Insights and ideas from Ryan Heffernan
Light, color, and composition
Few photographers are lucky to grow up immersed in the world of photography. Inspired by the success of his father, a well-known still‐life photographer, Ryan Heffernan set out to forge his own path in the profession. Years of travel and apprenticing for established photographers helped him create his unique style in photographing people in their landscapes; with light, color, and composition as his cornerstones. That style ultimately landed him a slew of high‐profile clients ranging from action‐adventure magazines to Sesame Street. In this interview with Photoshop.com, Heffernan shares his perspectives on his journey so far and his ongoing education in digital photography.
Photoshop.com: Which piece of equipment couldn’t you live without and why?
Ryan Heffernan: Photographers certainly have no shortage of gear, but every project is unique and requires specific tools. The one constant in the world of digital photography is the need for software for post-processing. For me, Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® and Photoshop software are absolutely essential for organization, editing, and finalizing images.
Photoshop.com: What role does Lightroom play in your photography process?
Ryan Heffernan: Lightroom is fundamental to my entire workflow. Everything I do begins with it, from cataloging and editing, to making global adjustments and processing the hi-res images. The image is then moved over seamlessly to Photoshop where the final post-processing takes place.
Photoshop.com: How did you create the result in the underwater image (Image 1)?
Ryan Heffernan: The underwater image was taken in Paris as part of a fashion campaign for the denim company Le temps de Cerices and the advertising agency, Agence Antidote. There were a lot of fun technical challenges for this project. I shot in a scuba training center, using hot lights to light the model. One of these lights was aimed through an underwater viewing portal, allowing me to effectively light the subject underwater. I used an underwater housing for the camera and scuba gear to stay submerged long enough to get various versions of the model jumping into the pool. Using Lightroom to edit through two thousand plus shots, we ended up with three hero images. And from these three, the final image was then composited in Photoshop for the perfect body language, color, and desired amount of bubbles.
Photoshop.com: Describe a favorite photo you’ve shot and what grabs you about it.
Ryan Heffernan: One of my recent favorites was taken in Laikipia, Kenya for a safari tour company and Lemartis Camp (Image 2). The campaign’s goal was to capture the spirit of Kenya’s unique tribal cultures and I feel the simplicity of this image accomplished exactly that. I was perched up on a hill shooting as the sun began to set and turned around to see the play of light on a beautiful boulder. Moments later Lemarti, the Samburu warrior in the image scaled the rock and took up traditional warrior pose. The resulting image captures the sense of place and true beauty I felt in that moment.
Photoshop.com: How do you know that a photo is really good?
Ryan Heffernan: “Good” is such a subjective term, and a photo can be good to different people for different reasons. To me, great photos tell a story and entice the viewer to spend some time living inside of them.
Photoshop.com: Are you a self‐taught photographer or did you have a mentor or teachers that showed you the ropes?
Ryan Heffernan: I’ve been fortunate to have a number of amazing mentors. At the top of that list is my father Terry Heffernan, who is a great still‐life shooter who has worked on many iconic campaigns, including "Got Milk?". I also assisted for some great photographers during my time at the Santa Fe Workshops, and later as a freelancer who shared valuable knowledge of the photography world with me.
Photoshop.com: What is it about photography and taking pictures that inspires you?
Ryan Heffernan: Photography is liberating. Making images is a powerful way of expressing your unique perspective and an amazing way to experience the world.
Photoshop.com: What are your favorite features in the latest release of Lightroom?
Ryan Heffernan: I love shooting on location, but doing so often comes with unpredictable weather and mixed light. So the new shadow and highlight recovery sliders in Lightroom save a lot of time, helping me preserve the tonal range of an image to maximize detail and impact. The white balance brush is also incredibly useful, letting me selectively color correct elements in mixed light environments.
Photoshop.com: How do you share your photography with family, friends, and clients?
Ryan Heffernan: I typically export JPEG files correctly sized for an iPad or full resolution TIFF files ready for portfolio prints. But, I also use the soft‐proofing in Lightroom to prepare files for print to ensure that they reproduce beautifully in a magazine, annual report, or private book for friends and family.
Photoshop.com: What gives your images a recognizable style?
Ryan Heffernan: I specialize in photographing people in their landscapes. Light, color, and composition are the cornerstones of my style and give the work a strong sense of place and space.
Photoshop.com: What other photographers do you admire and why?
Ryan Heffernan: It’s a pretty extensive list. There are so many great photographers—past and present—to draw inspiration from. On my short list, I’d have to include Irving Penn, Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész, Sebastiao Salgado…honestly the list is just too long.
Photoshop.com: What advice would you give to photographers just starting out?
Ryan Heffernan: Shoot all the time and get experience assisting. Seek out mentors whose work you respect to learn about the tools, techniques, and the business, so you can take your work to the next level. Build a supportive community of friends and peers to help keep you steady and stay engaged in art, music, sports, nature, whatever you love. But most importantly, enjoy it. Love what you do.