Tag Archives: photography

It’s The Little Things…

Working with a professional photographer is a little like buying catastrophic insurance…you don’t really want to think about what could go wrong on a shoot but it’s nice to know you’ll be covered. For instance, it’s the little things that will stop a shoot completely: broken connector cables, dead batteries, failed media cards, missing quick release plate, etc. It’s like when the timing belt breaks on your car, it stops right there, there’s no nursing it to a mechanic, you’re stuck until a tow truck comes. Hello Auto Club…

The photography professional you select must be prepared for many contingencies, especially on location where a quick fix can be difficult to come by…

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Reflection of Effort

Through consistent and tedious effort my SEO strategy is paying off. I’ve been getting calls for commercial and time lapse photography assignments in key areas I want to work during this phase of my life and career: portrait, time lapse, construction and event photography. (not necessarily in that order)

This assignment came in about a month ago: to time lapse trucks entering the Port of Long Beach’s Yusen Terminals. The idea was to measure when the heaviest and lightest traffic times occurred throughout a 20 hour cycle. The end time lapse film had to include a clock to help easily identify these key times. My camera had to be in a single, stationary position.

My client scoped out the location earlier and selected the perfect spot: inside, high, protected and with power. The only issue was reflections while shooting through glass. Here’s my solution: a Lenskirt and a black cloth on a C-stand.

TruckStops-7TruckStops-9Why have the extra black screen behind the camera? Years ago I learned the value of testing set ups before prior to a shoot. For this shoot I tested my camera, intervalometer and tripod. I allowed for reflections but not enough to prevent a reshoot. I then purchased the Lenskirt to eliminate the possibility of reflections for said reshoot. I bought this particular item because a colleague recommended it.

I needed to ensure (as much as possible), that reflections would not interfere with the content. I’m setting up for the test when I realized that the lens was going to be at an oblique angle to the glass and reflections could still be an issue. And I was correct. I mimicked my set up as closely as possible and lo and behold there were reflections even with the Lenskirt attached. The current version was designed assuming  lenses will be squared up to the glass, not at an oblique angle. I just heard from Aaron, the creator of the Lenskirt and he’s making a larger version for just this reason. Hooray!

Here’s an early frame pull prior to my 16 hour test:time lapse test shoot using a LenskirtThis cropped frame clearly shows the reflection of a basket and the wall behind it in the window. This problem was solved by adding the black cloth behind. So now on to the shoot. Once on location I cleaned the glass, set up my camera, doubled checked all connections, ran a few test frames, reset the Promote Control to begin 13+ hours hence, left and hoped for the best.

close up of Promote Controls intervalometerThe shoot went well except that outside dirt and the glass thickness caused additional issues that had to be dealt with in post:

time lapse frame pull from the Yusen Terminals night shootThe reflections being as prominent as they were surprised me. The dirt was unfortunate. If I could have arranged for a cleaning of the glass prior I would have. As I scrutinized the window during set up, I knew the dirt bunnies would be minimal and easy to remove.

Here’s the finished frame:

time lapse frame from the Yusen Terminals film

Lightroom’s spot removal tool and the sync function were invaluable in helping me build better content for this client. The larger issue here is that there are ways to get new business in the door and there are ways to successfully complete an assignment. Unknown things often happen on a shoot, success and failure change places easily and the agile and vigilant pro understand this.

As a buyer, that’s what you want in todays’ market.

The completed short film: [vimeo]http://vimeo.com/71591394[/vimeo]

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Camera 2 Camera Expo June 28-30, 2013 in Vegas!

 

Camera2Camera

Camera 2 Camera Expo…Come On Down!

I was invited to participate at next weeks brand new camera expo in Vegas. I’m putting on a 3-day time lapse workshop and a 90 minute Lightroom Develop Tips demonstration.

I’m bringing a Syrp Genie, an eMotiomo TB3, a Dynamic Perception Stage 0 Dolly, a Meade Instruments telescope pan and tilt head, a Promote Systems Controller amongst other gear that will be available for participants to handle and try out. Under expert supervision of course…  : )

I’ve been shooting a lot of content to show and all participants will have access to the gear.

We’ll be going out to a dry lake bed for an early morning shoot, to the Bellagio for an afternoon shoot and to the roof of the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa for our evening shoot. Afterwards will be working with Lightroom and Premiere to put our sequences together.

Participants are encouraged to bring their own gear but not to worry if you don’t have it all. I do.

