Chris Saunders is one of those names that, if you have kept up with the BMX game over the years, you probably have seen pop up a few times from the east coast scene between his riding, photos or videos. Chris is one of those riders turned photographer and film maker with the help of BMX to get things really rolling for himself. I recently came across his portfolio and really liked what I saw. I figured it would be rad to find out a little bit more about how he turned something he liked doing for fun into a profession. So let’s get into this and find out more about the man! After you do that, check out his full PHOTOGALLERY!
Name: Chris Saunders
Location: Currently between Pawtucket RI and, Contoocook NH, From Elizabethtown KY
Years riding: 13
Years shooting photos: Shooting for about 10 years, working in the industry for 6 years
What was it that first got you into BMX? Any early memories come to mind?
I had always hopped off curbs and little dirt mounds as a kid. When I was 14, I met a couple of kids who could actually do tricks and I thought it was the coolest thing. By the start of summer my mom bought me a Trek complete bmx bike and I started learning to feeble. I was hooked.
What was is that first got you into photography and filming and editing? Was it due to BMX?
It was in fact BMX that got me shooting. I looked through magazines and always thought the photos were awesome. I wanted to take photos of my friends and make them look as cool as the magazines. Once I started learning about cameras and photography I started to be interested with shooting all aspects of photography. I would look at portraiture in fashion magazines, I would look at advertisements and focus a little longer on the photo of the product in the shot and wonder how they made it look so perfect.
What’s your current camera setup?
Currently I’m using a Hassleblad and Phase One Digital system Profoto Pro-8a Lights, Various Softboxes and light modifiers My out of studio set up is a Canon 60D with battery grip, Canon 17-40 F4L, Nikon 70-210 F4 used with a lens adapter. (Say what you will, its sharp as hell.) Alien bees b800, Ebay Wireless triggers, iMac 21.5 with Adobe Master Collection, Final Cut Pro 7, Wacom tablet. iPad3
Do you have a dream setup at all or are your pretty content with what you are working with?
What wedding photographer wouldn’t want a full arsenal of L
glass and 5D MKIII’s and maybe a 1D MKIV. I would love that stuff someday, but that is a lot of money. My gear works great for me now, This year I’ll be getting a 5D MKIII, wedding season is here and i’m shooting enough to make it a justified investment.
I know I’ve been hearing your name pop up with the east coast scene for years. So I know you probably have a long list of riders you have had the opportunity to shoot with. Care to do some name dropping?
Oh Boy, Here we go.
Chris Zeppieri, Craig Passero, CB Coombs, Brett Silva, Zack Cooke, Bobby Proctor, Chris Childs, John Ludwick, Jake Frost, Brian Hunt, Matty Long, Jody Stoddard, Marcus Grubbs, Rory Ellis, Ryan Metro, Nathan Williams, Derek Gabbert, Billy Ashby, Alex Magellan,Lance Mosley, Brian Hinkle, Ben Drury, Tyler Roller, Joe Mettile, Joey Hill, and more… way too many more
Are there any riders you haven’t had the chance to shoot with, but always wanted to?
Again, Way too many awesome riders out there that would be a privilege to shoot with. If I had to choose a couple I would say, Chase Hawk, Chris Doyle, Ruben, and Joe Rich
I’d imagine between BMX and what you are shooting more of these days has allowed you to travel a fair amount. Where are some of the places you have had the opportunity to shoot at?
I have pretty much been everywhere in the eastern half of the US for either BMX trips, shooting weddings, or bands on tour. I spent almost 3 weeks in France and England in 2010 and I spent every bit of it with my camera in my hands. It was a vacation but it was awesome to experience it all.
Let’s say you get an offer to take 5 riders anywhere in the world for a week of riding and shooting photos. Who do you bring, where do you go and why?
Barcelona first and foremost, Its a dream location for me. I have seen in so many times in media because of BMX and that has just made the desire to go a lot stronger. If I were to take 5 people, I would take Craig Passero because he can pretty much do whatever he wants and is way underrated, Garret Reeves because like Craig, he owns his bike and he’s burly. Van Homan because he’s a legend. Chase Hawk because he’s Chase Hawk and Zack Cooke because he’s young and needs to ride somewhere that isn’t the cape.
Now, like I mentioned above you shoot mainly outside of BMX these days. What are you usually shooting these days?
For the last 5 months I have been shooting product photography for Hasbro. In addition to that I operate my portrait business, and I shoot weddings, families, high school seniors, some fashion editorial, music editorial. I dabble with music videos and food photography.
I know things can get a little “weird” outside of BMX. What are some of the weirdest things you have been contacted to shoot?
I have been lucky enough that I haven’t had any real weird requests. I have seen some weird stuff go down at concerts I have shot. For a few years I did some editorial and live work for Alternative Press Magazine. I would always shoot Warped Tour, any big concerts that went through Boston and just the things young girls do to see musicians boggles my mind. Musicians themselves are also very weird people. I wont say who but a singer of a pretty big band has a thing about having a root beer before every set. He didn’t have a root beer and was going absolutely nuts until somebody brought him one. On another occasion I was just out shooting on a bike ride around Boston. At the end of one of the bridges about 25 feet below laid what appeared to be a dead body, I thought he had fallen off the bridge, Turned out to be a sleeping bum. What blew my mind is he was right by 3 high traffic roads and nobody was stopping to check on the guy.
Who are some of the photographers that inspire you the most?
Jeff Allen, Jeff Z, Dave Hill’s Film work, Herb Ritts, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Mary Ellen Mark.
If you had to declare your shooting style, what would you say it would be?
