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TAKING SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL AND BROKEN AND MAKING IT WHOLE AGAIN

One fully restored Faux Bois tree at the Huntington

Faux Bois Tree Huntington Gardens

A beauty shot of the final Faux Bois tree rebuilt by Terence Eagan.

Since 2011, I’ve specialized in producing 3-5 minute time-lapse construction films. After 5 years of effort I produced my first documentary film it’s 26 minutes in length and includes music specifically written and performed for the story.

What It Is

Faux Bois At The Huntington is the story of taking something beautiful and broken, and making it whole again. This film features the work of Terence Eagan, a sculptor who restored and improved the original 100 Faux Bois trees dating to 1915. Faux Bois is the French Decorative Art of making imitation wood structures out of iron rods, wire mesh, barrel bands and concrete. In 2010, Terry began repairing a century of damage to the trees that replaced the Victorian Rustic Movement native oak log and timber arbors that Henry Huntington loved but that frequently needed attention. Not so with concrete trees.

Getting Educated

Incorporating hours of video and time-lapse footage, location sound recording, purchasing original music and mixing sound effects was for me, punching above my weight class. Exhausting. Fun. But exhausting. I brought in several experts to help but knowing when to do so and vetting the folks I hired was a new experience for me too. Love the life-long learning stuff when you’re self-employed!

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Construction Worker Portraits

The Construction Worker Portrait

Femael construction worker April Marquez

I do most of my business with owners, public agencies and private builders for construction progress photography, time-lapse films, group portraits and video interviews.  The individual or small group construction worker portraits like the one above are not in my contracts. I do them voluntarily. Here’s the link to my gallery of just construction worker portraits.

The Why

1)  Construction workers belong to a unique tribe, one that’s fascinating to interpret through photography. Construction workers make me feel at home, they’re friendly, interested in what I do, have a sense of humor and mostly eager to pose. Also, they build things and I build photographs. We are simpatico.

2)  The session are high energy and very in the moment.

3)  Short duration, a photographic sprint if you will. Sessions last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

4)  Participation levels are high and both sides of the camera, we have fun with the process.

5)  The challenge of uncontrolled lighting and color forces me to go on instinct and experience. That’s a high for me.

6)  I get to interpret and honor these intriguing and generally happy personalities. What they do is hard, dirty and dangerous. What better way to honor them?

7)  On subsequent site visits, when I’m recognized for the work, I get my fist bumps. Awesome!

8)  Seeing how I can develop the images afterwards is an exciting process for me:

Female and male construction workers and their carpentry tools

Because of the pace and stresses of a construction site and the lurking dangers virtually everywhere, I minimize the time it takes to do these portraits. As such, I don’t use any supplemental lighting, I use what’s there. My skill is in positioning the subjects into the correct relationship with the sunlight or whatever artificial light been put up on site. But that’s the beauty of knowing what you’re doing. With todays’ technologies, a professional photographer can shoot at will with the understanding that during the edit phase, colors, contrasts and nuance can be managed to great effect. It’s the only way to produce this technical quality level.

But don’t want to get too hung up on the technical. While of course it’s important, the real skill comes in knowing how to elicit responses from folks who are generally not photographed on the job in this formal way. Construction workers take a lot of selfies but here I am doing a higher level of end result because of my eye, technical skills and true desire to honor these fellow tribe members with their own personalized construction worker portrait.

Sometimes these images end up in company newlsetters that showcase these individuals and they appreciate seeing themselves looking so good!

The Group Portrait

The group portrait is always fun because it takes a bit of performance art on my part. But I don’t mind. You have to get everyone to buy into the idea. This isn’t an issue because they’re being honored. But about 5% are on the shy side that they want to stay in the way back. That’s fine, you cant’ get everyone. And besides, the 10% in each group that are fully cooked hams provide the offset. LOL!

