryley: I feel very fortunate that I am able to carry out both aspects of these creative processes. Having complete control of a shoot from the initial brief through to the final delivery of the assets is incredible. Knowing how I am going to use the assets in post production to achieve a certain look I am after gives me the freedom to be more expressive when shooting. The most enjoyable part of the process for me now is the retouching, seeing the vision come to life on the screen in front of me gives me great satisfaction. The most challenging part is making sure I have enough assets to select from for this process as sometimes briefs can change so I have to be able to adapt in post-production. So I shoot multiple assets and lighting options for different elements of a product, especially bottles and often hundreds of splashes if there is liquid work in the image.
Production Paradise: You have been working in photography for 30 years. How would you describe the evolution of your personal style?
Warren Ryley: The evolution would best be described as gradual. I started out as a photographer in the 80s and I’m completely self-taught, I never assisted, there were no YouTube clips to watch for tips or tutorials, in fact, there wasn’t even the internet. So everything I did was experimental. I didn’t have a “style” initially, I just lit everything with large soft boxes. Left, right, top, bottom, you name it, just blast everything with soft light, but I was learning. After a while I started playing with harder light, mixing things up, and being more creative adding more texture and shape. It was costly back then to experiment with Polaroid’s, film and processing to pay for, so it was a slow process.
Following that came my “moody” period, I would spot light everything with a little overall fill, I think it was a backlash to my earlier full blast phase. I continued to experiment, and with the advent of digital things became quicker and easier. I learned my trade with photoshop at the same time and soon saw the potential of shooting with retouching in mind and created what is now my current style, but I don’t think you ever stop learning or evolving. There have been a few constants along the way though – a strong sense of colour has always been evident in my work.
Production Paradise: You have been a member of Production Paradise for four years now. How important do you think it is to share your work on such platforms?
Warren Ryley: Production Paradise has been pivotal in showcasing my work to a global market, previously my client base was restricted to the UK but since joining I have had regular enquiries from agencies across Europe and Asia. Without Production Paradise I don’t think this would have been possible.
As the saying goes “You’ve got to be in it to win it.”
Production Paradise: What are your favourite and least favourite drinks?
Warren Ryley: When it comes to drinks, at least alcoholic ones, it’s simple I stick to the Bs – beer and bourbon. I was very pleased this year to have shot for my two favourite brands, Leffe and Jim Beam. Unfortunately, on both these occasions, the clients didn’t leave any product behind, I’m slowly getting over it.
Least favourite would be anything anise-based which links back to experiencing Ouzo, a greek liquor as a teenager, it didn’t have a great ending.
Production Paradise: And finally: main inspiration (photographer or artist).
Warren Ryley: Horst P. Horst, a legend.
Special thanks to Warren Ryley for giving us insight into his world of fascinating photography. For more details or more of Warren Ryley’s work visit his website or his profile page on Production Paradise. We wish Warren Ryley the best in his future projects.