Tag Archives: portraits

The corporate headship and its’ variations…

 Photographer Michael e. Stern

Michael e. Stern, professional headshot photographer

The day has come when you (gulp), can’t put if off any longer. You need a professional head shot, an update or a brand new one. And you want it to be really good. You may not realize it but trust me you also want to experience a good time, enjoy a few laughs and gain insight into the process of crafting a professional level head shot. But don’t overlook the most important aspect…the delivered image must work for you. I certainly keep that in mind for you. FYI, the photograph above is a self-portrait. I don’t recommend the “Selfie” technique unless you’re knowledgeable in what to do.

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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

 

 

 

 

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Develop Your Rap

The butter and eggs portion of my business is the corporate headshot. To date I’ve done over a thousand. Location. Studio. I’ll go anywhere clients request. Period. It’s called service. With a smile. And a decent price tag. For both parties. I want to share with you one of my trade secrets: the interview rap. The interview rap works well when I’m doing one or two people per assignment. When I’m doing five plus a day, my rap is done on-the-fly. The energy level I must bring during the bigger sessions contributes to its’ success. When it’s only one or two people per assignment it’s a bit different.

Here’s what I do: I call the subjects and spend time getting to know them. And they me. I offer congratulations on their new hire or promotion (or whatever the reason is for them needing a headshot). I ask if they’ve been photographed professionally, how they felt, how the photographs turned out (in their opinion only), would they like to do something different this time? The way they answer drives my rap…funny…informational…topical…personal, etc. If there is an ease to their answers, no detectable strain in their voice I come back to them with a jokes, recent movies I’ve seen or food I’ve eaten mixed in with my answers. The tone and length of their responses inform me as to what type of personality I’m beginning to engage. And vice-versa. In my world both sides of the photographic session have to be authentic as much as possible. I’ve been doing this too long to play games, I’m determined to do a successful and professional job that fills my clients needs every time I pull the trigger.

In essence I want my subjects to know me and I them. I strive to create a relaxed, engaging and informational photographic experience and it begins with the interview rap and moves forward clothing ideas, haircut (at least a week in advance), booking date, length of session, what we will accomplish and a delivery date.

So may I ask…what’s your rap?

Thanks for reading.

Michael

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Jim McCrary – Photographer Mentor Educator

An assignment from Jim's portrait class

I was saddened this morning to read of the passing of Jim McCrary on April 29, 2012. When the people who’ve made a significant impact on my life pass on I’m beset with sorrow and pain. Besides my dad and best friend and first mentor Dick Burkholder, Jim also had a significant impact on me. Jim McCrary was my favorite photography instructor at Art Center College of Design in 1978. It was the 5th semester portrait class and I hadn’t a clue why my work was at or near the bottom of the class in terms of concept, emotional connection to the viewer, and presentation. I was frustrated and could not and did not know how to get out of my own way. Then I hit Jim’s class.

On the first night he strode into the classroom: all six feet four of him, flaming red hair, glasses, short sleeve plaid shirt, Levis and a grinning swagger. A swagger that told you instantly this was going to be fun and different. I was all eyes and ears. He was causal, which at first was a alarming to me. Alarming because my other professors (up to that point) were conservative, with spit and polish attitudes that didn’t suffer fools very well. But I was used to it. Jim comes along and blows that to itty, bitty pieces. There was no semblance of my previous classroom experiences left. Shocking but it was the perfect tonic for what ailed me. Doing the course assignments, taking in the critiques, applying the knowledge gained, my work shot up in a near vertical trajectory. I wasn’t aware of how much my work improved until fellow students replaced their unkind and competitive comments with comments that acknowledged my improvement coupled with an appreciation of my newly focused vision.

I was then and have always been grateful for his gentle, confident guidance and I’ve often thought kindly about that particular class above all the others. Rest In Peace Jim……..

Your student,

Michael E. Stern

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Honoring People and Yourself

As my ten month time-lapse project begins to wind down, I’m satisfied with the way I’ve honored the contributions of the fine people who’ve been working at The Huntington on the rejuvenation of the Asian Garden. These workers do strenuous manual labor: digging, mulching, watering, planting, etc., in all kinds of weather and always starting first thing in the morning. Six days a week.

