Portrait photography can sometimes require a great amount of detail and precision to capture a figure or figures in the way you had envisioned. Great portrait work requires even more dedication as well as a real willingness to frame and capture and edit your images . This is one of the subjects we explored during our conversation with Chris Koeppen (@chriskphotos). It’s rare that we see such skill in a photographic genre that is so demanding, but Chris uses every conceivable piece of information to help him capture the image as he wants it to be. This is a compilation of our most recent conversation with him. Read on!
Who am I outside of Instagram? I am an artist. My medium is photography. I live and breathe it everyday.
I am based out of Orange County, California. I do my best to travel to as many new locations as possible. My ideal environment includes fog, a forest, and dark clouds.
Besides photography, I am an avid video gamer. Currently playing Overwatch. I constantly have my headphones in and am consuming music. Architects, Hopsin, and the Weeknd are my top played artists as of now.
I am married to an incredible photographer. Rachel Koeppen. We have a 66 pound pitbull named cookie. She likes to wear pajamas and be cuddled.
I'm half British and half Guatemalan, currently running with grey purple hair, piercings, glasses, and tattoos.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO PHOTOGRAPHY?
I got into photography because I went to college for film production. I wanted to be a Hollywood cinematographer or director. In my first film class, my professor asked, "If you can't control one frame, how can you control 24 frames per second? The speed at which we shoot film."
It was then that I decided that if I was to be good at film, I had to be a great photographer. Over the years, I fell more and more in love with still imagery, and now, it is all I do.
WHAT WAS IT SPECIFICALLY THAT ATTRACTED YOU TO PHOTOGRAPHING PEOPLE?
I have always been interested in people. What they look like, their souls, who they are. I played with action figures as a kid, never trucks. It was always people.
As I started photography, it was capturing a person that made me want to keep shooting. Now it has evolved into trying to evoke emotion through images of people through use of body language, light, and especially darkness.
The darkness in my photography is something that I would say is a signature of my portraits. I believe it is equally if not more important than the light. It expresses my emotion and state of being at the time of capture, while the light shows my subject's state.
WHEN YOU ARE SHOOTING PORTRAITS, HOW MUCH OF THAT IS INSTINCTUAL VERSES PLANNED?
When I shoot portraits, I plan the location (hopefully somewhere I've never been before), and I plan the concept (kind of), and the model's clothing.
I never pre-plan shots. I have found that I always just disappoint myself if I do that.
I *do* plan the emotion and feel and mood I want to evoke and I study photographs that have affected me in the same way to be able to draw elements from them.
When I'm shooting, I figure out as quickly as possible what poses and angles look good on the current model I'm with: what draws you to them.
Everything else is instinct... an instinct with forethought.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A MEMORABLE PORTRAIT PIECE?
To me, a memorable portrait is one that strikes an emotion in the viewer or communicates something. It is more than just a picture of someone. A memorable portrait is one that your eye looks over more than twice and makes you want to keep staring. Obviously color, lighting, and composition play into that as a massive component, but anyone can learn those. Great portraits are ones that the creator invested time and emotion into crafting.
HOW HAS SOCIAL MEDIA PLAYED A ROLE IN YOUR WORK?
Honestly I could use it to bolster my social media game a bit. I don't truly understand the ins and outs, but it does provide me an outlet to talk to people whom I would normally never be in contact with.
Instagram specifically has helped boost my confidence and see how I have evolved over time. I try to post twice a day. If you scroll back through, you will see me slowly growing and changing my shooting and editing style.
Every shoot I try to out do my last set of photographs. Whether that means new techniques, new poses, new concepts, or better execution of old ideas. Social media helps me gauge how I am doing. It's a history chart for me to look at and evaluate how my work is progressing. I try to always have my color palette varied with my thumbnails. If you look at my account as a whole, I've done a pretty good job. It lets me know that I'm not stuck in a rut shooting the same thing over and over again.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL EDITING PROCESS LOOK LIKE?
I edit all of my work in Lightroom. Always. I rarely even touch Photoshop except for web export, downsizing, mild grain, and compression for Facebook.
When I go to post on Instagram, I use Mextures specifically for contrast and sharpening to get my image in a much smaller size to match what I see on my 27" desktop. The export through Mextures unlike most programs doesn't force me to downsize my image to be smaller than I want it and it maintains the quality better than any other program I have tested.
Often times while on location for a shoot, I will wifi drop my image from my Canon 6D to my iPhone, and then run it through a quick pass in VSCO, and finish the edit with gradients and color in Mextures.
HOW SPECIFICALLY DO YOU TEND TO IMPLEMENT MEXTURES IN THAT PROCESS?
For Mextures I honestly don't use much of the filters, overlays, etc. I use those more when I work with Album art and I am trying to set a mood. What I DO use Mextures for is its sharpening and contrast tools. When I edit an image, it is for a, 11" + sized monitor. Not a small phone. So when I go to post on Instagram, I need something that will allow me to add contrast and sharpening so that the image appears to be edited the same way it is on a desktop. I do this through Mextures because it is the highest quality export, sharpening, and contrast I have seen out of an app. My image quality isn't degraded and I end up with a super sharp image that is up to snuff with my Desktop export from Lightroom!
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND TO BE YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN DEVELOPING YOUR TRADE?
The biggest challenge honestly has been finding my voice as an artist and standing by it. Not all potential clients are going to want my style of photography and I still struggle with that concept emotionally. I would love to shoot every wedding, portrait session, or couples session that inquires, but I have to remind myself that there could be a photographer that they haven't contacted yet that would be a million times more suited to who those clients are as people and the style they are hoping to achieve. And that is not only okay but it’s also good. Different taste in art is what makes our individuality as artists important, so a potential client preferring someone else to me is actually a very important thing.
But let's be honest. Even knowing that, it is still sad to be rejected for a potential photoshoot.
WHO ARE THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE MOST INSPIRED YOUR WORK?
I am inspired most by Jeff Newsom (@jeffnewsom) for his endless creativity and curiosity in photography, Ryan Muirhead (@ryanmuirhead)for his self reflection in his portraiture and captivating use of light, and Gabe McClintock (@gabemcclintock) for his use of darkness and his intimacy conveyed through his couples portraits.
I took a workshop with Jeff and it made me confident in the want to always learn more by trying things, even if they may completely fail. I've adapted that philosophy with every shoot and it has always made my job fun and new.
Delve into more of Chris’s stunning portrait work here!