Group portrait GIF

A construction worker group portrait

Construction worker group portrait

 

Radiance Corridor Time Lapse

In Memory of Jane, “Jae” Carmichael

The Gig

I received an email from an executive at Mountain View Mortuary, the historic funeral home in Altadena, CA inquiring about producing a time-lapse video of the Radiance Corridor. This wing of the mausoleum is defined by a large stained glass window facing East and a series of skylights embedded in the ceiling. The way colors and shapes move through the space has to be seen, words fail me here. The photo provides some insight into the beauty of the space.

The impact upon me as I spent many hours there filming was significant. I felt as if I was being watched. Comforting and a bit strange at the same time.

The Challenge

What made this story particularly challenging was that it had no discernible narrative. Other than  sun moving through the space, there is no story. I naively thought that just the sun would be enough to enlighten this film: I’d make all the time-lapse sequences in chronological order and cut the movie in a the same chronological manner. Wrong! It didn’t work or rather I could not make it work to my satisfaction because it was too limiting in terms of flow. A good time-lapse edit is akin to a jigsaw puzzle: smooth pieces that seamlessly fit together. The reality of putting beautiful time-lapse sequences together so they fit just right is the art form of time-lapse. What seemed like a good edit idea boxed me into a look that was unformed, lacked emotion and uninteresting.

My job after the photography is to put on my producer hat and make it all come alive. No pun intended.

So I just went for it and made it as fine arty as I could. Really pushed the order and intensity of the colors. Got way out in la-la land and stopped, evaluated and eventually pulled back to what you see in the finished film because after all I did have a client to satisfy. Smile.

  Nice concept but not the right application

Hope you enjoy it and please share if you do: Radiance Corridor

Thanks for reading and watching!

Michael

Expertise In Craft & Vision: The Story of Syncreon

How It Began

In January of 2015, the U.S. headquarters marketing director of a German based supply-chain company hired me to direct and produce a time-lapse film about how they as a company transform empty warehouses into order fulfillment centers. From the jump it was envisioned as a stand alone film. Filming began in early February and ended in late April.You can see it here. Note the high view revealing the package conveyor system getting installed. It’s near the end of this film and is pivotal to the rest of this story.

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Weber Metals Heavy Transport

The following short film depicts the transportation of an extremely heavy part for the worlds largest privately owned 60K press. It moved very slowly through the city streets of Long Beach, at night with a full compliment of Highway Patrol vehicles and personnel. This very mundane process has been livened up quite a bit through the manipulation of time, (speed ramping) dramatic music and my overwhelming love of things construction and industrial related…

The press arrived in 39 pieces at the port of Long Beach. Due to their tremendous weight, each piece had to be moved via a specialized transport.

This short film depicts the transportation of one of four specialized pieces called a guide cannon. A guide cannon supports the guiding tolerance of the moving press frame. The press frame is composed of the lower crosshead, the tie rods with the pressure sleeves, the foundation crosshead and the upper crosshead with a overall weight of 8,818,490 pounds.

BOOM!

I know too much lingo but the thing to remember is that each guide cannon weighs almost 610,000 pounds and as such requires a very special process for moving from the port to the factory.

Hope you like it as much as I do!

Related Images:

Removable Solar Panels Installation Video


While driving to an out-of-state shoot in December of 2015, I received a call from the marketing director at Mitsubishi Electric US. They were interested in having a time-lapse marketing video produced for them. The story they wanted to sell / tell was how easy it is to install, maintain and use their innovative new commercial / residential product: removable solar panels.

It was a difficult shoot in the sense that the location was on the roof of a 30′ tall warehouse with roof access from a single ladder inside the building. This ladder was attached right against the wall, surrounded by a cage to catch you if you slipped. Not easy to use properly if you’re carrying gear on your back. And you’re past the spring chicken phase of your life. I took a lot of gear, (about 125 pounds for this job) so getting on the roof was problematic. Fortunately I was able to get the forklift operator (who was lifting solar panels onto the roof) to help me bring most of my stuff to the roof too. He was a total lifesaver.


