Tag Archives: Professional

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

Related Images:

Copy Wrong to Copy Right

During last weeks episode (29) of Build A Better Photograph I mentioned that one of my photos had been abused by an online publication without my knowledge or permission. The image was cropped, the color was altered and the photo credit was removed. Nice! Oh joy, another knucklehead to deal regarding artists rights because not giving a wit about another persons art work has to be addressed. One can do this nicely but confrontation nonetheless is mandatory. As soon as I found out about this transgression I immediately sent an email to the publisher asking him to explain why he was using one of my photos without permission and from where did the photo come from? To his credit, he responded within minutes, apologized and took down the photo and related article. Score one for me.

I wanted to make this right for the publisher, clearly he was sorry but assumed the photo was OK to use  (a big mistake, making assumptions). I wrote back and offered to provide an approved photo he could use and re-post the story. He was agreeable. I sent an approved photo but for some reason the story has not yet reappeared. (happy ending?)

Following are the steps I took in approaching this issue, making an assessment and my conclusions about the resolution:

1)    Being made aware of the issue. In this case the photo was of my wife and she was the source for finding out about this transgression. I use Google Alerts for other types of notifications and just joined the PLUS Registry for future image rip offs. I’ve also used Digimarc in the past.

2)    Assess the gravity of the transgression. Is the issue worth pursuing? In this case it was for three reasons: 1) My wife was in the photo and upset. 2)  I have a local reputation with my client base and need to be vigilant in case this comes up in conversation. 3) Ripping off work is NEVER OK.

3)    Make a plan of action. Phone call? Email? In person? All three? In this case an email was the best choice. It’s written and there is a record of it…in case….

4)    Implementing the action plan. Don’t just think about what to do, do it and do it ASAP!

5)    Evaluation of the transgressors response. In this case the publisher got high marks for removing the photo but it would have been super if he had re-posted with the approved image. Oh well. What can you do? I did my best, received some action so I have to be satisfied with that. On to the next idiot!

6)    Follow up. I’ve since reached out to the publisher via email and phone but to no avail. Guess he had enough or it just wasn’t that important to him anymore..old news is no news, eh?

The steps above are right in line with my “a successful photograph is a series of small steps made correctly” mantra posted at the top of my home page. Everything we do as SECP’s is geared towards pushing out our bubbles of influence and it’s not just creating work and running the businesses. We also take into account protecting our work and reputations.  This is just my opinion of course, I could be right.

See ya!

Michael

 

VR Panoramas 08/19/11

Todays show is a bit different. Links to the VR Panoramas are here. They will take you to the resource so you can follow along with the discussion Lee and I have with Pat Swovelin.

1) 140 Ocean Park 525, Waterfall Fountain

2) 2115 3rd Street 203, Stairs

3) Arrowhead Stadium, Overview From The Top Of The Orange Level

4) B-17 Liberty Belle In The Ball Turret

5) B-17 Liberty Belle In The Bombardier’s Seat

6) Bryce Canyon, Sunrise Point, Horse Trail, 2

7) Clayton Center, Main Theatre, Ground Floor, Middle Of The Seats

8) Dark House, Evil Clown With Axe

9) KC Chiefs Vs Arizona Cardinals Chiefs Come Onto The Field

10)  KC Chiefs Vs Denver Broncos, Coin Toss, The Coin Is In The Air – Little Planet

11) M-Club Swimming Pool

12) MiMA Lobby

13) Philippe’s 100th Anniversary, The Perfect Gentlemen

14) Riverside National Cemetery, Medal Of Honor Memorial, Back Medals Wall

15) Toni Scotts 1-Woman Show Bloodlines

My Competition is My Past

Knock Yourself Out

As part of my daily duties as a professional photographer and self-employed businessperson, I evaluate multiple aspects of running my business: finances, investments creative mojo, technical understanding/practical application, sales, marketing, interpersonal skills, pricing, vendor relationships, likeability factors and more.

