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Tag Archives: mentor

Just Shoot Baby!

The Huntington Goslings

Embrace the opportunity to shoot, shoot, shoot. Whatever the subject: street, people, landscape, animals, water, buildings, etc. Just shoot baby!

Look for the light, composition and moments. Be open to possibilities, get out of your own way and EXPERIMENT. Experiment with lens choices, exposure modes, aperture settings, shutter speeds, hand held vs. tripod, move the camera during exposure. Lower the camera. Raise the camera. Try shooting without looking through the viewfinder. Use auto focus instead of manual. Or vice-versa. Be joyful in the process of creation. You just may create something you weren’t expecting, a FABULOUS photograph! Filled with emotional impact, a great story, or a profound moment. You won’t know unless you try and you can’t predict the outcome. That’s part of the excitement is it not?

I’m a pro. Have been for years. I approach my personal work as discussed above because this approach in turn informs my professional work in that I’m reasonably assured when I’m on assignment of what can be achieved through controlled experimentation. Freehand personal experimentation informs controlled client experimentation. Every time.

For example. The image above was made during a class field trip where I encouraged my students to do exactly what I’ve been proselytizing. I didn’t look through the viewfinder, had the lens on auto focus and hand held the camera just above the ground as I kept pace with this these goslings. I had no idea what I was going to get but I knew that by doing this I was bound to get something reasonable because I’ve been experimenting with this for awhile. Here’s an example of a similar approach last December in Lake Tahoe, CA:

What's Up Duck?

I’m not a fowl photographer by any means. The subjects of both these photographs is a coincidence. But the process is not. The process is what made me lower the camera and trust my instincts. Obie Wan is correct. Trust the Force.

 

Here’s another experiment:

The Wind Buffeting My Subject and Camera

Driving home from Palm Desert, I decided to pull off Highway 10 and endeavor to find a few photo ops. Winds are frequently a factor in this area so I was hoping to find a subject easily affected by wind. Seeing this grove of small trees buffeted by the wind, I decided to photograph the movement while contrasting several still components within the composition. I’m not saying that this is an award-worthy image. But it’s worth noting the value contained within: how subject movement can be photographed when other elements are not moving. The lesson here can be applied to other forms of subject movement: water sports, auto racing and the like.

Speaking of movement, time to bounce.

See ya! Comments welcomed.

Michael

 

Dream Your Photograph….

Dream On!

then photograph your dream. This quote is my version of the famous Vincent Van Gogh quote: “I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.” When I first came across this beautiful bit of motivation, it helped validate my dreamy pre-visualization creative process. In my opinion I think we all  possess the ability to dream creatively but us creative types seem able to access the insights dreams provide easier than left-brainers.

I discuss pre-visualization and it’s importance to my creative process in chapter one of my book, “Build A Better Photograph.” Here’s a taste: My pre-visualization technique takes a serpentine path. The creative process pulses, breathes, and moves through me. It flows with passion, anger, joy, love, desire and fear. Add your own emotions to this list. An “image hit” informs the emotional responses I feel after experiencing one of these stimuli. I feel my response to the person, to the action, to the food. This is how it begins.

Process validation is a necessary component for artistic growth. Artists whose work I admire is one metric I use to gauge my growth as an artist and my place in the industry. I define validation as this: you share similar beliefs with someone who you know and respect. When you measure yourself against this persons talents or accomplishments, you feel more secure in your thought processes and abilities.

What are you dreaming of?

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

Create Your Own Moment

In 2003, after 24 years in business for myself as a commercial photographer and photo lab services provider, I was ready to move beyond photography and into the next phase of my professional life: creation of an online presence through blogging, public speaking, writing, teaching and consulting. It was also a goal of mine to become a celebrity in the process. Eight years later, after concentrated effort and focus, trial and error, missteps and success I find myself in the catbird seat ready to push out to the world all that is me via my very own internet-based radio show on photography. (:()) How’s that!

I’m now at the spot I envisioned eight years ago, but I’m not surprised: hard work, relentless effort, laser focus and karma all mixed together will do that for any self-employed creative professional (SECP). I control my destiny, it’s up to me, sink or swim to make this a long-term success.

How did I get here?

