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Tag Archives: artist

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.

It’s The Little Things…

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

Why Does It Cost So Much?

Money

 Why Does It cost so much? –or– Why don’t I own it?

 

Filed under, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard this….”

 Knowledge & Power

The education of commercial art buyers at the client direct level is awash in a sea of misinformation and self-appointed know-it-alls. Some days I see the advantage of having a personal firing squad.

 

Professional Photography costs X dollars because commercial licensing of intellectual property is a component of the service we sell.  Referring specifically to professional photography, we don’t make widgets. We don’t sell real estate. We don’t collect data and mine it for you. We do work on commission, we work at creating intellectual property in the form of visuals and it’s the intellectual property rights built into each and every photograph we build that provides us the ability to make a living wage. Licensing the use of intellectual property for your business or personal needs is part of our business model.

 

If one works in a situation where someone else carries the weight for you, (benefits, salary, retirement, etc.) then the idea of artists’ intellectual property rights may indeed be a mystery. Add in the costs of doing business, the need to make a reasonable profit and our pricing structure and you have our business model just about summed up.

 

It’s painful when we negotiate and end up not only having been denied our licensing rights, but maddening when those rights aren’t even acknowledged. It’s not a gift or an entitlement. It’s a right. Artists own their creative works unless they sign them away. It’s the creative-art-patent.

 

 Product vs. Expression

We do not create products. We create the expression of an idea. It’s custom designed to fit your needs and desires. If you’re willing to pay for it you can own our intellectual property rights by an outright purchase and transfer of our copyright. Not recommended of course due to the expense, but it ‘s available. I’ve sold it a few times in my career.

 

If you’re unable or unwilling to purchase our intellectual work outright then we’ll come to an agreement that let’s you license the portions you need and we’ll keep the rest. We’re then free (through our ingenuity and efforts) to look for other opportunities and revenue streams. Again, this is our business model.

 

When you purchase a home you are purchasing the property rights to that home and land. When you buy a DVD you own the physical disk but not its’ content. You’ve licensed the content for a specific use. Period. That intellectual property is the property of the creating party….movie studio or independent filmmaker.

 

I lose projects because ownership issues (my rights) drive costs past what seem like arbitrarily low budgets. Education about this issue is important to both sides so a mutually beneficial understanding is developed.

 

I’m not inflexible in my pricing either. I’ve adjusted with the state of the economy but it isn’t enough; a request for a quote came in: ten business professional headshots, retouched and ready to post online. The shoot was to be on location about 13 miles from my studio. I normally charge $600.00 a shot for volume jobs like this. But I wanted to see where the bottom was so I came in at the ridiculously low price of $95.00 a shot. I was crazy to let this quote out of my office but I needed to see where bottom was. But in fact I was too high! Some other knucklehead (dumber than me) low-balled the crap out of it after I already low-balled the crap out of it. That’s four low balls! And it wasn’t enough.

 

Now where’s that firing squad?

 

 And Yet There’s More

But it’s also something much more. More profound. More disturbing than at any other time in my career.

 

It’s the inability of individuals and businesses to accept that bargaining for these rights (or even the effort to understand and grasp the concept of ownership, licensing, copyright and associated costs) makes us crazy. Ready. Aim….

 

It costs more than you realize, or want to spend, or have been told is your budget to spend because it’s convenient not to think about what it takes to engage a professional who trades in the photographic arts.

 

The copyright law that protects every creative’s intellectual property rights includes photographers. And movie studios. And authors. And songwriters. And poets. And comedy acts. And TV shows. And professional sports leagues. We’re in good company and we aim to stay put.

 

So please listen when we tell you the proper way to license or purchase our intellectual property. It protects you from unauthorized use. If you use protected work that has been registered it gets expensive in a hurry.

 

But you know that right?

 Let’s Work Together

You don’t think I’m going to press my advantage if I catch you? Most likely I will. It’s about respect and acknowledgement of what our rights and protections are. Rights and protections we fight to keep in spite of what our government of the United States of Business tries to do. Daily. You have rights and protections that you want honored and enforced, company trademarks, patents and the like.

 

It’s a two-way street and today’s economic environment is no excuse for fostering an attitude that belittles the process, diminishes the relationship and adds to everyone’s stress level.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Michael

Remnants on Display

 

Next week I’ll be attending the opening of a group show that I’m part of at the offices of IDA in Culver City, CA. The show opens April 19 at 6pm. Stop by if you’re in the area and we’ll have a toast:

8440 Warner Drive, Suite A1
Culver City, CA 90232
310-581-4400

3 pieces were selected and I of course am thrilled at seeing my personal art form on public display. This isn’t the first public showing I’ve had for Remnants but it will be the most visible.

IDA is a busy design studio with many people moving in and out during the week and I look forward to connecting with folks who are attracted to my particular vision.

It doesn’t stop there either. I have a book out on the subject and maybe I’ll make a sale or two….

All in all a part of any artists’ plan should be to get the work out and have it seen by as large an audience as possible.

The journey continues…

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

 

 

 

Your Intellectual Property Rights!

time-lapse sequence of re-assembly of Japanese Tea House

There’s been an interesting discussion lately on Linked In about quoting prices for selling copyrights to another party. People have different ideas about what that should cost and what it practically means to you as an artist when selling your claim of authorship. I’ve been working on a blog post covering how to sell the idea of intellectual property rights transfers to your clients but it’s not ready for prime time. In the meantime I will be appearing on a panel next week that discusses how to make money from licensing your intellectual property rights and how to sell the idea to your markets…

This live webinar will be recorded for later playback. In addition to myself, Jason Horejs from Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale AZ, and entertainment law attorneys Todd and Jeff  Brabec fill out this interesting and dynamic panel. More information and sign up is here.

