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Tag Archives: Professional

Lingering Clouds Peak

Well it took awhile to finally get this film to a point where I can own the end result. An experiment in tone, color and softness, I have taken construction time-lapse work to a new place in the industry.

Enjoy!

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.03.43 PM
Lingering Clouds Peak

Way Up There All The Little Things Matter

As more construction time lapse projects come into my office that require long term self-contained self-powered systems, it became imperative
to develop a check list to ensure that camera controls, intervalometer settings, power set-ups and connections are appropriately set so I can sleep at night.
And by association you’ll sleep better too. A checklist takes on more importance the higher up and less accessible the installation location is.
To wit: The Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project currently under way at the Port of Long Beach, (POLB) is the type of assignment I’m talking about here…

That's my little baby  up yonder

That’s my little baby up yonder

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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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Related Images:

Decisions That Drive The Time Lapse Narrative Forward

Dynamic Perception Stage 0 Dolly and the eMotimo TB3 Black

Dynamic Perception Stage 0 Dolly and the eMotimo TB3 Black

What should be your guiding principal when planning shots, especially when it comes to motion control time lapse sequences? The four keywords I keep in mind are: education, documentation, preservation and entertainment. Every decision I make rides on the backs of these four words.

I jumped into time lapse photography in ’03 and have been hacking away at it ever since. During this time, I realized I was developing a new specialty: the commercial time lapse narrative. Now I offer a boutique experience to my market in that I shoot time lapse projects with the mindset of a movie director. I offer and provide multiple camera set ups daily, weekly and monthly. In addition to the usual fixed or static camera that records all that happens in front of it I also place what I call rover units throughout a site in order to tell the complete story, whatever it may be…thus the decisions that come with this approach.

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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:

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Why Does It Cost So Much?

Money

 Why Does It cost so much? –or– Why don’t I own it?

 

Filed under, “If I had a nickel for every time I heard this….”

 Knowledge & Power

The education of commercial art buyers at the client direct level is awash in a sea of misinformation and self-appointed know-it-alls. Some days I see the advantage of having a personal firing squad.

 

Professional Photography costs X dollars because commercial licensing of intellectual property is a component of the service we sell.  Referring specifically to professional photography, we don’t make widgets. We don’t sell real estate. We don’t collect data and mine it for you. We do work on commission, we work at creating intellectual property in the form of visuals and it’s the intellectual property rights built into each and every photograph we build that provides us the ability to make a living wage. Licensing the use of intellectual property for your business or personal needs is part of our business model.

 

If one works in a situation where someone else carries the weight for you, (benefits, salary, retirement, etc.) then the idea of artists’ intellectual property rights may indeed be a mystery. Add in the costs of doing business, the need to make a reasonable profit and our pricing structure and you have our business model just about summed up.

 

It’s painful when we negotiate and end up not only having been denied our licensing rights, but maddening when those rights aren’t even acknowledged. It’s not a gift or an entitlement. It’s a right. Artists own their creative works unless they sign them away. It’s the creative-art-patent.

 

 Product vs. Expression

We do not create products. We create the expression of an idea. It’s custom designed to fit your needs and desires. If you’re willing to pay for it you can own our intellectual property rights by an outright purchase and transfer of our copyright. Not recommended of course due to the expense, but it ‘s available. I’ve sold it a few times in my career.

 

If you’re unable or unwilling to purchase our intellectual work outright then we’ll come to an agreement that let’s you license the portions you need and we’ll keep the rest. We’re then free (through our ingenuity and efforts) to look for other opportunities and revenue streams. Again, this is our business model.

 

When you purchase a home you are purchasing the property rights to that home and land. When you buy a DVD you own the physical disk but not its’ content. You’ve licensed the content for a specific use. Period. That intellectual property is the property of the creating party….movie studio or independent filmmaker.

 

I lose projects because ownership issues (my rights) drive costs past what seem like arbitrarily low budgets. Education about this issue is important to both sides so a mutually beneficial understanding is developed.

 

I’m not inflexible in my pricing either. I’ve adjusted with the state of the economy but it isn’t enough; a request for a quote came in: ten business professional headshots, retouched and ready to post online. The shoot was to be on location about 13 miles from my studio. I normally charge $600.00 a shot for volume jobs like this. But I wanted to see where the bottom was so I came in at the ridiculously low price of $95.00 a shot. I was crazy to let this quote out of my office but I needed to see where bottom was. But in fact I was too high! Some other knucklehead (dumber than me) low-balled the crap out of it after I already low-balled the crap out of it. That’s four low balls! And it wasn’t enough.

 

Now where’s that firing squad?

 

 And Yet There’s More

But it’s also something much more. More profound. More disturbing than at any other time in my career.

 

It’s the inability of individuals and businesses to accept that bargaining for these rights (or even the effort to understand and grasp the concept of ownership, licensing, copyright and associated costs) makes us crazy. Ready. Aim….

 

It costs more than you realize, or want to spend, or have been told is your budget to spend because it’s convenient not to think about what it takes to engage a professional who trades in the photographic arts.

 

The copyright law that protects every creative’s intellectual property rights includes photographers. And movie studios. And authors. And songwriters. And poets. And comedy acts. And TV shows. And professional sports leagues. We’re in good company and we aim to stay put.