That’s tough because I’m always learning and evolving, trying to shoot the best I can every time. It really depends on what I’m shooting. For weddings I try and capture the atmosphere of the day. For music I capture the energy of a band. When it comes to commercial work, there is so much involved. Art directors are trying to convey a certain image while PR people want something else. Then I have to let my technical skills take over and get the client exactly what they’re looking for while still maintaining an essence of myself in the work. People have described my work as colorful vibrant, and fun.
Did you go to school for photography? Where did you go?
I went to the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2005.
Do you feel school is needed to become a professional photographer? What kind of advice do you have for the kids out there about to graduate from high school looking to pursue photography?
I get asked this question a lot actually. No, I don’t think school is needed to become a professional photographer. I know plenty of people who are professionals in the industry that did not pursue a photo education. But I will say that it helps, a LOT. I don’t regret for a second putting myself in debt and getting a proper photography based education. With all of the things I have done since I graduated, I still use things I learned at Hallmark to further my career as a photographer. For me, It was the right decision to make. I didn’t have anybody else that shot photos where I was from. It was a foreign concept to most of my friends. So the only way I was really going to move forward with my shooting was to attend school. If you are a kid who wants to shoot but doesn’t want to go to school. That’s fine, but find someone to mentor you, Someone that’s not afraid to hurt your feelings and critique your work. Push yourself to learn as much as you can, I’m still learning new things every day. Just put every bit of yourself into it, make it your own and take it where you want to take it.
You are your own boss, right? What are some of the pros and cons of being your own boss? Could you imagine working for anyone else ever again?
Being my own boss is nice. I have the freedom to make my business exactly how I want it. If I have an idea, there are no hoops to jump through. I just try new things. There are the responsibilities of running a business as well. All the office work is overwhelming sometimes, I would definitely rather be shooting, who wouldn’t? I am lucky enough to have a girlfriend who supports what I do and is a big driving force behind my motivation. She’s also an awesome marketing person
and loves doing the stuff that I don’t like to do on the paperwork and tax end of things. She’s my other half and keeps me grounded.
I’d imagine you have been caught up in some sketchy situations shooting BMX. What’s the craziest story you have for us?
I’ve had people try to steal my camera bag off my back before. While shooting a photo in Louisville, the riders
bike fell in the Ohio River, where it still sits to this day. Random scuffles with cops about shooting photos. I had one cop threaten to take my camera. But back then I was always a little nervous so I kept a printout about the laws of photographing in public places and when I busted it out on him he went back to his cruiser for a couple of minutes and then just left.
So I’d imagine you are pretty busy and don’t get as much riding time as you want. Do you still find much time to get on your bike?
I don’t ride nearly as much as I used to. Back during the filming of the AOTC videos I was out with those guys 3-4 times a week. Now I probably get one good session in per week. But I’m to the point now where If I can get just a little pedaling in once in a while I’m a happy person, I will always ride but now at 27, I’m attempting to run my own business, I have plans to get married and buy a house. So BMX isn’t my main focus in life but it will ALWAYS be a part of it. My bike is also turning to crap, I cant justify spending a lot of money on parts, I used to be able to just drop the cash on parts but now I have plenty of bills that come first.
I know you filmed an edit that dropped the other week. How long have you been filming and editing for? Do you still do that much or is it just something you like to do when you have some free time?
I LOVE making BMX videos but it’s a free time thing. I have been filming and editing video for as long as I have been
shooting photos but it was never my focus. Since the HD-DSLR came along I have done a few music videos for some local Boston artists and my history in filming and editing BMX definitely helped with those. I have always wanted to make my own full length BMX video. I have had a few different concepts but it always gets put on the back burner. A full video takes a lot of work and I have way too much going on to do a full one. I have tossed the idea around in my head to do a web-based series. Nothing serious, all fun, but a little different than what goes on currently.
So things seem to be going well for you. Where do you hope things are in five years?
Things are going well. The 5 year plan is to have an established studio and just make a reasonable living. I’m not trying to be rich, I just want to do what I love and provide for whatever family I end up with. I also plan on building some
awesome ramps in the back yard.
Where can people check out more of your work? Do you have a portfolio site?
www.ctsaunders.com. There are sections for weddings, lifestyle and commercial work. All of my BMX work is in the Commercial section.
Let’s say a brand wants to get you on board for a trip or to shoot some stuff for them. How would they go about getting ahold of you? Are you available?
I would encourage it! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, that is the best way to get ahold of me at any time. One thing I haven’t done that I would love to do is travel with a BMX brand to cover a trip. Soooo lets make that happen, Hint Hint, Wink Wink.
Do you have any shout outs or thanks?
First, my Mom, RIP. She supported me when I wanted to leave home and be a photographer, She wanted to be an artist but gave up her dream to do what was logical and she didn’t want me to give up on my dreams. My girlfriend Annie and her family for being super welcoming. My friends that ride for keeping BMX awesome, Chris Z, CB, Lucas DAngelo, Lino Gonzalez and 90EAST for keeping the Boston BMX scene rolling, Derek Fetko at On Your Left Cycles for Keeping the Louisville kids rolling too. Nick Wheeler, Eric Stemen, and Greg Johnson for riding with me when we all started. Jody Stoddard, Memet Ozgoren, Richard Defrancisco at Commonwealth Bikes, Curtis Jackson, and anyone who has helped me or just been awesome along the way.
Anything else you want to say?
I’m just psyched to be able to do what I love for a living. It has its hard times but no matter how low things have been, I wake up every day psyched to create something with my camera. And I encourage anybody who is just as passionate about something to just go for it.
Below you can find some edits featuring Chris along with videos he has filmed and edited. After you do that, don’t forget to check out his PHOTOGALLERY!