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Tag Archives: commercial

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.

Time Lapse Logistics

If you want your organizations’ story told using time lapse as the format, for social media to engage, entertain and inform your followers, please read the following and consider the elements necessary for a successful outcome.

Putting cost aside for the moment…

Gear Up!

First off, time lapse photography at its’ core is documentary in nature. Time lapse photography is usually a straight forward process: one or more cameras diligently record a scene, event, process or phenomenon. It can be as straightforward as a single stationary camera set out for several hours, or it be exponentially more complex when cameras are placed in remote locations for weeks, months or years. Recording a variety of ambient sounds for use in the editing process is also a consideration. (Sometimes easier than trying to source it online after principal photography has been completed.)

time lapse camera mounts.

Camera rigs atop a forty foot light pole: a GoPro Hero 2 with a Bogen Magic Arm and a Canon T3i inside my custom made weatherproof housing. The shield below the housing was for blocking the night lights as both cameras were on a 24-hour schedule, recording an image every two minutes.

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It’s The Little Things…

Decisions That Drive The Time Lapse Narrative Forward

Dynamic Perception Stage 0 Dolly and the eMotimo TB3 Black

Dynamic Perception Stage 0 Dolly and the eMotimo TB3 Black

What should be your guiding principal when planning shots, especially when it comes to motion control time lapse sequences? The four keywords I keep in mind are: education, documentation, preservation and entertainment. Every decision I make rides on the backs of these four words.

I jumped into time lapse photography in ’03 and have been hacking away at it ever since. During this time, I realized I was developing a new specialty: the commercial time lapse narrative. Now I offer a boutique experience to my market in that I shoot time lapse projects with the mindset of a movie director. I offer and provide multiple camera set ups daily, weekly and monthly. In addition to the usual fixed or static camera that records all that happens in front of it I also place what I call rover units throughout a site in order to tell the complete story, whatever it may be…thus the decisions that come with this approach.

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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

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:

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

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