And as far as I’ve witnessed, they do it with pride, professionalism and camaraderie. I like hanging out with these guys because they are know a lot about gardening, are friendly and support what I’m doing with multiple cameras, sometimes set in places they have to work around to avoid jostling. I really appreciate their efforts on my behalf.

My gift to them are the portraits I’ve been making periodically. I made these yesterday. The lead image for this post was taken at 8am and the one below was made at 3pm.

This morning I handed out seven envelopes with these two prints inside. There were surprised and grateful. We shared a few laughs at how they appeared at both ends of a typical day for them: fresh in the morning and a bit bedraggled at the end. This is a rare experience for them and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to honor them this way.

Thanks for reading.

 

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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

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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

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© Alliance—-OWN YOUR WORK!

The View From Our Campsite

This post is in response to a request by Jane Smith and the Copyright Alliance. All of us professional, commercial, fine and part-time creatives must endure to protect our creations. Not only is it a money issue but it is our sworn duty to look out for ourselves and others of our ilk. At the very least inform your supporters, clients and patrons the lay of the land when it comes to ownership, copyrights and licensing of creative work. You say you don’t know a thing about these topics? Shame on you! Get your fingers a’ typin’ and RESEARCH SO YOU ARE INFORMED! There is no excuse for not becoming familiar with these topics. If you don’t want to know about them then get a job and have someone else “take care” of you and yours. If you want to live on the outside, then protect your work and inform others! It’s our collective call to arms!

Many years ago I negotiated a licensing agreement with the Walt Disney Company. In 1998, Roy E. Disney commissioned me to create a portrait of him for the book “Fantasia/2000: Visions of Hope”. It appears on page seven and along with my customary and usual photo credit, the © also appears. That’s the power we own if we know how to wield it correctly. Many years later as I was writing my book, it wasn’t a problem using this photo in my discussion about my portrait work. All I needed was a model release from Roy, which he willingly signed in 2005.

All of my proposals and contract spell out the usage and ownership issues. My metadata also spells this out. And when I send my images to the Library of Congress for © registrations, it’s spelled out there too.

What are you all doing about this?

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Group Portraits and all that Schtick

600 people in front the the Feature Animation Building (FAB)

600 people in front the the Feature Animation Building (FAB)

So yesterday I photographed the 600+ people who work for Disney Animation Studios in Burbank. As some of you know, I was one of the main outside photographers doing business with The Walt Disney Company for close to 20 years. I sort of walked away from it in 2006 for a lot of reasons, my dad’s death, 9/11, my son, teaching and the list goes on. So I get a call the other day from a colleague who was actually  booked for the shoot but became unavailable when the client changed the date.  So he gave me a call. I was delighted and flattered to say the least. This type of photography is an art form for me, one I cultivate actively so it was tremendously gratifying when the client wrote me earlier today saying how much she loved the sample I sent over. The sample is the image posted for this entry.

I was helped by Peter Duffy, a colleague and former student, someone whom I look forward to helping when I can. Actually we have helped each other on a number of shoots. As a team we work very efficiently, professionally and have a lot of fun making photographs. He showed up with his 5D Mark II so I could take that baby out for a test spin. What a nice camera! I was stationed in a scissor-lift about fifteen feet up, shooting with a 24mm tilt-shift lens poked through a ring flash. I had to shoot at high noon due to the limited availability of the big three who run the division. My choice of course was to shoot early in the morning. We’re talking about artists here though, people who usually don’t like mornings, so probably only half would have showed. Late afternoon and they all would have been squinting, so noon it was. About thirty minutes prior to their arrival, the 600 or so made their way to the front of the building. Peter helped wrangle them into the three groupings I had designated. Using a bull horn it was a bit like wrangling cats. But he worked the crowd quite well. Give a bull dog a bull horn and that’s what you’d expect. Thanks Peter. The three executives came out and we were on!

I pumped 4000 watt seconds of power through the flash tube and it threw light all the way to the doors under the word “ANIMATION”. I shot at 1/100 @ f/13 @ 200 ISO and pulled f/7.1 as my fill. Impressive light and in my opinion (and experience with other group shots), a very efficient way to light a scene like this. As a variation I had them put on sunglasses and look slightly up at the sun. I had them wave and make funny faces. I had them tilt their chins up and then down. Incredibly almost all of the people participated. I was very pleased. I even did a little schtick (which I always prepare) to put them at ease and to break their thoughts as to what another group portrait in the sun was going to be like. I live for this type of opportunity.

