Tag Archives: artist

Stand, Kneel, Lie Down & Deliver

Perspective

After years of photographing field sporting events I’ve come up with a simple rule that I employ on almost every shoot: the floating camera technique.

As an adult (in my mind anyway), raising and lowering the camera from the “tourist off the tour bus perspective”, creates two additional perspectives during the same shoot. Standing while shooting makes kids look smaller by virtue of the fact that I’m taller than the subjects I’m photographing. IMHO it makes them a less significant contributor to the photograph.

As I kneel and lie down to shoot, the drama and impact of the photograph increases. The triptych at the top of this post illustrates how the ground becomes less important and the subject becomes more heroic as the camera drops.

Just remember to bring a towel for those wet dewey mornings or the ride home will be a cold one….(:(*)

 

Pushing The Limits

In the past when business was slow it was damn near impossible for me to self-motivate to shoot for my book. As I’ve aged and embraced the advantages of our digital age, I’ve fallen in love with the creative process of photography again. I look forward now to an empty pipeline in that if frees me to work on my portfolio. I have the luxurious problem now of finding time to interpret my visions.

I’ve give myself assignments like flash fill and indoor sports, available light long lens portraits, tilt-shift travel and time-lapse of just about anything. Shooting with my 5D, 5D MRKII, GoPro Hero 2’s and my iPhone, I’ve amassed gigabytes of new work. Coupled with my new found expertise in Lightroom and Premiere and I’m having a blast. I feel like a newbie!

I’ve always been one for taking a mundane subject and building a dynamic photograph from it. It’s comparatively easy to take something beautiful and make it more beautiful through the magic of photography, but I thrive the most when I photograph average subjects and turn them into something beautiful. Here’s a shot I made using my tilt-shift lens of a WWII submarine docked at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco:

WWII

This is one of the core values of my career, pushing the limits to see what can be seen. I’ve always been this way, even back in my film days when photographing hundred’s of children’s toys and clothing for Disney, Applause, Universal Studios and Paramount. Sorry, I just had to name drop here….that was fun! But I digress….

The image at the top of this post is the completed image. Here is what came out of my camera. Essentially it’s all here, it just needs a little bit of this and that:

Endeavor out of camera

I arrived 2.5 hours early and scouted spots where I thought I’d get the best Endeavor and Forum view at the same time. This was crucial for two reasons: it gives context in terms of location and this image is being used as a marketing piece for a very specific purpose, something I call guerrilla marketing. Here’s the scenario: thousands of people were jockeying for position with their camera phones and dslr’s, pushing  and shoving, drinking hot chocolate, sitting on chairs, standing on cars and holding their children’s hands. And there I am with my MRKII, my 24mm tilt-shift, 24-105, 16-35 and my brand new 100-400. I found my spot, planted my flag and waited. When things lined up I took my shot. Several in fact because the jet meant I had a choice regarding its’ placement in the composition. I love it when a spontaneous event happens, it creates added pressure and makes it all the more exciting. You have to be present at this point in order to take advantage of the situation. If you’ve done your homework these things usually work out well. And the jet was a gift I wasn’t going to waste.

This frame had the jet in the right spot for the composition I envisioned. I didn’t care for the distortion but my 24mm tilt-shift was not wide enough so I switched to the 16-35. I’d prepared earlier with my lens choice and at this point I was just waiting for the sun to get into position.

Screen Shot 2012-12-15 at 2.24.54 PM

Per my usual protocol, I applied camera and lens profile corrections. And after adjusting for tone, color, clarity and the graduated filter, I was still not crazy with the amount of distortion. So I went to the Manual adjustment portion of the Lens Corrections tab in Lightroom and pulled the vertical slider to a -72:

Screen Shot 2012-12-15 at 2.26.06 PM

Brought the file into CS6 to add clouds, move the plane down a bit and generally tone site specific areas that I felt still needed work. It was only later that I gave myself permission to remove the three poles. This IMHO really pushes the image into the beautiful and dynamic category. Success!

Space Shuttle Endeavor spends time in Inglewood, CA.

Space Shuttle Endeavor spends time in Inglewood, CA.

FYI: the Layers Panel:

Screen Shot 2012-12-14 at 11.26.26 PM

Your comments are questions are welcomed.

Thanks for reading.

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…(:())

 

 

 

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

An Historic Event: Endeavor

 

September 21, 2012……a day thousands of Angelenos will keep in their hearts and minds for a long time. Like a lot of other Californians, I spent a huge part of Friday hanging out with like minded others waiting for the shuttle Endeavor to fly by. My son and I chose as our vantage point a parking lot overlooking JPL. With the high elevation, open space, a ladder and long lens I’d be in an excellent position to capture a worthwhile moment. What I didn’t expect was the collective energy, conversations and good vibes that permeated the event. That made it fun while waiting around trying to keep my son, gear and self relatively cool.

There were tens of thousands of photographs made of this historic flight, people you might say, endeavored to capture the moment. The speed at which pics were posted to FB was phenomenal. Of course most of them were smartphone snaps with a few DSLR images thrown into the mix….and some were worthy of the day but most were just good old snappers.

And that was my intent….make a good recording while sharing the experience with my son and others. As I hung out at the site and saw hundreds of people taking pictures I realized I had to do better. I had to place my photograph into another category. After all, “I build photographs, I don’t take pictures.”

The idea for this post derives from my ability to lift mundane photography events, (subject access and lighting conditions) up a few notches. My process of building better photographs celebrates photography and what one can do with a pre-visualization routines and a passion for the art form. I absolutely love the process!

The RAW file:

This image was chosen specifically for its’ focus and point of view. In ACR I added a neutral picture style, lens correction, cropping and general toning:

I was underwhelmed and spent about 30 minutes imagining how I might build on top of this terrific base image. I am a composite geek and try to put together images that serve my vision in the hopes that it appeals to others. So it was off to my Layer Cake Elements sky collection and there it was….the perfect cloud formation that matched the lighting and time of day.

I went back and reprocessed the original RAW file into three new distinct files to ensure I had the sky coloring, subject coloring and contrast ratios needed for my vision of this image.

The final result:

“A successful photograph is a series of small decisions made correctly.” This is my guiding philosophy for building better photographs. The planning for this shoot:

Because I wanted my camera to be as high as possible, I’d need a ladder. Check. I needed a cable release to minimize vibrations while shooting. Check. I made sure the tripod head was level so that when I panned with the Endeavor as it moved across the sky the horizon line remained level. Double check. I brought two liters of water and a chair. We ran out of water but a nice fellow who brought extra bottles and struck up a conversation with me gave us water from his stash. That was really great of him. Thanks Jim!

I brought an umbrella for shade but we had to park so far away and my son and I could only carry so much. I put the camera into position, worked out the camera settings and then put it away as it was way too hot to leave it in the sun. We waited over 90 minutes for the fly over and I wasn’t going to bake my gear in the process. That’s what the umbrella was for. Oh well you plan and execute as best you can.

No reason to kill yourself and shoot something like this in manual mode. In-camera reflective meters average whatever you point it at into 18% middle gray. They don’t see color, they see tonal values. A blue sky at the time of day the Endeavor flew over is always 18% gray. (if you remove the hue) I used Av exposure mode with the lens set to f/11. ISO 200. The shutter speed bounced around between 1/320 and 1/500 of a second. Evaluative was the metering mode. Auto focus was set to the center point. I always shoot using Canon’s Neutral picture style as I really like the flexibility I get once I’m in post.

The rest is a mixture of vision, taste and passion for the process. How long does it take to work on an image until it hits just the right emotional note? I work on it until it feels right. I’ve been at this long enough that I know when my vision has been realized with as little compromise as possible. And that’s when I finalize a piece.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. please pass along if you did.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Make the Most of Opportunities

 

I entered the 5th year anniversary artists contest held by the copyright alliance a few months back. My video won in the multi-media category. As part of my winnings (feelings of satisfaction and a happy client), they offered to interview me for their blog. As an SECP, I jumped at the chance to talk about my favorite subject: me! All kidding aside, always look for opportunities to spread the word about yourself, your thinking and your work. And why not? If you don’t have an agent (I let my rep go, a good story in itself and it involves Marilyn Monroe) and your mom is too busy, then it’s up to you.

If you don’t grab opportunities to promote your brand then what are you doing working for yourself? Hoping for the best? Hoping magical thinking will takeover and you’ll have everything you deserve? When was the last time that happened? I live by the credo of putting good karma out to the world and doing good things for people. It always come back to me.

You may be thinking so what, the Copyright Alliance is not a big organization. That’s true. They’re only five years old and don’t command the world stage like the Zuckerberg-led copyright rip off team at Facebook. But the Copyright Alliance is a large organization compared to what I’ve associated with in the past. I’m able to  capitalize on their SEO juice which will immediately add to my credibility as an artist, educator, author and speaker. My global reach steadily expands every time another organization focuses their attentions on me, what I’m about and what I have to say. In other words my world is growing, my influence is growing, organizations are recognizing this and more easily connect with me in meaningful ways.

As I’m now going for very large and complex contracts (involving multiple photographers) with huge agencies, this method of building my background profile gains in importance. It adds up and makes it easier for me to pry open new opportunities for my business model. This is my multi-pronged goal. To create more business. For myself. And others who connect with me.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

 

Develop Your Rap

The butter and eggs portion of my business is the corporate headshot. To date I’ve done over a thousand. Location. Studio. I’ll go anywhere clients request. Period. It’s called service. With a smile. And a decent price tag. For both parties. I want to share with you one of my trade secrets: the interview rap. The interview rap works well when I’m doing one or two people per assignment. When I’m doing five plus a day, my rap is done on-the-fly. The energy level I must bring during the bigger sessions contributes to its’ success. When it’s only one or two people per assignment it’s a bit different.

