Tag Archives: salesmanship

The Time-Lapse Challenge

The looming and constant challenge in my niche market is how to explain to potential clients why I do what I do. It’s not the photography but the thinking and feeling that goes into each film I deliver that is the ultimate challenge to get across the great divide. I’ve found this approach helpful to many of clients:

photograph of a gravel pit made to look like a jigsaw puzzle

It’s Like A Jigsaw Puzzle

The main camera provides provides context. I refer to this as the master shot. It is the border, the outside piece that forms and defines the boundaries of your story. The rover days, (the ground-based time-lapse footage gathered with moving cameras) video footage and drone work are individual pieces that I fit together in order to make your story flow. These pieces can be fitted in a variety of ways: the order in which they appear, the amount, (in seconds) each section of footage runs, the speed at which a clip plays back, how the head and tail (beginning and end) of each clip is connected to the piece that came before and the piece that immediately follows.

photograph of Michael e. Stern, time-lapse photographer scouting a location

On location scouting for the best master camera spot and our agreed upon choice.

And the beauty is, this process isn’t fixed. One can always revisit the master movie file and move things around, change a jump cut to a dissolve, ramp up or slow down a clip, raise or lower a the audio level of a sound effect or music track. This is your prerogative as the client when viewing rough cuts, to ask that the puzzle be fitted together differently. Although the work is so thoroughly finessed by the time you see the film that little if any changes are necessary. But you have the option. That is my guarantee as the puzzle master, that it fits together as you desire.

After Effects CC 2015 interface

This interface screenshot is from After Effects. This is typical of my films, many little pieces adding up to a cohesive whole.

I’m A Picture Maker, Not A Picture Taker

This is a photograph of how the subject appears during the time of day I prefer to work:

Machi-ai-1

I made a number of additional exposures while on the scene. I integrate a secondary light into the scene during these additional exposures. All 50 of ’em. They’re toned and cropped in Lightroom, exported to Bridge for assessment of order and then assembled in Photoshop where the finishing touches are applied.

Here’s the photograph I built:

Machi-ai

From cradle to grave in under 3 hours…..

Here are two more examples:

Garfield Heights Landmark District Photos

Interior photographs of the recording studio and control rooms.

A video of me in action.

Each exposure in this process is a light switch. This switch can be on or off. Made lighter or darker. Crisp or fuzzy. I have other things I can do with these “switches” but a fella shouldn’t tell all his secrets should he?

A successful photograph is a series of small decisions made correctly. It’s that simple. Especially after 10,000 hours of practice. I build photographs, I do not take pictures.

I can look at a scene and overlay a lighting paradigm:  the lighting angles, the contrast ratios, the color relationships and the brightness range. I commit this to memory and off I go. The camera is locked in place, I move around the subject with my trusty little light and in true “painting with light” fashion, I sculpt the final composition. This is part one.

Part two is all about alining the files so they share camera calibration, lens profile and white balance characteristics. Then more fun. Cropping for impact and toning for beauty.

Part three is when I assemble the elements into a cohesive whole. My average is 25 layers per man-made scene.

This technique isn’t new. It doesn’t break new ground. This is however my favorite technique because it offers many visual choices, demands improvisation and also provides a level of control that meshes perfectly with todays technology.

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

The Time Lapse Narrative: Chapter 2 The Landscape Process v4

Adobe Premiere Editing Workspace

Adobe Premiere Editing Workspace

Well it took long enough didn’t it? Chapter 2 of my time lapse saga at The Huntington was published a few weeks ago. The feedback from my client, friends and colleagues has been 100% positive.

I’m grateful for the response and of course was hoping for exactly that but one never knows…

The months I spent becoming familiar with the material I recorded, (stills, video and sound) sourcing out music for the soundtrack, learning Adobe Premiere and the principle3s of strong editing have all been worth the effort.

I will write again about the 7 things I have learned that make up a time lapse narrative film.

I recommend a small popcorn as this is  4:21 in length.

Until the my next post…enjoy the show.

Michael

Your Intellectual Property Rights!

time-lapse sequence of re-assembly of Japanese Tea House

There’s been an interesting discussion lately on Linked In about quoting prices for selling copyrights to another party. People have different ideas about what that should cost and what it practically means to you as an artist when selling your claim of authorship. I’ve been working on a blog post covering how to sell the idea of intellectual property rights transfers to your clients but it’s not ready for prime time. In the meantime I will be appearing on a panel next week that discusses how to make money from licensing your intellectual property rights and how to sell the idea to your markets…

This live webinar will be recorded for later playback. In addition to myself, Jason Horejs from Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale AZ, and entertainment law attorneys Todd and Jeff  Brabec fill out this interesting and dynamic panel. More information and sign up is here.

