1. We welcome any feedback, questions or comments

Category Archives: Education

When a post focuses more on learning the craft of photography

Three Simple Words

Dr. quiz says let's get going in 2014!

Dr. Quiz says let’s get going.

My friend Nigel over at Zenologue posted a challenge today and of course I took it up….

Regarding New Years resolutions and why they fail turned into this challenge: what three words will help propel you through 2014?  Three words. Three ideas. Three goals. Three definitions.

Mine are savor, engage and explore.

Savor: to engage and enjoy the moment right in front of me. I tend to look ahead and think about all the things I need and want to do while not allowing the present to get in. In the past I’ve missed a lot of personal and social interactions and I’ve missed important business information by not listening  to a clients needs…I was thinking too far ahead. That’s not to say I don’t plan but I could do with more attention to the moment.

Engage: one of my long term goals is to teach and speak publicly. While I’ve accomplished both of these goals since 2003, I’d like more consistency throughout a given year. I savor the times when I’m helping others get a leg up on the technology and techniques the industry in general and that I specifically use to advance my artistic and business goals…not necessarily in that order. Currently I’ve three opportunities so 2014 is working out so far…

Explore: probably the hardest one of the three for me in that it requires reading, writing and using new applications. I’m not a great student as I have dyslexia, (I’m left handed after all) and although I do better as a hand-ons learner there’s a lot to be said for just reading up on stuff…I will do more.

That’s it. Simple. Direct. Focused.

What are your words for 2014? Use the comment box below.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Personal Branding Matters…

Visual Sage Michael e. Stern

Last week I spent an evening with Kevin Susman of Storm Cellar and his WHYMATTERS #personalbranding Workshop. Kevin runs Storm Cellar and is a brand strategist, filmmaker and guy who does things for corporations. He has taken his corporate expertise and reformulated it into a personal branding program.

Why was I drawn to this? Number one reason: Kevin is a photography client, we became friends as a result, have kept in touch and I like to support my friends.

Secondly, I’m always looking for an edge when it comes to the self-employment game, especially since I’m in the photo industry which we all know is as easy as tying shoes to become successful in and thrive at…

I know marketing is important. I know identifying your potential clients is important. I know a strategy statement is important. I know tag lines are important. On my own I wasn’t able to drill down in profound ways to understand and integrate these important moving parts.

After Kevin’s workshop that is no longer the case. The presentation was concise and entertaining. The hands-on portion was the kicker for me. We had to interact with others in the group. This is where I/we were able to flesh out the mysteries of what the hell we were doing…

I found it extremely productive and the end result has given me a clearer path to the far side of my career. I’ve been in this game for 32+ years so I’m no neeb. But we all need a little help and this workshop was dope!

Cheers!

 

Michael
The Visual Sage

Partner With Good Products

Trying something new here…my first video promo/post where I’m discussing the merits of the eMotimo TB3 motion control unit.

Hope you find it useful:

Thanks for watching.

Michael

The Fabulous Forum

August 27, 2013. I was on my 10th assignment for the Madison Square Company in New York. As the renovation of the Fabulous Forum proceeds, my archive is contains over 1500 images and with each new shoot, continues to grow. Here’s my gallery of 39 (so far) select images.

I love documentary photography because of the way historical photography instantly transports me to a place and time much like a favorite song does. Creating the historical record of what’s taking place at this storied venue will be important for future Los Angelenos and scholars. and it’s a lot of fun for me now. My client has mentioned more than once how much she appreciates my devotion to the project. No worries!

I grew up watching the Lakers, Kings and the circus at the Forum. Usually with my dad. Just he and I. As he’s been gone several years now, this assignment takes on more meaning each time I venture through the place documenting it’s current state. It saddens and thrills me simultaneously. Kinda weird. But oh so much fun.

Here’s my equipment-light location package:

time lapse photography package
Everything I need is in the box: tripod, speedlight, cameras, lenses, water, food, towels, flare shield and an iPad. (I look at previous shoots to match up camera positions for shoot-to-shoot consistency)

iPad on location at the Fabulous ForumI ain’t no spring chicken anymore and with all the walking up and down narrow passages, traipsing all over and around various construction detritus and equipment, it pays to be as nimble as possible.

Each time I set foot on the property I’m obligated to wear steel-toed boots, an orange vest, safety glasses and a hard hat: Michael e. Stern in saftey gearI bought a Lil Mule camera dolly for the express purpose of moving my camera in random, controlled patterns. Here’s what it looks like:

lil mule time lapse michael sternIt’s sweet. I’m glad I made the investment in one. Here’s my first test with it prior to taking out to the Forum.

How’s that for fun? Footage from the Forum to follow….

Thanks for reading.