It never ends. I’m not complaining. Just explaining what I do to keep my oarsmen in the correct rhythm so I head in the direction of my business and career plans. No easy task. I’m distracted and bore easily. How do I do it then? For 30 years I’ve worked on these duties a little bit at a time, just a few at a time, slowly. I learn and absorb the process, knowledge and practical applications on my time frame: slow and steady wins the race. For example: as a professional photographer I feel it’s my responsibility to look critically at my work on a regular basis and ask myself what can I do better than I’m doing now? More thoughtful approach to my lighting angles? More awareness of my contrast ratios? More competent lens/aperture/shutter speed selection criteria? I want to keep pushing my quality until there isn’t a single location lighting situation I can’t handle. Lit or not I want to conquer all  technical and creative situations. This is my goal. It’s beyond my grasp. I may never arrive at the level my sights are set on. But my constant evaluation process will move me in that direction. And I will always improve. You see, I’m competing with myself, not anyone else. This flys in the face of the conventional wisdom that states you compete against like-minded small businesses.

If photographers are different and offer different levels of quality, creativity and customer service, then how can I be in competition with anyone but me? I am aware of who’s in my market. Sure. I’m aware of what others charge and what issues others have regarding running their careers and lives profitably. This isn’t to say I don’t learn from the success and mistakes of others. I do. Frequently.

But I compete with my past. With my performance from yesterday. From last week. Last Month. Last Year. My competition is my past. This logic keeps me focused on the goals I’ve identified, sane and relatively stress-free.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Thy Muse Is Challenge

Tidepools

I’ve a muse to inspire push and motivate. As an SECP (self-employed creative professional) I want to get my bubbles of influence (creative, financial, relationship) out further and farther (or farther and further?) Every project I work on, every email I send, every letter I write, every negotiation I undertake, every sales presentation I make, every personal relationship I have present a challenge of some sort. The challenge is my muse.

Challenge calls to me like the Sirens. If I don’t approach each challenge wisely however (as the Sirens hoped for), I may not crash but most likely will not have the expected outcome. I’m always down for seeking new and unfamiliar ways to channel this muse to help me accomplish my goals. Do I always succeed? Of course not. But I do succeed enough to propel me, my family and career forward.

For instance, during my current time-lapse project I’ve worked out ways to photograph the subject to make it more interesting. Some of my ideas: fade in and fade out to convey the passage of time, zoom in, zoom out and pan while manually shooting a burst of frames. The end results are cinema type camera moves within a still photography time-lapse. My client is pleased with the result and this had led to discussions about future time-lapse projects. This of course encourages to think up new ways to increase the the value of the overall project for all involved parties.

Another challenge on this project; how to get the specialists (carpenters, roofers, plasterers, foremen) flown in from Japan to accept me. I wanted to be able to place my 2nd and 3rd cameras in locations of my choosing. These locations while great for my purposes may not be ideal for them. How to respect their boundaries, achieve what I want and come together for the sake of the project?

I’d planned to give prints as gifts near the end of the project. But after reviewing  the first days take from camera two (set inside where the carpenters were working), I noticed the carpenters had posed during a few of the exposures. One silly, one serious and one group with all of them. How great is that? I didn’t know they had posed. Once the camera was set, I leave for several hours, came back to retrieve the camera and leave again for my office. I discovered their self-portraits during my edit session. I remember telling them the camera was set to make an exposure every 90 seconds and that you could hear the sound of the shutter. I didn’t think anything of it. It was left up to them to act. They did. And I responded in kind.

     

                 Just for fun….

This simple gesture on both sides has resulted in a bonding of sorts. Subsequently they have suggested spots for camera placement. They are also very careful to ensure my cameras don’t get disturbed during its’ daily cycle. Challenge met and conquered.

I urge you to find your muse. In whatever shape it comes to you. Embrace it. Get to know it. Learn how to apply it to advance your goals.

