by Kristi Sutton Elias
If you’re ever in the Long Beach, California, area and happen to visit the scenic Shoreline Village at Rainbow Harbor, you owe it to yourself to check out The Fine Art Portrait Studio and Art Gallery of Kristi Sutton Elias. This amazing studio boasts not only a large shooting space but also a separate private viewing/ordering room and Art Gallery. Upon entering the studio, you can’t help but notice the huge, wood beams, vaulted ceilings and a breathtaking view of a beautiful marina and lighthouse as well as the world famous Queen Mary cruise ship.
Clients are welcomed into Kristi’s imaginative worlds through her carefully crafted and breathtaking fine art portrait creations. It is an experience like none other. Her specialty is Fine Art Photography and clients hire Kristi for her unique style and her own artistic vision of their Masterpiece Portrait. “I’ve been an artist all my life,” she explains, “exploring all mediums of art from sketch to sculpture. In photography, and through the use of Photoshop, I discovered that I could channel different mediums and artistic energies into one creation.” So, for the last 17 years, Kristi has worked as a professional photographer and Photoshop artist, making quite a name for herself.
“Clients also realize that this is something they cannot do at home or have a friend do for them,” says Kristi.
A Masterpiece Portrait by Kristi Elias is a step by step process beginning with the initial consultation. “I start the process by having my clients look through my online portfolio. They let me know what images speak to them most. This provides me with an idea for their style.” For example, she points out that some people are into skulls and others are “creeped out” by them. “I want my clients to understand that they are commissioning me to create their portrait in my style,” she explains. This also serves as a screening process for those who may be looking for something more traditional. If that prospective client isn’t a match for Kristi’s style of photography, she graciously helps them find a different photographer in their area. “It only takes a couple of minutes and is greatly appreciated,” says Kristi.
Once they book with Kristi, the first step of the portrait process is a detailed clothing consultation where she goes over clothing ideas for each person in the portrait. “I like wardrobe that has a timeless look mixed with elegancy and keep a collection of gowns and jewelry at the studio for clients to use and will give recommendations for other items to bring on the day of the session.” But one key portion of this consultation is to assure clients that Kristi will do all of the posing for them. “All they have to do is to be at the studio and the rest is up to me and the makeup artist.” It is an important point that helps calm the nerves of some who are apprehensive and assures them that the session will be fun.
During the photo session itself, Kristi keeps a lot of easy-to-reach and timeless props next to the background. That way she can quickly style and restyle to tell the story of whatever concept she is working on. Kristi actually has three different backgrounds she uses in the studio and she photographs each client in three different clothing outfits in all three of the backgrounds, providing a wider variety of different looks and thereby adding to the overall order.
The final step is the order/viewing session where Kristi schedules a separate day to give her time to cull through the images using Lightroom and pick her “top 100” images to show the client at the viewing session. “I will creatively edit one of those images so they can get an idea of how their final edited portraits will look.” At the beginning of the viewing session, she will explain that the image from the camera is the beginning of a sketch to the final piece of artwork. “I compare it to a painter drawing a sketch on a canvas prior to the finished work of art,” she says. A side benefit to this is that it educates the client as to the amount of time and work that goes into each final image and helps validate Kristi’s prices. “Clients also realize that this is something they cannot do at home or have a friend do for them,” says Kristi.
For viewing and sorting, Kristi uses ProSelect to narrow down the final selection of images. With the variety of images shown, it is often difficult for clients, who start with 100 images, to narrow them down to 50 or 60 and practically impossible to narrow them down to 25 or less. As a result, many of them end up purchasing her Artistic Memory Box, a collection of 17 to 21 images, as an add-on purchase. When Kristi first began offering this item, she also discovered a phenomenon she calls “This is what everyone orders.” As she explains, “A client phoned a friend once during the order/viewing session to ask if it was ‘normal’ to order that many images. When the friend had no answer, the client asked me what most people do in that situation and I told her about the Artistic Memory Box.” Because “This is what everyone orders,” the client did so as well.
But after the clients place their order, the real work begins. Understandably, Kristi spends a great deal of time editing and placing orders, as well as creating anywhere from 30 to 60 composites during a normal week. If that sounds like a lot of time, Kristi can assure you that it is a LOT of time! However, she is not necessarily reinventing the wheel with every portrait. “I have background composites that I re-use for every client. For the larger Masterpiece portraits, I will spend a lot more time on artwork and editing than for an 8×10. While I’m editing one image, I’m already thinking about the next one. This helps with time management and workflow.” About 90% of Kristi’s backgrounds were either painted or photographed while on vacation. She is particularly fond of catacombs and abandoned medieval castles in Europe.
Kristi Elias was born and raised in Southern California and has been an artist all her life. The focus for most of her professional career was on product photography but she soon discovered her new passion in creating artistic Fine Art Photography. In 1998, she obtained her degree in Illustration and Advertising Photography from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. She is a 2022 instructor at the Texas School of Professional Photography. Read about her class at: www.TexasSchool.org. To learn more about Kristi, go to www.KristiElias.com.