Follow me:

1)     I fully committed to this from the jump. It was necessary to reaffirm this many times but I began at 100% full throttle. For me this was the only way to begin, no time for toe-dipping here, jump in and swim with purpose and a plan. When the inevitable forks in the road popped up I knew which ones to take advantage of. My fork collection is huge.

2)     I was fortunate to have been offered a teaching job at world famous Brooks Institute. From 2003-2009 I taught twice a week at the Ventura, CA campus. Met 100’s of students and many of them will be coming onto my show as interviewees. Cool. How did I get this gig? By paying it forward. Several years earlier I had occasion to view a photography show by Brooks Institute students at a gallery in Santa Barbara. The teacher of these students was looking for someone to help with a field trip to LA area photo studios. I didn’t know this teacher but I volunteered anyway as LA is my hometown, I like to be in the service of others (Makes me feel complete) and I had a studio. . The field trip successful. Everyone enjoyed themselves. When I called the school in ’03 to inquire about a teaching position, this teacher had become the Provost. He remembered that field trip and how I had volunteered to help him and his students. I was hired shortly after that phone call. KARMA.

3)     I’ve worked my connection with the school into opportunities to speak, run workshops, give interviews and to appear as Mr. Pixel on Phototalkradio.

4)     I began a blog on 6/22/08 and have acquired over 5,000 unique visitors and over 7,000 hits. Small in the world of the web but big for me and growing daily.

5)     My book was released on 11/17/09. It stayed in the top 100 (of its’ category) at Amazon for seven months.

6)     Credibility has led many companies to partner up with me more easily than if I had no book, no blog and no connection to a world class school.

7)     Not to be one to rest on my laurels, I went to a marketing boot camp in September of 2010 run by Craig Duswalt. There I met internet guru Tom Antion and was inspired by both of them to rethink my marketing efforts. While following Craig’s online presence I discovered his radio show on toginet.

8)     After speaking with Craig about his radio show (and having an empty credit card, always always a dangerous thing) I pulled the trigger on 50 hours of prime radio time programming.

I go live 2/4/11 at 9am: Build A Better Photograph with Michael E. Stern

Hard work, laser focus, relentless effort, karma and here I am!

What are you doing?

Michael

Bad Habit Bridge Words

Winter View Looking East, Lake Tahoe, 2010.

So, I’m like ya know listening to a ya know like radio program and do you, ya know ever, um, like listen to you know someone talk and they like um take a long time to get their point across? When people of all walks of life use  these bridge words, I go nuts! And I also get turned off to the message they’re trying to get across. Bad habit bridge words are the bane of good conversation, interviews and just regular person to person communication. People don’t write like this but they um you know talk like this.

For the next week, really listen to how people talk. To others and to you. On radio, tv and in person. Which ones sound intelligent and which ones don’t? When speaking to your clients and potential clients, how do they sound? Which ones speak in thoughtful language (which makes you feel comfortable and reaffirms you’re dealing with the right person) and which ones make you think otherwise? For example, eleven years ago I was part of an audience listening to a speaker who didn’t use a single obvious or annoying bridge word the entire time she spoke. I was mesmerized at how she commanded me to listen. She was a real pro and her message was properly sent and (at least for me), properly received. Since that eventful day, I practice good speech habits.

How do you talk? Record your own voice and find out. Try it and you’ll be surprised at how well you sound…. or horrified at how difficult it is to follow your speech. Come across as an intelligent, thoughtful person and your pricing structure and sales pitches are protected from being perceived as less intelligent or educated than they could be. Most clients have college degrees and hang out with other educated people and/or have had to mingle with company bigwigs (who are highly educated). This breeds a certain level of expectations when it comes to conversation. A poor conversation (using basically, um, ya know, like bridge words) is an obstacle to success.

Why do this to yourself? With effort and time, this problem is fixable. Monitor your conversations via a digital voice recorder, listen to others speak (radio interview are a great source), take notes and be prepared to change what is usually a long-standing bad habit.

Here is a small list of annoying bridge words: um, ya know, you know, like, basically and ah. Please add to this list.

Cheers!

