The importance of connection

When I met Ben Chrisman in 2009, I was still studying photography and the focus of my training until that week had mainly been on the technical aspects of photography, but not what creates a strong portrait.

During the workshop, Ben talked about how “emotion trumps technique” and how it was not enough to just put a “pretty face in a frame and light it properly”. During the workshop he encouraged us to push ourselves, to create images that were visually interesting and showed emotion, in addition to being technically sound.

This is when I realised that emotion is what produces the most important ingredient to a powerful portrait: connection

As discussed in a previous post with Kristian Skeie, emotion is what allows us to connect to a person in the image. If it’s missing, you only have a mere image of them, but not a powerful portrait.

When we think of connection in images, it can be between the viewer and the person in the image of course, but also between the people being photographed… and Ben is a master at achieving this.

He generously accepted to take time out of his crazy schedule to reflect and share his thoughts on body language and photography.

Here it is.

Interview with Ben Chrisman

Ben Chrisman
Award-Winning Wedding Photographer

Along with his wife Erin, Ben Chrisman is the co-owner of Chrisman Studios, a collective of five destination wedding photographers based from coast to coast in the United States.

Ben studied photojournalism, and worked at newspapers for several years before starting his own wedding photography business in 2005. Since then, Ben has photographed weddings all over the world, including, Mongolia, Venezuela, Bhutan, Israel, throughout Europe, the Caribbean and the United States. He has also won some of the most celebrated awards in the industry, including American Photo magazine Top Ten Wedding Photographers,  Rangefinder Magazine Top 10 Most Sought Out Wedding Photographers in the World, the WPJ Photographer of the Year, Junebug Wedding Best of the Best five years in a row, and Fearless Photographers Top 10 Photographers of the Year.

Ben is also on staff with the highly-respected Foundation Workshops, and speaks at photography conferences internationally with Erin throughout the year.

Tell us a little bit about you and your work.

I’m a documentary wedding photographer based in Charleston, South Carolina. I first started as a photographer in college, where I studied photojournalism. After working at newspapers for a few years, I transitioned to photographing weddings. 2015 is my tenth year as a wedding photographer.

You have a very unique signature to your photographs. What part does body language play in it.

I want our couples to have fun on their wedding day, and I want it to feel real. So we don’t do much in regards to posing them. As long as they feel comfortable, I think they will look comfortable.

I remember you saying “emotion trumps technique” during our workshop and that has always stuck with me.
Is this still true for you today?

My first priority for my photos is to have feeling. Having good technique is important, but evoking an emotion is always going to have more impact.

What is the one Body Language cue that makes you cringe when you see it in a photograph?

When photographing a couple, I always ask for the guy to do something with both hands. He can put them in his pockets, or preferably on his partner. But nothing is worse than one arm lazily dangling to his side.

Dee: This dangling hand gesture relates to the planes of expression brilliantly described in Mark Bowden’s work. Dropping our hands by our side places them in the Grotesque plane. We only really stand with our hands that way in real life when we are disengaged, bored, tired or afraid and this cue removes energy from the image. In addition, humans show intimacy through touch. By having the man not touching or holding his bride, it creates a feeling of disconnection between the two people.

Can you share with us one photograph you really love and tell us why.

This photo was taken during a trip to Barbados for a wedding. Erin and I were eating lunch and we saw these kids playing on the beach. I always have my camera with me, so I spent a little time photographing the scene. I like this photo because everyone happened to be doing something at the same time.

This photo is all about body language. Plus it doesn’t have a white dress, which is always a little refreshing.

Pro tip from Ben

I always tell a couple a few things:
1. Do something with both hands (groom).
2. If you kiss her, really kiss her because the camera can tell if you’re faking it.
3. There are no rules. We can do anything we want. So just have fun, remember to smile and everything will turn out great.