The end product as envisioned by MEUS and executed by me:

 

The Construction Site Theater

How I Evaluate What Shots Will Work

A Case of Stage Site

The Site Is Live Theater

For me, project locations are large stages, with the action (construction process) playing out during multiple, daily scenes, using specialized and off-the-shelf props (hand tools, concrete pumps, tractors, etc.) by the actors (workers and supervisors). Add in ever changing and dramatic lighting conditions into this mix. For a location photographer like myself, (who specializes in time-lapse film production) the lighting conditions make or break great shots. I cannot stress this aspect enough.

Speaking of the light, there are three qualities of light: direction, unfiltered sun (specular) or cloudy bright (diffused) light. You could add overcast conditions where the the sun is totally obscured as a fourth category. The mixture of light quality and activities happening makes or breaks a great day of filming. The way the light falls on the stage throughout the day should be taken into consideration. There are other light qualities to consider, (nighttime lighting) but that’s for a future post…

The Responsibilities of the Director

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What I Have In Common With D. W. Griffith

“The thrall of great sweep and the poignancy of meticulous detail” – Jeffrey Fleishman

This quote is from a story Jeff did for the LA Times back in September. The story was about The Birth of A Nation and it was engrossing. At a particular point in the story, Jeff came up with the above quoted line when describing D.W.’s work. (And yes I wrote, asked and received permission to quote Jeff) What struck me about the line was how apropos it was when applied to my work: construction and industrial time-lapse film production. My projects occur at large active job sites, where men and women abound and an incredible amount of equipment (from items off the shelf at Home Depot to highly specialized gear that can cost upwards of a thousand dollars an hour to operate) is deployed…

I am absolutely charmed and mesmerized by life on a construction site: the noise, hard work, the specialty tasks that play out every day, it’s all good for me. From project managers, engineers and surveyors to the young guns just beginning their careers, it really fascinates me. It’s the scope of it all, the ultimate grandeur that results from meticulous planning and execution. All projects begin the same way: from dirt. Whether it’s demolishing something first or starting from pristine earth, every project deals with dirt, above and below ground. Then it’s pouring the foundation, building the walls, wiring, roofing, etc., (plus a ton more) until it’s all done. And the frequent scaling of men and machines on site is as tightly a choreographed dance  as you’ll find anywhere. Add bad weather and seasonal changes to the mix and you’re in for quite a ride all righty.

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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! Continue reading »

It’s Elementary My Dear Client

For the most part when I get called to produce a construction time lapse film, the request falls into one of two categories: a) …“we’re starting tomorrow, (or in the next few days) can you set up a camera?” or b) …”we’ve already begun our project and would like you to come out ASAP.”

This presents a challenge because as a story teller I’m concerned about the beginning of each and every film I produce. At what point does your story begin? As a client you have to ask yourself how will our story begin?

Beginnings

Every film, book, play, song or performance’s beginning is used to set up the audience for the rest of the story. A good beginning gets you to the emotional spot where the rest of the story can be consumed easily while informing and entertaining.

It’s not just a construction project, it’s your carefully choreographed story waiting to be told by someone like me, a dedicated and enthusiastic professional with a deep fondness for all things construction.

Call Me As Early As Possible

When you contact me with short, (or no) notice my ability to access your projects timeline is compromised. I’ll get your audience interested in what you have to present to them because that’s what I do. But the more time I have up front, the better and possibly more clever the intro. And that’s key to getting the attention of your audience.

End Result

For example, I was asked to produce this film after the demolition and new foundation work was completed. Not ideal for me and I struggled throughout the shoot to come up with an opening fitting to the subject. I succeeded because again, that’s what I do but I would have preferred to begin the project with a time-lapse sequence of the existing buildings demise…oh well a fella can dream can’t he?

Enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

Michael