Personal Work: Hot Air Balloons


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.



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.



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.



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



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!

Tech Post: Canon 5D Mark III, 5Ds, and PhaseOne IQ160 Head-to-Head


Hi everyone!

So we just recently received a new Canon 5Ds. It’s been a long wait since we pre-ordered, but it’s finally here so we decided to see how it looked side by side with our trusty 5D Mark III and our somewhat finicky IQ 160 Phase One back. Below are some comparisons of Chris’ pearly blues from ISO ranges 100-800.

This is just our quick look at the cameras side by side to get a idea of what the new canon is all about. It’s by no means an in depth technical review… We’re not exactly the most technical photo crew on the planet and we’re not hoping to be so either.

What we’ve noticed between the cameras is that the 5Ds files have a bit more contrast than the 5D3. The 5D3 handles higher ISO’s a little better than the 5Ds but that was expected with the cramming of more pixels into the sensor. The 5Ds is very close in sharpness to the IQ160 but we feel the IQ160 beats it just barely. In terms of ISO, the IQ160 is really not great above ISO 200, and even though we rarely shoot above 800, the 5Ds will be able to cover us in that department as well as having an actually functioning auto focus system.

I’m sorry medium format cameras, but you guys just cant keep up against massive multi-point AF arrays. I can see us moving away from the IQ160 for these reasons alone, but then again it could open the door for buying an even larger medium format back in the future.

Take a look at the images below.  We’d love to hear your take on all of this as well – let us know in the comments!


Click the images to see them at 100%.

ISO 100 test between Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 5DS, and PhaseOne IQ160.
ISO 100 test between Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 5DS, and PhaseOne IQ160.
ISO 200 test between Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 5DS, and PhaseOne IQ160.
ISO 200 test between Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 5DS, and PhaseOne IQ160.
ISO 400 test between Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 5DS, and PhaseOne IQ160.
ISO 400 test between Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 5DS, and PhaseOne IQ160.
ISO 800 test between Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 5DS, and PhaseOne IQ160.
ISO 800 test between Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 5DS, and PhaseOne IQ160.

Wired UK: Game Your Brain

chris crisman wired uk brain researchers adam gazzaley Michael M

When the call came in from our editors at Wired UK, we knew we were in for a good shoot. Fly out to the west coast and photograph three of the most important scientists researching ways to challenge and expand your brain – how could we say no? Although this shoot literally flew by – traveling from home base in Philadelphia to San Fransisico, San Diego, back to San Fran, and all back to Philly in just over 72 hours – we met incredible subjects working on the cutting edge of technology and worked with them to make amazing photos.

Want to see the results and read our story of how it all came together? Keep on reading…


Nature Conservancy: Escalante Gear – Dynalite XP-800

chris crisman dynalite xp800

As soon as our Escalante assignment for The Nature Conservancy booked, the first call I made was to our friends over at Dynalite. We knew they were working on an ultralight Battery & Sine Wave Inverter that could power their strobes and I couldn’t think of better terrain for a field test than hiking through southern Utah.

When I explained our shoot to our good buddy at the company Jim Morton, I remember asking what kind of advice he had for the type of field test we were about to put their battery unit through. His response was exactly what we were hoping for: “…nobody has ever done that before…” Perfect – time to take this piece of gear for a test drive. How did we fare? Keep reading to find out…


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!

Tech Post – Backup & Archiving

chris crisman tech post storage backup archiving

Photography is our business. Everything that we do furthers the common goal of making photos – it’s how we are wired and I can’t imagine that changing anytime soon. It’s an amazing and unique position to be able to inspire and excite by creating and executing our creative vision. We take our creative process very seriously; we derive our livelihood off of our ability to make photos.

An equally serious and important process is how we process and archive the images we make. There’s no doubt that in most cases, celluloid has been replaced by megabytes, but no matter the medium, when you make your living making images, you need know that those photos are safe and secure. How do we do it? Keep reading for the breakdown of how we manage it all, from capture to archive…


Tech Post – Macbook Upgrade

chris crisman photographer tech post laptop upgrade

When it comes to upgrading a core piece of technology for the studio, we have two essential criteria we need to think about. First, we shoot a helluva lot of photos. Second, we’re on the road most of the year. With these key factors in mind, we need a laptop that can handle whatever we throw at it. Our macbooks need to be both processing powerhouses and jam packed with as much storage as we can fit.

Monday we might be shooting tethered in studio in NYC and Tuesday we’ll be out in the deserts of New Mexico – we never really know what shoot scenarios to expect so we have to plan for anything. Our newest piece of technology looks like a standard Macbook Pro on the outside, but under the hood is where things get a bit different. Keep reading for the breakdown of our new, ridiculously fast laptop…