Category Archives: Education

When a post focuses more on learning the craft of photography

Branding Your Company

The Bargain

I’m a bartering horse-trading kind of a guy so when I sense an opportunity to “transact a little business” I jump on it. It’s always no if you don’t try, the odds only go up from there, right? This was the case in 2014. As the official photographer I was wandering around our neighborhood documenting our biennial historic homes tour when I happened upon one of the vendors we invite to share their wares and expertise with our guests and homeowners: boutique teas, coffee, pastries, home repair businesses and the like. Scott Campbell the owner of Window Repair and Restoration is accommodating, affable and most important for me was interested in my proposal from the jump. His company works a lot in Pasadena due to its large number of historical homes. My 113 year-old home had 17 double-hung windows, painted shut with sash cords cut. Many of them were shut crooked and painted in place. Our drafty home had higher than-we-should-have energy bills.

Scott listened intently to my offer; I’d make a branding film in exchange for tuning-up my windows. In subsequent phone calls and emails, we struck an agreement.

The Process

As in all film production sites visits are necessary for developing shot lists. Understanding what goes on in the shop, meeting the on-camera employees and assessing the technical requirements for lighting and sound were crucial to this end. At my home it was measuring for the windows that needed rebuilding and looking for rot. Newer contemporary windows installed years earlier were to be replaced with custom built era-appropriate windows. In order to maximize the beauty of my garden for outside foreground shots we scheduled the work for spring. Ironically none of that footage made it into the film but here’s a  blooming shot:  

That’s part of film production however, not every shot makes the cut. It’s all about serving the story.

Just for fun though, here’s one motion control sequence that I couldn’t fit in:


The challenge was what to include that makes the case for Scott’s company as an efficient, friendly and professional service. As is my custom when I am unfamiliar with a process be it window tune-ups, assembly of a 60K closed die forging press (password is WM60KS) or light through stained glass, I’ve been fortunate to document I got plenty of coverage. Normally a job like the one Window Restoration and Repair did for me is a 2 days but they obliged my need to film certain tasks in specific ways in order to tell their story properly and this added a third day. What can I say I’m an artist!

Enjoy the film and thanks for reading.


CIDH Construction

December 6-7, 2019

Drilling All Night Long

An overview of the CIDH process for building a support for a trestle.One of the absolute joys of my life as a professional photographer is when I’m commissioned to photograph something I haven’t seen before. I arrived on this site at 7pm and left the following afternoon at 3:30. CIDH, (Cast in drill hole) is a process for drilling large diameter holes into the ground. As part of this process, drilling fluid is poured into the hole in copious amounts and multiple steel casings are assembled together into one long tube, (in this case 120′) and gradually twisted downwards by an oscillator. These steps keep the hole from collapsing onto itself. After drilling a rebar cage is guided into the hole. The one on this job weighed 78 tons and I was told this was medium sized! Finish off by filling with concrete and the base support is ready for its job. Commonly used as support for trestles when building bridges and elevated roadways, this one will be the base of support for a trestle in a streetcar system currently being built by Walsh in Orange County. This nighttime site visit had rain, wind, cranes, constant noise and the “Grabber”, the beast that scoops out 7 tons of material at a time. Loved all of it! In addition to the usual and customary progress photos, when I had time and the action called for it, I set up time-lapse cameras and videoed using a gimbal. Following are two scenes from the finished film:

The Oscillator

The Grabber


Progress Photos

A medium shot of the grabber rising out of the steel casing tube

Medium shot of man in manlift spraying drilling fluid into steel casing.

Close-up image of the teeth of the grabber.

Overview shot of the rebar cage being lifted into the hole

Medium shot of the last of the rebar cage sliding into the hole.I appreciate large job sites because the camaraderie displayed by the workforce is humorous, direct and real. It’s appealing frankly. Being a sole proprietor means I spend a lot of time alone so I have to get my fix when I can. Construction workers are accommodating in this way. During downtime I chat with them about how they got into the business and why they stay. I especially like to hear about the work they perform if it’s a specialty. For some the family business is how they got in, for some get recruited at job fairs and some just like trucks and dirt, like me. It’s fascinating and I’m lucky to be part of their community even if it’s sporadic and short-lived.

Trucks, dirt and image making, what could be better!

Thanks for reading.


PS: 5 years ago I time-lapsed a similar CIDH process for the Port of Long Beach. I set up cameras and left them in place for the duration. Footage was edited by the client. Still a pretty cool video.

