DPP Home Profiles Chris Crisman: Master Of The Person In Their Place

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chris Crisman: Master Of The Person In Their Place

In his environmental portraits, Chris Crisman creates highly polished images that show the humanism that drives the Philadelphia-based photographer

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The work can be challenging. When he photographed Sir Richard Branson for Wired magazine, Crisman had 10 minutes to shoot three subjects for the cover, including Branson. Once he got the shot Wired wanted, he took two minutes to take the shot he wanted, the image of Branson shown here.
I think the reality of environmental portraiture, or any kind of portraiture, is you've got to dance with the subject a bit, especially someone who has never been in a formal portrait session before. There are a lot of "real" people in my work. With a lot of the celebrities I photograph on assignment, we often have only 10 minutes, so you need to create flexibility for the client on the back end. We might spend two weeks in post.

DPP: Tell us about the Richard Branson shots you did for Wired magazine. Was that one of those assignments with major time constraints?

Crisman: We had him for 10 minutes and we did three pictures with him in that time frame. One of them was for a cover. We had to shoot two other people into the cover. We spent about five minutes on the cover, about three minutes on the secondary shot and about two minutes on the shot that I wanted to make, which is the portrait of him pulling his hair back.

DPP: Was he actually shot where the background is?

Crisman: Yeah. That's actually as simple as it gets. We were at the Mojave Air and Space Port in the Mojave Desert where they're building the scaled composites of the Virgin Galactic, the spaceships.

DPP: How did you create the image of the young boy with the spaceship?

Crisman: The pieces were shot separately. The kid was shot in the studio. The rocket was actually an 18-inch- high model. That was personal work.

In addition to his stunning still photography, Crisman has branched out into motion work. Inside many still photographers there's a budding filmmaker. Crisman is using RED cameras in his motion projects.
DPP: What camera and lighting equipment are you working with to create these photos?

Crisman: As for cameras, it depends on the project. The Canon cameras are easier to use and there's a lot of flexibility with them, but the image quality from the IQ back is amazing. When I need to get faster shutter speeds to bring the background down outdoors, the Hasselblad is fantastic for that. When I use the Hasselblad, I like to shoot on a remote so I'm not bumping the tripod and also have the mirror up because that mirror slamming down can cause camera shake. It's a nice sound, but it doesn't help the pictures.

My strobes and battery packs are Dynalites. It's what I learned on. We use a range of small to large Octabanks with them. Sometimes, I like using the extra-small Chimera softboxes. Sometimes, we use grids on them. So, they're a direct light source, but soft. I don't like hard shadows on a face, but I like shaping the face. The general idea is real people in real spaces. That's what I'm trying to convey. I want to give a summation of that person's experience. I almost always want something to be inspirational, even if something has a darker tone to it. I want people to connect to it and for the pictures to be thoughtful.


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