JRP: Please welcome Portrait Photographer Chris Sorensen to this “Spotlight” segment on JRP Blog. Thank you Chris for being so kind to join us.
Chris Sorensen: My pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.
JRP: Chris where do you call home? How did you get your start in photography, and is there any formal training in your background?
Chris Sorensen: I’m in New York City and the studio where I live and work is in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. I started in front of the camera as an actor and model and had the opportunity to work with some great photographers who inspired me to move behind the camera. I’m self taught. I bought a camera four years ago and started shooting my actor and model friends and starting reading all I could on the web. The great thing about digital is that once you buy the camera, practice is free. So I shot all I could to improve.
JRP: Why did you choose the genre of portrait photography?
Chris Sorensen: Well, coming from my background, it was what I was familiar with. But more importantly, I find people and the human face endlessly fascinating. I love trying to capture the essence of a person in an image.
JRP: Name for us some photographers that have impacted your work and why?
Chris Sorensen: Being self-taught, a large part of my ‘education’ has been studying the images of others, so there’s probably too many to list. My Fulton Street project owes a debt to Avedon’s In the American West. I love the simplicity in his work, stripping away all photographic pretense. It makes the images even more powerful. Showing people for who and how they are, warts and all. It’s beautiful. I love Irving Penn’s work for many of same reasons. And also Dan Winters, whose lighting is amazing. In his portraits, like Avedon and Penn, you feel like they go beneath the surface to who the person really is.
JRP: Do you work with a support staff or are you an independent artist?
Chris Sorensen: I’m an independent artist, though being a portrait photographer I have a network of makeup artists and hairstylists I work with on some shoots.
JRP: What type of camera equipment would we find in your camera bag or in the studio for a typical shoot?
Chris Sorensen: I shoot with a Canon 5DmkII. My favorite portrait lens is the Canon 100mmf2. And I shoot with the 70-200mmf4IS a lot, which is also great. The nice thing about the 100mm is the lens is smaller and less intimidating to your subject, great if you’re shooting someone who’s not used to being being in front of the camera. I use a Tamron 28-75mm and a Canon 35mm and 50mm when I’m shooting more lifestyle stuff. And the Fulton Street project is all shot with the 50mm.
I also have a Panasonic GF-1 with the 20mm pancake that I carry with me pretty much all the time and I’ve used it for some personal projects with the LVF1 viewfinder. I like viewfinders, not LCD screens for shooting. The image quality given the size is great, and the camera is a real joy to use.
JRP: What lighting equipment and modifiers do you favor and why?
Chris Sorensen: I have a Profoto Acute2 1200 kit and an AcuteB 600 kit. The quality of light is fantastic and the mount is the best. For big soft light I love the 60″ Photek Softlighter. For crisper light I love my beauty dish. I’ve modified a Speedotron dish with a Profoto mount and it’s probably my favorite light modifier. I also have a speedlight kit with a 580exII and a couple SB-80DXs that I’ll use on location sometimes. I’m very happy with my setup, but I don’t get too hung up on gear. They’re just tools. When I started shooting four years ago, I was using a Sunpak 333 speedlight I bought for $15. My current lights make things easier, but there’s very little that couldn’t be done with the Sunpak. And of course I love natural light. Probably half of what I shoot is natural light.
JRP: Please describe your digital work-flow and the software you use?
Chris Sorensen: I primarily use Adobe Lightroom. If I have a shoot with a ton of images, I’ll use Photo Mechanic to do the first pass on keep vs. reject since it’s faster than Lightroom for viewing. Then I’ll do the RAW processing and image cleanup in Lightroom. I don’t typically do major retouching so most of what I do can be done in Lightroom, but if there’s something that I can’t do in Lightroom, I’ll bring an image into Photoshop. I probably use Lightroom 90% of the time.
JRP: Do you personally print your images?
Chris Sorensen: No, living in New York I’m lucky to have Adorama here which prints quickly and reasonably with great quality.
JRP: How do you keep productive and retain your creative edge under the current economic conditions?
Chris Sorensen: For me, personal projects have been a great way to expand my skill-set, exercise my creativity and renew my passion for photography. And it always seems like clients and potential clients end up more interested in that unique kind of work than the work that may be similar to images they see all the time.
JRP: Are there any memorable images or shoots you could share with us? What made that image or shoot special?
Chris Sorensen: Without a doubt it’s been my Fulton Street project (http://www.chris-sorensen.com/fultonstreet). It’s a street portrait series documenting the changing face of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, my neighborhood. It’s been an amazing project because of the incredible people I’ve meet and the openness with which many have shared with a complete stranger.
For example, the man below was wearing wraparound sunglasses, so I asked if he could take them off for the shot. He said no, he’d just lost an eye to cancer and people didn’t react well to how he looked. After a couple shots I said that it wouldn’t bother me no matter how he looked and that I’d be honored to shoot him as he is. He thought for a second and then removed the glasses.
That same day I shot Lamott, a giant in a doo-rag and backwards baseball cap. After we shot, he told me I should have shot him across the street because he’d burned down a building there as a child. I asked if that was how he’d gotten the scars on his neck. No, his ex-girlfriend had thrown acid on him. So I asked if we could take a couple more shots in profile to show the scars better. I thought he was just going to turn to the side, but he surprised me by removing the doo-rag and hat, revealing much more extensive scarring than I imagined. And then he looked at me, this huge man with half his head melted away.
I’ve shot almost 300 people so far for the project; drug dealers and cops, the homeless and bankers, Catholic nuns and Muslims in hijabs. It’s been a wonderful experience and a great way to connect with the people in my community.
JRP: Name one dream subject you would love to photograph and why?
Chris Sorensen: Wow, so many people I’d love to shoot but if I have to choose one I’ll say Clint Eastwood. He’s iconic, plus “Unforgiven” is one of my favorite movies. Even more so it’s because as he’s gotten older, that face has become almost like Mount Rushmore. So much character.
JRP: Chris what has been the best advice given to you by another photographer?
Chris Sorensen: Shoot what you love. When I first started I was too often shooting what I thought I ‘should’ shoot or what people were paying me to shoot. Taking pictures instead of making the images I wanted to and that would hopefully lead to the work I wanted to be doing. It’s funny how now that I’ve been trying to do that more, the personal projects I’m most passionate about have been the best received of my work.
JRP: What advice would you like to share with other photographers?
Chris Sorensen: Beyond shooting what you love, I’d just say always be shooting. Waiting for the perfect moment or the brilliant idea leads to a lot of sitting around. If you’re out doing it, moments will arise, ideas will come.
JRP: Thank you Chris for sharing your thoughts and images with us. It has been a real pleasure.
Chris Sorensen: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and your readers.
JRP: To view more of Chris Sorensen’s photography please follow these links: