The shot: Airtight

Airtight - slave to the lens
Photographer: slave to the lens


I usually sketch out ideas, some rough and some fully fleshed out. Like many of my more unusual images, this was done as a trade shoot. I shot promo work for this musician under the condition that he do two of my sketches, of my choosing. With this one, I kept him in the dark (after an initial conversation to determine whether it would be in his wheelhouse). I did this because I wanted catch the initial bewilderment of waking up to such an absurd situation without his over-thinking it for weeks before — and I think this reads well in his eyes.

This particular idea was born from a trip buying props for a film I was propping, and the fact that the blow-up doll was elderly just made it a must shoot. Her teeth are on the nightstand.

The shot

The Camera was a Canon 50D, with a 17-85 zoomed out, shot as wide and positioned as high as possible, and the aperture is f/3.5. I put the camera wide and high because it’s such a great way to lay shame bare, just like a security camera. It felt voyeuristic.

The lighting is a bare Hensel 500 head, blasting off camera low-ish, like mid-morning sun after the marine layer burns off — just hard reality. But, I should have changed the clock. I hate missing details!


I’m not great at post, but this was pretty straightforward. I did some sharpening and carving highlights and shadows. I muted most of the warm tones down a good bit to make it colder and starker, like waking with a hangover.


I may revisit it and bring a bit more blue in from the window, but I largely move on after saving an image. While there are plenty of subtle things I’d change, I still like it. The actor did fine work and overall I’m pleased. It seems to get laughs and second glances, so I’d say mission accomplished.

slave to the lens

slave to the lens

Ryan James is a Los Angeles-based photographer that has been photographing artists, musicians, models (and anyone else who lets him) since 1995. His website is

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