 

So please listen when we tell you the proper way to license or purchase our intellectual property. It protects you from unauthorized use. If you use protected work that has been registered it gets expensive in a hurry.

 

But you know that right?

 Let’s Work Together

You don’t think I’m going to press my advantage if I catch you? Most likely I will. It’s about respect and acknowledgement of what our rights and protections are. Rights and protections we fight to keep in spite of what our government of the United States of Business tries to do. Daily. You have rights and protections that you want honored and enforced, company trademarks, patents and the like.

 

It’s a two-way street and today’s economic environment is no excuse for fostering an attitude that belittles the process, diminishes the relationship and adds to everyone’s stress level.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Michael

Are You Doing Enough Today For Tomorrow?

The Rabbit Hole of Retirement

For all self-employed people saving for the time when you want to work less and play more is as crucial as the product or service your business is providing. That being said, it ain’t always easy but it must always be a significant part  of your monthly, quarterly or yearly plan. If not then what’s going to happen when the world no longer wants your product or service or you choose to no longer provide it? Dog food and newspaper blankets? Drastic for sure but you get my point. Plan, prepare and enjoy or else your later years will not be much fun. Or comfortable.

I’ve been saving and planning since 1983. I’ve had many good years of savings and investment growth and several years of it going the other way. The point is to get in the game. If you don’t play in some form or fashion then you don’t have any room to complain when you come up empty. I had a friend who worked very hard as an auto mechanic for years…supported his wife, two kids and his mother. Admirable for sure but he didn’t take care of himself or his future. I kept urging him to put something away. Even 50 bucks a month. Just begin the process. Get used to putting something aside, it gets easier each time you do it. He didn’t listen. Said his kids would take care of him like he did for his mom. Well he got hurt and working on cars was more difficult. His wife left him (that’s another story), his kids grew. His mother passed. The business he worked at was sold out from under him and he was let go. Last time I saw him he was living in a guest house trading rent for handyman favors around the property. Pathetic.

I know others in the same boat and while I feel for them, it was on them to do something and they didn’t. I know it’s a struggle. But you have to do something. Period. Remember nobody loves you like you mother. And sometimes not even her. So you gotta do it for yourself.

What can you do to begin? Read up on the terms used in the investment industry: stocks, bonds, returns, dividends, etc. Get familiar with the terms. Understand what they try to do. Understand the concept of risk. Find a broker and get a dialog going about what you can do with the money you have and how to begin investing. Don’t invest yet. Make them provide you with a written plan. I’ve had bad experiences with Prudential, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. I’m with a smaller firm called Crowell Weedon. I make sure they explain everything in writing. I get to stop by whenever I feel like it or  I can call anytime. I’m trying to become more educated and savvy about how my money works for me.

I know my risk tolerance profile and what I’m comfortable with. For the record, I’ll take on moderate risk and I look for stocks paying a dividend. I reinvest those dividends. It’s a way to grow an investment without having to do much once the initial purchase it made. I also own value companies whose stocks grow in value over time

This is greatly simplified but it’s the point I’m making that is key here: do something today. Start small. Read first, you’ll be able to formulate better questions to ask the person you’ll be entrusting your money with. Losses are inevitable. So are gains. The trick is to have more of the later than former.

It ain’t easy and it ain’t that hard. But you have to begin. Today.

Do it and enjoy a comfortable time when you’d rather not work.

Michael

 

Light Graffiti

Stairs

I volunteered to work on a time lapse film crew…three days at 13+ hours per day from 1pm until 3am…..sheesh! Why did I do this? Reason 1: business is slow (betcha didn’t think of that one) Reason 2: An incredible learning experience from a fellow who is expert at motion-control and stop-motion still imaging. Reason 3: The location of Linda Vista Hospital in Boyle Heights near downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1905, it’s in the process of being converted into senior housing but now it’s old, dirty, dark, dank and ripe for photography of all kinds. Many a horror movie and tv show have filmed here but soon it will be no more, access denied. So here we are, five intrepid souls in search of a common experience. I’m shooting some of the sequences, schlepping gear up and down stairs and mentoring the more inexperienced members of the crew. I too am being mentored in motion-control techniques. It’s a blast.

Many of you know I’m into time lapse as a money maker as well as for the love of it. The filmmaker Jeff Frost and I met last year when we were speaking at a digital imaging group. We’ve since become friends and enjoy working together. A life long learner I jumped at the chance when Jeff asked me to be part of the crew and contribute by shooting sequences for his new film. Needless to say I was humbled and honored by his request and trust in me.

No money? No problem. Actually it is but what are ya gonna do? Many time you do things for reasons other than money. I did however carve out some time between sequences to shoot a few light paintings I call, “Light Graffiti”.

FireHose

No big deal, just long exposures, (8-30 seconds) one flashlight, a bit of Lightroom magic and a brief visit to Photoshop’s, Blend Modes and Layer Masks.

Tank_01

I also made a very brief time lapse so you could enjoy the view from the roof…..I hope to make one or two more later this week. Stay tuned.

LA_Night

See ya!

Michael

 

 

Related Images:

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