Tag Archives: animation

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.


2011 Rose Bowl Time-Lapse of Fireworks Show

July 4, 2011

Here is the sequence I shot last night. I rendered the frames out at a much higher rate than I thought I would (10 frames per second vs. 2 frames per second) and I like it. The challenge was finding the right tempo music. Garage Band had what I needed. Enjoy.


For Arts’ Sake, Own It!

Portrait of Tom Schumacher

Copyright Owners Unite!

The single biggest headache I’ve had (and continue to have) as a self-employed professional artist is getting across the idea to my clientele that I own MY artwork and that they are merely licensing the use of MY artwork for their purposes. If (and only if), I sign over MY copyrights to my clientele, do they then take “ownership” of MY artwork. Other than that act, we self-employed artists always own our work. Period. Easy concept to say. Easy concept to grasp. Hard concept to put into play.


I’ll give you my observations from listening to others talking about their various copyright ownership negotiations over the years: They were afraid of not getting the job. (reasonable) They were afraid of making the client mad. (again reasonable) They did not know they owned their own work. (WHAT? THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT KNOWING THAT!) When you work for yourself what do you have? An expectation of security? An expectation of enough money? An expectation of owning your own home? An expectation of having a comfortable after work life? An expectation of contentment? You get the idea.

You can have all of the above and more but you have to fight (negotiate) for it. Who can predict the future? (Can you predict future cash flow from the photos in your archive?) The US copyright law recognizes artists’ copyrights. Don’t let clients walk all over these rights. Clients do this because you let them. Stop it. Now. Fight (negotiate, explain, cajole) for what is yours by an act of law and by being the creator of YOUR art.

Artists by nature (intelligent design?) are right-brained (not hair-brained, not left-brained) and frequently back away from the tough task of being their own advocate when it comes to pricing and protecting their work. Another important hat we self-employed professional artists wear is that of educator. It is our job to ensure that our client base understands the copyright law and how it affects the price of professional photography. Engage in the work ethic of copyright ownership negotiation and you will enjoy many long-term self-employed professional artist benefits (positive cash flow being one).

For example (you knew one was coming, didn’t you?), in 1994 I was commissioned by The Walt Disney Company’s feature animation unit to photograph several hundred artists, administrators, technical support staff, drivers and executives who worked on Pocahontas. I was paid well for the project and one item of particular importance during the negotiations was physical ownership of MY film and copyrights. I explained why (see above) these two items were important to me. There were some tense moments but in the end I maintained my position. I am not in any way suggesting my client at the time (who to this day is a friend) was weak. Not at all. He was in a power position and could have gone to another provider. I was counting on my relationship with him, his intellect and my talents as a negotiator and portrait artist to win the contract. He won too in that he had selected a photographer who was a seasoned professional, who had completed dozens of previous assignments, who was going to help produce the project and who always delivered results. Everybody won that day. The book turned out well and all was good in the land of Disney.

In July of this year, I get an email from a production company doing a documentary film on the history of Disney animation. They want to use a photo from the aforementioned Pocahontas portrait project. They had checked around the studio archives and research library and couldn’t find MY film anywhere. (Go figure!) So the producer (a former client) suggested they contact me. We discussed their desire to include MY image in their film. I asked them to send me a contract spelling out exactly how they intended to use MY photograph. I was able to negotiate a decent sum for the use of MY image. Because I kept ownership of MY work, I was able to use that leverage to get what I wanted while giving them what they desired. For me it was found money. For them it was a problem solved. Fifteen years after the fact, I was paid again for the use of MY photograph. A good reason to own your own artwork. You never know when that phone call or email will come. And when it does, you want to be prepared.

To be honest, I hate this part of the business but it goes with being a professional self-employed artist. And frankly some photographic assignments don’t require this negotiation. I decide on a case-by-case basis what’s worth fighting for. I learn by doing. Win some. Lose some. Break even on some. That is the reality. But keep at it and eventually you’ll arrive at a place where you’re able to secure these important rights when need be. That is the goal. The government gives these rights to YOU. Don’t give them away, don’t ignore them. They’re precious and need to be respected by YOU and in turn your clientele will respect them too.

Good luck to all of us.

Group Portraits and all that Schtick

600 people in front the the Feature Animation Building (FAB)

600 people in front the the Feature Animation Building (FAB)

So yesterday I photographed the 600+ people who work for Disney Animation Studios in Burbank. As some of you know, I was one of the main outside photographers doing business with The Walt Disney Company for close to 20 years. I sort of walked away from it in 2006 for a lot of reasons, my dad’s death, 9/11, my son, teaching and the list goes on. So I get a call the other day from a colleague who was actually  booked for the shoot but became unavailable when the client changed the date.  So he gave me a call. I was delighted and flattered to say the least. This type of photography is an art form for me, one I cultivate actively so it was tremendously gratifying when the client wrote me earlier today saying how much she loved the sample I sent over. The sample is the image posted for this entry.

I was helped by Peter Duffy, a colleague and former student, someone whom I look forward to helping when I can. Actually we have helped each other on a number of shoots. As a team we work very efficiently, professionally and have a lot of fun making photographs. He showed up with his 5D Mark II so I could take that baby out for a test spin. What a nice camera! I was stationed in a scissor-lift about fifteen feet up, shooting with a 24mm tilt-shift lens poked through a ring flash. I had to shoot at high noon due to the limited availability of the big three who run the division. My choice of course was to shoot early in the morning. We’re talking about artists here though, people who usually don’t like mornings, so probably only half would have showed. Late afternoon and they all would have been squinting, so noon it was. About thirty minutes prior to their arrival, the 600 or so made their way to the front of the building. Peter helped wrangle them into the three groupings I had designated. Using a bull horn it was a bit like wrangling cats. But he worked the crowd quite well. Give a bull dog a bull horn and that’s what you’d expect. Thanks Peter. The three executives came out and we were on!

I pumped 4000 watt seconds of power through the flash tube and it threw light all the way to the doors under the word “ANIMATION”. I shot at 1/100 @ f/13 @ 200 ISO and pulled f/7.1 as my fill. Impressive light and in my opinion (and experience with other group shots), a very efficient way to light a scene like this. As a variation I had them put on sunglasses and look slightly up at the sun. I had them wave and make funny faces. I had them tilt their chins up and then down. Incredibly almost all of the people participated. I was very pleased. I even did a little schtick (which I always prepare) to put them at ease and to break their thoughts as to what another group portrait in the sun was going to be like. I live for this type of opportunity.

I say it that way because the main thing bugging the client about their last photographer was that he did not direct them during the actual time he was making the exposures. A critical time to ignore your subjects, don’t you think? She related how they thought he was futzing with the camera while they waited for him to begin. Then he says he’s all through, thank you very much. I saw the photo, it left a lot to be desired. Like as many people as possible looking at the camera. Like as many people as possible smiling or at least paying attention to the photographer. At finally there was no attempt whatsoever to try and make the building come alive. It is a stand out facility, a piece of art. Why not treat it as such? After all magic is produced there.  My clients honor me when they commission my talents. I want to return the favor by honoring their work too. Pretty simple equation but  a lot of professional artists either don’t think like this or just plain forget.

After the shot was over I waited 20 minutes (in the scissor-lift bucket, in the sun) for people to clear out, I shot a bracket of three additional exposures, normal, +1 and -1 for the HDR portion of this project. I generated my HDR background plate and after a few duplicate layers here and there, a few blend modes here and there, a little burning and dodging, I was ready to drop in the shot of the people. Add a stock cloud image and there you have it, a nice portrait of nice people. Oy! such fun!

Here is the original shot. It took a bit of time to achieve the final result but my client is very happy indeed.

The camera original

The camera original

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