Chasing Color

All of Chip Litherland’s work, from editorial to sports to Instagram, is defined by an endless palette of colors and patterns. He searches for shapes and light, bending and collaging them to create his own, unique scenes.  On Instagram, he patches and layers many images together to create nonexistent worlds that capture the vividness he longs for in everyday life.

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Blur, South Beach, FL © Chip Litherland 

Abigail Smithson: Where does your attraction to color stem from?

Chip Litherland: When I started shooting for magazines and newspapers was when I started shooting color just because I was forced to. It wasn’t something I made an intentional move towards. I think part of it was moving to Florida from Colorado. Colorado is a beautiful place but Florida has it’s own palette. Florida has it’s own way; the light down here is insane. Every building is a different color. There are beaches and big blue skies. Just moving here and having all that became a part of how I worked and who I am and how I see, to a point now where if there is not killer color in my photos, I see it as a failure. Color creates mood. It makes people feel. You can use color to compose a frame, to stop somebody and make them look at a picture for more than three seconds. You can say everybody shoots color pictures on their phone or posts color pictures to their Instagram. But using it as your main tool, using it as your number one aspect but thinking about it while you’re shooting has really been beneficial to me and how I see the world. I still do black and white work here and there for different clients and there are some situations that are honestly better in black and white. But for me, you can see in my portfolio, it’s all color. More now it’s a way of marketing myself and how I see. I want to be known as the color addict.

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© Chip Litherland

AS: Do you compose in your head even when you’re not shooting?

CL: Just driving around Florida, everything is so colorful, the light is hitting everything at different times of day in different ways. I actually keep a little moleskin notebook in my car where I write down intersections and times of days and things that I see when I am driving around that I might come back and work on a little later. Even if they are not taking pictures, I think most photographers see life through a rectangular frame, or a square depending on who you are. I am constantly composing when I am experiencing life. The good thing and the bad thing about being a photographer is that you can never stop thinking about making pictures.

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© Chip Litherland

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© Chip Litherland

AS: The color aspect of that must be in your face all the time.

CL: Yeah, it is. I was just in Mexico on a commercial shoot. I was running around and, you know, the streets are colorful and you are looking at things and thinking you want to photograph them later. But there was this bright orange wall and I was just watching it when we were stopped at a light. And then I see a dude walking down the road with a bright orange shirt that literally matched the wall behind it. I was too far away to make a frame from my window. Just to sit there and watch that intersection happen between those colors and not be able to take a picture was one of the more frustrating moments of my year, which is a good problem to have. But it was such a good picture and it just passed me by. Color controls how I see the world around me now. It’s one big palette of reds, greens and blues.

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© Chip Litherland

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© Chip Litherland

AS: You seem to follow a basic attraction and let your work form around that. Did it take you awhile to just go with your instincts?

CL: I think most photographers react instinctively to whatever they like to have as part of the main element of their photos. I react to color, really overwhelming color, mixtures of tones and mood. I am less concerned with what I am trying to say. What I am more concerned with is making the world look more unique and prettier than it is sometimes. I really just want to make fun pictures that not only my journalism clients will enjoy, but my commercial and advertising clients will be able to use and pictures that I can sell. I try and cut and paste what I can from each genre of photography from the fine arts world to photojournalism into where my vision is right now. Even the work I am doing on Instagram right now is just me playing, having fun and telling stories in a different way, making pictures that don’t exist in the real world. This is kind of fun, too: to not have the restrictions of being stuck in photojournalism. It is a fun, exciting time.

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Facade, Sarasota, FL © Chip Litherland

My move away from photojournalism wasn’t contentious. It was more a move against restrictions of how I wanted to make pictures and how I saw them. It was limiting in that respect. I still work for a ton of editorial clients. I am still making photojournalism. But now I am kind of excited about and focused on making work that goes beyond that and can be seen by a wider market.

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© Chip Litherland

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© Chip Litherland

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© Chip Litherland

AS: I read in another article that each Instagram image takes you an hour to create.  It seems like an old school approach to this new media.

CL: Are you calling me old (laughs)? It is essentially what I did in the darkroom when I was in fine arts school. I used to work at a photo lab in college. I printed color all day. That taught me how to see color, how to correct for it and how to use it. Once I learned how to do it right, I started doing it wrong. And I started getting excited. I was cross-processing negatives, and I was taking my originals and literally taking them to paper-cutters. Doing all this stuff back in the late nineties seems terrible now that I look at it. But it still framed where I am now. I have come full circle.  It has been a lot of fun. All my work that I do, all those posts, of piecing pictures together, of layering stuff – that is all done on my phone. I don’t do anything in Photoshop. It’s been fun to use a little app that I downloaded for free to create all this work. It’s mind-blowing what you can do now.

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 Breeze, Pompano Beach, FL © Chip Litherland

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Turtle, Sarasota, FL © Chip Litherland 

It does take a long time but it’s only because I am really anal and I am really specific about how I want my pictures to look. If you look at my phone now there are twenty different versions of one Instagram I am working on. And they all suck. I don’t know what I am going to do with it. And it is eventually going to get there but it’s not working. Eventually I will get to a point where this one photo works. And that’s how it is. A lot of times it’s me sitting there, waiting for a subject to show up to a shoot or me waiting to pick up my kids at school. I do most of my work in the car. It is fun to be able to shoot pictures with my phone and gather them. I have 10,000 pictures on my phone right now and they are all textures and silhouettes, and different light that I have just collected over time. It is fun to just go back and find the stuff that will work together from all these different cities and towns and create something completely different that doesn’t exist in the real world.

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Legs, Maui, HI © Chip Litherland

Trust me. My kids and my wife know when I am in that zone, working on my Instagram shots. Usually it is sitting in the car waiting for them or in bed. Just sitting there with that with that glow on my face, working and moving things around. It takes forever most of the time. But you know, sometimes it works out on the first time. But, actually, it never does.

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IKEA, Tampa, FL © Chip Litherland

To see more of Chip’s work, click here. And follow his blog here!

 

 

 

 

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