This commercial photographer spotlight features Chris Sanders. Sander’s lifestyle and travel work developed out of a film background. His client list includes publications such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Esquire and Conde Nast Traveler as well as companies such as Bank of America, Microsoft, Reebok and Starwood Hotels. He lives and works from New York City.
How did you begin your journey as a professional photographer?
I have been taking photos since I was twelve years old. I didn’t go to school for Photography, I majored in Film and Broadcasting. When I graduated, I did the usual ‘film set PA stuff’ and took photos on the side. I liked the intimacy of photography. At that time, I could easily experiment with it without having to drag around a huge film crew and burning through reels of film. My first break happened when I was supposed to leave to shoot model tests in Milan, a New York Ad Agency called asking me to shoot a national campaign for one of their clients. That led to more work and an editorial spread for GQ Magazine. Since then, I’ve been established in New York.
Take us through an average day or week. What’s your routine, or non-routine?
There is no routine. Routines are boring, if I’m shooting; I’m off to location, or to the airport. If I’m not shooting I’m at my office on 28th street with windows over looking old New York rusted water towers and gritty fire escapes. I’m surrounded by my things, sketchbooks, test shots, inspiration wall, and worktable. I use them to put together my personal shots. It’s also a great place to have castings and stylist meetings for potential projects.
How do you find inspiration? What’s driving you now?
Inspiration comes from looking. I watch movies, watch people on the subway, read books and look at magazines. I’ve found that trying to “think” of an idea doesn’t always work. You can research all you want but at the end of the day, your best idea usually pops in your head as you walk down the street or while you’re in the shower. Here’s my work order when dealing with a photo ‘problem.’
Identify the problem
Research and think hard about the solutions
RELAX (and forget the above)
Something will pop
Work on that
How do you draw out the energy and “realness” factor in your lifestyle work?
I’ve always worked with talent that can act. I discuss characters I want to create with my actors, give them a scene to play, block out the action then let it go. I call it “building the box.” Inside of the box, we place all the elements we need to create photos like the talent, wardrobe, lighting, etc. Then, we let it happen and prepare to capture it or manipulate it to make it just right. This brings a realistic approach to the photos especially when creating relationship images.
What do you look for when casting talent?
I need talent that is comfortable and confident. Actors who are willing to open up and take risks, to ad-lib a scenario and react to the others around them. People are most beautiful when they are honest.
You traveled for four months around the globe for Starwood hotels. What did you learn from the experience?
Planning can only take you so far. You can think of everything but in the end you have to work with whatever you are dealt with in a situation. Also, I really enjoyed walking into a new hotel and figuring out what the “wow” factor is. When scouting, I take quick shots or make notes of what struck me about the location. I find that if you linger too long in a location it can dull your sense of what really rocked you when you first came in.
What goes into putting together a professional portfolio that art buyers and photo editors want to see?
Only your best photos should be in here. Don’t put anything in just because it will sell. You have to be true to yourself. Put in what you want to shoot. That way when someone hires you from your book, you are getting a job you love. Also ask the opinion of people you trust and who have a good eye. Many times, I am too close to my photos and I am attached to the memories associated with creating the image. I have some very talented people I receive feed back from. I value their opinions for that outside perspective I cannot offer myself.
How has video played a role for you in the past few years? Where do you see it growing in the future?
I see it becoming a big part of my future. I have always run my still shoots like small-scale video productions. The transition from still to video has been very easy for me. I love exploring an emotion or action with a sequence of footage. Video allows me to gradually build to the final pay off. With still photos, this is not the case. You have to get the whole situation in one shot. I also enjoy exploring sound, which is very important with video.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to people looking to turn their photographic hobby into a career?
You have to be willing to drop everything for your photos. You have to have a passion for what you do. This is not a 9 to 5 thing; you have to want to do it more than anything else. Do you stay up late at night thinking of photos? Do you get ‘high’ from taking a great photo? Are you willing to push yourself to do your very best for a photo? You have to have these feelings before you can think about being a professional.