Hope to see you on the broadcast with your questions…and our answers.

This program is being put on by the Copyright Alliance, an organization I proudly support.
Michael

Light Graffiti

Stairs

I volunteered to work on a time lapse film crew…three days at 13+ hours per day from 1pm until 3am…..sheesh! Why did I do this? Reason 1: business is slow (betcha didn’t think of that one) Reason 2: An incredible learning experience from a fellow who is expert at motion-control and stop-motion still imaging. Reason 3: The location of Linda Vista Hospital in Boyle Heights near downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1905, it’s in the process of being converted into senior housing but now it’s old, dirty, dark, dank and ripe for photography of all kinds. Many a horror movie and tv show have filmed here but soon it will be no more, access denied. So here we are, five intrepid souls in search of a common experience. I’m shooting some of the sequences, schlepping gear up and down stairs and mentoring the more inexperienced members of the crew. I too am being mentored in motion-control techniques. It’s a blast.

Many of you know I’m into time lapse as a money maker as well as for the love of it. The filmmaker Jeff Frost and I met last year when we were speaking at a digital imaging group. We’ve since become friends and enjoy working together. A life long learner I jumped at the chance when Jeff asked me to be part of the crew and contribute by shooting sequences for his new film. Needless to say I was humbled and honored by his request and trust in me.

No money? No problem. Actually it is but what are ya gonna do? Many time you do things for reasons other than money. I did however carve out some time between sequences to shoot a few light paintings I call, “Light Graffiti”.

FireHose

No big deal, just long exposures, (8-30 seconds) one flashlight, a bit of Lightroom magic and a brief visit to Photoshop’s, Blend Modes and Layer Masks.

Tank_01

I also made a very brief time lapse so you could enjoy the view from the roof…..I hope to make one or two more later this week. Stay tuned.

LA_Night

See ya!

Michael

 

 

Related Images:

Tilt-Shift Perspectives

San_Francisco_15

One way for an SECP to stay ahead of the pack is by pushing the envelope of their technical and visual creativity. Application of the tilt-shift edge blur miniaturization effect has been around since 2006 but that’s no reason not to explore it further. I love the deliberate miniaturization effect it creates and I’m a huge fan of this look. Focal Point from OnOne Software is an application that is good at creating this look in post-production. Photoshop CS6 has a tilt-shift blur filter. I also like the way edge blurring brings ones focus (pun intended) to the center of the frame. Although sometimes it doesn’t work… In compositions that include architectural elements, I like things squared up as per the basketball hoop. In basketball a lot of the action occurs away from the center of the hoop. Because I refused to budge the camera position, my best photos were when the action happened dead center. When the action was even slightly off center the images are flawed. Oops! Lesson learned. Action photography requires more fluid camera movement. Check.

ETE_Cavs_1-114-2

I’m using it to create an effect on 60,000 images for a time lapse video. (Let me know if you want to see it and I’ll send out a link when it’s complete.) And if you know your stuff you can create a tilt-shift like effect in LR4. The advantage of doing the tilt-shift blur effect in post-production is that the effect can be controlled to produce a variety of permutations. And to some degree most all permutations are valid. This is both the good and bad about working in a post-production digital workflow because for some folks it apparently relieves them of the responsibility of thinking more profoundly about their work when actually building their photographs in real time. Don’t get me worng (:() I love working after-the-fact, spending time tweaking and adjusting my vision until the wee hours of the morning. But I occasionally work in real time, under real pressure to make my shots. It’s exciting. And dangerous because failure is hanging out with me. We’re friends of course, been together a long time. Being 100% present while shooting reconnects me to the creative process that drew me to photography all those summers ago.

Santa_Fe18

All of the photographs you see here were done live. Meaning I made the appropriate choices while shooting and didn’t rely on post-production tilt-shift techniques to complete my images. I could have, but chose not to. I chose to give myself the challenge by doing it in camera without a net. Or Franky. (if you get the reference I’ll send you a signed copy of my book. But hurry only three will be winners). I also did it while working with vastly different subject matter and lighting scenarios. All with my trusty Canon 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift lens. Choosing to shoot in the moment made me focus on the task at hand and not fall into the “we’ll fix it in post” mentality that pervade many younger creatives today. I admit sometimes it’s tempting to go the easy way when in the field and finish it up in post. I wanted a break from that workflow. And I wanted to test myself. The post-production software and tools I mentioned earlier are great and I’ve used them all. I just want to feel alive again and not some sort of robot that pushes buttons first and creates later.

Huntington_Beach-24

This took me back to my roots, (gray as they are) and I’m glad to do it for it brings me to my point…I possess an vast amount of imaging experience and it’s my right and mission to bring it to the marketplace so my clients see my vision and hopefully how it can work for their projects when they need something that is thoughtful, relevant and done at the highest level.

Santa_Fe58

I’m not saying all the photos here are home runs. (to see a more images click here) Heck a couple are only doubles. I can live with that because a lot of valuable knowledge was gained that will be applicable at the appropriate time. I choose to show you my work in various states because the subject matter and local conditions really matter when it comes to building effective tilt-shift images. This newly acquired knowledge in turn makes me more valuable in the marketplace because I know what will and will not work in a given situation. A business building skill meshing with a photographic building skill. what more could I ask for? Oh yeah…work!

Thanks for reading.

Michael