This will be fun. I guarantee it.

The second program is about ways to use the Lightroom Develop Module to pull the moment out of your photograph. Called Fantastic Toning Tips, I’ll walk you through the must do’s that I follow plus a boatload of ways to add punch, drama and visual effects to one image or an entire time lapse sequence. (see above)

Hope to see some of you there!

Michael

Remnants on Display

 

Next week I’ll be attending the opening of a group show that I’m part of at the offices of IDA in Culver City, CA. The show opens April 19 at 6pm. Stop by if you’re in the area and we’ll have a toast:

8440 Warner Drive, Suite A1
Culver City, CA 90232
310-581-4400

3 pieces were selected and I of course am thrilled at seeing my personal art form on public display. This isn’t the first public showing I’ve had for Remnants but it will be the most visible.

IDA is a busy design studio with many people moving in and out during the week and I look forward to connecting with folks who are attracted to my particular vision.

It doesn’t stop there either. I have a book out on the subject and maybe I’ll make a sale or two….

All in all a part of any artists’ plan should be to get the work out and have it seen by as large an audience as possible.

The journey continues…

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:

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

 

 

Stand, Kneel, Lie Down & Deliver

Perspective

After years of photographing field sporting events I’ve come up with a simple rule that I employ on almost every shoot: the floating camera technique.

As an adult (in my mind anyway), raising and lowering the camera from the “tourist off the tour bus perspective”, creates two additional perspectives during the same shoot. Standing while shooting makes kids look smaller by virtue of the fact that I’m taller than the subjects I’m photographing. IMHO it makes them a less significant contributor to the photograph.

As I kneel and lie down to shoot, the drama and impact of the photograph increases. The triptych at the top of this post illustrates how the ground becomes less important and the subject becomes more heroic as the camera drops.

Just remember to bring a towel for those wet dewey mornings or the ride home will be a cold one….(:(*)

 

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

 

 

Tuning Your Opportunity Radar

I was on the phone yesterday with the vice-president of photography operations for a very large company in New York. (I trust you can appreciate I keep their identity secret) They are on the verge of beginning a high-profile project in LA and I’m determined to be the contractor for their photography needs. The VP called me so we could get to know each other a bit. How did I manage to get this very busy person to call me?

I read the LA Times every morning when I’m in town. There is usually no shortage of stories about new business dealings happening LOCALLY. I emphasize locally because there is a lot of business to be had locally if one knows where to look. This particular story appeared in the LA Times in mid-summer. I could tell by the story that it would be a few months before anything got rolling. So I planned what I would say when I eventually (and hopefully) connected with the right person. As part of my research to locate this point person, I had to first locate the company contact info. Easy and difficult: for this company, it’s easy to reach the people who sell tickets, provide customer service, provide guest relations, etc. But nowhere on the company website were the relevant phone numbers listed. A Google search didn’t help either. But my opportunity radar kept beeping and I wasn’t going to ignore a good lead. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

I began by calling the lost and found office. (I was lost wasn’t I?) The person tried to be helpful and perused the company directory for me but after a few minutes of going nowhere fast I suggested the HR department as the place to go. But I was sent to another department by mistake. I assumed (wrong!) that I was indeed in HR and proceeded (after introducing myself) with my spiel.  After a minute the person who answered laughed and said I was in the wrong department but sent me to HR as a courtesy.

I introduced myself again, (third time’s a charm) stated my purpose and then went on with my pitch. After a few minutes it was clear that this person had no idea what I was talking about (neither did the others I might add) but kindly suggested that perhaps the VP of photography might be the right person. I was sent directly to this persons’ voicemail, left a message and within ten minutes received a call back. And it was the correct person to speak with. Bullseye! Right where I wanted to be.

We spoke for a few minutes (this was just an intro chat) but covered important ground. I made sure to ask questions about this person and how they came into the position of VP. It’s not all about me and my needs. It’s about their work, their needs and how I may be able to help them. This is my radar equation: tuning into the correct opportunities for the work I want to produce. I invest time into knowing what type of work I prefer to do and I sniff out those opportunities that fulfill the mission. Simple. Easy. Takes patience and a willingness to hang in there when all inquiries seem like dead ends. It’s a process.

I’ve been doing this sort of business development for years and have had my successes for sure. And this seems like one of them. I’ve also experienced failures but that is the game isn’t it? Win some. Lose some. Spend time with your family.

Good luck tuning your opportunity radar.

Michael

 

 

Related Images:

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