I say it that way because the main thing bugging the client about their last photographer was that he did not direct them during the actual time he was making the exposures. A critical time to ignore your subjects, don’t you think? She related how they thought he was futzing with the camera while they waited for him to begin. Then he says he’s all through, thank you very much. I saw the photo, it left a lot to be desired. Like as many people as possible looking at the camera. Like as many people as possible smiling or at least paying attention to the photographer. At finally there was no attempt whatsoever to try and make the building come alive. It is a stand out facility, a piece of art. Why not treat it as such? After all magic is produced there.  My clients honor me when they commission my talents. I want to return the favor by honoring their work too. Pretty simple equation but  a lot of professional artists either don’t think like this or just plain forget.

After the shot was over I waited 20 minutes (in the scissor-lift bucket, in the sun) for people to clear out, I shot a bracket of three additional exposures, normal, +1 and -1 for the HDR portion of this project. I generated my HDR background plate and after a few duplicate layers here and there, a few blend modes here and there, a little burning and dodging, I was ready to drop in the shot of the people. Add a stock cloud image and there you have it, a nice portrait of nice people. Oy! such fun!

Here is the original shot. It took a bit of time to achieve the final result but my client is very happy indeed.

The camera original

The camera original

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After Life Portraits

Taming The Digital BeastI have long been inspired by after-life portraits. I became intrigued with this particular type of subject matter after purchasing  “Portraits in Life and Death”, by Peter Hujar, in 1979. This book changed my thinking about what is appropriate subject matter for an artist. I admit that I’m intrigued by death. I embrace this part of my artistic persona because it profoundly informs my other work. In late 2006, I was holding my dads’ left hand and watching his face when he drew his last breath. After he passed (and before the mortuary arrived to retrieve and prepare his body for the memorial service), I went back into his room and made several portraits of him. The session was quiet, soothing, sad and in a strange sort of way, comforting.

To be completely honest, I documented the last three days of his life, from the moment he left the hospital in an ambulance (I rode with him), to the hospice set up in his home, to his casket being pushed into the mausoleum. Making a few portraits of him within the first hour of his passing seemed entirely appropriate to me. A friend of mine, Greg Ellis (who is a gifted percussionist) has offered to put his music to selected photographs from the three days. Should be interesting. I haven’t looked at the photos since November 2006. I wonder how I’ll react to seeing them again? I wouldn’t have thought of putting music to these photos but I’m along for the ride because I trust Greg’s instincts and passion as an artist. Stay tuned for what promises to be something extraordinary.

Since it’s difficult for me to frequently gain access to dead people and since I’m no Joel Peter-Witkin, I’ve settled on scanning and photographing after-life animals. Click this link to see some of my scanned Remnants. Now it just so happens that my sister-in-law is a veterinarian and supportive my desire to work with this peculiar type of subject matter. When she graciously granted access to the deceased frozen animals at her clinic, I set up a small studio there as soon as our schedules allowed. There were dozens of frozen animals in a huge locker, loosely packed on top of each other. To name the few that I recognized, there were dogs of all sizes and shapes, cats, rabbits, chickens, hawks, owls, peacocks and eagles. The eagle and peacock were the coolest (literally an figuratively) because they were frozen like ice cubes and large. As I went about the process of photographing these after-life animals, I was very selective about the lighting and camera angles, depth of field and focal length. I was taking my time as I wasn’t used to handling frozen carcasses with latex gloves and a mask. My deliberate and thoughtful approach to these portrait sessions caused a problem; within thirty minutes of pulling a frozen carcass out of the locker, it begins to thaw, sweat and smell. Awful. And as the formaldehyde filled the room I was working in, my eyes became irritated too. The need for speed and economy of motion was going to be just as important as the photographic considerations.

Well it all ended quite well and I have many, many after-life portraits in my archive. The image used for this blog entry is from the peacock series. I created this image as part of an entry for a contest sponsored by NAPP, the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, of which I have been a member since 2000. The photo was not selected in the contest and for several years I didn’t consider it part of my portfolio but now I do, so here it is.

See ya!

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