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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Michael Crichton: Kinetic Still Life

Graphic, minimalist and having a penchant for deconstruction, Michael Crichton transforms the mundane into something unexpected


This Article Features Photo Zoom

"I'm fascinated by the possibility of a narrative in my subject matter," says Crichton. "Having an idea in your head about where you want to go and what your image will look like is where we start. That's where planning and forethought comes in." Crichton's masterful approach to product photography combines a number of design elements in his explorations of line, shape, color and texture. A particularly keen sense of humor is also plainly evident throughout his body of work.


"There's something liberating about throwing breakfast or a bologna sandwich across the room," he says. "For example, the flying coffee and donut shot was done by actually tipping a coffee cup onto a donut. We wanted realistic shadows, so it had to be shot on the set with real shadows. The coffee 'lick' was real, and the result of many, many tries. The thrown creamers and sugar cubes were shot separately on the same set and added in digitally later to control where we wanted them in the composition."

The still life, by definition, is fundamentally static. In Crichton's images, he conveys a sense of kinetic energy that's a real challenge to pull off. Spilling coffee and flying sugar cubes can look contrived, but Crichton succeeds, at least in part because he's not just adding an element of motion, but creating a deconstruction of the subject. Look at the photograph of the egg on the opening spread of this article. This is the kind of photograph that could be used to illustrate Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine. Crichton isn't so much spilling things as breaking them apart and breaking them down into the fundamental elements.

"I think it's the narrative in our images that appeals to our clients," he explains about the impact that his truly different body of work has made in the often-homogenous world of advertising. His unique vision may be avant-garde when compared to many other product photographers, but this same quality also attracts new campaigns.

"A client will approach you based on an idea that they have and an image or body of work they have seen of yours," he adds. "The best projects are when a client has come to you because of your style or a specific image in your portfolio. That's the starting point. Then it becomes about ideas, what you can bring to the project and to a collaboration. The best images always happen with great collaboration!"

"I love to shoot with really loud music in the studio," Crichton says, "client permitting, of course." He also thanks his wife Leigh MacMillan, who he considers to be an indispensable creative partner and a co-collaborator on all of his projects.

When asked if he has any inspiring words for young photographers, Crichton has fairly practical suggestions. "Work harder than you ever have," he says, "and shoot what you love. If you aren't being paid to shoot what you love, then shoot it for yourself—to keep you sane, to keep your vision and to keep you engaged."

Crichton adds that it's absolutely vital to understand the business aspects of photography. "It is a business, after all," he says.

You can see more of Michael Crichton's work at www.michaelcrichtonphoto.com.

 

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