Tag Archives: time-lapse

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

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

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

Sensing Business Opportunities


One of the joys of self-employment is searching for new business. I dedicate part of each week to searching out opportunities that others miss. This is a good thing because the misses of others creates easier selling opportunities for me.

I subscribe to the LA Times. The business, sports, valley and calendar sections contain stories about persons, events and companies. Every edition. Somedays there are so many juicy opportunities, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

I’ll read a story, article or interview and inevitably some idea gets ignited: I’d like to photograph that. Or: I’d like to be the go to photographer/creative force for that company. Starting to get the idea? sometimes the opportunity just scream out at me and sometimes I have to let the story percolate for a few days. Usually something will strike me and I just go with my instincts. Which brings up the other side of this process: I have trained myself over the years to listen to that voice in my head as to whether or not something is worth pursuing. As I have really honed this over the years, I’m rarely wrong about moving forward. Sometimes I’d rather hand the actual shoot off to another photographer because it’s the smell of the hunt that really gets my blood coursing.

I’ve never counted the total number of deals I’ve negotiated over the years but I’ve just made contact with a major learning institution here in LA about producing time-lapse, virtual 360° panoramas and real-time videos for a major event happening over the summer. Read about it in the sports section, page two, a favorite haunting ground of mine.

I did an online search for a number, made a call talked to a person who redirected me to the decision-maker. This person liked my pitch and I sent some work samples and links. I received an email back indicating that my work is indeed what they’d like to have produced. I was then asked to keep in touch and as summer nears, we’ll meet to discuss further. Sweet!

That’s all I wanted for now, to see what the temperature of my idea is and their timeline for needs.

In these instances, the newspaper is like a marketing company to me in that they have pre-qualified the buyer.

Been doing it this way for years and I believe part of the success is that they don’t expect a pitch for business to come in this way. Sort of a backdoor entrance if you will.

In this day and age we have to be inventive in how we gather and qualify leads. Our careers depend on it.

Good luck!

Michael

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

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!