Tag Archives: self-employed

Nap Time!

Wow am I refreshed! I just woke up from my mid-day nap and I’m ready to put in another 6 hours or so of work today. Those of us who are self-employed have a much easier time when it comes to managing out down time. Can you imagine taking a nap in an office environment? Oh yeah I know there’s always those energy drinks to bring us back from the sleepy time. Not me. I want a nap. Give my brain a bit of time to recharge. Absolutely necessary for the daily tasks that lay ahead: shooting, administration, marketing, networking events, blogging, client touches, etc. Years ago one of the divisions at Disney (a client since 1982) put a cot, table and lamp in an unused office so that it would be available for those who needed it. As far as I know it never was because it didn’t last long. There was a stigma attached that if you napped you were lazy or just not the right fit for the culture. Phooey I say! Let the naps begin!

I regularly awake between 4:30 and 6:00 am most mornings. I used to fight it and go back to sleep but not anymore. One of the advantages of getting older is you choose comfort over style. And my comfort level is to get up when my clock says so and begin another productive day of self-employment. I’ll nap five to six hours later for about an hour and then it’s off again to the races. This idea of napping goes back to another post I wrote about knowing the times of day and days of the week when you are best suited for specific tasks. You can read it here.

As I wrote in the “Know Your Rhythms” post, I am hyper-aware of what I need and when I need it. If I ignore the signals that I need a nap I will not function at the high level I need in order to fulfill demanding and relentless days. What you ask do I do if I have a full day ahead and no time for napping? I go to bed much earlier than usual and if need be, take a caffeine pill to stay awake. I try not to take the pill and will try to catch a cat nap if I can. I have no shame about my need for downtime, I embrace its’ refreshing, cathartic effects on my attitude. It’s contextual however and if I can, I can and if not, I don’t.

Oh well there’s always bed time…(:())

 

 

 

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:

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

 

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:

Make the Most of Opportunities

 

I entered the 5th year anniversary artists contest held by the copyright alliance a few months back. My video won in the multi-media category. As part of my winnings (feelings of satisfaction and a happy client), they offered to interview me for their blog. As an SECP, I jumped at the chance to talk about my favorite subject: me! All kidding aside, always look for opportunities to spread the word about yourself, your thinking and your work. And why not? If you don’t have an agent (I let my rep go, a good story in itself and it involves Marilyn Monroe) and your mom is too busy, then it’s up to you.

If you don’t grab opportunities to promote your brand then what are you doing working for yourself? Hoping for the best? Hoping magical thinking will takeover and you’ll have everything you deserve? When was the last time that happened? I live by the credo of putting good karma out to the world and doing good things for people. It always come back to me.

You may be thinking so what, the Copyright Alliance is not a big organization. That’s true. They’re only five years old and don’t command the world stage like the Zuckerberg-led copyright rip off team at Facebook. But the Copyright Alliance is a large organization compared to what I’ve associated with in the past. I’m able to  capitalize on their SEO juice which will immediately add to my credibility as an artist, educator, author and speaker. My global reach steadily expands every time another organization focuses their attentions on me, what I’m about and what I have to say. In other words my world is growing, my influence is growing, organizations are recognizing this and more easily connect with me in meaningful ways.

As I’m now going for very large and complex contracts (involving multiple photographers) with huge agencies, this method of building my background profile gains in importance. It adds up and makes it easier for me to pry open new opportunities for my business model. This is my multi-pronged goal. To create more business. For myself. And others who connect with me.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

 

Lightroom 4 Custom Presets

For years I’ve been a Bridge and Photoshop workflow geek. I didn’t see the need for Lightroom or Aperture even though I purchased version 1 of both applications. But all that changed after I shot 100,000+ images for my time-lapse project and at the same time was asked to teach a class in Lightroom, Photoshop, color management and inkjet printing. I was forced into this learning curve by necessity but can accurately say I have no regrets. Lightroom is an incredible time-saver and allows for a measure of control that inspires me to envision new ways of interpreting my work. Hence this post.

 

Click on the images to see them at full resolution….no stealing!!!!

For each of these images, I was in the Develop Module. Working with many of these adjustments I was able to create what I call my “Bonanza Faded E-6 Film Look”. I was a huge fan of Bonanza and watched reruns religiously back in the 90’s. I’m a huge fan of the outdoors too. I also love the look of faded color slides. All three came together after I went on a camping trip to Sequoia National Forest in May. As I was looking at my take I started thinking about Bonanza, Little Joe, Hoss and Ben. And it hit me, the perfect storm of nostalgia, landscapes and historical photography….I was going to take these images to a place I usually never go…a place where I’m really interpreting a feeling and my emotional response to the work. You have to appreciate that most of my work is straight-forward interpretation. Except for my portrait work I usually deliver very clean documentary type imagery. This work represents a huge creative step for me. More below….

After each interpretation I saved the work as a preset to be called upon when needed. As I made a preset and saved it, I then made it active on subsequent images. If I liked the look, then all was good. If I went and tweaked the preset because I felt the current image needed a bit of additional work, then that was saved as a new preset. This method helped me build a collection of 18 presets for this catalog of work. And these presets can be used on subsequent catalogs of images. Sweet.

I want to add two items that don’t show on the screenshot of the Develop Panel above: Lens Corrections and Camera Calibration. I set my lens corrections so any distortions are removed and my camera calibration is always set to neutral so I am always working on a base RAW image without interpretation from Canon’s Picture Styles.

I haven’t had this much fun working on my files in quite awhile….

Comments welcomed.

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:

Pat Swovelin 1951-2012 R. I. P.

Shooting one of his signature VR panoramas

Another brother has left us. I’ve been in a funk because my friend and long-time colleague (12+ years) died suddenly about a week ago, we don’t really know. And that’s the rub…he died alone and probably in pain. This SUCKS! Even though at times he could be a handful he always had my back. I appreciated that. He was also the best assistant I ever worked with, a lot of laughs and professionalism on the job. Over the years I’ve worked with plenty of hired guns but Pat was my number one by far. Always one step ahead and looking out for how I could turn in the best possible assignment, he was second to none. If he wasn’t checking my gear for dirt or checking my lighting to ensure it was firing, he was looking out for lens flare or any number things that can screw up a professional photo shoot. He was the best. His professionalism put me at ease so I could perform at the highest level…necessary for success in this business.

Lee and I had Pat as a guest in 2011. You can listen to his interview here.

We met while standing in a crowd waiting to get into one of the first NAPP Phoptoshopworld conferences in LA. I had my back turned and all I heard above the din was this loud laugh. I turned around in disgust to see whose body that voice was coming from and there he was, wearing the same Hawaiian shirt as I was! Couldn’t be all bad I thought. We became friends during the conference and worked together on numerous projects over the years. Most recently I was able to hook him up with my time-lapse client and they were starting to fill his dance card. Pat’s work was so specialized (VR panoramas) that it will be a long time before his shoes can be filled. If ever…..

Good-bye my friend.

 

Michael

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: