Taking a journalistic approach to weddings, photographer Ben Chrisman looks to the portable, easy-to-use Profoto A2 and Clic light modifiers to bring studio-quality lighting to any location.
Ben Chrisman doesn’t call himself a wedding photographer. Rather, his time spent as a photojournalist—first at a small New Mexico newspaper and then as a freelancer who spent two months in Asia capturing the lives of people recovering from the loss of their loved ones and homes after the 2005 tsunami—is what guides his work. “I consider myself a documentary photographer first and a portrait photographer second,” he says. “But if you combine the two, that’s wedding photography.”
For Ben and his wife Erin—a fellow photographer and co-owner of the business—making a couple look beautiful isn’t the goal. They want to tell a story. “It's easy to take a pretty picture,” Ben says. “It's very hard to take a photo that will resonate with people who were not at the wedding. Our goal is for someone who wasn’t there to say, ‘That's really cool. I want to see those photos.’”
Drawing out emotion
“My job as photographer is always to bring out people’s personalities,” Ben says of his two-day shoot of Taiwanese couple Randy and Edith in the Bay Area. “It was more than having them smile. I want to photograph people from the inside out, not the outside in.” Light plays an important role in this, and it was wildly different over the course of the two days. The first day, which was shot down the coast, Ben didn’t need anything beyond natural light. But, on the second day, San Francisco’s infamous fog rolled in, and Ben turned to the Profoto A2 and Clic Softbox to create emotive, dramatic images that are anything but stereotypical wedding photos. “Flat light to me is horrible”, he says. “I would rather have bad weather than a perfectly blue sky because the weather adds mood. I'd rather have a feeling over it being perfect.”
Sunshine in his pocket
But, he emphasizes, he needs a flash for those dark and moody days. Which is why the A2 and Clic Softbox were important on the second day of the shoot. They gave him studio-quality lighting that played with that overcast setting. “If I have a light then I feel like I can create what I want to create,” Ben says, explaining that the small and light-weight size of A2s means he can bring a couple of them to shoots to which he wouldn’t be able to bring larger gear. “That’s what day two was based off,” Ben says. “I was able to do whatever I wanted to because I had the light with me.”
“It was like I had my own sun in my pocket,” he adds. “I use the A2 for almost everything because they're so much smaller to use and the Clic Softbox makes things so fast.” For wedding photographers like Ben and Erin, who travel the world and need to set up quickly for on-location shoots, this is key. “I can attach the Clic Softbox to the side of my backpack,” he says. “I just lift the lever up, snap it into place and it's ready to go. It makes it fun because it's so easy to use.”
“Light gives me something to work with,” Ben explains. “I can create abstraction with it because I can shoot through something like a piece of glass. I'll get diffraction and the photo will be something less obvious, which is what I'm usually going for.”
This abstract approach, which prioritizes storytelling over traditional portraiture, is how Ben has translated his journalism career into wedding photography. “Many wedding photographers are people pleasers. They take photos other people will like, instead ones that they themselves like.” It’s important, he points out, for photographers to always take photos they are excited about. This is what guides him. “I'm trying to create photos that are interesting to me,” Ben says. “I just have faith that they are going to be interesting to other people too.”
Discover more of Ben Chrisman's lighting setups and go behind the scenes on Share the Light.