 

Michael

 

Related Images:

Reflection of Effort

Through consistent and tedious effort my SEO strategy is paying off. I’ve been getting calls for commercial and time lapse photography assignments in key areas I want to work during this phase of my life and career: portrait, time lapse, construction and event photography. (not necessarily in that order)

This assignment came in about a month ago: to time lapse trucks entering the Port of Long Beach’s Yusen Terminals. The idea was to measure when the heaviest and lightest traffic times occurred throughout a 20 hour cycle. The end time lapse film had to include a clock to help easily identify these key times. My camera had to be in a single, stationary position.

My client scoped out the location earlier and selected the perfect spot: inside, high, protected and with power. The only issue was reflections while shooting through glass. Here’s my solution: a Lenskirt and a black cloth on a C-stand.

TruckStops-7TruckStops-9Why have the extra black screen behind the camera? Years ago I learned the value of testing set ups before prior to a shoot. For this shoot I tested my camera, intervalometer and tripod. I allowed for reflections but not enough to prevent a reshoot. I then purchased the Lenskirt to eliminate the possibility of reflections for said reshoot. I bought this particular item because a colleague recommended it.

I needed to ensure (as much as possible), that reflections would not interfere with the content. I’m setting up for the test when I realized that the lens was going to be at an oblique angle to the glass and reflections could still be an issue. And I was correct. I mimicked my set up as closely as possible and lo and behold there were reflections even with the Lenskirt attached. The current version was designed assuming  lenses will be squared up to the glass, not at an oblique angle. I just heard from Aaron, the creator of the Lenskirt and he’s making a larger version for just this reason. Hooray!

Here’s an early frame pull prior to my 16 hour test:time lapse test shoot using a LenskirtThis cropped frame clearly shows the reflection of a basket and the wall behind it in the window. This problem was solved by adding the black cloth behind. So now on to the shoot. Once on location I cleaned the glass, set up my camera, doubled checked all connections, ran a few test frames, reset the Promote Control to begin 13+ hours hence, left and hoped for the best.

close up of Promote Controls intervalometerThe shoot went well except that outside dirt and the glass thickness caused additional issues that had to be dealt with in post:

time lapse frame pull from the Yusen Terminals night shootThe reflections being as prominent as they were surprised me. The dirt was unfortunate. If I could have arranged for a cleaning of the glass prior I would have. As I scrutinized the window during set up, I knew the dirt bunnies would be minimal and easy to remove.

Here’s the finished frame:

time lapse frame from the Yusen Terminals film

Lightroom’s spot removal tool and the sync function were invaluable in helping me build better content for this client. The larger issue here is that there are ways to get new business in the door and there are ways to successfully complete an assignment. Unknown things often happen on a shoot, success and failure change places easily and the agile and vigilant pro understand this.

As a buyer, that’s what you want in todays’ market.

The completed short film:

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Time Lapse Compositions

Space Shuttle Endeavor spends time in Inglewood, CA.

As a still photographer first and a relative newcomer to time lapse stories second, I needed to reaffirm and embrace my core strength: composition and framing. Where I set my camera is an important first step when building one photograph at a time. As I’ve transitioned to time lapse short films and stories, it has become more important to think about framing and composition when exposing 1,000’s of frames. Moving a camera during a time lapse sequence makes it crucial to think about as many compositional relationships and framing issues as one can. If it’s in the shot it’s going to be recorded.

You have to decide if the elements in question are distracting from or contributing to the story. It’s up to you to make this determination. It’s what helps to refine a recognizable style. It’s a process of learning how you respond to a situation, what your vision is going forward from that point to the end of the project. A lot of time lapse filming is not set and forget…

Sometimes of course you have what you have at a scene and you do the best you can but when the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it. Preview the shot and move items out of the frame that get in the way. On top of all your technique and process, is a story that needs telling, If this story is not evident to your audience, you’ve failed the mission….

I should follow my own advice. This short story would have been better if I had removed the sports items against the house and styled the drapes seen from the MRKII camera position. I was caught up in 3 camera placements, 3 interval settings and in 3 points of view. And missed it. I didn’t think about the peripheral elements in all 3 compositions as I should have, just the T2i, (panning) and 5D, (downward angle) POV’s. My bad. Fortunately most of the usable footage came from the panning camera.

I wanted to repeat a camera move over time, blend the footage together in post. I figured this would facilitate moving the story along with a seamless and smooth feeling to it. For me it’s about the emotional response you get from watching my stories, this is nothing new by any stretch but is it worth remembering…..

FYI the device I used for this particular story was the Syrp Genie

Happy 4th.

Michael

Camera 2 Camera Expo June 28-30, 2013 in Vegas!

 

Camera2Camera

Camera 2 Camera Expo…Come On Down!

