Tag Archives: achievement

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

My New Website

Screenshot from Filezilla ftp dialog box

Screenshot from Filezilla ftp dialog box

Well I’m back in business with a new website and I know more now then I ever thought or ever wanted to know about WordPress sites, themes, pages custom menus, ftp transfers, directories and root folders…the list goes on and on…

Consolidating three sites down to one, working with three different customer support systems, support tickets, email conversations and live chats…drove me nuts for the past 3 weeks.

If the support forums are a true indicator, setting up a WordPress site is a PIA and I never want to go through this again. It may appear to be a simple process on the surface but the instructions are anything but, especially if you’re used to simple, direct, plain language and are a visual/hands on learner like I am.

Thanks for your patience. I look forward to spending time the rest of this year helping you in your endeavors…

’til the next post.

Michael

Are You Doing Enough Today For Tomorrow?

The Rabbit Hole of Retirement

Our Collective Challenge

For all self-employed people saving for the time when you want to work less and play more is as crucial as the product or service your business is providing. That being said, it ain’t always easy but it must always be a significant part of your monthly, quarterly or yearly plan. If not then what’s going to happen when the world no longer wants your product or service or you choose to no longer provide it? Dog food and newspaper blankets? Drastic for sure but you get my point. Plan, execute and prepare to enjoy your after work life or most likely you will not be comfortable.

I’ve been saving and planning since 1983. I’ve had many good years of savings and investment growth and several years of it going the other way. The point is to get in the game. If you don’t play in some form or fashion then you don’t have any room to complain when you come up empty. I had a friend who worked very hard as an auto mechanic for years…supported his wife, two kids and his mother. Admirable for sure but he didn’t take care of himself or his future. I kept urging him to put something away. Even 50 bucks a month. Just begin the process. Get used to putting something aside, it gets easier each time you do it. He didn’t listen. Said his kids would take care of him like he did for his mom. Well he got hurt and working on cars was more difficult. His wife left him (that’s another story), his kids grew. His mother passed. The business he worked at was sold out from under him and he was let go. He ended up living in a guest house trading rent for handyman favors around the property. Ouch! Spent years they were.

I know others in the same boat and while I feel for them, it was on them to do something and they didn’t. I know it’s a struggle. But you have to do something. Remember, nobody loves you like you mother and sometimes not even her. Ya gotta do it for yourself.

Educate Yourself

What can you do to begin? Read up on the terms used in the investment industry: stocks, bonds, returns, dividends, etc. Get familiar with the terms. Understand what they try to do. Understand the concept of risk. Find a broker and get a dialog going about what you can do with the money you have and how to begin investing. Don’t invest yet. Make them provide you with a written plan. I’ve had bad experiences with Prudential, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. Hell they all go bad at some point. Greed gets ’em so be vigilant. it’s your money and future life. I’ve been with with a firm called D. A Davidson. It’s been close to 18 years and I make sure they explain everything in writing. I stop by whenever I feel like it or call anytime. I’ve become more educated and savvy about how my money and this firm works for me.

I know my risk tolerance profile and what I’m comfortable with. For the record I take on moderate risk and I look for stocks that pay dividends. It’s free money and I reinvest those dividends into additional shares of stock. It grows the investment automatically. I get notices every quarter to keep me apprised of the growing value. I also own value companies whose stock prices generally increase over time.

This is greatly simplified but it’s the point I’m making that is key here: do something today. Start small. Read first, you’ll be able to formulate better questions to ask the person you’ll be entrusting your money with. Losses are inevitable. So are gains. The trick is to have more of the later than former.

It ain’t that easy but it ain’t that hard. But you have to begin. Today.

Do it and enjoy a comfortable time when you’d rather not work.

Results

My plan is working spectacularly, it’s on track, I hit my family financial goals several years back, ahead of schedule. Brings me great comfort as I round the bend into the next phase of my life. Awesome!

Thanks for reading And good luck! You can do this!

Michael

 

Nap Time!

