Category Archives: Business

When a post focuses more on the business aspects of being self-employed.

THE CONSTRUCTION WORKER TEAM

Quality Week is the time when Walsh employees working on projects across the US gather and get recognized for their hard work, safety regimens and team play. From newbies to seasoned veterans, they gather, socialize, talk shop and if it so happens, (as in the case of the OC Streetcar project I’m on) free coffee, doughnuts, hard hats and t-shirts. (I’m gluten free but I got everything else!)

The ceremony isn’t long as they still had a full workday ahead but the idea of bringing the team together to celebrate, cajole and support each other under the direction of the Project Manager Rick Felkins is a good thing. Engaging their fellow employees is an exercise in friendship and competition. Gift card awards were given the top team for safety, efficiency, cleanliness and organization.

And then it was time for me to do my usual progress photography circuit, documenting the work since my last site visit. And lo and behold who do I come across first, two members of the winning team. These affable two seemed to enjoy their work and each others company. Brothers in arms.

 What I appreciate about doing work like this is I’m part of the team. Their team. Temporarily of course but on the team nonetheless. I have my own uniform. Referred to as PPE, (personal protective equipment) I have hard hats, head lamps, ear protection, eye protection, breathing mask, orange vests, gloves, knee pads and steel-toed boots. In my car I keep my fall protection harness and extra glasses, gloves and masks. All I need now is a number the back of my vest so fans know who I am. LOL!

Hope I never get traded.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Commonalities Between Construction Progress & Street Photography

men installing yellow concrete block

I had occasion to listen to a conversation between Bob Patterson of Street Photography magazine and Julia Dean, the founder of the Los Angeles Center for Photography. I work as adjunct faculty at LACP so I was keenly interested in knowing more about Julia’s background as a street photographer. I wasn’t disappointed. Inspired in fact as I came to realize the commonalities between the genre  Julia and many others work in and what I do: construction progress photography.

From Wikipedia: ‘Street’ simply refers to a place where human activity can be seen, a place to observe and capture “social interaction”. The subject can even be absent of any people and can be that of object or environment where an object projects a human character or an environment is decidedly human. Framing and timing are key aspects of the craft, with the aim of creating images at a decisive or poignant moment.

Now what I do doesn’t exactly have a pure “social  interaction” but the camaraderie of fellow workers is relevant and present when I’m on a project site. I’m always trying to capture the “decisive moment” of a particular activity, it’s the essence of what I do and what street shooting is. We are bonded together.

Hope you enjoy our chat: Michael e. Stern on Street Photography Magazine

 

 

REMOVE – REPAINT – RESEAL

The Gig

Loyola Marymount University, an NCAA D1 school in Westchester, CA hired me to provide time-lapse and live-action footage for a marketing video they’ve put together to share with students, alumni and benefactors about the school’s rebranding mission. It’d been a little over a decade since their gymnasium floor was last tended to. As part of the rebranding campaign LMU had a new logo designed and launched a marketing campaign to get the word out. Capturing the contractor resurfacing 14,000 square feet of gym floor was my part. I competed against 2 other providers but was chosen for my motion-control time-lapse expertise. Thank you LMU!

The Set Up

Industrial work is a messy, noisy process, so we work to minimize these aspects and emphasize the beauty of the unfinished. To that end, my team and I installed two static time-lapse camera systems and made 4 site visits on specific days to capture sanding, stencil application, painting, buffing and clear coat application. Using motion control time-lapse tools, gimbals for floating video footage and strategically mounted GoPros, we produced clean compositions while clearly defining the narrative.

The Sound

Ambient sound is an important part of film work and for my work no less so. My motto: keep ambient work sounds low unless there’s a point to hearing it above the music. This minimizes competing sounds, but you’ll still hear something if the music volume dips to low. I employ this technique to keep the visual and audio connections tight.

Lately I’ve been using jazz music for my work as I’m a big fan of the genre. For time-lapse and video combo films, this can be a huge ask. The usual time-lapse music leaves me wanting, but it takes awhile to get the music right. I sample many, many tracks before landing on the right piece. And after the right music is cut into the timeline, then it’s time to rework many of the edits so they cut to the beat of the music. It’s a wonderfully engaging process and one that I enjoy as a project nears completion!

