Ryan X Howard explains the secrets of his moody ‘London’ look

Ryan Howard is a professional videographer and photographer. The video started at college when he was sixteen and the photography has developed from that. He started taking photos for Instagram and “got a little bit addicted to the likes and the comments!”. Now he estimates his work is split fifty-fifty between his regular work and Instagram.

And what he’s best known for on Instagram is his moody London landscape. “I like dark, moody days. Dark grey skies, clouds, I don’t like sun, I don’t like sunsets, I don’t like sunrises. I don’t like colour,” he smiles.

In fact, Ryan’s commercial work is varied and recently involved a trip to Australia shooting beaches, crocodiles, sunsets, rainforests. His Instagram ‘London’ series, however, is very different.

“A perfect day for me is just going out and strolling around. You could come back with one shot – that might be amazing, it might be awful – or you could come back with 80 that are decent, uploadable.”

He has an eye for reflections of architecture in puddles and he likes the London underground and the symmetry. “You can go to any station and they’re all so beautiful. And what I’ve done a few times is get the night tube – you go out about 7pm and shoot till about 6-7am.”

Recently, Ryan has been doing more portrait work, feeling that he should try something new. “I hadn’t done any portraits before so I found a friend who was willing to help me and started shooting her, people liked it, that helps, and then it just took off. And now I prefer doing that to architecture.”

Ryan’s kit, style and tips for others

Ryan shoots with a Sony A7R II using Canon lenses via an adaptor, which he also uses for video. He has a pretty relaxed approach to using his kit in wet London weather: “If it’s chucking it down I probably wouldn’t go out, but if it’s spitting it’s usually OK – touch wood!”

He has some clear ideas on how to achieve Instagram success. “The number one tip that I share is to create a look that people recognise as your own.”

Ryan is aware of the split between his heavily curated Instagram brand and his commercial work. He explains that’s not really what he wants but feels that’s how it has to be, if he wants to be known as the photographer that does ‘that’ look. Even so, there is some crossover: “My recent video work in Australia I gave a colour grade which people said had that Ryan X Howard look. I wanted to make Australia, even though it was bright sunshine, to still have my feel.”

His Ryan ‘X’ Howard Instagram name has a surprisingly simple explanation – there is a US basketball player called Ryan Howard on Instagram. “So I thought, what’s a cool way to split the names? I didn’t want a dot or an underscore and just thought of the ‘X’. 

Ryan’s Lightroom tips

Ryan’s Lightroom workflow is quite different to those of other Instagram users we’ve featured in this series and is revealed by his favourite tool in Lightroom: “Definitely the Tone Curve,” he says. His London shots feature architecture heavily and he makes heavy use of Lightroom’s lens correction tools too.

He tries to get the exposure as close as possible when shooting, but might then use the Highlight slider to bring back clouds in the sky and the Shadow slider to bring up shadows. His signature look comes from taking the Vibrance right down and then creating an S-curve in the Tone Curve panel to restore contrast. He may also drag up the bottom left corner of the curve “to give it that faded look”. He’s also a big fan of the Graduated Filter tool for adjusting bright skies: “It’s one of my favourites – I should have said that instead of the Tone Curve!”

He sometimes uses Photoshop for cloning or repair work but then it’s back to Lightroom for some final tweaks including noise reduction and sharpening. “The Sharpness usually goes to around 80-ish and the masking is really awesome – you press the alt key and move the masking slider and the white shows you what you’re sharpening – I usually do it just for the buildings.”

So what’s next for Ryan X Howard? “I’d love more trips like the Australia trip to New York, Tokyo, Toronto. I’ve travelled quite a bit – quite a lot of the States, quite a lot of Europe – but with America I wasn’t that into photography and I’d love to go back.”

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