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Tag Archives: Lightroom

The Marriage of Stills and Motion

A cinemagraph is the marriage of a single still photograph and either a real time video or a time-lapse video.

Or both…

The technique of combining still photography with a motion clip to create engaging visual treats has been around for several years. Since I first discovered this amazing trick I’ve been looking or the appropriate time and place to produce my first one:


Press the play button to see it again and again and again…

The story behind this is simple: working with my client, we decided to end the first part of what we hope to be a 2.5 year time-lapse film with a simple yet elegant group portrait of the heavy equipment operators in their employ. While shooting this epic group portrait, (one of my specialties) I had an epiphany: this was the time and place for my first cinemagraph.

And so it went. After the photography session, I took the file into post-production to tone colors, add a cloudy sky, add an employee who was photographed separately and finally, added the company logo and date of operations:

time lapse group construction portrait

A look at what the camera records, (left) and the artists application of his vision afterwards. (right)

And just like that, my client has the perfect ending to the first chapter of their time-lapse construction film. Note: the cloudy skies in the still photograph above were used specifically for the framed prints given to each person in the photograph. The cloudy sky motion clips blended together in the cinemagraph had a different look and feel.

I’m planning on adding cinemagraphs to future time-lapse construction films.

Will yours be next?

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Look, Imagine & Go. Pull the story out of any digital file…

This excerpt is from an interview I did with Nigel Merrick from the Zenologue professional photography marketing website. One of my favorite informational websites dedicated to helping photographers live their dreams…

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

 

 

 

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:

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

 

 

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

 

 

What You Don’t Know, Learn

Regarding my ten month time-lapse project; principal photography is complete. Post production is under way. What began as an email inquiry from a representative of The Huntington May 2011, ended with a flourish as dignitaries and donors visited the Japanese Garden for the dedication ceremony and reception April 12th. Over 103,000 photographs, video clips and sound effects were generated during the course of this 10 month assignment. What a gas!

As I begin the post-production process in earnest, (I’ve already spent about a hundred hours designing, practicing and refining the workflow) I took stock of all the applications I was unfamiliar with at the beginning of this project and the ones I use now as a result of this project.

The list above is in order of familiarity: Photoshop, Quicktime and Keynote were all applications I’ve been working with for years. Garage Band, Lightroom, Premiere, Soundbooth and Media Encoder are the applications I’ve had to learn in order to produce the contract deliverables.

It’s not that I don’t particularly want help from other specialists (I’m currently looking for a composer) it’s just that in order to know what I wanted I had to be able to create variations so I could finalize the look. Additionally today’s technological breakthroughs have allowed us SECP types to flourish in ways we never could before. The potential contained in the last sentence is awesome.

After going through many, many iterations, I finally have the look I want.

Some of the conclusions I’ve come to during this learning curve: editing is crucial to the success of any motion picture project. Jump cuts, dissolves, playback rate and cropping help drive audience reaction the visual elements. Volume, cross fades and wild sounds are just as important to the audio content. This is by no means an exhaustive list but you get the idea. There is A LOT that goes into a time-lapse, especially one with a strong narrative.

As part of my post-production protocol, I’ve been partaking in webinars, reading blogs, talking to experts and experimenting based on my new knowledge and skill sets. This IMHO is what is required to deliver new and innovative content for a fast-evolving marketplace and client expectations.

Good luck and let me know if I can help you.

Thanks for reading and comments welcome.

Michael