Good luck.

Michael

2011 Rose Bowl Time-Lapse of Fireworks Show

July 4, 2011

Here is the sequence I shot last night. I rendered the frames out at a much higher rate than I thought I would (10 frames per second vs. 2 frames per second) and I like it. The challenge was finding the right tempo music. Garage Band had what I needed. Enjoy.

Michael

RAW vs. JPEG. Which is better?

I’m a member of several professional groups on Linked In and the debate that has been raging for months on which format is better is interesting in that it touches a nerve with so many and that there are so many “experts” weighing in. This appears to be a thoughtful question on its’ face but ridiculous when you compare: pens vs. pencils, hammers vs. saws, Yankees vs. Dodgers (bottom of the ninth, 2 out and 2 on), sex vs. celibacy, dirt vs. grass and on and on. You get the idea.

Here’s my take. When it’s important, for a client or my portfolio, I shoot RAW. When it’s for my wife, I shoot JPEG. No seriously don’t go, I’m just getting started. JPEG has it’s place at the photography table, it’s just not as fun as a RAW meal. On the occasions when you know exactly what you’re going to do with the files and you’re working under ideal (the scene brightness range or SBR is within the range of the sensor) conditions and you don’t have to do significant color correction, contrast toning or up sizing, then go ahead and shoot JPEG till the cows come home. Today’s cameras do a wonderful job with the JPEGs. And you can edit them in the Adobe RAW converter (ACR). Quality will be compromised, don’t kid yourself. If you scrutinize an edited JPEG, you’ll see banding and posterization issues in the tonal transition zones: highlight to mid-tone and mid-tone to shadow. Look closely. And I mean with a professional’s eye towards a quality output. Borrow both of mine if you want but look….you’ll be surprised.

If you work under challenging conditions: you cannot fill shadows, cut down the contrast or otherwise minimize the impact of an extended scene brightness range then use a RAW file processor and you will redeem your photographs’ soul.

For example on this location I am capturing frames from early morning to late afternoon. I have sweet light until 9 or so and UGLY light until about 3. In between the SBR is out of the range of the sensor by 5 stops or more. RAW to the rescue, JPEG need not apply, you’ll be shown the door.

These top to bottom comparisons provide proof of the superiority of RAW files in uncontrollable lighting and contrast conditions. In the first set the early morning light does not pose a challenge as the SBR is well within sensor parameters. The next set shows the power and flexibility of the RAW format. Finally the last set is much the same as the second set but with a lighting angle that is more off to the edge of the scene.

Early morning SBR

Mid-morning SBR

Late pm SBR

Notice how the highlights have been toned down and the shadows have been toned (opened) up? The skin tones have been warmed, the mid-tones have been boosted (clarity slider) and a slight vignette has been placed around the perimeter of each processed image. This heavy editing can be done on a JPEG file but the output quality will be compromised and less than acceptable especially when measured by professional standards. Keep your standards high, your clientele informed and your rates profitable.

Good shooting!

Self-Employment Society

I’ll be teaching one of three classes at my local community college this coming August. It’s an adjunct (contract) faculty position and I’m pleased at being selected. I’ve been teaching at a variety of educational institutions since 1987 and like photography, teaching is a calling. I’ve made a living at both for years but I wanted to call your attention to a trend that’s been building for years. The three classes are being divided up amongst new adjuncts. A full time person has left and the vacancy is being filled by adjuncts. No benefits, no sick days. No long-term commitment on the part of the school. I date the start of this trend to the beginning of business globalization back in the 80’s.

