Chris Crisman Photography

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Some images come together quickly while others take their time, changing and developing over weeks and months to be fully realized. Our hot air balloon photo definitely falls into the latter category; a photo that has been on Chris’s mind for quite some time and one that the team has been actively chasing since January of this year.

As with many great (or terrible) stories, this one starts in Las Vegas. In January of this year, we decided to finally pursue bringing Chris’s vision for a dynamic hot air balloon portrait to life – after some research and  a few phone calls, we were booked for the weekend with special aerial access at a small hot air balloon festival in Mesquite NV, only a few hours north of Las Vegas. As far as we were concerned, this was our chance to shoot a sky full of balloons – the perfect background for this photo.

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That weekend in Mesquite, our team learned a lot about the world of hot air ballooning. We learned tons of information on balloons, safety regulations, wind and weather patterns, proper chasing techniques – the list of ballooning lingo goes on.

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Unfortunately, despite all this newfound knowledge, one thing we most definitely did not do though, was fly in a hot air balloon. After two mornings of 5:00am call times in the middle of the desert, we left Nevada empty handed due to high winds and unsafe flying conditions; it was a bust (despite and voodoo or magical efforts Chris may be making in the photo above… the wind was just not on our side).

Did we give up? Of course not. As soon as we landed back in Philadelphia, we were on the search for the next balloon festival we could line up.

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In the meantime, we were also searching for a truly amazing landscape to serve as the backdrop for this photo. We knew the perspective needed to be shot from the sky, so what did we do? Made sure we were carrying our cameras with us on almost every flight. It just so happened that a seaplane flight in Alaska provided the appropriately epic landscape we were looking for

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Finally in August we set our sights on a huge festival in New Jersey – flying up with dozens of balloons and shooting the whole time, we captured hundreds of photos from all angles. After discussing and sketching and planning the image for months, we all had a pretty good idea of the pieces we needed to shoot, but once the balloons all took off, it was honestly a bit of a free-for-all to shoot as much as we could. We’ve learned that hot air balloons are not exactly the most predictable type of vehicle.

cc2015025 - Balloon talent

cc2015025 - Balloon talent

cc2015025 - Balloon talent

Last but not least, all we needed were our models, and of course another hot air balloon to shoot them in. Surprisingly enough, this may have been the easiest part of the photo. We worked with Carter County Flights, a small family owned company local to Philadelphia to help us achieve the final piece to this photographic puzzle. All that was left to find two great models, dress them and shoot a few photos.

It may have taken almost a year to come together, but we’re so happy with this image – it’s not always applicable, but in this case the final product is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

When it’s all said and done, we owe a big thank you to everyone who helped bring this image to life: The fine folks at the Casablanca Resort in Mesquite NV, everyone at the NJ Festival of Ballooning, the various members of our team who traveled, assisted, or helped shoot parts of this image, and of course our very talented models from Reinhard Philadelphia. Thanks all!

Questions? Comments? let us know your thoughts below or @crismanphoto and /crismanphoto!

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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.

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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!

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