Tag Archives: Build A Better Photograph

It’s The Little Things…

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

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

 

 

 

The Time Lapse Narrative: Chapter 2 The Landscape Process v4

Adobe Premiere Editing Workspace

Adobe Premiere Editing Workspace

Well it took long enough didn’t it? Chapter 2 of my time lapse saga at The Huntington was published a few weeks ago. The feedback from my client, friends and colleagues has been 100% positive.

I’m grateful for the response and of course was hoping for exactly that but one never knows…

The months I spent becoming familiar with the material I recorded, (stills, video and sound) sourcing out music for the soundtrack, learning Adobe Premiere and the principle3s of strong editing have all been worth the effort.

I will write again about the 7 things I have learned that make up a time lapse narrative film.

I recommend a small popcorn as this is  4:21 in length.

Until the my next post…enjoy the show.

Michael

5 Keys To Building Strong Environmental Portraits

René Zendejas

René Zendejas

I’m often asked what my criteria are when building my signature environmental portraits.

And they say it’s difficult to come up with ideas to blog about.

Not!

Here are they are in a particular order:
1)  Location
2)  Concept
(actually 1 and 2 are interchangeable)
3)  Clearly explaining the back story narrative with my subject
4)  Absolute confidence in my ability to come back with a keeper in terms of lighting angles, ratios, patterns, color, exposure values, posing, expression and gesture
5)  Keeping a 100% open mind during the post production process

To elaborate…

Roy E. Disney

Roy E. Disney

A good location is critically important to an environmental portrait. Duh. I ask myself: Is it accessible? What type of location is it? Industrial? Corporate? Residential? Natural? How large is the location? What is the available light quality and quantity? How can I supplement the available light? Is there power? Is it safe? When can I get access? You get the idea.

The concept…

If a portrait is commissioned, my client usually has an idea of where they want it done. That was the case with Roy Disney’s portrait. He asked me to create an image of him for use in the forward of his book: “Fantasia/2000: Visions Of Hope.” Roy made it clear that he did not want a regular head and shoulders portrait, that he was tired of seeing his face in close ups and he didn’t want to wear a jacket and tie. He also wanted the session to take place in his ceremonial office. This ceremonial office was built to look like the sorcerer’s hat Mickey Mouse wore in “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to shoot there for his portrait. He gave me the baseline for his creative floor. My job was to build up from there. In this particular case the location drove the concept. You can read about how I use the concept of the “image hit” to propel my work in other ways by purchasing my book. I will send you an autographed copy for less than Amazon’s price but you have to contact me first.

A strong and flexible concept is important too. In the case of Sam Maloof, I wanted to build a portrait that combined his stature with wood in its’ raw state. Prior to my idea he was always photographed alone against a plain backdrop, working in his shop or sitting in one of his world famous Maloof Rockers. My idea was unique. I can’t always get to unique but with Sam and Roy I did. When I say flexible I mean that I go into a session with a very clear idea but I’m also open to the singular challenges a location presents and how my subject is feeling that particular day. Heck I can be in a mood too so we all have to stay frosty and work through whatever the session throws at us. For the record both men told me personally that these were their favorite portraits. Sweet.

Sam Maloof

Sam Maloof

The narrative….

I spend a lot of time thinking about the idea I wish to build: what is the story of this person? Of this photograph? Who’s in it? And why? What’s happening within the frame? What is the action? What is the gesture? Color? Lighting angles? Lighting sources? Contrast ratios? Props?  The location has a strong influence on these answers. The temperament of the subject influences my choices too. As I answer these questions, the story evolves. And as I flesh out the story I make sure the subject knows what’s in my mind and what part I’d like them to play in my vision.

Technical ability…

In 32 years of practicing the craft of photography as a self-employed creative professional, I’ve failed only twice to deliver results and that was very early in my career. I’m very good at what I do. I still get nervous though when I’m prepping for and immediately after a session has ended. I usually feel I messed up somehow and won’t be able to produce a photograph I’m proud to display. Don’t know why this is but I no longer fight it, I now go with the flow and know that I did it right every step of the way and in the end the image will be there. This is my philosophy: a successful photograph is a series of small decisions made correctly. I live by this credo.

Gere Kavanaugh

Gere Kavanaugh

The increased role post-production applications play in the creative process is controversial for a lot of my contemporaries (read old school dogs like me). They see it as a substitution for doing it right at the moment of exposure and post production is for lazy losers. I embrace post production. It’s foolish not to for it expands the possibilities of what can be done in all phases of building a better photograph. The usual suspects come into play for me: Photoshop, Lightroom and Bridge. I geek out on all three. I use them separately and together depending on whether or not I need to blend layers for my finish. Lightroom offers so many tools now that I have to come up with reasons to use Photoshop and Bridge.

Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers

It’s good to know the applications and how to light, etc. but truly without a strong vision or concept the photographs I build would be all technique without content. And I see enough of that already. Don’t you?

Captain Hurst

Captain Hurst

As always, thanks for reading.

Michael

 

 

 

 

Related Images:

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: