Joseph Llanes was living in Los Angeles, photographing the likes of Coldplay, Rihanna and Foo Fighters, and building quite the rock & roll portfolio, when he was bitten by the Nashville bug. Brett Eldredge hired him to shoot the cover of his debut album, opening country music doors that just kept getting wider. Album covers for Lady Antebellum (Golden), Luke Bryan (Crash My Party), Lee Brice (I Don't Dance), Ashley Monroe (The Blade), Cole Swindell (You Should Be Here) and Jake Owen (American Love) followed — in addition to countless photo shoots with stars including Blake Shelton and Faith Hill. Llanes was coming to Nashville so often that he eventually moved his family to Music City and opened his own Greyland Studio (named after sons Greyson, 3, and Landon, 1). That's where you'll find his "20 Out of 20" exhibit, premiering exclusively on Rolling Stone Country. Llanes photographed 20 country stars in 20 days, with most shoots lasting less than five minutes. "I've come to a city where I instantly had a community," says the photographer. "Everyone is so accepting and warm. Having this be the first thing I do in my new studio is so exciting and a chance to develop as a photographer, as an artist. Nashville gave me that chance." Below, in his own words, Llanes shares personal stories behind all 20 photos in the project.
Pick up a camera with Nikki, and she's always going to give you something great. She's partnering with you to create the images, as opposed to you guiding her. She is one of my favorite people on the planet to work with. She has great ideas and always shows up with the coolest wardrobe. She made everything she's wearing here. She has a great clothing store in East Nashville. She's on her way to being an icon.
Brett is the reason why I have a country music career. He was the first artist who ever hired me to do an album cover, so he was also my first introduction to Nashville. He is so kind and generous with his time. If you get him to smile, it's automatically going to be a beautiful, warm picture. This is one of my favorites, because it was a moment captured that wasn't forced nor had to be asked for. He just naturally gives you great stuff.
Jake was barefoot in this picture. . . of course! He was doing a ton of press that day and he had absolutely no time for this, but he made time. I just shot his new album cover in Key West, so he was one of the first people I asked to come in. He came in drenched, because there's no air conditioning in his VW bus. But he was so composed. He usually hates photo shoots, but we had fun just playing. He just let me do my thing.
She and Ryan Hurd came in together on their way to dinner. They were so easy, just really nice people. They were in a hurry but never pressured me to hurry up; they were really gracious with their time. I love having Maren look off camera. There's a lot of warmth to this photo.
I've photographed Ryan before, and he doesn't take a bad picture. There's a lot of quietness with him, which I really respond to in my own work. He's a natural and really takes a photographer's direction well. He's also very gracious, just really easy to work with.
Clare and I ran into each other at a bar about a week before she came in. No one followed a vision for their photograph more than her; she instantly knew what I wanted. I wanted to do what she normally does, which is work with motion. She's so animated as an actress, so I wanted motion with her hands and she pulled it off better than most people could. She has an effortless beauty, so much presence to her. She's like a fairy, she's ethereal.
I shot Eric's album cover, so I wanted to do something different with him. I asked him if I could do some double exposures. This technique was all in-camera. He came in and hung out with my kids in the studio, we talked a lot about our dogs. It was a great catch up session with him.
Caitlyn is eight or nine months pregnant right now and super bubbly. I was trying to get something quiet out of her, which is really different from her live shows! She has this smile that is so radiant. I love the moment captured here, grabbing her hair and looking off.
Cale was rehearsing across the street from us and seemed really excited to be there. He has this really cool vibe. He hung out with us the longest of anyone. I met him at Americana Fest last year, and we talked about a lot of exciting artists coming to play the festival this year.
Chase has so much swagger. He pulled up in his huge tour bus at 11:00 p.m. on his way to Chicago. He was really gracious to everyone in our studio and was in and out in all of two minutes. That's literally all the time he had, and really all we needed. So I wanted to get him in motion for this photo.
I worked with Eli Young Band this year in Dallas, and it took a lot not to jump on their tour bus and travel with them. They are lovely guys. We had some drinks to loosen up for this shoot, and we had just a fun, impromptu session.
RaeLynn is not afraid of color, and this next chapter of music she's going into musically and visually has this air of sophistication while still being playful and happy. We've shot her in horse fields and crazy stuff like that, but in the studio she knew exactly what she wanted to wear, how she wanted her hair to be. . . She had done her homework. You can't ask for a more fun, bubbly energetic person to work with. She lit up the studio. Everyone in the crew fell in love with her.
Hugh is a part of our studio family. He's also a carpenter, so he designed our sign for us and has helped us build things and make it more fluid. He's one of my favorite people in Nashville, and I love his songs. I can't wait to see what happens with him, because he's writing non-stop.
Chris is a good looking guy, in shape…but very unassuming. He was game for anything. When I showed him I wanted to do something really bright, color-wise, he was excited about it and totally on board.
Ryan was our last artist of the 20, so I was really in the mood to play. What happened in this photo shoot was all just happy accidents. It was all a big experiment, and he was game for it. It was fun seeing it all happen live. He is really warm, really eager to try new things, up for letting me experiment and really playful.
I just shot something with Kane a month ago, but when he came in to do this he didn't realize it was a photo shoot! So that jacket he has on is my jacket. He was playing with his hat; I'm glad I caught him fidgeting because he has this naturally cool demeanor, even when he fidgets. He's one of the nicest new artists I've ever worked with.
We did the most production with Kelsea. She blew out our AC because we had so many lights going on! So we shot most of that stuff in a very humid, hot room, but you couldn't tell because she's such a pro. She's one of my favorite artists to work with, I adore her and am so proud of her. I got to hear some amazing new songs she has coming out. It's gorgeous, it's fun, it's the natural progression for her music. She came from a writing session straight to the studio.
Kip came in and saw about half these photographs hanging on a wall in our studio. So he understood this wasn't a publicity shot, this was something more artistic. So he played along and gave me a lot of great stuff. I was so excited to have him in the studio, because he's not really someone you'd expect to do an art exhibit. It was really nice of him to take the time to come work with us. With him, we tried a bunch of different colored lights, and he was up for us making it as fun and interesting as we could make it.
I never know what to expect when I work with Haley. She came in wearing a tutu, which was great because I photograph so many guys and I needed a feminine, fun vibe. She's the whole thing, and I believe her. Whatever you say about her music, I believe her. She has this great personality, and it comes across in her photographs.
There's a bar across the street from our studio where we hung out with the Cadillac Three guys before doing the photo shoot. They could care less about production or anything, they just care about vibe. If you can capture that vibe, it is the most rewarding thing. They are 100 percent unique. There's not any pretension with them.