Crystal Schreiner: Shooting The Runway and Beyond!

Let me start out by saying that Crystal Schreiner is only 23 years old and yet she’s accomplished so much already as a young fashion photographer, and that’s why I was interested in interviewing her for Breed. She’s not only out there in the industry “doing it”….she’s out there killing it!

 Crystal received her first camera at 14 years old.

Crystal received her first camera at 14 years old.

At age 14, Crystal became interested in photography. “The only thing I wanted for Christmas after that was a new camera”, she told me during a recent phone conversation. With not much going on in her small town somewhere in Wisconsin, she started out by shooting the creepy abandoned houses nearby and that’s how she learned to use her camera and figure out how to compose a shot.

Thoroughly obsessed with photography and all things creative, she attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, a bigger Wisconsin city. She majored in advertising because she wanted to understand the business she was eventually going to find herself in. While attending Marquette, Crystal got busy! She started shooting for Marquette Journal, the university’s student magazine. Eventually she was hired on to work for the magazine and started developing the skills it takes to produce imagery and see it through to print. She attended the MIAD arts program (Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design) while still in college. Her thesis project for MIAD was photography where she shot imagery inspired by Francesca Woodman, whose haunting work resonated with Crystal because of its dark and mysterious feel, much like the creepy, abandoned houses that first caught Crystal’s eye.

In her junior year, she applied for an apprenticeship at Fig Media in Chicago and got the job. It was that summer during that internship that Crystal had the good fortune to meet Billy Rood, a fashion photographer based in Chicago who was definitely on his way up to becoming a full-fledged fashion photographer. While working at Fig, someone suggested to Crystal that if she really wanted to learn more about fashion photography she should try to work for Billy outside of the agency. So she contacted Billy and he took her on as a side internship. At the time, Billy was doing a lot of testing with the local high-end modeling agencies in Chicago like Ford and Factor Woman. It was through Billy that she started to learn how to retouch. She feels her brief summer working with Billy is probably one of the most influential experiences in her career so far because she learned so much and he inspired her greatly. That experience was “it” for Crystal. She was on fire and nothing was going to stop her!

In her senior year of college, she sent resumes to a ton of places in NYC looking for an internship. She said she can’t remember but she probably sent out about 100 resumes, half to photographers and half to companies to shoot for them. She lied and said she lived in NYC because she didn’t want the fact she was still living in Milwaukee to thwart their decision. Refinery29 replied to her email and after meeting with them they asked if she could shoot New York Fashion Week. Crystal said yes and thus began her career. She came back in February to shoot NYFW for Refinery29. She was unpaid the first two seasons but finally she started getting paid and she even had an image published in Elle. She admits now that she had no clue how to shoot a show but she watched other photographers and just dove in headfirst and learned how to do it.

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During her email blast, she contacted female photographer Jade Albert who replied to Crystal and agreed to meet with her. Jade became Crystal’s mentor, talking to her about the industry and giving her invaluable insight into it.

 LINDSEY WIXSON FOR ANNA SUI BY CRYSTAL SCHREINER

LINDSEY WIXSON FOR ANNA SUI BY CRYSTAL SCHREINER

I asked Crystal about shooting runway, because I have never done it and have had no real desire to do so. When I first looked at Crystal’s work I felt she was strongest in shooting the fashion shows and bands on stage. Her strong suits are capturing the moment in a photojournalistic way, which I love. She told me that after four seasons of shooting runway, she’s learned a lot! On her first approach she focused on street style and the environment because she didn’t feel confident in directing and talking to people. For the second season she focused on honing her skills at shooting runway. She told me “I got really good at sneaking into shows! I snuck into Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Betsey Johnson. If there was a way in, I was there”. You have to agree, she’s a determined girl!

There are two ways to shoot runway, she told me. One is to shoot straight on, dead capture runway. The second is to shoot for the unique picture. Crystal goes for the unique picture. She doesn’t stand with the other photographers in the pit; instead she shoots from the side, following the girl with her 70mm-200mm lens. And while she doesn’t want to focus on having her settings perfect, she did learn from a “pit photographer” how to set her camera to program using a “Runway setting”. Like me, Crystal admits to not being a very technical person. She’s much more interested in capturing the moment, but knowing that about herself, she did ask a lot of questions to the more established pit photographers and learned a lot from them.

Shooting the shows is exciting but Crystal finds the real fun in shooting backstage. She loves the energy and craziness that’s always going on backstage and she loves trying to capture it. She says, “It’s a really stressful environment but I thrive on that! I like to stand in the corner and scan the room, looking for models that are smiling and laughing. I look for emotions, quiet moments and models that I think I can connect with. I then will go up to the girl or girls and pull them aside and ask if I can shoot them. I’m always friendly and complimentary. I want the girls to like me and trust me. Then I can shoot them!”

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Billy Rood brought her to the attention of Marius Troy, co-founder of Breed and Founder of Faces Of New York Fashion Week. Billy has shot numerous editorials for Marius Troy’s world-famous Ben Trovato Magazine. Billy also is a staff photographer for FONYFW which is a Socius project sponsored by Breed this previous season. So for the past 2 seasons, Crystal has been shooting the runway and behind the scenes of NYFW! So you see…….making one connection can lead to so many different places!

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I worked my ass off really hard! I am dedicated to meeting people. I have sent hundreds of emails and most of them weren’t returned. I didn’t let that get me down. I have learned how to be patient and persistent. I’ve been really bold! When one door didn’t open, I just moved on to try another.
— Crystal Schreiner

I was pretty moved by her story. I admitted to her on the phone that I wasn’t as persistent as her when I was starting out. Then again, we didn’t have the competition as much as we have it now. So I think what she’s doing and how she’s going about doing it is key to any success you’re going to have out there. You have to stay persistent!

What’s next for Crystal: Video! Video has captured Crystal’s heart now. She is relocating to Los Angeles after a 4 month internship with a big music video director in LA. She will work to build a reel and hopefully head into success as a music video and fashion commercial director.

With her energy and perseverance I have no doubt she’s going to make it!

Melissa Rodwell