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.

New Conceptual Portrait: Birdman

chris crisman personal conceptual portrait crows piano

This spring has afforded us the opportunity to make a handful of new conceptual portraits. You may remember our Wildman portrait from a few weeks ago, and our Gardener we released last week – today we are excited to share the latest fantastical, conceptual environmental portrait: Birdman. Born as a combination of ideas, this latest portrait still amazes me in the way it came together – a unique combination of serendipitous finds and discoveries, spread out over the course of two years.

Yes, that is a strange way to describe the making of a photo, but bear with me and keep reading for the full explanation…


New Conceptual Portrait: The Gardener

chris crisman conceptual portrait gardener

Another week down and another brand new conceptual portrait. The past few weeks have afforded us some time to really develope and create a handful of new images and we’re excited to be sharing one of these today -a s always, head on over to to see the image in full screen glory!

Stay tuned for the story of how this shot came together – from it’s creation as a vision in Chris’s mind to fruition as a final composite, we’ll be taking a look at what it’s like to create a truly imagined and unique composition like this photo.

What would you like to know about this new image? Any questions? let us know your thoughts below or @crismanphoto and /crismanphoto!

Advertising Campaign: American Standard DXV

chris crisman american standard dxv advertising

From Shakespeare to Hemingway to… plumbing? When we were approached by the folks at 22 Squared to create and shoot a new campaign for their cleint American Standard, we were immediately excited at the opportunity ahead of us. The goal: bring to life four unique concepts each rooted in a piece of classic literature that focused on the four different eras of design referenced by the new American Standard DXV kitchen and bathroom fixtures. The process: build everything from scratch, working from the ground up to create truly unique worlds for these products and models to exist in.

So how did these ads come together? Let’s take a look at what goes into building, lighting and creating these imaginary worlds.


Alan Cumming Portaits

chris crisman alan cumming photo portrait copyright Chris Crisman 2014

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to meet and photograph the actor, singer, and artist Alan Cumming. He was an incredible and emotive subject – we loved working with him and the photos we captured. Thank you again to Alan and all of his team who made this possible. Enjoy!

chris crisman alan cumming photo portrait  copyright Chris Crisman 2014

chris crisman alan cumming photo portrait  copyright Chris Crisman 2014

chris crisman alan cumming photo portrait  copyright Chris Crisman 2014

chris crisman alan cumming photo portrait copyright Chris Crisman 2014

chris crisman alan cumming photo portrait copyright Chris Crisman 2014

Questions? Comments? Let us know below or @crismanphoto and /crismanphoto!

Behind the Scenes: Wildman

chris crisman conceptual portrait wilderness

What do you do when your studio manager/assistant/blogger (extraordinaire) goes on a well-earned vacation?

You call me. You also cross your fingers that everything is still standing by the end of the week. I’m only half kidding here; Robert has some pretty big shoes to fill, however temporarily. It’s a tough job! Luckily for me, these guys are so well prepared that I actually would have been hard pressed to mess it up. Still, no week around here is complete without a few surprises. Mine came in the form of a few rare free days in our schedule. Not being ones to waste time, we took the opportunity to produce an in-house conceptual portrait, known now as Wildman. With Chris on a whirlwind trip to shoot a particular a poppy field, I had some calls to make from the studio. For a while now, he’s had the idea for Wildman percolating. We knew his domain: The beautiful and ethereal Hoh Rainforest, in the Olympic National Park. We knew his character: An oracle of the woods. Someone who felt like equal parts Sea Captain, Yoda, and Santa Claus. Of course, we already had just the guy (I wasn’t kidding about the preparedness thing. As spur of the moment as the actual shoot may have seemed, even this detail was already taken care of for me.) Our model K.J. was a bonafide Pennsylvania man-of-the-woods. Or at least he introduces himself that way. I would know, as I was the one who called him to come in. To give you an idea of how that went:

“Do you want me to bring my skull collection with me?” Um, yes.

“How about an axe? Single or double bit?” Yes! Both!

“I also have this walking stick that I made…” Are you kidding me?!

Any day you talk a woodsman into bringing his collection of forest stuff into work is a good day, in my books.

chris crisman personal conceptual portait wildman

Things were coming together, but we still needed someone to handle the finer details of creating a convincing woodsman: Our makeup and hair stylist. With a few calls and some help from friends, we found Vanessa. Not only can she braid hair into feathers and repurpose wig bits into beard parts, but she also happens to collect vintage furs. Details, people. We had some workable pieces on hand, but Vanessa called in a favor and had some of her collection brought in. Turns out, they were perfect for what we needed. Transformation complete!

chris crisman personal conceptual portait wildman

chris crisman personal conceptual portait wildman

As easy as these guys make it look to get the shot they need, I know that it’s because they have lots and lots of experience. Sometimes you have your talent and location in the same place, at the same time. Sometimes you don’t. There are nuances to capturing your subject in a studio and dropping them into the middle of the woods. Never underestimate the importance of choosing your background plate ahead of time. Unless you possess a god-like ability to control the sun, your background has a lot less latitude in terms of light, and so lighting your subject well really matters. The most convincing elements of a good shot should already exist straight out of camera.

chris crisman personal conceptual portait wildman

chris crisman personal conceptual portait wildman

Hey all, Robert here – just wanted to jump in and discuss the nuts and bolts of our shoot for a second. Having shot our background plate back in 2010 when Chris visited the Hoh Rainforest, the idea of shooting a wildman talent has been in the back of our minds for a while now. We knew that the lighting would need to match the contrast and shape we had in the background plate. With KJ in full costume, we used a gridded octabank as our key light to really focus and cut the light onto him and give us the look we needed. Since the background also had a natural back-lighting about it, we mimicked that with a soft hair-light to break our subject off ever so slightly. Enough from me though, I’ll pass this blog post back to Lindsey…

All that being said, you don’t just drag and drop and call it a day. There are tones to match, and hairs to mask. Forest-diffused daylight has a slim chance of being the exact same temperature as your studio lights. You can get pretty far along with the right shot, but the feeling you want to create really comes to life in post. Thankfully we had the talent of Taisya Kuzmenko and Picturebox Creative on-board to help bring it all together in post.

For my part, I had a great time being Robert’s understudy. I think I really lucked out with the projects at hand while I was there. Making the intangible tangible is certainly a process, but it’s a fun one.

We owe a big thanks to Lindsey for filling in while I was on vacation and for writing this awesome blog post. She did a great job filling in for me and you will most likely see more blog posts from here in the future.

We have more wild personal shoots underway in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to see what’s next. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts below or @crismanphoto and /crismanphoto!

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.