Interview: Chris Garrison

“I feel that if the athletes are consistently pushing the limits of the sports then we, as photographers, should also be breaking all the limits we have set.” – Chris Garrison

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With the development of the digital camera came the flooding of a profession once owned by a select few, determined professionals. The challenges of film photography went out the window almost overnight, opening the photographic front door to the world. Now a once upon a time precise profession has become an overcrowded playground comprising of a mix of the elite, the amateurs, and the auto this/ auto that/ and click crowd. Inherently this raised the bar, requiring competitors to up the originality of their work, and increase uniqueness.

This isn’t necessarily a feature conducted to raise the debate between film and digital and the results following, but is more so how in changing times, one particular photographer has taken a saturated market and made the most of it. There is always an opportunity around the corner, and Chris Garrison is taking an angle on his photo shoots that ensures he’s not seen as just another brick in the wall.

With the rise in the progression of the sports of snowboarding and skateboarding, Chris believes in making paralleled efforts to the leading athletes, in order to create unique imagery and keep pushing the profession of photography.

Here’re some quick quizzes to get this interview warmed up. Complete the following:

The first thing you do in the morning you…

Brew coffee and read the newspaper…Just kidding. I actually ask myself why I’m awake in the morning.

Before you go to sleep you…

I never really go to sleep. I just black out behind the computer or TV.

When you’re happy you…

Jump up, jump up, get down, and jump around.

When you’re mad you…

Take it out on the gym.

When you think about politics you…

I’m sorry, what are we talking about?

When something gets in the way of your shot you…

Rip it out of the ground or donkey slam it.

When you think about Trunk Junk you think…

Junk in the trunk! We won’t go there…

So, what is the story behind how you first picked up a camera, and how you came to a  decision that it’s what you want to do as a career?

Long story short, I played sports forever, got hurt, now I shoot photos. What has turned it into a career for me, is my passion to always push myself and who I am shooting to the next level, and to do something different.

Did you do the whole study thing?

I took a class in high school because, well…you get to not be in class. I never went to school for it.

Why not?

I feel the only way to learn is to get out and do it and experiment. You can’t learn how to stop a hockey puck by just reading about it.

What was your first assistant job?

I carried Ryan Hughes bags, Editor of Snowboarder Magazine USA, during Girls Super Park. That was the only time I have ever assisted anyone. I was actually shooting the entire weekend because he ended up getting hurt.

What was your most tedious assisting job?

Carrying Ryan Hughes Bags, haha.

And, what’s the most important lesson you learned from assisting?

If at all possible, hire someone to carry your bags.

What was your first freelance job? When did you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

My first freelance job was actually shooting advertising shots for The Hyatt. There’s nothing really to talk about there besides that I took photos of rooms and mountains.

There is never a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for me. I only work freelance, and do it from year to year so I never know where I’ll be getting my next pay cheque from.

Fortunately, I am regularly hired by a lot of large companies and magazines. I started feeling pretty stable and about two years ago I was actually turning jobs down because I was so busy.

What monotonous jobs have you had to do to get your ‘professional career’ momentum going?

I have worked at bars, parked cars, and whatever other random things I could find along the way to make some money.

What makes up your lighting set?

I strictly use Elinchrom only and I own four Ranger Speed power packs. I also use all Elinchrom accessories like the octabanks, strip banks and the usual reflectors. I’ll also sometimes use smaller SB 800’s if possible.

Your lighting set ups seem to be slightly more technical than most. Is that just us? Or are you just finding new ways to apply traditional techniques?

I try to do all my action shoots with commercial lighting as much as humanly possible.  That means a lot of setting up and break down work in really bad situations, like lights in the water and hanging over the water.

I usually shoot with at least three Ranger packs and a few SB 800’s if possible for the smaller flashes. I recently got taken care of by Kupo Grip and they have a lot of really rad accessories for their stands that make my life very easy.

Setup wise I like to use a main key light and two rim lights as well as a location (feature) light.

How do you apply these techniques to board sports and what challenges do you face?

When I first started shooting snowboarding I was literally only shooting with flash. I never learned by machine gunning my way through shots and then picking the best photo. Using lights with almost any board sport is very challenging, especially when you’re using a few at a time.

With snowboarding you’re hiking around in waste deep snow, setting up lights as well as carrying them all day. With wakeboarding, you are always working with water and very high-speed movements. With skateboarding, you’re always setting up super fast and breaking down fast to get out of the location.

All round you have quite a unique view when approaching each of your shoots. Could you walk us through what you’re thinking when setting up? What are you aiming for and what are you bringing into consideration?

When I am setting up I am always looking at the hardest way to shoot it to bring a unique angle to the shot. I also look at what lighting I can do to make it look like it was shot in a studio. I try to bring that together and push the athletes to get the best style possible.

What’s your ultimate goal in board sports as a photographer?

I just want to keep pushing the photography aspects of the sports I shoot. I feel that if the athletes are consistently pushing the limits of the sports then we, as photographers, should also be breaking all the limits we have set.

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For more about Chris, visit his website.

Browse the Trunk Junk collection; maybe even pick one out for yourself.

© Jonathan Boonzaaier 2016

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