Ryan Donnell: Free Birds

Aug 10, 2017
Photographer Spotlight

For a project titled Free Birds, Fortune Magazine hired Washington, DC based photographer Ryan Donnell to document McDonald’s commitment to using cage-free eggs. The goal of the project was to show readers what these facilities look like and to have a better understanding of what "cage-free" really means.

Ryan Donnell, Free Birds, Fortune Magazine, McDonald's, Reportage Photography, Wonderful Machine, Washington DC, Photographer, Photography

Equipped with his cameras, an off-camera Speedlight, and a couple of throw-away Tyvek suits (which is the highly suggested attire in the facility), Ryan headed out to Saranac, Michigan, the home of Herbruck’s Poultry farm. McDonald’s has been sourcing eggs from this site for decades and with the commitment of the farm, they intend to use cage-free only going forward.

Ryan Donnell, Free Birds, Fortune Magazine, McDonald's, Reportage Photography, Wonderful Machine, Washington DC, Photographer, Photography

Unlike most shoots, Ryan found himself connecting deeper than expected with the talent.

I was surprised at how curious and individualistic the chickens were. They were always watching. Some would stay back and flee at the slightest movement. Others would walk right up to the camera and stare at me.

Ryan Donnell, Free Birds, Fortune Magazine, McDonald's, Reportage Photography, Wonderful Machine, Washington DC, Photographer, Photography

Between Ryan’s off-camera Speedlight, the ambient lighting situation in the facility, and interfering vent tubes, he was faced with a few unforeseen obstacles to his compositions. Ryan had no choice but to think quickly on his feet as he brainstormed different options to adequately light the space in a way that would show the scale of the three-story building and bird-filled long hallways. Amongst the list of issues above, Ryan decided it would be best to concentrate on images that would showcase small details.

Ryan Donnell, Free Birds, Fortune Magazine, McDonald's, Reportage Photography, Wonderful Machine, Washington DC, Photographer, Photography

Then at some point, I simply turned around and the man, who was my tour guide, was just standing there backlit by the exterior windows.  And he seemed to be in a staring match with the birds. I knew I had the image as soon as I shot it. It had everything I wanted: sense of scale, humanity, chickens, and as a bonus, it was just kinda weird!

Ryan Donnell, Free Birds, Fortune Magazine, McDonald's, Reportage Photography, Wonderful Machine, Washington DC, Photographer, Photography

The completed series has been well received by many. Not only has the project been featured in the renowned UK publication, The Creative Review, but Ryan has also featured one of the images on his business card, which has served as a great conversation starter.

To round out this story, Ryan dropped us a fun fact about eggs – here it is! When eggs are first laid, the shells can be soft and kind of rubbery, then they harden later on. Why might this be the case, you ask? Well after doing my own research, I learned that freshly hatched eggs can be as warm as 105ºF. News to me! 

See more of Ryan at ryandonnell.com!

And explore our other member on our Find Photographers page.

Tags: fortune magazine free birds mcdonald's reportage photography ryan donnell