Four Years as a Studio Manager

Four years in, it’s hard not to repeat the same adages about what being a studio manager entails; long hours, tons of work, odd hours, unique experiences, and tons of miles on the road. All of these are truths about this job, but in a way, they only scratch the surface of what it all entails.

Every year that passes by allows me to pause and think about where I was exactly a year ago writing this blog post. In this particular instance, I think I was on a plane, in transit to the next shoot; exactly where I am now. This moment also proves me with the transcendental pause to really reflect on what the past 365 days have afforded me in terms of what this job means and what I do.


In a way, it’s like chasing a moving target. As soon as your skill set has you adequately equipped to handle any of the challenges on your plate, a curve-ball is thrown and you feel like you’re effectively back to square one. Granted this feeling only lasts for about 10 seconds (that’s all it is allowed to last for) but it still as the impact of pushing one out of their shell and forcing yourself to grow and evolve.

What I’ve really learned this year is about tearing down walls – it’s about taking care of whatever needs to get done regardless of wherever we are or whatever we’re doing. That may mean a lot more moments when I’m rushing off set to answer a phone call or reply to an email, but let’s be honest here, it’s the year 2014, what can’t be done when you’re shooting in the middle of goddamn nowhere or cruising down the highway at 85 mph in the vast expanse of nothing in southern Idaho.

In that same vein, I’ve learned that you can tear down the division between personal time and work in such a way that each facet is equally important and equally portioned in the much grander scheme of life – the result? A helluva lot less stress and the ability to afford more time to everything that’s not qualified as “studio managing” while still effectively steering the ship.


I find humor in the fact that my easiest days are spent building out and breaking down a few octabanks, there’s a certain zen-like calm that comes over me while I’m immersed in our gear. This feeling may never change; the best days are still those when we’re making pictures, however they may come.

Here’s to all of those days that have come to pass and every single day in the future. I have no doubt there are countless more ahead.

Studio Manager Meditation: Where Have my Shoes Been?

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.


Way back in 2010, one of the first things I did as an assistant and studio manger working for Chris was promptly wreck my Achilles Tendon. Blame it on vanity, or maybe just purely on stupidity, and take my advice when I say to never assist in Sperry Top-Siders (they don’t make great shoes for hauling photo gear).  Months of physical therapy later, I was stuck per doctors orders, with sneakers for the rest of my photo assisting days. Since the wound was still tender, I rounded out the year of 2010 in a pair of very sporty and very lame running shoes.

2011 was a new year and I knew that it required a new beginning in the footwear department. The Crisman team had arranged for an awesome expedition down to Florida to shoot a self-funded and self-produced lifestyle project, and I felt this was the prime opportunity to break out a new set of sneakers – not just any trainers, these would be my assisting shoes. These would be the sneakers to take me to Florida and well beyond.

Enter the Saucony Bullet. Certainly an athletic shoe, but with a touch of modesty. Supportive yet stylist – these were my compromise between a sensible shoe that would protect my feet and a style conscious decision. Damaged Achilles or no, as an assistant you spend a lot of time on your feet – you might as well be comfortable.

Starting in 2011 and lasting well beyond their expected or reasonable lifetime, these shoes grew to be a part of my assistant kit. The first item packed into my travel bag, as time went on and they began to wear and tear, my connection with my sneakers grew ever fonder. Beyond any reasonable lifespan, I pressed onward, refusing to let these shoes go.

In my tenure on the Crisman crew, these shoes coincided with a clear shift in our process – for lack of a better explanation, we hit the road. From 2011 onward, my Saucony’s and I have logged hundreds of thousands of miles, spanning cities, states, and countries. We’ve hit the north, south, east, west – deserts, tropics, great plains, and everywhere in between. It’s hard not to grow attached to the well worn companion that you trust to get you from point A to B.

Two years is a long tenure for a shoe and by  the fall of 2013 I knew it was time. The tread was bare, the fabric was soiled, the seams were splitting – sadly it was time to retire my trusty pair of assistant shoes. At that point, there was only one solid option in my mind for a replacement; same shoe, new color.

Six months out on my replacement pair, I can’t help but looks towards the future. Where will these new soles take me? What adventures lie ahead for myself and my trustworthy trainers? Only time will tell.

Nature Conservancy: Escalante Video Feature

Earlier this year we shared a handful of photos and stories from our experience shooting in the remote and beautiful Escalante region of Utah for The Nature Conservancy. In addition to the still photos, we captured a motion and interviewed key players in the conservation effort going on in the region. We were tasked with the unique job of with creating a video that not only highlighted the voices of the people in the region, but also starred the Escalante River and the ecosystem around it as a main character – one who the cast of characters we encountered are all trying to strengthen and preserve.

With Chris as director, the talented filmmaker Shea Roggio as our camera operator and yours truly running field audio, we were ready for anything and willing to capture whatever the Escalante had for us – and as usual we have the behind the scenes to prove it. Keep reading for more from our adventure…


Studio Manager Mediation: Presence

We work like crazy. As a studio manager/producer/assistant/blogger life very rarely slows down to the point where I can step back and reflect on it. When it does though, I find myself mulling over aspects of this job that might seem so inconsequential, but for me hold deeper meanings. I’ve decided to start this monthly series on the blog to take a minute and stop, reflect, and write about some of the aspects of being a studio manager that really impact me. These are my studio manager meditations.



Maybe I’m crazy, but more and more lately I feel like it is getting easier to lose oneself in the happenings of others. In other words, between all of the outlets on the internet and in social media, surfing, status updates, instragram photos, foursquare check-ins and tweets can infiltrate the day to day and fill in gaps in our daily to the point where the need to keep up-to-date digitally is outweighing what’s really happening around us. Photos and images play a huge part in this online sphere and being in this industry, we have a very deep connection to that content.

As creators of images, we make our living and we thrive creatively in the act of making, taking, and sharing pictures. On the best days at the job, we could be far from the studio, in an inspiring location working with special individuals to capture their spirit onto film. We are incredibly fortunate enough to travel far and wide all in the name of capturing images to be shared, sold, and disseminated to the population at large. A normal day at the office may take us to the wildest extremes of the earth, or in the company of celebrities, titans of business, or other equally awe-inspiring subjects. We are so fortunate to have access to this treasure trove of personal experiences – and to call it work – not to mention to be paid to have these experiences is a wonderful way to spend one’s days.

I can think of multiple times when I have been guilty of not being truly “in the moment” of the situations I’ve just described.  Is it more valuable to get the perfect instagram photo of an awe-inspiring landscape, or to just sit back for a moment and take in the view? This is something that I honestly am not sure of the answer. There’s certainly value in capturing and sharing the incredible experiences that this unique job affords us, but that process shouldn’t outweigh the inherent value of the experience.

The big question here is where does one draw the line? More specifically, where do we, as content creators draw that line? Should it fall in a different place than everyone else? Even though we derive value both in the inspirational and promotional sense from social media and all of these outlets for the dissemination of photography, are we allowed to fall victim to being sucked into it all too much? I’m sure that it varies from person to person, but more than ever for me it feels that the distinction between capturing a moment and being present for that moment is becoming blurred. In that sense, I am striving to remain present.

Nature Conservancy: Escalante Aerial Photography

Utah Escalante River Watershed Photography - NCM13021

A portion of our Escalante assignment for The Nature Conservancy took us to a place where we’ve never made pictures before, a place that afforded a truly unique and inspiring point of view, and a place where we really, really needed to make sure Chris didn’t drop the camera.

For the first time, the Crisman team took to the skies to shoot Aerial photography of southern Utah to capture visuals that would help show the changing landscape of the Escalante region as well as illustrate the problematic nature of the invasive species the folks on the ground are working so hard to eradicate. Keep reading for more stories and photos from 10,000 ft….


Tech Post: How Much Do We Shoot?

chris crisman tech post storage backup archiving

Quite the question, isn’t it? To be perfectly honest, it’s not one that we ask ourselves around here all that often – we tend to err on the other side of the coin and worry more about making pictures than worrying about the space they take up. Of everyone on our crew, I’m admittedly the most technically oriented (read: geekiest) so this is naturally a question I wanted to explore while working on a system-wide offsite backup for all of our files.

As I sat at my desk staring at the quantity of hard drives these files were filling, I took it upon myself to break things down a bit more and try and find the answer to how much we shoot, how we shoot it, and how it’s changing. The answers didn’t necessarily surprise me, but they weren’t exactly what I was expecting…

I should preface this discussion with the simple fact that this entire inventory occurs within the digital space, working in gigabytes and terabytes as opposed to rolls, sheets, binders and drawers of film. Chris’s professional career as a photographer began digitally and we’ve stuck to the format since 2004. Inherently, this has created a legacy of digital files, seemingly ever expanding as time goes on.

To add it all up, we’re working with just about 35TB of active storage (mirrored for a grand total of 70TB) and as much as I hate to say it, out of that active storage there is not a ton of free space. Only a few terabytes. So where the hell does all of that space go?

When I broke it down year by year and took a closer look at history, I did notice a few strange things. Obviously the numbers have increased over the years, but I was surprised to see huge growth from 2009-2010. What could have happened that our volume of files went from 750 gigabytes in 2009 to over 2 terabytes in 2010?

Initially this was puzzling, but there were a few key things that happened in this period of time that escalated the quantity and file size of what we’re shooting. Technology plays a huge factor into this – Chris bought our Phase One P45+ digital back at the end of 2008. Although we shoot with a mix of our Canon cameras and medium format system, there’s no question that adding these files increased our demand for storage.

The other factor wasn’t entirely clear until Chris and I were discussing the anomaly. 2008-2009 were years of recent economic crisis in the United States and as a result, Chris was shooting less. When things began to pickup in 2010, the difference was marked – more assignments, more shooting, and more files to store. Ever since the growth has followed a similar pattern of gradually increasing every year. I never thought that greater economic factors would influence the amount of storage we’d need to worry about, but there’s a first for everything.

Aside from actual file sizes of our captures, the scope of work and size of our the actual assignments we were shooting began to grow as well. As Chris’s career has develops, we’ve been continually working on bigger and better projects, shooting more and more for each assignment. Whether we’re on a high profile advertising shoot with a two dozen models, or off the grid shooting in the wilderness for a week, we’re certainly going to make a lot of photos – tons more than a one off portrait editorial assignment.

So what does this mean for the future? Essentially it means that we keep doing what we do – we make pictures and we store them. As we grow, our storage will simply need to grow to accommodate the demand. Our ears are to the ground listening for the next biggest hard drives or storage solutions, but the big idea here is that we’ll never limit the capabilities of what we can shoot and create by a factor of storing it all.

Are we crazy? Questions, comments? Let us know your thoughts below or @crismanphoto and /crismanphoto!