Social Media Doesn’t Trump Personal Relationships



Nature's Beauty & The Chance To Connect

I want to inform you about a surprising phenomenon that has increasingly repeated itself this year: new business opportunities are being generated not because of my web presence but because of my personal relationships. I’m online with a business website, this blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Slideshare and Youtube and all of these together aren’t doing as much as my ability to personally connect with people and pitch my services. My website has a Google page rank of 4, which is almost unheard of for a single-person business, much less one run by a self-employed creative professional. (SECP) Google has a page rank of 7. Facebook is a 10. Being a 4 when most businesses my size are either 0 or 1 is a tremendous achievement. Rate your online presence.

Try as I might I cannot relate my online status directly to sales. What has translated into sales is phone calls, meetings, email, promos, posting to all of my social media outposts and connecting with people whenever I’m out and about, both professionally and socially.

Here are two examples: In November I was hired as the official photographer for a 3-day animation expo. During this assignment a client from Disney, (whom I had met briefly last year on a shoot) came up to me. We talked a bit about this and that, work, family and friends. During this friendly conversation I pitched her a little bit on what I’ve been working on but generally it was in a social context. A few weeks later I get a call from another person at Disney whom I’ve never met but who was referred to me by the Disney client mentioned earlier. The conversation turned into the project currently on my homepage. No social media required, just strong social skills.

Secondly a call came in from a client whom I have been friends with during and after his stint working for the mouse. He is now an independent producer and filmmaker and I’ve been doing unit work for him for on a few of his shows. These low budget shorts were fun to be a part of. I was helping him out as a friend and I wanted to practice using a new lighting idea. His newest gig has a decent budget for a photographer and who do you think he called?

It pays to connect in as many ways as possible but, don’t rely on social media alone. Especially for a creative business, we need to reach out in person as much as possible.

Good luck and Happy 2011!

Michael

You Gotta Get The Shot…No Matter What

Nat Doing His Thing In Squaw Valley

I cannot ever return from an assignment and not have the shot I need (and my clients want and are paying for). Shooting for my book is no different. I have to get the shot. Period. So it was my goal for the day to photograph my son snowboarding in Squaw Valley, CA. I wanted to practice my action photography techniques and run my new 5D Mark II through some additional tests.

All was good until I slipped on a patch of black ice (as I was heading towards the snowboarding area), and hit the back of my head on the ground. The ski patrol came and took me to the emergency room to be examined. I had a mild concussion and I was embarrassed because I knew the footing was slippery, I was being careful and still slipped like I had stepped on a banana peel in a Three Stooges two-reeler.

The worst part was my gear: the meter was knocked out of calibration to the tune of five stops! I was not a happy camper. After careful examination of the 5D body and double-checking the IS and AF features of my 24-105 F/4 L series lens, I knew I could work in manual exposure mode if the shutter and aperture camera controls still worked. As a pro I know how work in full manual mode, but I’m a big fan of the Av and Tv modes too. They work great and under the right circumstances frequently build better photographs by using these other two exposure modes.

As I walked back towards the area where my son was at, I tested the camera a few times to make sure I could count on it to perform the way I needed it to. (I didn’t have my backup body with me, my bad)

As you can tell by the photo, I got my shot. Plenty of them so other than the gear issue, the day was a smashing success. This is the same attitude I bring to my assignment work, nothing short of a complete catastrophe will keep me from my goal, which is to build better photographs for my clientele. There is usually something that can go and will often go wrong right when you least expect it and yet you have to perform admirably and professionally. This attitude separates the amateurs from the pros and this attitude also helps to protect your pricing structure…absolute professionalism under less than ideal conditions.

Go get ’em and good shooting!

Michael

Build Photographs, Don’t Take Pictures

DisneyToon Studios 2010

My mantra is, “I build photographs, I don’t take pictures.” It’s the way I sell my commercial photographic services today. And it’s working.

As a professional photographer I prepare for a shoot by considering the many demanding chores required before the first test image is exposed. For instance, I received a call (a referral, the best kind) from a new person working at  Disney. She represented DisneyToon Studios and they wanted a group portrait taken in front of the theatre on the studio lot. (It’s a gift when clients refer new business and it’s one great metric to gauge how your business is perceived in your marketplace!)