Hope to see you on the broadcast with your questions…and our answers.

This program is being put on by the Copyright Alliance, an organization I proudly support.
Michael

Tilt-Shift Perspectives

San_Francisco_15

One way for an SECP to stay ahead of the pack is by pushing the envelope of their technical and visual creativity. Application of the tilt-shift edge blur miniaturization effect has been around since 2006 but that’s no reason not to explore it further. I love the deliberate miniaturization effect it creates and I’m a huge fan of this look. Focal Point from OnOne Software is an application that is good at creating this look in post-production. Photoshop CS6 has a tilt-shift blur filter. I also like the way edge blurring brings ones focus (pun intended) to the center of the frame. Although sometimes it doesn’t work… In compositions that include architectural elements, I like things squared up as per the basketball hoop. In basketball a lot of the action occurs away from the center of the hoop. Because I refused to budge the camera position, my best photos were when the action happened dead center. When the action was even slightly off center the images are flawed. Oops! Lesson learned. Action photography requires more fluid camera movement. Check.

ETE_Cavs_1-114-2

I’m using it to create an effect on 60,000 images for a time lapse video. (Let me know if you want to see it and I’ll send out a link when it’s complete.) And if you know your stuff you can create a tilt-shift like effect in LR4. The advantage of doing the tilt-shift blur effect in post-production is that the effect can be controlled to produce a variety of permutations. And to some degree most all permutations are valid. This is both the good and bad about working in a post-production digital workflow because for some folks it apparently relieves them of the responsibility of thinking more profoundly about their work when actually building their photographs in real time. Don’t get me worng (:() I love working after-the-fact, spending time tweaking and adjusting my vision until the wee hours of the morning. But I occasionally work in real time, under real pressure to make my shots. It’s exciting. And dangerous because failure is hanging out with me. We’re friends of course, been together a long time. Being 100% present while shooting reconnects me to the creative process that drew me to photography all those summers ago.

Santa_Fe18

All of the photographs you see here were done live. Meaning I made the appropriate choices while shooting and didn’t rely on post-production tilt-shift techniques to complete my images. I could have, but chose not to. I chose to give myself the challenge by doing it in camera without a net. Or Franky. (if you get the reference I’ll send you a signed copy of my book. But hurry only three will be winners). I also did it while working with vastly different subject matter and lighting scenarios. All with my trusty Canon 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift lens. Choosing to shoot in the moment made me focus on the task at hand and not fall into the “we’ll fix it in post” mentality that pervade many younger creatives today. I admit sometimes it’s tempting to go the easy way when in the field and finish it up in post. I wanted a break from that workflow. And I wanted to test myself. The post-production software and tools I mentioned earlier are great and I’ve used them all. I just want to feel alive again and not some sort of robot that pushes buttons first and creates later.

Huntington_Beach-24

This took me back to my roots, (gray as they are) and I’m glad to do it for it brings me to my point…I possess an vast amount of imaging experience and it’s my right and mission to bring it to the marketplace so my clients see my vision and hopefully how it can work for their projects when they need something that is thoughtful, relevant and done at the highest level.

Santa_Fe58

I’m not saying all the photos here are home runs. (to see a more images click here) Heck a couple are only doubles. I can live with that because a lot of valuable knowledge was gained that will be applicable at the appropriate time. I choose to show you my work in various states because the subject matter and local conditions really matter when it comes to building effective tilt-shift images. This newly acquired knowledge in turn makes me more valuable in the marketplace because I know what will and will not work in a given situation. A business building skill meshing with a photographic building skill. what more could I ask for? Oh yeah…work!

Thanks for reading.

Michael

 

 

Tuning Your Opportunity Radar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck tuning your opportunity radar.

Michael

 

 

Related Images:

Entering New Territory

During the past few weeks I put together an RFP package for a government contract. It was submitted on August 22, 2012 at precisely 2:45 pm. How do I know this? I hand delivered four, 3-ring binders, 24 pages each. It was due by 3pm on 8/22/12 and although I hadn’t planned on it going down to the wire, it did. Added a bit of stress to the process but it was a tremendous learning process. And for that I am grateful. And if I get “the call”, my reward will be doubled.