The Time-Lapse Challenge

The looming and constant challenge in my niche market is how to explain to potential clients why I do what I do. It’s not the photography but the thinking and feeling that goes into each film I deliver that is the ultimate challenge to get across the great divide. I’ve found this approach helpful to many of clients:

photograph of a gravel pit made to look like a jigsaw puzzle

It’s Like A Jigsaw Puzzle

The main camera provides provides context. I refer to this as the master shot. It is the border, the outside piece that forms and defines the boundaries of your story. The rover days, (the ground-based time-lapse footage gathered with moving cameras) video footage and drone work are individual pieces that I fit together in order to make your story flow. These pieces can be fitted in a variety of ways: the order in which they appear, the amount, (in seconds) each section of footage runs, the speed at which a clip plays back, how the head and tail (beginning and end) of each clip is connected to the piece that came before and the piece that immediately follows.

photograph of Michael e. Stern, time-lapse photographer scouting a location

On location scouting for the best master camera spot and our agreed upon choice.

And the beauty is, this process isn’t fixed. One can always revisit the master movie file and move things around, change a jump cut to a dissolve, ramp up or slow down a clip, raise or lower a the audio level of a sound effect or music track. This is your prerogative as the client when viewing rough cuts, to ask that the puzzle be fitted together differently. Although the work is so thoroughly finessed by the time you see the film that little if any changes are necessary. But you have the option. That is my guarantee as the puzzle master, that it fits together as you desire.

After Effects CC 2015 interface

This interface screenshot is from After Effects. This is typical of my films, many little pieces adding up to a cohesive whole.

Time Lapse Narrative Talk

This week….

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 11.11.37 AM

Hyper Lapse & Time Lapse: Tools, Definitions & Examples

Time lapse is the art form I cultivate

In order to create better collaboration between creative and business types, I’ve put together this list of time lapse definitions with accompanying examples when appropriate. Although there exist some differences from the norm, for the most part these definitions are common and familiar within the time lapse and motion picture industries.

I hope you find this informative, invaluable and motivating enough to call me to discuss your pie-in-sky project. Hello? 818-422-0696…

The following definitions are common. If the definition is one I’ve come up with vs. what is commonly used, I’ll let you know with a • before the definition  While there are some truisms, rules are made to be adapted by the creator and that’s part of what you’re buying from a professional time lapse director/producer/photographer: a willingness to jump off the deep end for the sake of the project.

Continue reading »

why-Time Lapse?

I'm a huge fan of these helicopter POV's.

I’m a huge fan of these helicopter POV’s.

In the interest of furthering overall knowledge about the process of making short time lapse films (or narratives as I like to call them), the 3 distinct phases of production and why I like to make them, I’ve prepared an 18 minute presentation online.

Knowing none of us has that much continuous free time anymore (right?), I took the liberty of identifying 14 key points and making them into much shorter videos bits.

There’s a lot of great info contained within….time to watch!

why-Time Lapse?

Thanks for reading.

The Visual Sage


Well Hung Hardware 2

In the previous post, “Well Hung Hardware”, I blogged and showed how I hang a variety time lapse rigs used for short and long term assignments. The reaction was very positive and I decided to add to the collection:

This one I call Spidey.

Gorilla Pods are great for the odd situation.
Gorilla Pods are great for the odd situation. But you have to rig it pointing down for stability. The sequence lasted about 45 minutes.


I really like my Syrp Genie and Lil’ Mule so why not put them together? The sequence is sweet but you’ll have to wait for the video to post….

That's a 12 volt lead acid battery for powering the 6 rpm motor. The weights add stability.
That’s a 12 volt lead acid battery for powering the 6 rpm motor. The weights add stability.


Continue reading »

Well Hung Hardware

Time lapse photography is very hot right now and I’m grateful for the amount of commissioned work that’s come my way on a steady basis. My clientele have been generous, supportive and appreciative of the stories I’ve produced for them.

On most set ups, I take BTS snappers of my camera rigs. These photographs are used for reference and for the many talks I give on shooting commercial time lapse assignments.

C-stands, Gorilla Pods, Magic Arms, adjustable A-Clamps, segmented tubes, sandbags, apple boxes and tripods are fair game, especially when I have to rig in odd, out-of-way places: on scaffolding, attached to structural beams, wrapped around tree trunks, setting on soft earth or resting on rocks and boulders.

So without further ado, here’s a rogues gallery of my hanging hardware…

Moving cameras along a vertical axis requires a 27:1 stepper motor.

Moving cameras along a vertical axis requires a 27:1 stepper motor. Real power for driving up and down in a controlled fashion.

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Experiment with Time Lapse Editing

I’m enamored with time lapse and all that is has offered me the past three years. Here’s a snappy little PIP project for you. (picture in-a-picture effect)


I was giving a talk at the Apple Store in Santa Monica a few weeks ago and since it was not practical to bring all the gear I wanted to for the talk, the next best thing was to time lapse my favorite motion control device in its’ place. The TB3 from eMotimo in combination with the Dynamic Perception Stage 0 Dolly, two mefoto tripods, a li-on battery from Anker and a sandbag are what I use to create my signature motion effects.

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Look, Imagine & Go. Pull the story out of any digital file…

This excerpt is from an interview I did with Nigel Merrick from the Zenologue professional photography marketing website. One of my favorite informational websites dedicated to helping photographers live their dreams…