I must stop at this point a give a little back story. A year ago I did this group portrait for Disney. As part of my continuing marketing efforts, I reached out to the point person for this portrait in late October to inquire if there were any holiday-themed events coming up where they might need my services. I was referred to a new point person. I did my duty and introduced myself. A month later I’m working the CTN expo in Burbank and I run into the previous point person. We have a great chat and catch up a bit. So I’m fresh on her mind when the DisneyToon person asks her where to go for their group portrait. I’m convinced this is how the referral came to me and no one else. The lesson here is: you’re always in sales mode when you’re an (SECP) and every contact with a client (and for that matter, vendors) is an opportunity to burnish your reputation or damage it.

Getting back to this post…part of my sales strategy is to let my clients know the difference between me and my competition. I never phone it in, when I can I always do a site survey. I did this for this shoot. I brought a measuring tape, a ladder, a note pad, business cards and my camera for some test shots. After gathering the pertinent info, (taking measurements, shooting some test files, and planning for the lighting) we chatted a bit to get to know each other. After getting back to my office, I looked at my tests, made some calculations on how best to build this portrait. I got a rate from my assistant and my lab quoted the print costs. At this stage I developed my budget and sent it to my client.

We scheduled the shoot and it went well. Here are a few production shots:

Getting Everyone to Buy Into My Ideas

A View From My POV

The Sun Was Directly Shining Into My Lens

Starting To Break Down My Gear

Related Images:

Use The Web For Your Own Good

Sometimes it snows in Pasadena

New technologies that compress time and space in how we communicate or conduct business changes us profoundly, especially in business. This is the main posit from the book Giants Of Enterprise. The author takes you on a fascinating journey into the lives of seven men who created (George Eastman, Charles Revson, Henry Ford) or built up (Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Watson Sr.) entire businesses. Even though these men ran corporations and had many personal and social flaws, the way they approached business was singular: they harnessed what no others saw, used their wits for and against others and embraced new technologies. Combine that with an unwavering view of themselves becoming successful and you have the important ingredients for mega successes that ran for decades. This is a great read if you have any inclination towards working for yourself. My kind of book.

These men were experts at what they did and the majority of them didn’t mind telling you so, publicly and privately. Many times over. Which brings me to my point. Your personal publicity machine is here and has been for quite some time. I’m using mine right now. Think of it like this: you are the farmer who plants seeds wherever you have a presence on the web. You develop an idea or business goal, find a place to plant it online, nurture this idea with frequent attention (watering) and over time you’ll grow and nurture inbound links (fertilizer) which ups your SEO ranking (new crops) until you have grown your version of a self-sustaining green friendly top of the line farm where you are the expert and people can’t get enough of what you know and represent. Become the go to person, display your expertise and bring in the cash crops you’ve earned!

To start, set up online profiles at places like LinkedIn, Biznik, Jigsaw and Behance. Start blogging. You already text so think of blogging as extraordinary texting. Become expert at something and tell the world. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. And if you don’t do it, you’ll probably never get where you want to go or be who you wish to be. Or live how you want to live. It takes work and constant effort, so what are you waiting for? Tell us what you know. We dare ya!

Help Yourself By Being Interviewed

The view from my son's tree house

Do you realize how many sites looking are looking for content only the wonderfulness of you can provide? I have been highly motivated during my career to get the word out about me and my photography talents: direct mail, phone calls, sales calls and presentations. That morphed into voicemail, email and websites. The current trend is to give away some of your “stuff” via webinars, blogs and teleseminars. These gestures give potential clients the proverbial lick from your ice cream cone. If they lick and like then they may bite. And this means new awareness for you and what you offer and possibly you’ll be able to turn that awareness into sales.

If hosting your own webinar series is too scary to contemplate there is also another way: sites that will interview you because you are the expert in your field or at the very least you are good at what you do and have something to offer others in the way of advice by relating your experiences, both good and bad. I took that approach with my book and since it’s release I’ve been doing interviews, public appearances and podcasts! Very cool stuff.

Jitzul is just one of the websites willing to interview you about being a creative professional. Take advantage of what Ryan and Alicia are offering, an online archive of the experiences of artists the world over. When the interview is over you can link to it, send others (potential clients) to listen and perhaps people looking to know more about you will see the link in their search engine results. If you’re selected, listen to some of the others already on the site and practice your diction, articulation and think about how thoughtful your answers and commentary can be.

Good luck!

Michael