Here’s what I do: I call the subjects and spend time getting to know them. And they me. I offer congratulations on their new hire or promotion (or whatever the reason is for them needing a headshot). I ask if they’ve been photographed professionally, how they felt, how the photographs turned out (in their opinion only), would they like to do something different this time? The way they answer drives my rap…funny…informational…topical…personal, etc. If there is an ease to their answers, no detectable strain in their voice I come back to them with a jokes, recent movies I’ve seen or food I’ve eaten mixed in with my answers. The tone and length of their responses inform me as to what type of personality I’m beginning to engage. And vice-versa. In my world both sides of the photographic session have to be authentic as much as possible. I’ve been doing this too long to play games, I’m determined to do a successful and professional job that fills my clients needs every time I pull the trigger.

In essence I want my subjects to know me and I them. I strive to create a relaxed, engaging and informational photographic experience and it begins with the interview rap and moves forward clothing ideas, haircut (at least a week in advance), booking date, length of session, what we will accomplish and a delivery date.

So may I ask…what’s your rap?

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Related Images:

Pat Swovelin 1951-2012 R. I. P.

Shooting one of his signature VR panoramas

Another brother has left us. I’ve been in a funk because my friend and long-time colleague (12+ years) died suddenly about a week ago, we don’t really know. And that’s the rub…he died alone and probably in pain. This SUCKS! Even though at times he could be a handful he always had my back. I appreciated that. He was also the best assistant I ever worked with, a lot of laughs and professionalism on the job. Over the years I’ve worked with plenty of hired guns but Pat was my number one by far. Always one step ahead and looking out for how I could turn in the best possible assignment, he was second to none. If he wasn’t checking my gear for dirt or checking my lighting to ensure it was firing, he was looking out for lens flare or any number things that can screw up a professional photo shoot. He was the best. His professionalism put me at ease so I could perform at the highest level…necessary for success in this business.

Lee and I had Pat as a guest in 2011. You can listen to his interview here.

We met while standing in a crowd waiting to get into one of the first NAPP Phoptoshopworld conferences in LA. I had my back turned and all I heard above the din was this loud laugh. I turned around in disgust to see whose body that voice was coming from and there he was, wearing the same Hawaiian shirt as I was! Couldn’t be all bad I thought. We became friends during the conference and worked together on numerous projects over the years. Most recently I was able to hook him up with my time-lapse client and they were starting to fill his dance card. Pat’s work was so specialized (VR panoramas) that it will be a long time before his shoes can be filled. If ever…..

Good-bye my friend.

 

Michael

Just Shoot Baby!

The Huntington Goslings

Embrace the opportunity to shoot, shoot, shoot. Whatever the subject: street, people, landscape, animals, water, buildings, etc. Just shoot baby!

Look for the light, composition and moments. Be open to possibilities, get out of your own way and EXPERIMENT. Experiment with lens choices, exposure modes, aperture settings, shutter speeds, hand held vs. tripod, move the camera during exposure. Lower the camera. Raise the camera. Try shooting without looking through the viewfinder. Use auto focus instead of manual. Or vice-versa. Be joyful in the process of creation. You just may create something you weren’t expecting, a FABULOUS photograph! Filled with emotional impact, a great story, or a profound moment. You won’t know unless you try and you can’t predict the outcome. That’s part of the excitement is it not?

I’m a pro. Have been for years. I approach my personal work as discussed above because this approach in turn informs my professional work in that I’m reasonably assured when I’m on assignment of what can be achieved through controlled experimentation. Freehand personal experimentation informs controlled client experimentation. Every time.

For example. The image above was made during a class field trip where I encouraged my students to do exactly what I’ve been proselytizing. I didn’t look through the viewfinder, had the lens on auto focus and hand held the camera just above the ground as I kept pace with this these goslings. I had no idea what I was going to get but I knew that by doing this I was bound to get something reasonable because I’ve been experimenting with this for awhile. Here’s an example of a similar approach last December in Lake Tahoe, CA:

What's Up Duck?

I’m not a fowl photographer by any means. The subjects of both these photographs is a coincidence. But the process is not. The process is what made me lower the camera and trust my instincts. Obie Wan is correct. Trust the Force.

 

Here’s another experiment:

The Wind Buffeting My Subject and Camera

Driving home from Palm Desert, I decided to pull off Highway 10 and endeavor to find a few photo ops. Winds are frequently a factor in this area so I was hoping to find a subject easily affected by wind. Seeing this grove of small trees buffeted by the wind, I decided to photograph the movement while contrasting several still components within the composition. I’m not saying that this is an award-worthy image. But it’s worth noting the value contained within: how subject movement can be photographed when other elements are not moving. The lesson here can be applied to other forms of subject movement: water sports, auto racing and the like.

Speaking of movement, time to bounce.

See ya! Comments welcomed.

Michael