Tag Archives: Professional

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

 

Success Is Up To You

The road to success is long but interesting…….

I am an inspired and motivated person, otherwise I wouldn’t have hung around as long (30+ years) in the world of self-employment. (and as an artist no less!) But nonetheless, it’s important to put in process protocols that help drive one towards achievable goals. As a self-employed person, I’m always hunting for sources (old and new) to  inspire and motivate.  Today as I’m reading the online version of the LA Times, I got my hit reading Dear Amy. I have been a huge fan of advice columnists for decades, it’s one of the first places I go to when reading any periodical, while traveling, at home or otherwise occupied!

Today’s column had the catch phrase that is the title of this post…”Success Is Up To You.”

Of course there are obstacles that will get in your way: life on a daily basis, other peoples agendas, your own fears, etc. You have to figure out a way to get over these real (and often times) imagined humps. I fight this on a daily basis too. I’ve trained myself and learned over the years to accept my weaknesses and to play to my strengths. It ain’t easy. Of course if it was, we’d all be successful at working for ourselves.

So what to do? Try reading as much human interest and “how I did it” stories as you can. I’ve found these stories get me thinking about my own situation, what could I have done differently, what could I be doing differently and how not make the same mistake twice. Occasionally  folks in the stories I read are people I already know about or have some connection to. That in itself is a validation that I am successful. We self-employed types must take it where we find it. Validations lurk everywhere…

What else? In addition to my chief role as a professional photographer, I have developed a career as a public speaker, trainer and author. Don’t get me wrong I am not in the 1%. I don’t live in the rarefied air of servants and private jets. I am middle class, I own a home, have money saved up and my son attends private school on a partial scholarship. Success is up to me to identify and define. Another marker for success is that I sleep well at night. Tossing and turning tells me I’m f_ _ _ _ _ _ g up somewhere and that I must deal with the issues sooner rather than later. Procrastination isn’t healthy.

I endeavor to do good for others and I try to do the right thing. That is success for me.

What else? I try to go out and meet people now more than ever and have new experiences as much as possible. This is a new strategy for me as I’m usually a homeboy, content to work out of my home office (success!) and commune in my garden (success!) I’ve added a new social aspect to my “Success Is Up To You” paradigm and it’s working: just yesterday I was speaking with a friend who is well-connected in the arts business. She is consulting with someone well-connected in the arts education business and they both know me. I got into a conversation with my friend (and just so happened to have met with the arts education person earlier in the week) and helped her bring some clarity to an issue she is struggling with. Success! Because of my comments and experience in arts education, I’ve been asked to serve on a panel. Success!

Success is up to me!

Cheers!

Michael

An Historic Event: Endeavor

 

September 21, 2012……a day thousands of Angelenos will keep in their hearts and minds for a long time. Like a lot of other Californians, I spent a huge part of Friday hanging out with like minded others waiting for the shuttle Endeavor to fly by. My son and I chose as our vantage point a parking lot overlooking JPL. With the high elevation, open space, a ladder and long lens I’d be in an excellent position to capture a worthwhile moment. What I didn’t expect was the collective energy, conversations and good vibes that permeated the event. That made it fun while waiting around trying to keep my son, gear and self relatively cool.

There were tens of thousands of photographs made of this historic flight, people you might say, endeavored to capture the moment. The speed at which pics were posted to FB was phenomenal. Of course most of them were smartphone snaps with a few DSLR images thrown into the mix….and some were worthy of the day but most were just good old snappers.

And that was my intent….make a good recording while sharing the experience with my son and others. As I hung out at the site and saw hundreds of people taking pictures I realized I had to do better. I had to place my photograph into another category. After all, “I build photographs, I don’t take pictures.”

The idea for this post derives from my ability to lift mundane photography events, (subject access and lighting conditions) up a few notches. My process of building better photographs celebrates photography and what one can do with a pre-visualization routines and a passion for the art form. I absolutely love the process!

The RAW file:

This image was chosen specifically for its’ focus and point of view. In ACR I added a neutral picture style, lens correction, cropping and general toning:

I was underwhelmed and spent about 30 minutes imagining how I might build on top of this terrific base image. I am a composite geek and try to put together images that serve my vision in the hopes that it appeals to others. So it was off to my Layer Cake Elements sky collection and there it was….the perfect cloud formation that matched the lighting and time of day.

I went back and reprocessed the original RAW file into three new distinct files to ensure I had the sky coloring, subject coloring and contrast ratios needed for my vision of this image.

The final result:

“A successful photograph is a series of small decisions made correctly.” This is my guiding philosophy for building better photographs. The planning for this shoot:

Because I wanted my camera to be as high as possible, I’d need a ladder. Check. I needed a cable release to minimize vibrations while shooting. Check. I made sure the tripod head was level so that when I panned with the Endeavor as it moved across the sky the horizon line remained level. Double check. I brought two liters of water and a chair. We ran out of water but a nice fellow who brought extra bottles and struck up a conversation with me gave us water from his stash. That was really great of him. Thanks Jim!

I brought an umbrella for shade but we had to park so far away and my son and I could only carry so much. I put the camera into position, worked out the camera settings and then put it away as it was way too hot to leave it in the sun. We waited over 90 minutes for the fly over and I wasn’t going to bake my gear in the process. That’s what the umbrella was for. Oh well you plan and execute as best you can.

No reason to kill yourself and shoot something like this in manual mode. In-camera reflective meters average whatever you point it at into 18% middle gray. They don’t see color, they see tonal values. A blue sky at the time of day the Endeavor flew over is always 18% gray. (if you remove the hue) I used Av exposure mode with the lens set to f/11. ISO 200. The shutter speed bounced around between 1/320 and 1/500 of a second. Evaluative was the metering mode. Auto focus was set to the center point. I always shoot using Canon’s Neutral picture style as I really like the flexibility I get once I’m in post.

The rest is a mixture of vision, taste and passion for the process. How long does it take to work on an image until it hits just the right emotional note? I work on it until it feels right. I’ve been at this long enough that I know when my vision has been realized with as little compromise as possible. And that’s when I finalize a piece.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. please pass along if you did.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Nirvana & Hell: Time-Lapse Editing with Adobe and Apple

I bought a 27″ iMac last September specifically to help facilitate the processing of a 100,000 RAW images into multiple time-lapse videos. You can read about the beginnings of this project here and here. And to view a few of the completed videos, go here.

In this previous post I called out all of the programs I’ve been working with to create these mini-movies. I have become very comfortable using Adobe Premiere, the striking similarities between the various Adobe products minimizes the learning curve and I appreciate Adobe’s dedication to this end. But……Apple and Adobe do not play well together, at least not when the files are HUGE. All previous videos I’ve completed have been a complete joy to do: 16 gigs of RAM, 700 gigs of free hard drive space and an Intel Core i7 processor. Sweet by most standards. When the assets: JPEGS, intro and outro quicktime movies, music and wild sound tracks are under 5 gigs, the program breezes and I’m in the nirvana portion of the editing process. But when the total amount of the assets grows to +7 gigs, the system falls apart….almost completely.

Launching Premiere with assets over 7 gigs means I wait 30 seconds for the assets to load. The 16 gigs of RAM notwithstanding. The first edit in the timeline and subsequent preview rendering and playback go OK. The second edit and preview rendering takes a hell of a long time. I empty the media cache database. No help. I save and close and reboot the iMAC because sometimes there is application memory leak and I need to free up RAM. No help there either. My brand new iMAC is constantly churning away even when no applications are open. A call to Apple didn’t help. This morning shortly after I sent this behemoth of a file to output, it caused an out of memory error to pop up. I got this error message with both Adobe Media Encoder and exporting directly from Premiere. I was going to take the iMAC in as it’s still under warranty but I can’t help but think with all I’ve set up to work at a professional level, perhaps I’m asking too much of both parties.

As a last resort I called my MAC guru and as always he was very obliging. He is in charge of several MAC labs at a very prestigious private college here in town. He was in the same position at a high-end audio lab so he knows his stuff. The key for him is that I’ve did my homework: repair permissions, software updated, reset SMC, restart in safe and verbose modes, etc. Apparently my SWAP files were corrupt. SWAP files are the virtual RAM that all machines need to use. Even when working with big mutha files (:()), SWAP files (virtual memory) come into play regardless of the amount of RAM installed.

He had me do two things…reload LION and reset the SMC in a way that Apple no longer mentions but that works! What’s up with that? Apple…you’re supposed to help your customers not piss them off. What’s that? You don’t care cause you’re Apple? Well guess what?  Apples rot, get eaten, get cooked or thrown away. Which do you prefer? Just help us when we call with legit issues and don’t make it sound like we’re dopes and your machines are infallible. Oh yeah one more thing…Lion is the first OS that is installed from the net. No disc or file saved on the drive. It would have been nice if you had told your customers that reloading Lion has to be done online. Apple is ridiclueless when it comes to informing people about simple procedures like this.

I want my visions to come to fruition for my clients and me and I don’t like it when my expensive technology fails me. Or their “support” network.

Thanks for letting me rant.

Be well.

Michael

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

Related Images:

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

Related Images:

What You Don’t Know, Learn

Regarding my ten month time-lapse project; principal photography is complete. Post production is under way. What began as an email inquiry from a representative of The Huntington May 2011, ended with a flourish as dignitaries and donors visited the Japanese Garden for the dedication ceremony and reception April 12th. Over 103,000 photographs, video clips and sound effects were generated during the course of this 10 month assignment. What a gas!