This is something I’ve always wanted to do and when the opportunity came up to do so…I initially hesitated…and then went for it. Why did I hesitate? Because it was a 39 page document that had provisions: scope of work, qualifications needed, insurance requirements, references, affidavits to be notarized amongst other to do items that were required prior to submittal. An onerous task, time consuming, costly and thought provoking in that I kept asking myself,  “how the heck do I fill this stuff out?”

I submitted as the prime contractor and I’ve brought in subcontractors to help out with the parts I cannot do as well, specifically aerial photography. Why was this proposal interesting to me in the first place? Let me go back a step or two to set this up. As a state certified micro-business I am given certain considerations on government contracts. A federal mandate that 30% of of any contract must to be awarded to the sector of small, minority and disabled veteran owned businesses puts me in select company. I am certified at the state and city levels. I’m a member their vendor networks and when interesting contracts come up, I have the option of pursuing or passing. This was one of the good ones IMHO.

I read the RFP (Request for Proposal) three times to fully comprehend what the requirements were. I began to talk with potential partners. Out of these talks a list of questions was developed asking for clarification of specific aspects of the RFP. This list was submitted as part of the RFP process. After receiving the answers it begins: fill out the documents in the RFP as well as gather up sales information, insurance documents, and scour through my archive to find the most appropriate examples of what was called for in the portfolio portion of the package. My photography is the area where I shine brightest but it gave me pause because I had to think about the flow and strength of my work when submitting to people I’ve yet to meet and may never. (it’s a distinct possibility)

I culled through hundreds of photographs: landscapes, portraits, political campaigns, my time-lapse project for The Huntington, etc. Spent dozens of hours deciding which photos made the first cut and then deciding how they might work together in the required portfolio. Mind-numbing effort but necessary and I got to do all the work myself! I also spent time learning more about the ZERO carbon footprint flying machine covering the aerial portion of the RFP.

Simultaneously I’m gathering the required documents, double and triple checking that they are filled in and out correctly, making sure the grammar and syntax are correct and so on. I never would’ve been able to complete this portion without the incredible help of Ms. Molly Moran, a thoughtful and smart writer with a particular expertise in RFP’s.

The documents and files are gathered, I spend $250.00 on four notebooks, 100 pages of document holders, 100 sheets of inkjet paper and seven ink cartridges. Printing 14 image files, burning and printing one CD, printing seven text files times four, plus assembly takes six hours. Oh and in between I make a trip to the notary to make my affidavit official. I am a beat dog by this point. And I still have to hand-deliver. Both of my printers run out of ink at the same time, (with 7 prints to go) I am now in overdrive mode: I shower quickly, dress, drive to store to buy more ink, (cartridges eight and nine) print, sleeve, load and hop into my car (which is almost on empty, oh great.) for the 35 mile trip to the client’s office. Mostly freeway through downtown LA. Traffic and idiot driver central. Oy!

Luckily I there is very little traffic, I arrive early, turn in the four notebooks, get a time-stamped verification and drive back to my office, with very little traffic. Who knew the traffic gremlins would take the afternoon off? I am humbled and grateful for this learning experience.

You may be asking yourself why subject oneself to this form of abuse? Four reasons: the government never seems to run out of money, the intellectual growth I’ve experienced through this process, the people I’ve met (did I mention Molly?) and the knowledge gained about how I’m perceived by other experts will prove to be invaluable….

A process I highly recommend.

Michael

Related Images:

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:

Thumbtack Marketing; It’s A Long Road


I am a professional photographer. I work for money. (usually) I need to get the word out. In as many ways as possible. Often. Thumbtack.com is one of the myriad ways I get the word out on a frequent and consistent basis. I have opted to pay a monthly subscription fee for job leads. It is reasonably priced and will pay for itself for a year with just one commission. For me it’s worth the investment. In my business. In my career. In my marketing partner.

Here is my listing on Thumbtack: I offer portrait, architectural, event and time-lapse photography products and services. Everyone has a story to tell and we’ll have a few laughs in the process. Expert photo restoration and printing services also available. I build photographs, I don’t take pictures.

When you’re self-employed, use all available resources that enhance your brand and services.

Good luck and good business to all of us!

Michael