The Love of Building

The Beginning

As a kid playing make believe construction, one of my favorite things to do was constructing buildings and environments and the stories that went with them. Fast forward to my adult life and photography career and many times I desired to redirect what I was being paid to photograph to focus exclusively on industrial landscapes, especially large outdoor locations. The allure of oil refineries, manufacturing plants, construction sites and the like swirled around my mind constantly. If the work included travel, so much the better. I was studio bound for years and happy. Business was good. I look fondly upon those days.

Nevertheless as much as I pined for a different type of photography career, I couldn’t get myself motivated to produce a portfolio showcasing this desire beyond the occasional self-assignment. When the infrequent industrial assignment came my way, I didn’t build upon those opportunities. I couldn’t identify the issues at play for me to understand why I wasn’t heading towards my hearts desire. So I kept at what I was being paid well to do: products, architecture, copy work, lab services and headshots. In 2003 I went into teaching more or less full time, thoroughly enjoyed that career and found the answer…time lapse!

As a preteen I saw my first time-lapse film. It was a 366 frame, 16mm color film of the building of Sleeping Beauty’s’ castle at the original Disneyland. By then I was well into my journey towards photography mastery and knew enough about photography to appreciate the investment of time required to make a film over a 366 day period. Every day the photographer climbed up that ladder, took one picture, climbed down, repeated this 365 times and had all the pictures line up perfectly for the film! How did he do that? It was magical! I was hooked. Had the details completely wrong but I was in love.

I didn’t give time-lapse much thought after that because I had discerned after watching that film that it was too hard to do for me. Of course if I had bothered to find out how time-lapse actually worked, things could have/would have been different. But I didn’t. Funny how love works.

The Middle

During my teaching stint at Brooks Institute, (2003-2009, now closed) a colleague showed me his time-lapse films of star trails, snail trails, water and clouds. I fell in love all over again and entered the time-lapse arena. Digital photography removed the film impediment, made it fun and offered infinite visual possibilities. Independent film making here I come! I was at the very beginning of the learning curve. And it was greased. But I was in love and went for it: fireworks shows were my first subject and I learned quite a bit about framing, timing, editing, music and playback speeds.

After a couple of years getting up to speed with the technical aspects of time-lapse, I went about optimizing my website for local time-lapse searches.

My best time-lapse client (to date) contacted me in early 2011. They are a non-profit world famous botanical garden and research library. And they were re-constructing the first tea house built in the US post WWII in their Japanese garden and the director wanted a time-lapse of the process. 10 films later and we’re still working together. I keep my clients happy.

Not Yet Ending

Since 2011, I’ve produced and directed 18 films. I think like an artist, shoot like a director and edit like a storyteller. I show up often, arrive early and stay late to capture the intricate dance that is the building process. Each one represents a fantastical journey that I get to tell through time-lapse, my preferred story telling technique. So the next time you’re looking for a great time-lapse film experience, hire the kid who still loves trucks and dirt.

Thanks for reading.


Michael Stern

My work depicts, appreciates and honors the people who build. Their specialized equipment and stunning challenges are marvels I behold and get paid to interpret. Hope you enjoy this site.
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