Tag Archives: management

Be Selfish and Volunteer Your Way to Success

A sampling of the days session

September 8, 2011 I volunteered once again to photograph those less fortunate than myself. I did the same thing back in 2009, when I was not getting enough photography assignments (or other work of any substance) and my monthly cash flow was shall we say….inadequate. Thank goodness for my other income streams: investments and real estate.

Volunteering is a way for me to give rather than receive, it feeds my soul. I receive many benefits from volunteering: I meet new people, I get to practice my interpersonal portraiture schtick, lighting ratios, RAW processing, color management, retouching, JPEG compression and emailing skills.

The sum total is that I become enriched. When paying projects do come my way, because I’m prepared, I know exactly how to handle anything that comes up. With personal style and professional confidence.

Over time the good people I help, help spread the good word about me. I’ve received recommendations on my LinkedIn profile and many heartfelt emails. It feels good. Over time the sum total of my efforts drives my credibility to ever higher levels. This in turn leads to more business and art opportunities that allow me live life on my terms.

Isn’t that what we’re all after?

Be selfish and volunteer.

It will do us all good.

Michael

Related Images:

My Competition is My Past

Knock Yourself Out

As part of my daily duties as a professional photographer and self-employed businessperson, I evaluate multiple aspects of running my business: finances, investments creative mojo, technical understanding/practical application, sales, marketing, interpersonal skills, pricing, vendor relationships, likeability factors and more.

It never ends. I’m not complaining. Just explaining what I do to keep my oarsmen in the correct rhythm so I head in the direction of my business and career plans. No easy task. I’m distracted and bore easily. How do I do it then? For 30 years I’ve worked on these duties a little bit at a time, just a few at a time, slowly. I learn and absorb the process, knowledge and practical applications on my time frame: slow and steady wins the race. For example: as a professional photographer I feel it’s my responsibility to look critically at my work on a regular basis and ask myself what can I do better than I’m doing now? More thoughtful approach to my lighting angles? More awareness of my contrast ratios? More competent lens/aperture/shutter speed selection criteria? I want to keep pushing my quality until there isn’t a single location lighting situation I can’t handle. Lit or not I want to conquer all  technical and creative situations. This is my goal. It’s beyond my grasp. I may never arrive at the level my sights are set on. But my constant evaluation process will move me in that direction. And I will always improve. You see, I’m competing with myself, not anyone else. This flys in the face of the conventional wisdom that states you compete against like-minded small businesses.

If photographers are different and offer different levels of quality, creativity and customer service, then how can I be in competition with anyone but me? I am aware of who’s in my market. Sure. I’m aware of what others charge and what issues others have regarding running their careers and lives profitably. This isn’t to say I don’t learn from the success and mistakes of others. I do. Frequently.

But I compete with my past. With my performance from yesterday. From last week. Last Month. Last Year. My competition is my past. This logic keeps me focused on the goals I’ve identified, sane and relatively stress-free.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Thy Muse Is Challenge

Tidepools

I’ve a muse to inspire push and motivate. As an SECP (self-employed creative professional) I want to get my bubbles of influence (creative, financial, relationship) out further and farther (or farther and further?) Every project I work on, every email I send, every letter I write, every negotiation I undertake, every sales presentation I make, every personal relationship I have present a challenge of some sort. The challenge is my muse.

Challenge calls to me like the Sirens. If I don’t approach each challenge wisely however (as the Sirens hoped for), I may not crash but most likely will not have the expected outcome. I’m always down for seeking new and unfamiliar ways to channel this muse to help me accomplish my goals. Do I always succeed? Of course not. But I do succeed enough to propel me, my family and career forward.

For instance, during my current time-lapse project I’ve worked out ways to photograph the subject to make it more interesting. Some of my ideas: fade in and fade out to convey the passage of time, zoom in, zoom out and pan while manually shooting a burst of frames. The end results are cinema type camera moves within a still photography time-lapse. My client is pleased with the result and this had led to discussions about future time-lapse projects. This of course encourages to think up new ways to increase the the value of the overall project for all involved parties.

