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.
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.

Crisman: The picture of the gunsmith from the Titusville project. There's a lot of nostalgia for the golden age of the town in that shot. For that image, I did some shots with some of the ambient lights on, then off—a lot of different ways to get to the final feel. I wanted the viewer to be able to see all the details. In post, multiple plates were put together. I wanted only the gun and the bullets to pop, so we used pieces of those things to pull it all together. Once I get to the point that I like a certain frame, I want to keep it flexible for the postproduction phase where I'm working with my digital artist Taisya Kuzmenko to pull everything together. I haven't retouched my own work since 2009, due to the volume of what we do.

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.

DPP: What camera and lighting equipment are you working with to create these photos?
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