As a self-taught photographer, Ryelo Ren has quite a few tricks up his sleeve. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, the 23-year-old never received any formal education in photography, but his curiosity and ability to tame light have proven to be the best teachers. His visual and imaginative skills as well as his perspective, frame and sharpen the way he photographs. After shooting film for a bit more than a year now, Ryelo easily navigates between compact 35 mm snaps, as well as more elaborate portraits on 120 film. When asked what got him into photography, he simply replied "It allows me to express myself, and most importantly tell stories." We talked to Ryelo about his portraits, his love for studio lighting, and his abilities in making his subjects feel comfortable.
Why do you still shoot film in such a digital era?
I still shoot film because it speaks to me, artistically and spiritually. Whether I’m shooting people or still life, I try to capture a feeling or what's true, and film helps with that. Also, I love the film process.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from any and everything. Whatever speaks to me, inspires me. It can be how a model looks, music, films, fashion, you name it.
You seem to specialize in portraits, why is that?
I love people. Also, shooting people gives me an opportunity to interact and meet new people.
What is your creative process like?
My creative process starts with an idea but, as things progress I shift towards what feels right. For instance, when shooting portraits I may have the location and mood all set but, everything else is decided in the moment. How I approach shooting is just like the lomography motto: ‘Don't think, Just Shoot’.
Between artificial and natural light, which one do you prefer to work with and why?
I prefer artificial light because of the tones it produces. Also, with artificial light, you can create colors, and the mood is different compared to natural light.
Your subjects look like they really trust you, and you get really close to them. How do you gain a subject’s trust?
I gain my subject's trust by creating a comfortable atmosphere. For example, I may play some chill music or talk to them in between shots. I’m a pretty calm and mellow guy so I think that helps too.
You seem to push and pull your films a lot, is there a specific advantage to it in your opinion?
I don't think there's an advantage to pushing or pulling film, just a personal preference. I do it for aesthetic reasons or depending on the light situation wherever I'm shooting.
Do you have any tips for someone who wants to get into portraiture like you?
The best tip I can give is to light meter for the shadows or mid-tones and experiment with different films, settings, and light situations. And always go with what speaks to you.