Another challenge on this project; how to get the specialists (carpenters, roofers, plasterers, foremen) flown in from Japan to accept me. I wanted to be able to place my 2nd and 3rd cameras in locations of my choosing. These locations while great for my purposes may not be ideal for them. How to respect their boundaries, achieve what I want and come together for the sake of the project?

I’d planned to give prints as gifts near the end of the project. But after reviewing  the first days take from camera two (set inside where the carpenters were working), I noticed the carpenters had posed during a few of the exposures. One silly, one serious and one group with all of them. How great is that? I didn’t know they had posed. Once the camera was set, I leave for several hours, came back to retrieve the camera and leave again for my office. I discovered their self-portraits during my edit session. I remember telling them the camera was set to make an exposure every 90 seconds and that you could hear the sound of the shutter. I didn’t think anything of it. It was left up to them to act. They did. And I responded in kind.

     

                 Just for fun….

This simple gesture on both sides has resulted in a bonding of sorts. Subsequently they have suggested spots for camera placement. They are also very careful to ensure my cameras don’t get disturbed during its’ daily cycle. Challenge met and conquered.

I urge you to find your muse. In whatever shape it comes to you. Embrace it. Get to know it. Learn how to apply it to advance your goals.

Good luck.

Michael

2011 Rose Bowl Time-Lapse of Fireworks Show

July 4, 2011

Here is the sequence I shot last night. I rendered the frames out at a much higher rate than I thought I would (10 frames per second vs. 2 frames per second) and I like it. The challenge was finding the right tempo music. Garage Band had what I needed. Enjoy.

Michael

RAW vs. JPEG. Which is better?

I’m a member of several professional groups on Linked In and the debate that has been raging for months on which format is better is interesting in that it touches a nerve with so many and that there are so many “experts” weighing in. This appears to be a thoughtful question on its’ face but ridiculous when you compare: pens vs. pencils, hammers vs. saws, Yankees vs. Dodgers (bottom of the ninth, 2 out and 2 on), sex vs. celibacy, dirt vs. grass and on and on. You get the idea.

Here’s my take. When it’s important, for a client or my portfolio, I shoot RAW. When it’s for my wife, I shoot JPEG. No seriously don’t go, I’m just getting started. JPEG has it’s place at the photography table, it’s just not as fun as a RAW meal. On the occasions when you know exactly what you’re going to do with the files and you’re working under ideal (the scene brightness range or SBR is within the range of the sensor) conditions and you don’t have to do significant color correction, contrast toning or up sizing, then go ahead and shoot JPEG till the cows come home. Today’s cameras do a wonderful job with the JPEGs. And you can edit them in the Adobe RAW converter (ACR). Quality will be compromised, don’t kid yourself. If you scrutinize an edited JPEG, you’ll see banding and posterization issues in the tonal transition zones: highlight to mid-tone and mid-tone to shadow. Look closely. And I mean with a professional’s eye towards a quality output. Borrow both of mine if you want but look….you’ll be surprised.

If you work under challenging conditions: you cannot fill shadows, cut down the contrast or otherwise minimize the impact of an extended scene brightness range then use a RAW file processor and you will redeem your photographs’ soul.

For example on this location I am capturing frames from early morning to late afternoon. I have sweet light until 9 or so and UGLY light until about 3. In between the SBR is out of the range of the sensor by 5 stops or more. RAW to the rescue, JPEG need not apply, you’ll be shown the door.

These top to bottom comparisons provide proof of the superiority of RAW files in uncontrollable lighting and contrast conditions. In the first set the early morning light does not pose a challenge as the SBR is well within sensor parameters. The next set shows the power and flexibility of the RAW format. Finally the last set is much the same as the second set but with a lighting angle that is more off to the edge of the scene.

Early morning SBR

Mid-morning SBR

Late pm SBR

Notice how the highlights have been toned down and the shadows have been toned (opened) up? The skin tones have been warmed, the mid-tones have been boosted (clarity slider) and a slight vignette has been placed around the perimeter of each processed image. This heavy editing can be done on a JPEG file but the output quality will be compromised and less than acceptable especially when measured by professional standards. Keep your standards high, your clientele informed and your rates profitable.

Good shooting!

Self-Employment Society

I’ll be teaching one of three classes at my local community college this coming August. It’s an adjunct (contract) faculty position and I’m pleased at being selected. I’ve been teaching at a variety of educational institutions since 1987 and like photography, teaching is a calling. I’ve made a living at both for years but I wanted to call your attention to a trend that’s been building for years. The three classes are being divided up amongst new adjuncts. A full time person has left and the vacancy is being filled by adjuncts. No benefits, no sick days. No long-term commitment on the part of the school. I date the start of this trend to the beginning of business globalization back in the 80’s.

We’re becoming much more of a society of part-timers, double and triple jobbers, independent contractors and the self-employed. Gone are the days of full-time employment, full time benefits, a lifetime pension and straightforward and honest company executives. We have to make our own careers. This trend has been reported on by various media; The collective employment culture is evolving into one that uses non-traditional employment methods to get society’s work done. I say this because I’ve experienced it and continue to experience it: In addition to this adjunct position, I’m waiting to hear from a major player in our industry about an offer to work with them on a contract basis, filling a position that a full-time held previously. No benefits. No pension. No long-term commitments. Easy to get into. Easy to get out of. As long as the contract rate reflects my costs, (health care, taxes, overhead,etc)  I’m fine with these kinds of employment situations. I’ve been working this way for years, I’m an SECP.  I’m concerned for all of you who have not experienced being self-employed. On a good day it’s great. All the other days, it’s tough. You work hard every day and yet you don’t make money every day. Like I said. Tough. Yet it’s where we’re headed so you better warm up to the idea and get ready to play. I’ve been blogging about this since 2008. Go here. Here. Here. And here for a taste.

Business save money when they use contract people. Businesses save in salary and benefits. Part-timers don’t get as much pay nor do they receive benefits. Contractors should and usually do get more per hour so they can contribute to their expenses. When negotiating such a contract, don’t forget to figure that when an employee works for a company, the hourly rate they “earn” is approximately 1/5 of what they actually cost their employer. In addition to the hourly rate there are payroll taxes, social security taxes, benefits, 401k plans, insurances, etc. that are factored in. You need to factor these in too or else you will not thrive let alone survive. I’ve been factoring in these costs from day one and 30 years later, my investments are five times higher than the average working stiff. Booyah!

Do yourselves and your families a favor and begin the process of figuring out how to monetize your expertise and creating opportunities for such expertise. Success is a process not an end result.

Good luck and let me know how I can help.

Michael

Two Camera Tea House Time-Lapse

Mobile camera rig for a 5D and 16-35 F2.8

As many of you know I’m working on a project to deliver a four month time-lapse photography sequence. After capturing the first 5,400 exposures I moved camera 1 to the other side of the construction site. With the exception of this camera inexplicably shutting down for 1/2 a day after it was relocated (and after it ran flawlessly for 300 exposures), the move was successful. I chose to relocate because a tarp covering the entire structure was obscuring the work being performed and I wanted to get an angle that included the front of the structure.

 

A close-up of my rig.

To increase the odds my client will be pleased with the entire body of work, I occasionally add a mobile second camera to capture the work inside. The camera is set up at a spot where the work will be done for that day and a handheld intervalometer is used to control the camera. I leave for several hours. The fellows from Japan who are working here have enjoyed being photographed and have hammed it up a few times during my absences. The relationship we’ve been establishing with each other has been building and will lead to more cooperation regarding the shots I want. I look forward to working with them throughout the remainder of the time they’re here.

Photography is a powerful and universal language. I’m thrilled when what I do connects to others. The power is fun. The power is friendly. The power is gracious. The power is photography.

