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Crash Taylor interviews Ben Chrisman


Hope all is well everybody and life is good. I just returned a few hours ago from a much needed break in Marbella, Spain. My wife and I had an awesome time visiting the in-laws and Bruno & Ben, our rescued dogs. It's now time to get pumped up for the winter weddings, with the first one being on Friday at Woodborough Hall.

This week I introduce Ben Chrisman. All I have to say about Ben, is that his photography ROCKS!  There are only a handful of wedding photographers that truly inspire me and Ben is definitely one of them. I mostly find my photographic inspiration in other areas of photography which I then apply to my weddings. But Ben is definitely a photographer whose work pushes the boundaries of our profession to create images that are emotional, edgy, original, and most of all capture a unique moment in time.

Hi Ben,

Tell us a little bit about yourself. I live in San Francisco, but travel around the US and outside the country for most of my weddings. In 2007, the Wedding Photojournalist Association ranked me as its Photographer of the Year. In 2008, American Photo Magazine named me as one of the Top 10 wedding photographers in the world.

Where is home? San Francisco, California

Did you go to school to study photography? I went to New Mexico State University and studied photojournalism.

How long have you been a photographer? I knew I wanted to be a photographer when I was 8 years old, but I seriously started shooting in college for the school newspaper.

How would you describe your style? I try to bring an artful approach to documentary photography.

Some favourite wedding photos you have taken recently?

How many weddings do you average per year? About 35

What type of cameras do you shoot with? Canon 5Ds

What is your favourite photography accessory, other than your camera? My 35 1.4 lens.

If you had to choose one lens which one would it be and why? My 35. I could go the rest of my life and only use that lens. It’s perfect for the way I see everything.

What is your favourite computer/editing accessory, other than your computer? I have been using Photo Mechanic (www.camerabits.com) for about 8 years, and editing would be a nightmare without it.

What is your most used Photoshop tool, plug-in, action set etc…? I basically just use the Boutwells’ Totally Rad Actions.

How important is Photoshop (post processing) in your final images? I try not to use much Photoshop in my images, beyond basic color correction. But the Totally Rad Actions really help give the photos some extra life since digital photos by nature are a little flat.

Are you a Mac or PC lover? Mac.

What piece of equipment would you most like to get but don’t have yet? I would love to get the new 5D MKII when it comes out soon.

What’s the best part of being a photographer? I have always wanted to travel and meet new people as a way of life, and being a photographer is a great way to do that.

How do you keep yourself motivated and your photography fresh? For inspiration, I always look to photographers outside the wedding world like James Nachtwey and Joachim Ladefoged. They always drive me to be a better photographer.

What has been your most memorable assignment and why? The best photographic experience of my life was covering the tsunami of Southeast Asia in 2005 for two months. I had never experienced an event that important and it changed my life completely, from a personal aspect to a photographic one. I came out of that trip a different person, with a much more humble outlook on our short time here.

If you could shoot a wedding with someone who would it be and why? Probably Joachim Ladefoged because I would love to see how he would kick my ass with color and compositions.

Where would be your dream destination wedding? Afghanistan would be an interesting place for me to explore with a bride and groom.

Who or what inspires you in your personal life and work? Always searching for a new way to see the world is what motivates me to continue taking pictures.

A website and/or blog you visit often? Viiphoto.com and magnumphotos.com

The hardest part of your job? Family group portraits.

What advice do you have for photographers just starting out? Being able to have your own vision is the most important part of starting a photography business. Because without that, you’re just part of the herd.

Things you say or do to put your clients at ease in front of the camera? I really just treat my clients like my friends. I’m not a salesman, so I don’t try to give anyone a sales pitch. Once people know that you are sincere, and that you genuinely care about them, they naturally open up to you.

The first photographer that comes to your mind and why? James Nachtwey. I always have his voice in the back of my mind telling me how I should approach a photograph.

A wedding photographer who inspires you? Brett Butterstein

The last workshop or seminar you attended and why? The only workshop I have ever attended as a student was one with Gary Knight, Antonin Kratochvil and James Nachtwey in Cambodia in 2005. There I relearned how to be a photographer, from how to see light to what lenses to use to how to approach a story. And earlier this year I helped photograph the Foundation Workshop in Texas. That workshop is designed to help wedding photographers learn how to shoot as a photojournalist by giving them stories like a newspaper photographer would have. Even though I wasn't an official participant there, I still learned a lot just by listening to the critiques and watching how others worked.

One way you market your business? Being nice to people. Because when people like you, they will naturally promote you.

If not a photographer you would have been? I would have probably tried to be in a rock band.

Do you make time for personal photographic work? If so, what do you enjoy photographing and do you have an image you can share with us? Since my background is in journalism, I have always been inspired to shoot documentary projects on social issues. The last three years have been completely taken up with weddings, but I hope to move back into personal projects soon. The tsunami project was done all on my own, and I hope to get to where I can shoot those types of stories again, but this time without having to worry about where the photos will run afterwards and where the paycheck will come from.

If you could be invisible for one day with your camera... I wouldn’t take a picture because it would seem too creepy. But it would be fun to look around for a while. After all, photographers are natural voyeurs.

Photographing penguins in the Antarctic, a fashion shoot for Vogue in Paris or the wedding of Brad and Angelina? I think I would pass on all three because I have a hard time in cold weather, I don’t like fashion photography too much and being a part of Brad and Angelina’s wedding would probably stress me out.

London, Japan or the Bahamas with a Hasselblad H3DII-50 and Kate Moss? Japan because I haven’t ever been there.

Is there anybody, living or dead you would love to capture on film and why? I would love to go back during the Civil War and see everyone there.

What talent would you most like to have? If being able to fly counts as a talent, that would be it.

Something you’re still learning? How to be compassionate and nonjudgemental.

What do you love to indulge in? Photographing people to the point where I move past being aware of myself.

Something that is overrated? Money.

Something you’re saving up for? Living cheaply outside the United States.

If you could have lunch with anyone who is famous who would it be? Right now, I would have to say Barack Obama because he has so much potential to help so many people in the near future.

Where you'll find me on a Friday night at 9 p.m.? Packing my camera bags.

Your favourite film of all time? I mostly shot Neopan 400 in the newspaper days, and that was always a good film for me.

First thing you would do if you won the lottery? Move to Mexico or Thailand.

Three words that describe you. Quiet, observant and lucky

What would you like to be doing in 5 years from now? Shooting a mix of weddings and documentary stories.

And the last question, if you had one wish…To give more to others and be less selfish, because if I can’t do that myself I shouldn’t expect anyone else to either.

Oh one more, if someone said ‘how can I be the next Ben Chrisman?’ What would you say? I’ll let them know in about 40 years when I know what that means myself.

Your readers can find out more about me:

Website: www.benchrisman.com

Blog: www.benchrismanblog.com