We had the good fortune of connecting with Chris Chapman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Chris, what do you attribute your success to?
Be so good they can’t ignore you.
This was Steve Martin’s advice for how to make it in show business, but this mindset applies to all careers and endeavors. However, people ignore this advice because it’s not what they want to hear. People want to hear “if you do steps A, B, and C your business will grow,” and while steps A, B, and C may be important to keeping a business running, they will do nothing if the product isn’t good. As a photographer my clients only care about one thing: how good are the photos I deliver. It doesn’t matter if I have a good business plan or a way to gain thousands of followers on social media if I cannot deliver to clients what they need. As a photographer, I am competing with thousands of other photographers in LA, so if I I’m not focused on becoming the best, I’m going to be left behind.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
When I started taking dance lessons a few years ago I was struck by the intrinsic beauty in the lines dancers make. You could tell they enjoyed and reveled in that one pose or moment, and I wanted to capture that for them, so I started playing around with my camera there; working to catch those moments for people. Eventually an interest turned into a hobby, which turned into a passion, and then a career.
As I dove deeper into photography, I started getting requests from people at the dance studio for personal photos. Some were family based, some more beauty or boudoir, and because of the general ecosystem of a dance studio, the inquiries were mainly from women. This eventually turned into shoots that focused on what the women wanted, which oftentimes was to see themselves a different way, a more sensual way, (but not necessarily X-rated) and then that became an obsession on my part: to capture women in their most organic state and finding what’s sexy about that. Any person with a phone can take a “sexy” photo of a person when they’re naked, but getting the erotism of a woman in a dress simply standing, or playing an instrument in socks, or the magnetism of a man in a quiet moment, that’s where the art of sexy truly exists.
Part of what I bring to the table that others can’t, besides dry wit and sarcasm, is that I create an opportunity for people to feel sexy or desirable in their own skin. I also do everything I can to make my clients happy; except photoshopping. I pride myself on not photoshopping my subjects. I don’t want to capture these beautiful, organic people and then put them in a program to erase all of it. I think that has been the biggest part of my success: I sell sexy authentically. I don’t reshape my subjects, and that’s the most rewarding part. When someone gets their photos back and they realize that what they are seeing is all them-that they brought that confidence, sexiness, the life to it, that’s where I’m rewarded in what I do.
This no-photoshop rule has lost me some clients. Some people really do want their photos to be heavily altered, but it’s just not what I do, and I’ve had to turn jobs down because of it. That’s hard to do, but sometimes it’s not a good fit. This is a particularly difficult lesson at first when you’re hungry and wanting to get every client that comes your way, but I’ve learned that it’s not worth it to take every job that comes my way.
Other lessons I’ve learned?
-The camera is just a camera. It may look fancy and high-tech, but it still needs a person behind it and in front of it to capture the beautiful moments. A camera on its own does nothing. A good camera doesn’t make someone a good photographer any more than a good oven makes someone a good cook.
-Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.
-You have to create your own inspiration. Jobs don’t wait around for you to be inspired, you have to find it and sometimes even work to inspire your subjects (and yourself) to get their best out of them, and on certain days that can be tough to do.
Look, I don’t like to take credit for my work because, in reality, all I’m doing is reflecting back what my clients give me. I may help suss it out, but I don’t bring the confidence, the sensuality, or the joy. They do. A photographer’s job is not to just click a button, but to translate the soul of a person to something tangible and universally recognizable. At the end of the day, my favorite thing is to be able to get my clients to relax, have fun, and help them find their confidence, and when they do, that’s when magic can happen. That’s the key to my success.
That, or it might just be that I’m fast, affordable, and fun to work with? You’d have to ask my clients.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I always try and bring my friends to Masa in Echo Park. I still have dreams about their pizza. The great thing about LA is there are also options every night of the week. I love to go salsa dancing at The Granada, Rain, Riviera 31, Lakeside, etc. depending on the night and who is open. Or maybe we’d take a drive up the PCH and have a picnic or find a small cafe to eat at randomly. I don’t like to plan things to rigidly when I’m having fun.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Jenn Berry: She taught me how to dance and connected me to some of my first photo jobs when I was new and inexperienced.
Ashley Hall: She’s teaching me how to sell my self and for just listening when I want to complain about the world. I don’t know which is more important.
Thanks to all the assistants and models who have worked with me when I wanted to try something experimental or untested!
Cal Newport’s book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love”
All photos taken by myself