As soon as I post sequences, I’ll let you know….

Cheers!

Michael

Keywords & SEO, Playing Well Together Part II

In the previous post with the same name I promised to let you know if I got the job….

It took a bit of negotiating (completely normal), but we came to an agreement on scope and budget. As a gesture of good will, I threw in a video interview. I’m sure this will go a long way in building the relationship with this client. Step two was to collect the deposit check, order the custom-built time-lapse housing and meet with the contractor who will set the pole into the ground and run power. As of this writing, I have the check ($$$$), ordered the housing, camera and lens but I’m waiting for the contractor to return my email…..

I’ve had a reality check with this new client: their priority scale is calibrated differently than mine. My business is dedicated to providing superior customer service. To that end I’ve sent emails, made phone calls and have generally tried try to get them to work with me in reaching their goal of beginning this project on their suggested start date. In order for me to help them reach their goal however, I require a deposit check. Without the deposit check I cannot order the time-lapse housing. This special housing requires ten days lead time (for fabrication, de-bugging, delivery, set-up and final testing). The check was delayed by two weeks, the housing was delayed by the same two weeks and that has pushed the start date back to who knows when.

I’m not as concerned anymore because I have the check and expect to pick up the housing early next week. The ball as they say is in their court.

Keywords & SEO, Playing Well Together

You are but a speck in the vast internet sea……

 

Keywording, meta tags and SEO work. I received an email last week. It was a request for a quote to produce several time-lapse videos. A four month (possibly longer) time-lapse project. Video inserts also requested. I was stoked. After setting up a meet and greet, I prepared my talking points and began research into weatherproof housings. We’re in the budgeting process. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I was told an online search was performed for professional time-lapse and that my name was the only name that showed as a professional photographer of time-lapse and it was at the top of the results page! Spot number one. It’s good to be the king. All the other results were for time-lapse gear and youtube time-lapse movies. I know this to be accurate because I checked out the results using the same keywords they told me they input. Very cool indeed. Take that traditional marketing. Zap! Pow! Not to say traditional marketing is useless, it isn’t. Being diligent however with my keywording, meta tags and SEO, definitely gave me a clear advantage in this unusual situation.

The takeaway here is to really think about your keywords, meta tags, SEO strategies, the text on your website (especially the landing page) and not using flash to run your information. Takes time to learn, apply, measure and refine. The effort is worth it. And if your competition is doing so and your not…guess who gets more opportunities?

Michael

Don’t Burn Your Bridges, You May Need Them Later….

Lake Tahoe Pier-2006

 

Of the many aspects about teaching that I’m fond of, the process of reaching out to companies and asking for review copies of their products is up near the top. To date this has worked so well that I’ve become expert at asking and receiving. Of course I offer something in return: my expertise in reviewing said products and my loyal audience who have grown to trust my judgment when I bring the information to them. Everybody wins. It’s actually a great system.

I’m happy to report that I don’t burn bridges as a matter of course, (you won’t get very far being self-employed) What happened yesterday bears repeating: I reached out to a company to ask for review copies of their entire product line. (how bold of me, but if you don’t ask you don’t get) I heard about this particular software from a woman who attended the Los Angeles Photshop User Group monthly meeting during which I presented my compositing work, thought processes and business approach. Anyway the marketing person from this company calls me in response to my inquiry.

She wanted to know a bit more about my show’s philosophy and why I want their product for my show’s product showcase segment. We chatted a bit and found out that we are on the same page when it comes to education and training. She liked my ideas for presenting their products and offered to send me download links and serial numbers straight away. (she did)

We ended the phone call with her asking me if I remembered her… Can you say GULP? She and I met when we worked at Brooks Institute. She left in ’06 and I’ve not taught there since ’09. (low enrollment = no classes for adjuncts) Oh well. Get your own radio show.

One can only imagine  the outcome had there been no bridge connecting us…….the conversation would have had a decidedly different tone. (if she had responded at all)

Be well.

Michael