Wow am I refreshed! I just woke up from my mid-day nap and I’m ready to put in another 6 hours or so of work today. Those of us who are self-employed have a much easier time when it comes to managing out down time. Can you imagine taking a nap in an office environment? Oh yeah I know there’s always those energy drinks to bring us back from the sleepy time. Not me. I want a nap. Give my brain a bit of time to recharge. Absolutely necessary for the daily tasks that lay ahead: shooting, administration, marketing, networking events, blogging, client touches, etc. Years ago one of the divisions at Disney (a client since 1982) put a cot, table and lamp in an unused office so that it would be available for those who needed it. As far as I know it never was because it didn’t last long. There was a stigma attached that if you napped you were lazy or just not the right fit for the culture. Phooey I say! Let the naps begin!

I regularly awake between 4:30 and 6:00 am most mornings. I used to fight it and go back to sleep but not anymore. One of the advantages of getting older is you choose comfort over style. And my comfort level is to get up when my clock says so and begin another productive day of self-employment. I’ll nap five to six hours later for about an hour and then it’s off again to the races. This idea of napping goes back to another post I wrote about knowing the times of day and days of the week when you are best suited for specific tasks. You can read it here.

As I wrote in the “Know Your Rhythms” post, I am hyper-aware of what I need and when I need it. If I ignore the signals that I need a nap I will not function at the high level I need in order to fulfill demanding and relentless days. What you ask do I do if I have a full day ahead and no time for napping? I go to bed much earlier than usual and if need be, take a caffeine pill to stay awake. I try not to take the pill and will try to catch a cat nap if I can. I have no shame about my need for downtime, I embrace its’ refreshing, cathartic effects on my attitude. It’s contextual however and if I can, I can and if not, I don’t.

Oh well there’s always bed time…(:())

 

 

 

Tuning Your Opportunity Radar

I was on the phone yesterday with the vice-president of photography operations for a very large company in New York. (I trust you can appreciate I keep their identity secret) They are on the verge of beginning a high-profile project in LA and I’m determined to be the contractor for their photography needs. The VP called me so we could get to know each other a bit. How did I manage to get this very busy person to call me?

I read the LA Times every morning when I’m in town. There is usually no shortage of stories about new business dealings happening LOCALLY. I emphasize locally because there is a lot of business to be had locally if one knows where to look. This particular story appeared in the LA Times in mid-summer. I could tell by the story that it would be a few months before anything got rolling. So I planned what I would say when I eventually (and hopefully) connected with the right person. As part of my research to locate this point person, I had to first locate the company contact info. Easy and difficult: for this company, it’s easy to reach the people who sell tickets, provide customer service, provide guest relations, etc. But nowhere on the company website were the relevant phone numbers listed. A Google search didn’t help either. But my opportunity radar kept beeping and I wasn’t going to ignore a good lead. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

I began by calling the lost and found office. (I was lost wasn’t I?) The person tried to be helpful and perused the company directory for me but after a few minutes of going nowhere fast I suggested the HR department as the place to go. But I was sent to another department by mistake. I assumed (wrong!) that I was indeed in HR and proceeded (after introducing myself) with my spiel.  After a minute the person who answered laughed and said I was in the wrong department but sent me to HR as a courtesy.

I introduced myself again, (third time’s a charm) stated my purpose and then went on with my pitch. After a few minutes it was clear that this person had no idea what I was talking about (neither did the others I might add) but kindly suggested that perhaps the VP of photography might be the right person. I was sent directly to this persons’ voicemail, left a message and within ten minutes received a call back. And it was the correct person to speak with. Bullseye! Right where I wanted to be.

We spoke for a few minutes (this was just an intro chat) but covered important ground. I made sure to ask questions about this person and how they came into the position of VP. It’s not all about me and my needs. It’s about their work, their needs and how I may be able to help them. This is my radar equation: tuning into the correct opportunities for the work I want to produce. I invest time into knowing what type of work I prefer to do and I sniff out those opportunities that fulfill the mission. Simple. Easy. Takes patience and a willingness to hang in there when all inquiries seem like dead ends. It’s a process.

I’ve been doing this sort of business development for years and have had my successes for sure. And this seems like one of them. I’ve also experienced failures but that is the game isn’t it? Win some. Lose some. Spend time with your family.

Good luck tuning your opportunity radar.

Michael

 

 

Related Images:

Without Risk You Become Irrelevant

I’m curious so naturally I hung out with the Curiosity. At JPL, Pasadena, CA.

 

I’ve been wanting to address the issues of failure, freedom and success for quite some time now. And the day has finally arrived. An SECP is compelled to learn new skills, take on new challenges and generally embrace the idea that learning and risk taking are inextricably intertwined and never cease. For example I seek out in-person and online events where I get to speak, teach and potentially sell products of my own making or that of partner companies. I attempt to do this in an honest, straightforward and humorous way. I spend many hours preparing materials and information and practicing the delivery of said materials and presentations.

The reason I do this: I’m dyslexic and was labeled slow in grammar school. I had tremendous difficulty comprehending what was being said and taught. My seat was moved to the front of the class. I was spoken to in a loud voice because it was clear I had a “hearing” problem. It was hard for me to endure teaching methods that did not work. Feeling humiliated added to the stress and frustration. An older brother however took great joy in teasing me about being a retard. (the acceptable word used back then) Ouch!

Thinking about my dyslexia and those school experiences moved me to see what I could do with the art, science and profession of teaching. I imagined my students (and anyone listening to me for that matter) as being dyslexic. This made me concentrate on the variety of ways information can be packaged and delivered. I strived to ensure my processes are clear, straightforward and broken down into easily digestible bits. This took years of practice, reading class critiques from students and administrators alike and professional development courses. A lot of work.

Does this take away from my time as a commercial photographer? You bet. Did I develop a new skill set, polish existing skills and insight into myself as a professional artist? Check that.

I love the process of being my own person. I’ll take on most challenges, go virtually anywhere to gain new information, knowledge and experiences that I then feed back into my business administration, marketing and sales roles. Similar to how I plow profits back into new equipment and training, teaching informs several aspects of my business and has enabled me to become an education/speaking expert in a particular market segment.

This constant searching for new ideas and experiences helps to keep me fresh and topical.

What are you doing? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

The best comment will win a signed copy of my book!

Thanks!

Michael

 

Success Is Up To You

The road to success is long but interesting…….

I am an inspired and motivated person, otherwise I wouldn’t have hung around as long (30+ years) in the world of self-employment. (and as an artist no less!) But nonetheless, it’s important to put in process protocols that help drive one towards achievable goals. As a self-employed person, I’m always hunting for sources (old and new) to  inspire and motivate.  Today as I’m reading the online version of the LA Times, I got my hit reading Dear Amy. I have been a huge fan of advice columnists for decades, it’s one of the first places I go to when reading any periodical, while traveling, at home or otherwise occupied!

Today’s column had the catch phrase that is the title of this post…”Success Is Up To You.”

Of course there are obstacles that will get in your way: life on a daily basis, other peoples agendas, your own fears, etc. You have to figure out a way to get over these real (and often times) imagined humps. I fight this on a daily basis too. I’ve trained myself and learned over the years to accept my weaknesses and to play to my strengths. It ain’t easy. Of course if it was, we’d all be successful at working for ourselves.

So what to do? Try reading as much human interest and “how I did it” stories as you can. I’ve found these stories get me thinking about my own situation, what could I have done differently, what could I be doing differently and how not make the same mistake twice. Occasionally  folks in the stories I read are people I already know about or have some connection to. That in itself is a validation that I am successful. We self-employed types must take it where we find it. Validations lurk everywhere…

What else? In addition to my chief role as a professional photographer, I have developed a career as a public speaker, trainer and author. Don’t get me wrong I am not in the 1%. I don’t live in the rarefied air of servants and private jets. I am middle class, I own a home, have money saved up and my son attends private school on a partial scholarship. Success is up to me to identify and define. Another marker for success is that I sleep well at night. Tossing and turning tells me I’m f_ _ _ _ _ _ g up somewhere and that I must deal with the issues sooner rather than later. Procrastination isn’t healthy.

I endeavor to do good for others and I try to do the right thing. That is success for me.

What else? I try to go out and meet people now more than ever and have new experiences as much as possible. This is a new strategy for me as I’m usually a homeboy, content to work out of my home office (success!) and commune in my garden (success!) I’ve added a new social aspect to my “Success Is Up To You” paradigm and it’s working: just yesterday I was speaking with a friend who is well-connected in the arts business. She is consulting with someone well-connected in the arts education business and they both know me. I got into a conversation with my friend (and just so happened to have met with the arts education person earlier in the week) and helped her bring some clarity to an issue she is struggling with. Success! Because of my comments and experience in arts education, I’ve been asked to serve on a panel. Success!

Success is up to me!

Cheers!

Michael