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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chris Borgman: Shockingly Vivid

Inside Chris Borgman’s super-saturated world, it’s not what colors you use, but how you use them

“I think in the last few years I’ve been pushing the color thing,” he explains, “maybe not always bright and punchy, but using colors heavily to create the mood. My Mermaid images aren’t very ‘colorful,’ but as I was working on that series, the look and color of underwater was so important. I didn’t have the budget to shoot underwater so I tried to fake the look, and color was a big part of the end result.”

Borgman has made clear that he can’t simply shoot a colorful subject on a colorful background and jack up the color in post. Sure, that’s not a bad start, but it’s a mastery of lighting skills that helps to elevate not only the colors in his work, but also his overall slick signature style.

“Several people have mentioned I have an in-your-face style of photography,” he says. “I’m not too sure what that means; I don’t do anything on purpose with that in mind. I do tend to light pretty flat and bright, so maybe that’s where it comes from. I’m not the technical studio lighter that I used to be; I was pretty crazy for a while, mixing anything that emitted at least 40W of light. Then I was on a very flat, no-shadows look. I wanted softer than soft, but still bright. I was shooting a lot of natural-beauty stuff at the time. I really liked the look I could get outside with just daylight. So my goal was to use strobes and get a completely shadowless light in the studio. Then I got bored with that and started to add lights, but still try to keep some of that flat, bright look. The lighting came first; it then allowed me to work at punching the colors.”

Borgman is clearly confident using an array of tools to get to a desired result. Along with prepping, propping, styling and lighting appropriately, postprocessing is a major factor in completing the puzzle. He has worked to refine his post approach since he discovered that bright, bold, vivid images required him to start with images that are actually flat and desaturated.

“A photographer’s postprocessing style in the digital age is even more important than the choice of film was 10 years ago,” he says. “My RAW files look just like any other RAW file, and I keep my camera setting real basic: Adobe RGB, no boost in contrast or sharpness, etc. I use ‘neutral’ on my Canons. I want to get as much unbiased data as possible and then take it to Camera Raw. Because I do so many layers, I like my files to start out pretty neutral; they look kind of flat. Sometimes I’ll neutralize it pretty good in Raw and then in highlight/shadow to get an even flatter look to start with.”

A photographer working at such a sophisticated level—in terms of postprocessing, lighting and understanding the psychology of color—may be expected to use out-of-this-world equipment, too. In fact, Borgman likes to keep his gear to a minimum.

“I don’t have or use anything special,” he says. “I’ve never been a gadget freak; I use the least amount of equipment that gets the job done. KISS: keep it simple stupid.

“I freelanced a few days at a catalog house a few years back to shoot a simple T-shirt and jeans catalog,” Borgman recalls. “We arrived at this beautiful location on a beautiful day, and the four assistants started pulling out booms and stands and mirrored reflectors and lots of heavy junk. I said leave all that crap in the truck; just bring the foamcore and a large silk. They looked at me with such large grins.
Borgman takes a certain minimalist approach to his photography. By having the right combination of styling, lights and background, he leaves himself plenty of options for postprocessing. To create one of his images, Borgman develops a scene where the colors are already interesting and have a potential for particular, selective emphasis.
“Why the overkill?” Borgman adds. “It’s not what you use, it’s how you use it.”

To see more of Chris Borgman’s photography, visit www.chrisborgman.com.


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