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How did you get started in photography? For the first half of my life, I was an athlete. Specifically, my passion was throwing the javelin. My skills at throwing a stick helped get me into the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Initially, I thought I was fated to slog through a premed program, so it was quite a relief when I was introduced to photography in a photography 101 class in the fall of 1999. From that point on, I lived in the darkroom. I was really interested in analog image manipulation. My prints never looked like my film, and that was something that fueled my interest.

Digital was just starting to dominate the scene right when I graduated in 2003. It was a great time to be relatively broke with very few responsibilities. I had a ton of time to learn how to create my own palette and make Photoshop work for what I wanted to create.

Is it important for photographers to work in motion? I love getting outside my comfort zone in the creative process. That being said, that comfort zone is certainly shrinking. The notion that a photographer would be hired just to create a few still images for one campaign is slowly fading. Photographers have to be more flexible than ever.

These days, every photographer has to have a few other strengths and skill sets to offer besides still image photography—maybe it’s directing or shooting video, shooting a library along with a campaign, creating the varied assets for all media, or all of these things. Whenever we bid on a new project, my team always offers a variety of different assets we can create within the same production parameters.

Tell us about your recent foray into creating animated photographs. For the past year, I’ve been seeing some momentum and demand from clients that want more video. Most people I know do everything in their power to skip ads, going so far as not watching the content they want to watch because they would have to sit through a :15 to :30 advertisement, and I just see so much of the same work in web videos. So the story and its brand association really could be happening faster and with more subtlety. It’s also very hard to stand out in a crowd, and ownability is a big theme for me. That’s what my team and I are focusing on.

We’re very open to using any visual solution necessary to tell the story. We make still images move by mixing photography with analog effects, CGI, video footage and complex retouching. The output of these moving stills can be GIFs, Cinemagraphs, movie files and other media that is specific to the destination of where the visual will live. There really is so much content that can be derived from a production. We have very few boundaries, and that’s a great place to be when you are hired to create a visual solution. 
Photographers have to be more flexible than ever.

How do you bring imagination to your commercial work? Although I do enjoy working with celebrities and big name talent, I have always loved working with real people. My work is about developing the identity of the real heroes among us. The love and admiration that we have for those close to us in our lives escalates our impression of them. I love the idea that each one of us is a superhero to someone.

With my work, I feed off of deriving the heroic characteristics from stories of real people. When a project hits my inbox, my first thought is, “How much further can we take this?” and “What other ways can we execute the solution?”

One project that really comes to mind is the San Antonio Tourism project I worked on with Proof Advertising. Rob Story, the lead creative on the project, had an amazing vision for the world that he wanted to create. We had to shoot more than 100 people, places and things and make them work in four different print campaigns. Simultaneously, the images had to be built with completely separate layers in Photoshop since they would also become massive web-based interactive pieces.

There were plenty of challenges with this project, but a large one was making the normal, everyday heroes stand out in the images amongst the complexities of the environment, which included dancing bears, famous musicians, celebrated athletes and historical figures. All the while, we were also shooting video to make the entire piece one huge Cinemagraph. It was an amazing challenge that yielded a huge success.

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Throw the traditional rules of who’s wearing which hat out the door. You really need to be comfortable with constant flux on projects and ever-constraining expectations from clients.

For people just coming into the industry, be talented in a number of disciplines, and be exceptional in at least one of those. I hope that creatives and clients alike still love the idea of creating work that stands out, not work that blends in.
Chris Crisman is an internationally recognized commercial photographer. Crisman was born and raised in Titusville, Pennsylvania, the town that gave birth to the American oil industry. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and his work has been recognized by prestigious trade organizations such as Communication Arts, Lürzer’s Archive, American Photography, Photo District News, Graphis and the International Photography Awards. Some of his clients include Shell Oil Company, Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola and Allstate.

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