Tag Archives: Career

It’s The Little Things…

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

Partner With Good Products

Trying something new here…my first video promo/post where I’m discussing the merits of the eMotimo TB3 motion control unit.

Hope you find it useful:

Thanks for watching.

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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