Chrisman Studios began as Ben Chrisman Photography in 2005 – with a young, former newspaper photographer working out of a tiny office in his house in Santa Fe.
Ben became a wedding photographer to show the world that wedding photos could be edgy, sexy, funny, honest and full of life, and could stand alone as works of art. Between then and now, Ben has grown his modest business into Chrisman Studios, a collective of four photographers (Ben, his wife Erin, Mauricio and Ryan) and one videographer (Vlad). Recently Chrisman Studios has begun to take their business in a new direction so we connected with Ben to discuss their future.
Hey Ben! Thanks for joining us! We’ve heard through the grapevine that you’ve taken your photography business in a new direction. Mind telling us a little about that?
We now have a second photography business in addition to our weddings with Chrisman Studios. We started King & Fields Photography Studio last year with our good friend Raheel Gauba, plus our incredibly important business mentor Steve Saporito. We have a 2,400 square foot space in downtown Charleston where we are photographing families, couples, pets, headshots….you name it. Every day is completely different at the studio. Instead of just photographing once a week (like for a wedding), we are now shooting several times a week, with a lot more phone calls, meetings and brainstorming happening. It’s a new kind of hustle that is really making us think differently about how we approach our business, our life and our relationships. Everything we’re doing is really the result of what Steve has taught us, and we would never have had the guts to do this without him.
What are some of the things you’re doing now that you realized you weren’t doing before?
As a photographer, you always take portraits. Even as a newspaper photographer, the majority of my assignments were portraits. But I never considered myself a portrait photographer before now. But it’s still not classic portraiture in the sense that people stare at the camera for one photo. We’re showing people’s relationships with each other. We’re discovering beforehand what they love about their family, and then creating artwork with a series of photographs that show those facets of who they are together.
Why make these changes now?
It’s actually been a gradual and deliberate process. When we met Steve, it took us a few months to wrap our heads around what he was talking about. And then when we did, we still had a year’s-plus worth of weddings to photograph all over the world. And when you’re constantly traveling, it’s nearly impossible to build up a local base and really get to know your neighbors and fellow small businesses. So once we decided to scale back the weddings, it took many months to finally get to the point where we weren’t constantly packing a suitcase for the next weekend. So the changes have been long coming, but we’re finally to the point where every day we get to focus on our portrait business more than the weddings. We’ll always photograph weddings, just not as many as we have the last few years.
Does this help you manage your time better?
Much better. It’s more of a 9-5 experience now, with people coming into the studio for their sessions around 10 am, and coming back to see their photos and place their orders the same day. We’re usually done by 5 or 6 pm once everything wraps up. We actually have some weekends off, which has been a very surreal change of pace. Erin and I love getting our suits on and heading out with our cameras, but now it’s sometimes our bathing suits and the beach instead of our black suits and a bridal suite.
Why did you choose Charleston?
Charleston is a progressive, growing city, and the energy here right now is inspiring. Plus Erin is from Charleston, and her parents still live there. So when it came to buying a house and possibly having a child, we knew we wanted to be near her family. Plus, Charleston is perfect for us: big enough to have everything we want, but small enough to really get to know people.
When it comes to how you present the final product, why do you think it’s important to make prints?
As a photographer, prints are everything. Or at least they should be. Besides the fact that photographs look better on paper than a computer screen, your life is automatically enhanced by having artwork on your wall that reminds you of what is truly important in your life. And clients really value tangible products. It’s only in our heads as photographers that we think digital files are what people want. It’s actually the opposite.
Did you have any trouble with this move?
Definitely. Coming from a wedding business where you just sit in your office waiting for the emails to drop in to going to a business where you actively are trying to bring in customers has been a big shift in mindset. When you’re getting married, you need a photographer. But most people don’t need a photographer after that point. They have to want one. And that’s where we come in: we have to show them that life is worth celebrating and remembering even when social norms don’t dictate the need of photography in an obvious way. Also moving from a large city to a small city in the Deep South has taken a bit of time. You can’t just pop up and say “hey, we’re from San Francisco, hire us!” That doesn’t fly very well here. So it has taken time to really get people to know us and trust us. Luckily, we have a great base of friends now and it’s a more genuine home than we ever could have had in San Francisco.
What steps did you take to help transform wedding clients into family session clients?
That’s been fairly easy as long as you have done a good job with taking care of your wedding clients to begin with. It doesn’t take long for your couples to start having children or major life events, so you just need to stay in touch, show you care, and they will naturally think of you when it’s time to have those moments photographed.
What does the future hold for you and Erin?
Short term: learning how to take care of a 2-year-old. Long term: continuing this growth of the studio. We have every intention on being around for the next 20 to 30 years behind the camera, and I can’t imagine doing that in any other way than we are right now.
Now that it seems like you’re more settled, is there anything you would have done differently if you had to do it again?
I would have started listening to Steve’s instructions right after that first workshop in Las Vegas. But I just didn’t get it until about six months later. I wish someone had shaken me and said “wake up.” But at that point we were shooting so many weddings it was nearly impossible to think about another way of doing things. But if I had to do it over again, I would have started listening to Steve right off the bat and started actually implementing everything he said.
Any tips for other photographers who are looking to expand their business and move into a new area?
One of the main points Steve shares over and over is there is opportunity everywhere. With the portrait business, every single person you meet is someone that you could work with, or help, or share something with. It’s absolutely limitless what you can do when you have that mindset with each conversation. Photographers love to hide behind their monitors and just hope the phone will ring. That’s not going to happen every day, so the more you can get out of your home or office and into your community with the idea that you have something to give, the more you will receive back.
Thanks for talking with me today!