Steamboat photographer creates his own artistic flair by embracing age-old process |

Steamboat photographer creates his own artistic flair by embracing age-old process

Photographer Ryan Scheer poses with his 1907 Century Studio camera made by Eastman Kodak Company on Jan. 26, 2023. Scheer uses the camera to photograph dioramas that he creates using vintage toys. The photographs have an Old West flair, and also include "wildlife" images.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Stepping into photographer Ryan Scheer’s Downhill Plaza studio in Steamboat Springs is a little like stepping back in time.

The hooks on the walls are filled with classic cameras hanging by the straps, a small shelf above his desk is lined with a variety of vintage western toys that he uses in the dioramas he photographs and in the corner a bright retro-looking refrigerator with a 1960s flair is filled with beverages.

The room is all about being comfortable with an inviting couch illuminated by what appears to be vintage photographic lights, and a coffee table filled with books that inspire the worlds that are displayed in Scheer’s art.

The studio is where Scheer crafts and creates surreal diorama’s using foam blocks cut to replicate the landscape, dirt and gravel from his family’s ranch and twigs, branches and small vegetation that add to the landscape. He also uses vintage toys as the focus of his images, which in most cases, reflect the American West.

There is also a fully operational dark room nearby, the sink filled with trays and containers that hold the special chemicals used in the wet plate process needed to develop the tintype photographs that have come to define his art.

“I just want to tell stories, and that’s the main thing,” Scheer said. “I hope my frames will tell the story, and I hope when somebody looks at it, they can develop their own story, and interpret it in their own way.”

The centerpiece of the studio, however, is a 1907 analog Century Studio Camera made by the Eastman Kodak Co. that is armed with a vintage Dallmeyer lens that was crafted in 1886. The camera can control the perspective that adds to his images’ depth, and while shallow depth of field is challenging, that’s what gives Scheer’s images a unique, throwback feel all its own. Scheer’s images are currently featured locally at The Standard Art Galley, 907 Lincoln Ave. in downtown Steamboat Springs.

“In the two years that we’ve been out there we have worked on bringing in unique artists like Ryan. He is really challenging what a Western aesthetic can feel like, by curating and developing these compositions in his studio,” said Dustin Posiak-Trider, who owns the Standard Art Gallery. “Ryan is using an analog camera and lens from the 1800s and it is such a rare thing. He’s kind of protecting and maintaining a very historic process, artistically, and he’s figured out a way to help maintain the legacy of the historic photographic process.”

Photographer Ryan Scheer made this image “Cowgirl” by building a diorama that included vintage western toys. He used a process from the 1800s, and a camera dating back to 1907 to create a tintype plate using the wet plate process. He then scans tintype and sells a limited number of prints of each image.
Ryan Scheer/Courtesy photo

Scheer uses the camera and lens as part of a process where he coats a tin plate with Collodion and is then dipped in silver nitrate, the tin is then placed in the camera and exposed to light before being rushed to his nearby darkroom to be developed. The entire process has to be done very quickly in a period of roughly 15 to 20 minutes, and creates a one-of-a-kind image.

“Every tintype is unique in many ways,” Scheer explains. “The chemicals react differently, and a lot of the developing is done by feeling as there are not set times in the darkroom.”

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Scheer grew up in Steamboat Springs, and graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in 2002, before pursuing a 20-year career in commercial photography, and documentary film production that took him away from the Yampa Valley to places like Los Angles, Austin, San Francisco and Denver.

“I directed commercials for the PGA Tour, Dish Network and Air Force,” Scheer said. “I did stuff like that and also worked on some documentaries here and there.”

Ryan Scheer takes a creative approach to capturing wildlife that is commonly found in the mountains like Steamboat Springs. He used vintage bear toys, and items he found in nature to create a vision of a mother bear with her cub in One Bad Mutha.
Ryan Scheer/Courtesy photo

He was primarily working in film, but always practiced photography.

“I was getting hired to shoot a lot of photography with trail production crews, and then be a second shooter on video too, so kind of became a jack of all trades,” Scheer said. “I was burning out, but life was moving so fast that I didn’t have time to step back and really access what else can I do, what would keep me home more and with my kids.”

So a couple of years ago, Scheer was able to convince his wife, Jackie, to move to the Yampa Valley where Scheer was raised. He wanted to raise their children Finley, 7, and Beckett, 4 in his hometown.

In this image, “Get Off My Land” photographer Ryan Scheer uses a vintage toy and items he found around his family’s Routt County ranch to build a diorama that reflects an old time Western scene.
Ryan Scheer/Courtesy photo

“This was my chance to do something,” Scheer said. “I’ve always been interested in tintype, so I converted the veterinary room in our family barn that wasn’t being used at the time into a dark room … then I just taught myself the process via Google University.”

Next, Scheer scans the tintypes and limits each edition to 50 prints that he hopes will end up hanging in people’s living rooms.

“I want to give people the freedom to imagine, and the ability to look into these worlds,” Scheer said. “I want to inspire people, I want to inspire my children, and show them that it’s viable to have a creative career.”

Ryan Scheer uses an elk toy and items he found in nature to create “The Clearing” which he photographed in his Downhill Plaza studio.
Ryan Scheer/Courtesy photo

Scheer’s work can be seen locally at Standard Art Gallery as well as Vaughn Gallery in Austin, Texas, and the Neighborhood Store in Dallas, Texas. He is also slated to have his work shown in March at the Drover Hotel in Dallas and the Commerce Gallery in Lockhart, Texas, June 2-4.

In addition photographing his diorama’s Scheer is hoping to expand his art to create portraits of people in Steamboat Springs, and maybe even sell his tintypes as he continues to sharpen his process.

“I’m really focused on just growing the business right now and getting into more living rooms,” Scheer said. “I love it when I see people and in gallery, and they get excited about an image. They are like ‘I used to have a toy like that’, or they react by saying, ‘Oh, I thought that was real first.’”

Steamboat Springs photographer Ryan Scheer works with a 1907 Century Studio camera made by Eastman Kodak, and a process dating back to the late 1800s to create his unique photographs.
Ryan Scheer/Courtesy photo

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