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Chris Sanders – Photographer Spotlight

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.

Where can we hear from you or see more of your work?

As always, my website www.chris-sanders.com plus my blog, www.talktalkblahblah.com depicts more in the life of Sanders.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

  • Mei Teng

    Beautiful work. I love the 4th photo.

  • Dave

    Pretty boring images

  • Jonathon

    I may be new to photography, but composition wise didn’t he screw up the second picture? The top of her head is missing

  • raghavendra

    Self motivation and self help is the best in all aspects!

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/search/label/animal

  • http://digital-photography-school.com/ Darren Rowse

    dave – feel free to showcase some of your own work if you have something constructive to contribute.

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    Hi

    Wonderful article – I often get the shakes when I am on Location because I know this are happening. I play Hockey and get Butterflies before each game…same with a great shoot!

    I am excited about one which is going to happen in San Diego….Bikers!

    Here is a practice shot

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/lets-roll/

  • http://CustomPinoyRides.com THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com

    Wow. Great shots! It’s my dream to become a commercial photographer. The problem is that here in my country, there has been a decline in demand for commercial automotive photography, which is my forte.

    I do automotive photography for http://CustomPinoyRides.com, and a lot of people say that I am really good at it.

    The decline has been caused by the globalization of car models, where there are now rarely any variations between models released anywhere in the world, except maybe for them being either right or left hand drive. So it is now easy for local distributors to get photos from the manufacturers themselves.

    But your post right here somewhat gives me an idea – focusing on the “lifestyle” aspect of automotive photography might provide a twist in my fate. I’ll try following your advice above on how to find inspiration and draw out the “realness” factor. Let’s see how it goes. Maybe I’ll do a guest blog here to show my journey? Let’s see…

  • Maximo Almonte

    Great work. His works seem similar to those you see in abercrombie posters, and other teen lifestyles.

  • Suraj Majumdar

    Good pics!
    Anyways, I’m now studying at high school and I’m very keen in making photography as a career option.
    Can anyone guide me about this??

  • ccting

    Wow, i love the 1st pic as I know it is not easy to take photo in a car!

  • susan

    #3 and #4 are my top favs! @jonathon the 1st rule of photography is.. there are no rules. Only guidelines :)

  • Kemmy

    Hi Chris,

    Great pictures!!!!!

    Wow!!!!!!! I’m particulalry inspired by the horizon in the 6th picture. It’s my kind of photography. You did a good job on the write up as well.

    Keep it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Kemmy

  • Maximillanvon

    Technically the photographs are fine but I’m sorry to say that I find the content fairly uninspiring, the first one is obviously staged and lacks any spontaneity – the portraits look just like what any amateur would take when given a camera as a present. I like the beach huts but it needs cropping or something to compensate for the unnatural right hand side. The boy diving just looks like a holiday photograph and the photograph of the beds is can only be described as uninteresting, uneven and unnecessary. I appreciate good photographs and I’ve seen some brilliant, inspiring ones on some of the photo-sharing sites. I suppose the one thing that is encouraging is that this photographer is a professional so it gives the rest of us hope. I wish him well but I won’t be rushing to look at his next offerings.

  • The Guig

    I love that Chris gets to do what he loves – most enviable – and agree with the principle of only showing what you want to shoot or doing what makes you feel good. However, I suspect as with any creative profession, progression in it may require that part of the “be prepared to do anything” might involve having to do stuff you’d rather not. Same with acting, writing and so on. Ultimately it’d be amazing to only do what you choose to do, but pretty much everything comes with industry requirements now (sadly) so managing the expectations of young photographers with career aspirations might be wise.
    One of the advantages of being an “amateur” is having total control over what I shoot and what I do with the results and i think that’s what keeps me at peace with myself and in love with photography when I start wishing it was my job.
    And I like his work :0)

Some older comments

  • The Guig

    February 3, 2012 11:38 pm

    I love that Chris gets to do what he loves - most enviable - and agree with the principle of only showing what you want to shoot or doing what makes you feel good. However, I suspect as with any creative profession, progression in it may require that part of the "be prepared to do anything" might involve having to do stuff you'd rather not. Same with acting, writing and so on. Ultimately it'd be amazing to only do what you choose to do, but pretty much everything comes with industry requirements now (sadly) so managing the expectations of young photographers with career aspirations might be wise.
    One of the advantages of being an "amateur" is having total control over what I shoot and what I do with the results and i think that's what keeps me at peace with myself and in love with photography when I start wishing it was my job.
    And I like his work :0)

  • Maximillanvon

    February 3, 2012 04:00 am

    Technically the photographs are fine but I'm sorry to say that I find the content fairly uninspiring, the first one is obviously staged and lacks any spontaneity - the portraits look just like what any amateur would take when given a camera as a present. I like the beach huts but it needs cropping or something to compensate for the unnatural right hand side. The boy diving just looks like a holiday photograph and the photograph of the beds is can only be described as uninteresting, uneven and unnecessary. I appreciate good photographs and I've seen some brilliant, inspiring ones on some of the photo-sharing sites. I suppose the one thing that is encouraging is that this photographer is a professional so it gives the rest of us hope. I wish him well but I won't be rushing to look at his next offerings.

  • Kemmy

    February 3, 2012 01:21 am

    Hi Chris,

    Great pictures!!!!!

    Wow!!!!!!! I'm particulalry inspired by the horizon in the 6th picture. It's my kind of photography. You did a good job on the write up as well.

    Keep it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Kemmy

  • susan

    February 2, 2012 05:49 pm

    #3 and #4 are my top favs! @jonathon the 1st rule of photography is.. there are no rules. Only guidelines :)

  • ccting

    February 2, 2012 11:54 am

    Wow, i love the 1st pic as I know it is not easy to take photo in a car!

  • Suraj Majumdar

    February 2, 2012 05:07 am

    Good pics!
    Anyways, I'm now studying at high school and I'm very keen in making photography as a career option.
    Can anyone guide me about this??

  • Maximo Almonte

    February 2, 2012 03:43 am

    Great work. His works seem similar to those you see in abercrombie posters, and other teen lifestyles.

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com

    February 1, 2012 10:25 pm

    Wow. Great shots! It's my dream to become a commercial photographer. The problem is that here in my country, there has been a decline in demand for commercial automotive photography, which is my forte.

    I do automotive photography for http://CustomPinoyRides.com, and a lot of people say that I am really good at it.

    The decline has been caused by the globalization of car models, where there are now rarely any variations between models released anywhere in the world, except maybe for them being either right or left hand drive. So it is now easy for local distributors to get photos from the manufacturers themselves.

    But your post right here somewhat gives me an idea - focusing on the "lifestyle" aspect of automotive photography might provide a twist in my fate. I'll try following your advice above on how to find inspiration and draw out the "realness" factor. Let's see how it goes. Maybe I'll do a guest blog here to show my journey? Let's see...

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    February 1, 2012 06:45 pm

    Hi

    Wonderful article - I often get the shakes when I am on Location because I know this are happening. I play Hockey and get Butterflies before each game...same with a great shoot!

    I am excited about one which is going to happen in San Diego....Bikers!

    Here is a practice shot

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/lets-roll/

  • Darren Rowse

    February 1, 2012 02:09 pm

    dave - feel free to showcase some of your own work if you have something constructive to contribute.

  • raghavendra

    February 1, 2012 02:02 pm

    Self motivation and self help is the best in all aspects!

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.in/search/label/animal

  • Jonathon

    February 1, 2012 01:52 pm

    I may be new to photography, but composition wise didn't he screw up the second picture? The top of her head is missing

  • Dave

    February 1, 2012 12:23 pm

    Pretty boring images

  • Mei Teng

    February 1, 2012 11:52 am

    Beautiful work. I love the 4th photo.

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