Bryan Edwards is a still-life and product photographer with a penchant for clever concepts and a distinctive, Southwestern-influenced color palette. He has a background in retouching, and worked as Stan Musilek’s lead retoucher in San Francisco before recently moving to New York City, where he is setting up shop as both photographer and co-founder of post-production company Adjusted. You can find his photos in the pages of WIRED and on Medium.com. He caught our interest as a winner of last year’s PDN Objects of Desire contest and we wanted to know more about his work.
PDN: When did you begin shooting still-life and product photographs? Do you have any background in design?
Bryan Edwards: My interest in still-life came about during my second year at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I was enrolled in the photojournalism program. I quickly found that there were too many variables out of my control; I was looking for something I could craft.
I was exposed to the process and genre of product photography by seeing what the older students were working on in the studio. The idea of going into an empty studio and essentially creating something from nothing really appealed to me.
As for design, I have been dating a graphic designer for almost seven years. In her degree, she was more focused on traditional graphic design techniques and building things by hand. She has taught me new techniques that have helped me refine my craft.
PDN: Do you work with a team or are you a one-man band?
BE: Currently I am a one-man band. I hire assistants as needed, and I am working toward collaborating with prop stylists. I try to learn as many skills as I can that can be used for creating things in the studio. I took welding and garden sculpture classes in college and I am always looking to learn other means of fabricating ideas. If I wasn’t a photographer I would definitely be a model maker.
I handle most of my own retouching but always try to work with another retoucher to help with the final touches on a file. Retouching is by the far the largest bottleneck in my workflow and establishing relationships with other retouchers is crucial for product photographers.
PDN: You have a very clean, illustrative style. How do you plan your concepts and meticulous compositions?
BE: I always carry index cards with me as it helps me to organize my ideas and helps minimize the risk of losing an entire sketchbook. Sometimes I actively pursue making these ideas a reality, other times I just window shop at junk and secondhand stores. My favorite store for this in San Francisco is SCRAP, which gets new materials in daily. They have a whole wall of color sorted plastics, which is amazing.
Once I get materials in the studio it really just comes down to experimentation. I shoot using a 4×5 view camera with a digital back, and this helps slow the process down and really makes me pay attention to little details. I will make quick composites in Photoshop while shooting to help figure out what works and what doesn’t. Most shots I do require focus stacking, and this means extra diligence.
PDN: What influences your color choices?
BE: The dark winters of Rochester inspired me to use as many bright colors as possible. I mainly gravitate towards the pastels of the Sonoran desert where I grew up. I use a Color-Aid swatchbook to play around with split color schemes before shooting the product. Although I manipulate my shadows and backgrounds in Photoshop, I still aim to shoot on the same color as the product will appear on.
PDN: What are some of your favorite products that you’ve shot?
BE: Generally, I appreciate a shot more for the technical challenges it presents than for what the actual product is. That said, the electric skateboard I shot for WIRED [slide 6] is a really creative and surprisingly practical take on designing a new mode of transportation. And it was also pretty fun to ride around the studio.
PDN: What’s the story behind the image of the mounted trout image you submitted to the Objects of Desire contest in 2014?
BE: My Grandfather was an avid fisherman and believed everyone needs a good fishing story. Every year he would go fishing at Neultin Lake in Manitoba, Canada. This was one of the first lakes to have a catch-and-release policy, which meant some of the largest lake trout in the world could be caught there. I went with him when I was 8 years old and somehow managed to catch a 36-inch trout. Since you don’t keep the fish you can send the dimensions and reference pictures to a place that makes fiberglass replicas. I have had this replica ever since, and really wanted to photograph it just for the sake of documentation.