As I begin the post-production process in earnest, (I’ve already spent about a hundred hours designing, practicing and refining the workflow) I took stock of all the applications I was unfamiliar with at the beginning of this project and the ones I use now as a result of this project.

The list above is in order of familiarity: Photoshop, Quicktime and Keynote were all applications I’ve been working with for years. Garage Band, Lightroom, Premiere, Soundbooth and Media Encoder are the applications I’ve had to learn in order to produce the contract deliverables.

It’s not that I don’t particularly want help from other specialists (I’m currently looking for a composer) it’s just that in order to know what I wanted I had to be able to create variations so I could finalize the look. Additionally today’s technological breakthroughs have allowed us SECP types to flourish in ways we never could before. The potential contained in the last sentence is awesome.

After going through many, many iterations, I finally have the look I want.

Some of the conclusions I’ve come to during this learning curve: editing is crucial to the success of any motion picture project. Jump cuts, dissolves, playback rate and cropping help drive audience reaction the visual elements. Volume, cross fades and wild sounds are just as important to the audio content. This is by no means an exhaustive list but you get the idea. There is A LOT that goes into a time-lapse, especially one with a strong narrative.

As part of my post-production protocol, I’ve been partaking in webinars, reading blogs, talking to experts and experimenting based on my new knowledge and skill sets. This IMHO is what is required to deliver new and innovative content for a fast-evolving marketplace and client expectations.

Good luck and let me know if I can help you.

Thanks for reading and comments welcome.

Michael

Kwit Ur Bitchin’

As many readers know, I find value in spending time managing my presence and forum contributions on LinkedIn. The positive feedback I receive tells me that people appreciate my input. And the strategy is working. What strategy is that Mr. Stern? The strategy of building up credibility, contacts and opportunities for my photography, education, public speaking and training businesses. I’m a member of several groups, some in the photography industry and some not.

It’s amusing and annoying that so many folks start off a topic bitching about the lousy state of business today, either their own or their industries. Business is always bad and always good…for somebody. That’s the way it is now and has been since I hung out my first shingle some three decades ago. Who said it would be great? Or even good? No promises is what I remember being told. Talent was no guarantee. Business savvy was no guarantee. Doing all the right things was no guarantee. Hard work was no guarantee. Persistence was going to be really helpful however. Blend all five together and eventually success will show up. But will it stay? Again no guarantees.

My own story is that I was so caught up in becoming a successful commercial photographer that I didn’t plan or even think about managing success once it arrived. After three straight GREAT (’94-’96) years I began sliding towards lower sales, lower prices, lower profits and lower income. The slide backwards picked up speed until like the ending of Thelma and Louise, I went right off a cliff. I was overwhelmed by the wreckage…..lost business, income and confidence in that I began to feel I didn’t know what I was doing and that I didn’t belong in business as an SECP. (self-employed creative professional) I then went back to my business plan hatched in 1989…multiple income streams. Mind you I had been in business for 10 years at that point in time. And had multiple income streams set up. I didn’t tend to my business and my business died.

Multiple income streams are the hedge against business fluctuations. However you label it, it’s the same; have more than one source of revenue. Period. The concept is simple. It’s the execution that makes us nuts. And that’s where I screwed up. I forgot to listen to my mentors and I forgot about the beauty of the multiple income stream model. Getting back to success was imperative.

If all you want is to just shoot..well unless you’re supremely talented, supremely lucky and supremely positioned, you’ll need to generate multiple income streams…or do something else related to the industry to keep your name in the game.

As the title of this post says… Kwit Ur Bitchin’ and do something about your situation….PLAN!!!!! Spend time to imagine your future and the industries future and where you see yourself in that future. Think about and develop contacts throughout the industry…manufacturers, educational institutions, book publishers, bloggers and the like. Get your name out there. Become the acknowledged expert, a force to be reckoned with and sought after. There are so many opportunities today to make a name for yourself there is NO EXCUSE not to be successful. Read up on trends, practice your craft, talk to other shooters, develop a new technique, a new vision, try something you haven’t done yet. I got into blogging while writing my first book. My co-host and I have been producing a podcast for over a year. I spend time learning about the art and science of SEO.

Get nervous. Jump into the abyss. Or get eaten alive by those who are doing what needs to be done. And mind you has always needed to be done. Why am I militant? Because I’ve failed before. Three times since I started in the industry.

Several times a week I shoot (whether I’m paid or not), go to events, make contacts to meet people and exchange ideas. This informs my work and my process. Blog, teach, keep up with clients, friends and other contacts. Mind your resources (investments, cash, etc.). And plan, plan, plan. E. H. E. Endless hours of effort.

It takes consistent and persistent effort. Often it seems like WTF, it ain’t working, I’m not working, what do I do? But the multiple income stream system works if you do. Complaining is not action. No one but your mother wants to hear it. And sometimes not even her.

Plan your work and work your plan. Have faith. Put out good karma and good vibes. Put forth your best effort and you will be rewarded. The trick is you don’t know when it will break for you. Success is not on your schedule, it’s on its’ own. You do have to prepare for it, expect it and embrace it when it arrives. In whatever form it takes.

If you do as I have suggested you will become successful. And stay successful. Unless you’re that dumb. Or lazy. But if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place, so your good (:())

Believe and you will be. I’ve lived this credo since my college days and it has gotten me through several dark stages of my career. Look around you, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for anyone: corporations, governments or individuals. We all have our turn in the barrel. Learn how to roll with the punches, how to be your own best friend. Learn how to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

Most of all stop feeling sorry for yourself and be the provider of your own success.

Good luck to you.

Michael

Success is not the goal…..

…improvement is the goal. It seems to me  that all the coaching, selling, negotiating and business tips, (mine included) that we dispense with great abandon are usually about achieving success. I think that what we really should be doing is giving advice on how to improve on whatever shoot, negotiation, sales call, etc. we engaged in previously as the preferred and less threatening method for developing a path to success. For me, this process has been going on for years.

Improving oneself leads to success, growth, power, clarity and confidence. The goal is improvement. Success will follow. Guaranteed. Gradual, steady, persistent and consistent improvement leads to success. The equation is that simple. I think a lot of people wrongly believe that success is paramount and that they have been lead down this garden path by the cottage  industry of life and business coaches prowling around online, in workshops and seminars. They’ve been putting the cart before the horse, generated huge profits for themselves and have saddled up customers to take their advice. I wonder what the success rate is for these do-gooders?

I’m all for your success but I think about it differently. I take the gloss off the sales pitches, solutions and the like. My philosophy about what makes a successful photograph (small steps made correctly) carries over to my idea about how my daily routines and processes can help move me in the direction of success by enabling me to improve slightly every day. Think about what this approach means? 5-7 days of slight improvement times 4 weeks time 12 months. That’s a lot of success!!!! Put you in the previous paragraph and see how it feels.

Even the inevitable setbacks won’t negate a years worth of incremental improvement. Too slow you say? I say enjoy the ride and along the way have a cup of joe and smell the roses, spend time with family or whatever it is you want and need to do as your reward for the incremental improvements and inevitable successes that form the heart of your career.

Good luck!

Michael

P.I.E.

Getting 140 different personalities to buy into my vision using my P.I.E. experience.

As I’m waiting around for several thousand RAW files to convert to JPEG so I can edit chapter two of the eight chapter sequences of the time-lapse project I wrote about here, I thought I’d write about my personal approach to improving my sales techniques. I call this process P.I.E., or Practice Interpersonal Exchanges. What does this mean exactly? That is the purpose of this post.

I know a lot of SECP’s are loath to sell, ask for what they are worth or even manage their cash flow. (assuming they have one) I know that my profession is commercial photography but my business is selling. To that end I take every opportunity I can to practice interpersonal exchanges with store clerks, gas station cashiers, waitresses, students, executives, parents, kids, photographers, the list is by no means limited to what I’ve identified here and of course it also includes my clients. I practice speaking, during phone calls, emails and letters. I practice, practice, practice.

I’m good at what I do because I practice. A lot. I have a temper and it can project me in negative ways if I’m not careful. So I continue to practice and see every interaction as a way for me to work through my issues and in turn get closer to my goal of developing better patience and understanding of the other party’s point of view. A good thing to be able to do when it comes to selling oneself is the ability to look at oneself from a holistic reference point to see the entire whole and not just the task directly in front. Basically everything connects and deserves to be respectfully supported so that the foundation is strong.

By putting my P.I.E. into practice I remind myself of who I am and where I’m trying to go. This is a good thing.

Some of the areas I practice are: saying hello to a stranger and asking their name, listening appropriately after asking a question, listening appropriately while the person is speaking (it’s important to them don’t forget), saying their name back to them ASAP, thanking them for their time, speaking clearly and slowly when leaving any type of number in a voicemail.

One of the things I particularly like to do is to call attention to a job well done. A customer service rep on the phone, a waitress, a student, even clients get this treatment. I’ve even go so far as to call back a company to say thanks when something that has been promised to me comes through. The person is surprised and grateful for the recognition. Apparently this type of P.I.E. doesn’t happen to them very often. I am glad to oblige, it makes them feel good and I get better at speaking to others. And that is what selling is for me.

Are you ready for some PIE?