Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chris Crisman: Master Of The Person In Their Place

By Mark Edward Harris, Photography By Chris Crisman Published in Photographer Profiles
A University of Pennsylvania graduate, Chris Crisman creates masterful environmental portraits. The art of environmental portraiture is to show something about a person by incorporating key elements of their work or other avocation. On these pages, you can see how Crisman does that and how he uses dramatic lighting and composition to guide the viewer to the critical elements within the frame.
A University of Pennsylvania graduate, Chris Crisman creates masterful environmental portraits. The art of environmental portraiture is to show something about a person by incorporating key elements of their work or other avocation. On these pages, you can see how Crisman does that and how he uses dramatic lighting and composition to guide the viewer to the critical elements within the frame.
DPP: How did you transition out of school into being a successful photographer, with clients ranging from Infiniti and AOL to Red Bull and Cirque du Soleil? That's not easy, given the economic woes of the past decade.

Crisman: After finishing school, I had about six weeks of flailing about and working at restaurants. Then I got a full-time assistant/studio manager/retoucher job with a photographer in Philadelphia. Some nights I also did retouching for a wedding photographer. Eventually, I built up enough of a personal body of work that I could go after my own assignments.

DPP: What's the photographic scene like in Philadelphia? Why there as your base?

Crisman: I haven't been convinced to move yet. I went to school here. When I graduated, I was super-broke and couldn't move. We have a little more creative freedom here than I think we would have in New York. I'd probably do more editorial and celebrity-type stuff if I lived there, but mentally, I like a little more space. The work I get comes in from everywhere, and I'm 15 minutes from the airport. The biggest job this year came out of an agency in Austin.


DPP: Both your assignment and personal work often have an illustrative look to it. How do you achieve that?

Crisman: It depends on the project. When we're talking about my environmental portraiture, it's often about heroic characters and archetypes. To support that, I shoot a certain way— the hero in the foreground carrying strong weight against a background that's still very important to the picture. I'm very precise in how I light people, how I like skin tones to look. When I get into the retouching side of things, it's almost case-specific. I don't think I'm an incredible documentary photographer, so I don't feel the need to have freedom with the camera. I like to make a decision about the place that I'm shooting and the edges of the frame and shoot from a tripod. What this allows me to do is to interact with the subject.

For a portrait, we might do five different shots in a day. They're going to be five different frames, but amongst those groups there's not going to be a lot of variation. Using the tripod, I shoot the space without the subject, plating it essentially, making a full range of exposures. Then we bring in the subject, and during that process, we might make a minor move. If we do, I ask the subject to step out of frame for a moment and we quickly replate it.

DPP: Which image would serve as a good example of this approach?
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