I was invited to participate at next weeks brand new camera expo in Vegas. I’m putting on a 3-day time lapse workshop and a 90 minute Lightroom Develop Tips demonstration.

I’m bringing a Syrp Genie, an eMotiomo TB3, a Dynamic Perception Stage 0 Dolly, a Meade Instruments telescope pan and tilt head, a Promote Systems Controller amongst other gear that will be available for participants to handle and try out. Under expert supervision of course…  : )

I’ve been shooting a lot of content to show and all participants will have access to the gear.

We’ll be going out to a dry lake bed for an early morning shoot, to the Bellagio for an afternoon shoot and to the roof of the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa for our evening shoot. Afterwards will be working with Lightroom and Premiere to put our sequences together.

Participants are encouraged to bring their own gear but not to worry if you don’t have it all. I do.

This will be fun. I guarantee it.

The second program is about ways to use the Lightroom Develop Module to pull the moment out of your photograph. Called Fantastic Toning Tips, I’ll walk you through the must do’s that I follow plus a boatload of ways to add punch, drama and visual effects to one image or an entire time lapse sequence. (see above)

Hope to see some of you there!

Michael

I’m A Picture Maker, Not A Picture Taker

This is a photograph of how the subject appears during the time of day I prefer to work:

Machi-ai-1

I made a number of additional exposures while on the scene. I integrate a secondary light into the scene during these additional exposures. All 50 of ’em. They’re toned and cropped in Lightroom, exported to Bridge for assessment of order and then assembled in Photoshop where the finishing touches are applied.

Here’s the photograph I built:

Machi-ai

From cradle to grave in under 3 hours…..

Here are two more examples:

Garfield Heights Landmark District Photos

Interior photographs of the recording studio and control rooms.

A video of me in action.

Each exposure in this process is a light switch. This switch can be on or off. Made lighter or darker. Crisp or fuzzy. I have other things I can do with these “switches” but a fella shouldn’t tell all his secrets should he?

A successful photograph is a series of small decisions made correctly. It’s that simple. Especially after 10,000 hours of practice. I build photographs, I do not take pictures.

I can look at a scene and overlay a lighting paradigm:  the lighting angles, the contrast ratios, the color relationships and the brightness range. I commit this to memory and off I go. The camera is locked in place, I move around the subject with my trusty little light and in true “painting with light” fashion, I sculpt the final composition. This is part one.

Part two is all about alining the files so they share camera calibration, lens profile and white balance characteristics. Then more fun. Cropping for impact and toning for beauty.

Part three is when I assemble the elements into a cohesive whole. My average is 25 layers per man-made scene.

This technique isn’t new. It doesn’t break new ground. This is however my favorite technique because it offers many visual choices, demands improvisation and also provides a level of control that meshes perfectly with todays technology.

Thanks for reading

Michael

Color Correction Primer & Stuff

I thought I’d offer something different in this post…one of my presentations about additive and subtractive color theories, 3-click color correction and a few odds and ends about printing a digital file.

There are more of these at my slideshare site.

I hope you find it useful.

Michael

Light Painting A Sunset

Twilight Magic

Twilight Magic

I’ve been testing a pan and tilt time lapse move I’ll be incorporating into a new film. It’s important to understand visually how the “move” looks and what result each pan and tilt setting delivers. As part of my preparation, I purchased a pan and tilt head that’s designed to be used with telescopes, tracking bodies in motion. It can be programmed to pan and tilt at varying speeds and thus my testing has incorporated a variety of subject matter and frame interval rates.

The image above is the end frame for one of the tests I did this past weekend in Palm Desert. It’s a Photoshop composite with 18 separate layers using the “Power Pop” light painting technique where a 580EXII flash is fired off manually 20-100 times and spread across 20-60 frames. It’s the signature look for the ending of certain time lapse narratives but it’s just one of the ways I build better photographs. It takes time, patience and creativity to build the assets, but you’re giving yourself flexibility and control over the process. Time well spent I say….just bring a jacket and a few snacks…

Why do I add an ending this complex vs. just having the scene fade to black? ? Because I want to do more than just a time lapse sequence. I want to have visual fun with the process in its’ entirety. Why should I limit myself to one thing during a shoot? Besides it’s the challenge of it that I find compelling….what can I do to finish this thing off? I know! A multiple exposure, light-painted landscape that’s illustrative in nature.

I’ve done so many of these now that I’ll be putting a new gallery up soon with this type of work. Stay tuned….

I’ll be posting the tests as I complete them. Be sure to click the “Videos/Experiments…” link above to enjoy my previous efforts.

In the meantime here’s what the Layers Panel looks like:

Panel

Let me know if I can answer any questions for you.

Michael