Cris Duncan is 2021 President of Texas PPA
by Bill Hedrick
In the world of professional photography, there are those who say that the traditional studio is a thing of the past. They have never met Cris Duncan, the 2021 President of the Texas Professional Photographers Association, and his lovely wife, Deanna. Together, they are living proof that professional photography is alive and well and that the future holds boundless opportunities for those who are willing to embrace that future with hard work and determination.
Great photographers realize their destinies in many ways and, like most of us, Cris remembers that magical moment when he was first introduced to photography. For Cris, it was in a 7th grade industrial arts class. Some of us know it as shop. “Our assignment was to get objects from the campus yard and placed them on photographic paper in the darkroom to expose silhouettes on the page,” Cris explains. “Seeing the image appear in the chemicals had me hooked at once. So, I asked my teacher if I could do more projects and learn how to make photographic prints.” From that moment on, Cris always had a camera with him and eventually set up his own darkroom at home.
Family members and friends helped foster his desire to be creative and artistic. “My grandfather was an enthusiast photographer and my grandmother would paint his photographs, so I learned a lot from her. She was instrumental in my growth. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the lessons she taught me have proven to be invaluable,” Cris explains. “Then, one day, my dad gave me his Canon AE-1 film camera.” It was a life-changing moment that set Cris on a path he never imagined.
By the year 2002, Cris and Deanna opened their studio in Lubbock, Texas, and, by 2008, it was a full-time business. More and more people recognized their creative abilities and, before long, they became one of the most sought-after studios in Lubbock and the surrounding area.
“In those early days of our business, we were fortunate to work with some amazing clients including Congressman Randy Neugebauer who opened the doors to work with a corporate group that hosted leadership events where President George H. W. Bush was the keynote speaker. Soon, I was able to photograph President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.” This same relationship with Congressman Neugebauer opened other doors to some high profile people including Stephen Covey, William Blanchard, General Schwarzkopf, Tim Tebow, Jay Leno, Drew Brees, and others.
Like many professional photographers before him, Cris will tell you that the bulk of his photographic training has been “on the job.” His formal training has come from attending industry events like Imaging USA and the Texas School of Professional Photography. But some personal training came after a chance encounter in Dallas, Texas, with another leader in the photographic industry, Tony Corbell, that would play an important role in Cris’s career. “I thought I knew some things… ha!” It was soon after Cris had photographed George H.W. Bush and Tony had recently photographed the United Nations. That common ground stirred up a conversation and the two hit it off immediately. Then, in 2008, Cris found himself in Tony’s class at the Texas School of Professional Photography and that common ground was once again reclaimed.
The story of Cris and Deanna is one for the storybooks. They were high school sweethearts and have been married for 24 years with one lovely daughter, Elizabeth, who is a junior at Texas A&M. Ranger, their 5 year old Golden Retriever, rounds out the family. As Cris explains, “It’s fun to live your life doing what you love, with those you love.” Ranger, who likes to cuddle and enjoys meeting new friends, agrees 100%.
Interestingly enough, if you ask Cris about his specialty, he will most likely tell you that he isn’t sure he actually has a specialty. “I like to think I specialize in photography,” he explains. “However, I continue to work on my technical skills… mainly lighting and composition. I believe that if a photographer is competent in these two facets, there is nothing that he or she cannot photograph. Of course, it goes without saying that all professional photographers should know the specifics and nuances of different genres. Our main focus at CjDuncan is portraits and commercial photography.”
According to Cris, Deanna is the backbone of the studio. She does most of the consultations and sales while Cris is the primary photographer and handles commercial assignments. “Learning each other’s strengths has helped us grow and serve our clientele. We learned early that we needed to have defined roles if we were going to succeed and stay happily married,” Cris jokes.
CjDuncan Photography today is Lubbock’s only portrait studio with two Master Photographers and three exclusive locations. Their “Classic Studio” is where they meet clients for consultations and view their images. It features floor to ceiling windows, neutral backgrounds, and clean lines to help create those classic portraits that are the trademark of a professional studio. Adjacent to the Classic Studio is the “Studio Gardens,” a 1.5 acre wonderland with surprises at every turn including Spanish inspired sets, 50 year-old trees, evergreen settings and more.
For commercial clients, the “Studio Warehouse” is conveniently located just a few miles away. It merges contemporary and classic photography together to create exclusive and unique settings, ranging from a New York loft set to a Hollywood Oscar party with 30 foot of white cyclorama wall. There is even space to bring in a car. However, Cris loves exploring and discovering new places and photographs on location as well. His main goal is to make the portrait experience one to remember.
But serving his clients with fine imagery is only part of what Cris Duncan is all about. Recalling his initial encounter with Tony Corbell and the impact that friendship had on his life and career, Cris feels compelled to pay it all forward. This would become the beginning of FIND YOUR FOCUS. But the story behind it is as fascinating as the experience itself. Back in 2005, when photography was a part-time profession, Cris was working for his father as an electrician. In May of 2005, he had already made the decision to make photography his full-time career and had just given his notice when his father had a catastrophic accident. Deanna described it as “the day she saw the dream in Cris’s eyes die.” Taking over his father’s business full-time left Deanna to run the growing photography business.
Later that same year, the couple took a trip to Yosemite and, while there, Cris felt what he describes as a “Divine Intervention” telling him what he was called to do… photography. “Road blocks don’t end the journey,” he explains. “They just create detours.” He later went into photography full-time and was reading a book by John Bevere titled “Wild at Heart” that discussed the masculine heart and how we are called for adventure. It reminded Cris of the day in Yosemite and he knew that more people like him were out there and that creation can be restorative, healing, and powerful. FIND YOUR FOCUS was born out of that life experience.
“FIND YOUR FOCUS is all about a community of like-minded creatives who want to be the best at what they can do,” he explains. “The FYF brand has expanded to include an exclusive Facebook group, online courses and one-on-one coaching. But the core is still our annual retreat that is designed so other photographers can be a part of something special to foster relationships and to become more successful. It’s much like summer camp for grown-ups,” says Cris.
Another facet of FYF involves supportive and personalized mentorship. It is an exclusive online session with Cris and/or Deanna for up to two people from the same studio and it is live. Sessions can be tailored to any topic and are recorded so that they can be viewed at any time. Topics include image critique, image competition, post-production tips, lighting, marketing, and more. Of course, it is no surprise that Cris and Deanna will also be teaching a class at the 2021 Texas School of Professional Photography.
Cris strongly believes that the future of professional photography is bright. “I think the need for professional photography is actually growing. Imagery is becoming more and more relevant and pervasive in our society and photographers need to realize this and become a vital part of it.” Understandably, the key to it all is education and Cris intends to continue mastering his craft as well as helping more families and businesses with quality imagery.
As the incoming President of the Texas Professional Photographers Association, Cris wants to help empower our members to realize their potential and to continue striving for excellence. “As President, I can promise that I will do whatever I can to make sure that you continue to thrive and grow,” says Cris. “You see, it is not where you start that matters. It’s where you go that makes the difference. Never hold back on what makes you special and unique.”
As we put 2020 behind us, we can use these inspiring words to march boldly into 2021 and to seek out new and exciting opportunities that make us stronger and the Texas Professional Photographers Association is most fortunate to have Cris Duncan as its President.