Tag Archives: Training

Light Graffiti

Stairs

I volunteered to work on a time lapse film crew…three days at 13+ hours per day from 1pm until 3am…..sheesh! Why did I do this? Reason 1: business is slow (betcha didn’t think of that one) Reason 2: An incredible learning experience from a fellow who is expert at motion-control and stop-motion still imaging. Reason 3: The location of Linda Vista Hospital in Boyle Heights near downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1905, it’s in the process of being converted into senior housing but now it’s old, dirty, dark, dank and ripe for photography of all kinds. Many a horror movie and tv show have filmed here but soon it will be no more, access denied. So here we are, five intrepid souls in search of a common experience. I’m shooting some of the sequences, schlepping gear up and down stairs and mentoring the more inexperienced members of the crew. I too am being mentored in motion-control techniques. It’s a blast.

Many of you know I’m into time lapse as a money maker as well as for the love of it. The filmmaker Jeff Frost and I met last year when we were speaking at a digital imaging group. We’ve since become friends and enjoy working together. A life long learner I jumped at the chance when Jeff asked me to be part of the crew and contribute by shooting sequences for his new film. Needless to say I was humbled and honored by his request and trust in me.

No money? No problem. Actually it is but what are ya gonna do? Many time you do things for reasons other than money. I did however carve out some time between sequences to shoot a few light paintings I call, “Light Graffiti”.

FireHose

No big deal, just long exposures, (8-30 seconds) one flashlight, a bit of Lightroom magic and a brief visit to Photoshop’s, Blend Modes and Layer Masks.

Tank_01

I also made a very brief time lapse so you could enjoy the view from the roof…..I hope to make one or two more later this week. Stay tuned.

LA_Night

See ya!

Michael

 

 

Related Images:

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

 

 

Stand, Kneel, Lie Down & Deliver

Perspective

After years of photographing field sporting events I’ve come up with a simple rule that I employ on almost every shoot: the floating camera technique.

As an adult (in my mind anyway), raising and lowering the camera from the “tourist off the tour bus perspective”, creates two additional perspectives during the same shoot. Standing while shooting makes kids look smaller by virtue of the fact that I’m taller than the subjects I’m photographing. IMHO it makes them a less significant contributor to the photograph.

As I kneel and lie down to shoot, the drama and impact of the photograph increases. The triptych at the top of this post illustrates how the ground becomes less important and the subject becomes more heroic as the camera drops.

Just remember to bring a towel for those wet dewey mornings or the ride home will be a cold one….(:(*)

 

Without Risk You Become Irrelevant

I’m curious so naturally I hung out with the Curiosity. At JPL, Pasadena, CA.

 

I’ve been wanting to address the issues of failure, freedom and success for quite some time now. And the day has finally arrived. An SECP is compelled to learn new skills, take on new challenges and generally embrace the idea that learning and risk taking are inextricably intertwined and never cease. For example I seek out in-person and online events where I get to speak, teach and potentially sell products of my own making or that of partner companies. I attempt to do this in an honest, straightforward and humorous way. I spend many hours preparing materials and information and practicing the delivery of said materials and presentations.

The reason I do this: I’m dyslexic and was labeled slow in grammar school. I had tremendous difficulty comprehending what was being said and taught. My seat was moved to the front of the class. I was spoken to in a loud voice because it was clear I had a “hearing” problem. It was hard for me to endure teaching methods that did not work. Feeling humiliated added to the stress and frustration. An older brother however took great joy in teasing me about being a retard. (the acceptable word used back then) Ouch!

Thinking about my dyslexia and those school experiences moved me to see what I could do with the art, science and profession of teaching. I imagined my students (and anyone listening to me for that matter) as being dyslexic. This made me concentrate on the variety of ways information can be packaged and delivered. I strived to ensure my processes are clear, straightforward and broken down into easily digestible bits. This took years of practice, reading class critiques from students and administrators alike and professional development courses. A lot of work.

Does this take away from my time as a commercial photographer? You bet. Did I develop a new skill set, polish existing skills and insight into myself as a professional artist? Check that.

I love the process of being my own person. I’ll take on most challenges, go virtually anywhere to gain new information, knowledge and experiences that I then feed back into my business administration, marketing and sales roles. Similar to how I plow profits back into new equipment and training, teaching informs several aspects of my business and has enabled me to become an education/speaking expert in a particular market segment.

This constant searching for new ideas and experiences helps to keep me fresh and topical.

What are you doing? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

The best comment will win a signed copy of my book!

Thanks!

Michael

 

Success Is Up To You

The road to success is long but interesting…….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success is up to me!

Cheers!

Michael

An Historic Event: Endeavor

 

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

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

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

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

The RAW file:

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

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

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

The final result:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Michael

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

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:

Just Shoot Baby!

The Huntington Goslings

Embrace the opportunity to shoot, shoot, shoot. Whatever the subject: street, people, landscape, animals, water, buildings, etc. Just shoot baby!

Look for the light, composition and moments. Be open to possibilities, get out of your own way and EXPERIMENT. Experiment with lens choices, exposure modes, aperture settings, shutter speeds, hand held vs. tripod, move the camera during exposure. Lower the camera. Raise the camera. Try shooting without looking through the viewfinder. Use auto focus instead of manual. Or vice-versa. Be joyful in the process of creation. You just may create something you weren’t expecting, a FABULOUS photograph! Filled with emotional impact, a great story, or a profound moment. You won’t know unless you try and you can’t predict the outcome. That’s part of the excitement is it not?

I’m a pro. Have been for years. I approach my personal work as discussed above because this approach in turn informs my professional work in that I’m reasonably assured when I’m on assignment of what can be achieved through controlled experimentation. Freehand personal experimentation informs controlled client experimentation. Every time.

For example. The image above was made during a class field trip where I encouraged my students to do exactly what I’ve been proselytizing. I didn’t look through the viewfinder, had the lens on auto focus and hand held the camera just above the ground as I kept pace with this these goslings. I had no idea what I was going to get but I knew that by doing this I was bound to get something reasonable because I’ve been experimenting with this for awhile. Here’s an example of a similar approach last December in Lake Tahoe, CA:

What's Up Duck?

I’m not a fowl photographer by any means. The subjects of both these photographs is a coincidence. But the process is not. The process is what made me lower the camera and trust my instincts. Obie Wan is correct. Trust the Force.

 

Here’s another experiment:

The Wind Buffeting My Subject and Camera

Driving home from Palm Desert, I decided to pull off Highway 10 and endeavor to find a few photo ops. Winds are frequently a factor in this area so I was hoping to find a subject easily affected by wind. Seeing this grove of small trees buffeted by the wind, I decided to photograph the movement while contrasting several still components within the composition. I’m not saying that this is an award-worthy image. But it’s worth noting the value contained within: how subject movement can be photographed when other elements are not moving. The lesson here can be applied to other forms of subject movement: water sports, auto racing and the like.

Speaking of movement, time to bounce.

See ya! Comments welcomed.

Michael