We’re becoming much more of a society of part-timers, double and triple jobbers, independent contractors and the self-employed. Gone are the days of full-time employment, full time benefits, a lifetime pension and straightforward and honest company executives. We have to make our own careers. This trend has been reported on by various media; The collective employment culture is evolving into one that uses non-traditional employment methods to get society’s work done. I say this because I’ve experienced it and continue to experience it: In addition to this adjunct position, I’m waiting to hear from a major player in our industry about an offer to work with them on a contract basis, filling a position that a full-time held previously. No benefits. No pension. No long-term commitments. Easy to get into. Easy to get out of. As long as the contract rate reflects my costs, (health care, taxes, overhead,etc)  I’m fine with these kinds of employment situations. I’ve been working this way for years, I’m an SECP.  I’m concerned for all of you who have not experienced being self-employed. On a good day it’s great. All the other days, it’s tough. You work hard every day and yet you don’t make money every day. Like I said. Tough. Yet it’s where we’re headed so you better warm up to the idea and get ready to play. I’ve been blogging about this since 2008. Go here. Here. Here. And here for a taste.

Business save money when they use contract people. Businesses save in salary and benefits. Part-timers don’t get as much pay nor do they receive benefits. Contractors should and usually do get more per hour so they can contribute to their expenses. When negotiating such a contract, don’t forget to figure that when an employee works for a company, the hourly rate they “earn” is approximately 1/5 of what they actually cost their employer. In addition to the hourly rate there are payroll taxes, social security taxes, benefits, 401k plans, insurances, etc. that are factored in. You need to factor these in too or else you will not thrive let alone survive. I’ve been factoring in these costs from day one and 30 years later, my investments are five times higher than the average working stiff. Booyah!

Do yourselves and your families a favor and begin the process of figuring out how to monetize your expertise and creating opportunities for such expertise. Success is a process not an end result.

Good luck and let me know how I can help.

Michael

Two Camera Tea House Time-Lapse

Mobile camera rig for a 5D and 16-35 F2.8

As many of you know I’m working on a project to deliver a four month time-lapse photography sequence. After capturing the first 5,400 exposures I moved camera 1 to the other side of the construction site. With the exception of this camera inexplicably shutting down for 1/2 a day after it was relocated (and after it ran flawlessly for 300 exposures), the move was successful. I chose to relocate because a tarp covering the entire structure was obscuring the work being performed and I wanted to get an angle that included the front of the structure.

 

A close-up of my rig.

To increase the odds my client will be pleased with the entire body of work, I occasionally add a mobile second camera to capture the work inside. The camera is set up at a spot where the work will be done for that day and a handheld intervalometer is used to control the camera. I leave for several hours. The fellows from Japan who are working here have enjoyed being photographed and have hammed it up a few times during my absences. The relationship we’ve been establishing with each other has been building and will lead to more cooperation regarding the shots I want. I look forward to working with them throughout the remainder of the time they’re here.

Photography is a powerful and universal language. I’m thrilled when what I do connects to others. The power is fun. The power is friendly. The power is gracious. The power is photography.

As soon as I post sequences, I’ll let you know….

Cheers!

Michael

35,000 Frames Later

I began a new time-lapse project this week. At the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. 16 weeks of 9 hour  days, one frame every two minutes. Additionally I’ll shoot four specific daily sequences of the project as it progresses. What is the subject of this project? The re-assembly of the first Japanese tea house built in the US post WWII. how did I get this job? Having the correct keywords in my site header, the right SEO and the right amount of effort to make sure it all works together.

I ordered a custom-built weather proof housing with state-of-the-art electronics, a new camera and lens combo and software to run it all. Sweet. Getting to spend money on new stuff is a gas. The photos give you a sense of what my installation looks like. All I have to do with this is walk up, unlock the download station, jack into the system and suck up the days shoot. Simple. Efficient. Profitable.

To get to this point I did my research, found the right fabricators, made the right deal, received the right training and programming, deployed in the field and ran a day of testing under shoot conditions. This is what separates the low-ball hacks from us pros. Knowing what needs to be done and doing it..without fail. As often as possible. My track record is up near 100%. What’s yours? The game is afoot!

Michael