I strive to get my films under 3 minutes but sometimes as in this case, they clock in longer. But at 4:02, the film flows and before you know it, it’s done. That’s the ultimate goal, to watch a film, enjoy the narrative and not be aware of the time because it just flows.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

 

You Get What You Wait For

trucks pouring concrete at job site. Early morning and late ngith lighting

Opportunity

18 hours of continuous pouring. 1350 concrete trucks. 8 pumping trucks. Middle of the night through sun rise. A target rich environment.

AWESOMENESS!

I had the job. It was mine. We agreed on the price. The scope of work. The deadline. I had sent in the insurance certificate, the W-9 and deposit request. Just had to wait for final approval from upstairs. Then like a fart in the wind, it was gone. Poof. Disappointed? Most certainly. But when big business decisions like this don’t go my way, I don’t get crushed, I get motivated. And as a self-employed creative professional, I play the long game and endeavor get out something of every situation that nourishes my business, my life or my soul. After 40 years, I’m good at it.

You see, I’d been given a diagram of the construction site as part of the cost estimating process. And that triggered my visual game plan for how I was going to document this amazing, landscape altering concrete pour. And I still wanted to execute it. It’s what I do, paid for or not. Of course it’s always better to get paid, but us creative souls have to create. It’s especially cathartic for me. There was no way I was going to sleep in!

In this instance I was limited in accessing the site from the public spaces along the perimeter. But art thrives on limitations. And I’m always up for that challenge.

Without promise or obligation from the client, I drove to the location and captured the process that played out before me. When the sun was about 15% above the horizon, it was time to leave with my photographic treasures.

See more of my progress photographs here.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

8 REASONS WHY THIS IS A GREAT PROGRESS PHOTOGRAPH!

You work hard to build something to exacting standards that is solid and long-lasting.

So do I:

I’m known for producing high quality and creative job site photographs.  My approach is much more than just taking pictures with a smart device. As great as smart devices are they cannot compete with the challenging light, color and contrast issues inherent on a job site. I build photographs with a professional approach. To exacting standards. Solid. Long-lasting.

This Photograph is Very Good

I want clients to know the why behind my work. Why the time of day matters, why the lens matters, why the file format matters and why the editing process matters. The techniques I’ve refined over the years contribute to successfully building project photographs.

Here’s why:

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Related Images:

Beauty In The Unfinished

Light, Line & Texture

This is how I see the world. Not really that big a deal, most visual artists view the world this way.
But as a professional photographer and small business owner, it’s crucial that I define this for you.
Specializing in producing construction progress photography suits me well because I’m a laborer at heart.

Grading

The commonality in all construction projects is what I appreciate most: the project below grade, at grade and above grade.
Within this commonality lie the stunning variations I appreciate and photograph:

Pasadena Public Works Conctruction photo at the original Forum in Inglewood, CA Weber Metals Faclity

Variations In The Field

My commitment to every contract produces construction progress photographs that have clear points of view, ensuring that proper PPE is worn at all times, safety best practices are on display, shadows and highlights have appropriate details, color is interesting, and that vertical and horizontal lines make sense.

To achieve the best perspective for any construction photograph I use a variety of camera angles and heights. When appropriate, I deliver in vertical, square and horizontal formats, each photograph cropped to its’ best proportions.

At Grade

Ground level view of rebar tying
welder kneeling while arc welding
Standing

sunrise over building with American flag waving in wind

Below Grade

underground look of trench shoring being installed

Horizontal

concrete pouring roadway on bridge

Up

Looking up to heavy lift crane

A gantry helps lift an 11-ton ring up into the ceiling

Down

looking down at a concrete pour

view from catwalk inside a building

My work is hand-crafted and done to the highest technical standards.

I love this work. It’s fun, challenging and I’m grateful each and every time I’m hired by you.

My trusted collaborators!

Thanks for reading.

Michael

TAKING SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL AND BROKEN AND MAKING IT WHOLE AGAIN

One fully restored Faux Bois tree at the Huntington

Faux Bois Tree Huntington Gardens

A beauty shot of the final Faux Bois tree rebuilt by Terence Eagan.

I’ve specialized in 3-5 minute construction time-lapse films for about 8 years. In 2018 I produced my first construction documentary film. It’s 26 minutes long and includes music specifically written for the film.

What It Is

Faux Bois At The Huntington is the story of taking something beautiful and broken and making it whole again. This film features the work of Terence Eagan, a sculptor who restored and improved the original 100 Faux Bois trees dating to 1915. Faux Bois is the French Decorative Art, dating to 1860, of making imitation wood structures out of iron rods, wire mesh, barrel bands and concrete. In 2010, Terry began repairing a century of damage to the trees that replaced the Victorian Rustic Movement native oak log and timber arbors that Henry Huntington loved but frequently needed attention. Not so with concrete trees.

Getting Educated

Incorporating hours of video and time-lapse footage, location sound recording, purchasing original music and mixing sound effects was me punching above my weight class. Exhausting. Fun. But exhausting. I brought in several experts throughout but knowing when to do so and vetting the folks I hired was a new experience for me too. Love the life-long learning stuff when you’re self-employed!

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Construction Worker Portraits

The Construction Worker Portrait

Femael construction worker April Marquez

I do most of my business with owners, public agencies and private builders for construction progress photography, time-lapse films, group portraits and video interviews.  The individual or small group construction worker portraits like the one above are not in my contracts. I do them voluntarily. Here’s the link to my gallery of just construction worker portraits.

The Why

1)  Construction workers belong to a unique tribe, one that’s fascinating to interpret through photography. Construction workers make me feel at home, they’re friendly, interested in what I do, have a sense of humor and mostly eager to pose. Also, they build things and I build photographs. We are simpatico.

2)  The session are high energy and very in the moment.

3)  Short duration, a photographic sprint if you will. Sessions last from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

4)  Participation levels are high and both sides of the camera, we have fun with the process.

5)  The challenge of uncontrolled lighting and color forces me to go on instinct and experience. That’s a high for me.

6)  I get to interpret and honor these intriguing and generally happy personalities. What they do is hard, dirty and dangerous. What better way to honor them?

7)  On subsequent site visits, when I’m recognized for the work, I get my fist bumps. Awesome!

8)  Seeing how I can develop the images afterwards is an exciting process for me:

Female and male construction workers and their carpentry tools

Because of the pace and stresses of a construction site and the lurking dangers virtually everywhere, I minimize the time it takes to do these portraits. As such, I don’t use any supplemental lighting, I use what’s there. My skill is in positioning the subjects into the correct relationship with the sunlight or whatever artificial light been put up on site. But that’s the beauty of knowing what you’re doing. With todays’ technologies, a professional photographer can shoot at will with the understanding that during the edit phase, colors, contrasts and nuance can be managed to great effect. It’s the only way to produce this technical quality level.

But don’t want to get too hung up on the technical. While of course it’s important, the real skill comes in knowing how to elicit responses from folks who are generally not photographed on the job in this formal way. Construction workers take a lot of selfies but here I am doing a higher level of end result because of my eye, technical skills and true desire to honor these fellow tribe members with their own personalized construction worker portrait.

Sometimes these images end up in company newlsetters that showcase these individuals and they appreciate seeing themselves looking so good!

The Group Portrait

The group portrait is always fun because it takes a bit of performance art on my part. But I don’t mind. You have to get everyone to buy into the idea. This isn’t an issue because they’re being honored. But about 5% are on the shy side that they want to stay in the way back. That’s fine, you cant’ get everyone. And besides, the 10% in each group that are fully cooked hams provide the offset. LOL!

Group portrait GIF

A construction worker group portrait

Construction worker group portrait

 

Radiance Corridor Time Lapse

In Memory of Jane, “Jae” Carmichael

The Gig

I received an email from an executive at Mountain View Mortuary, the historic funeral home in Altadena, CA inquiring about producing a time-lapse video of the Radiance Corridor. This wing of the mausoleum is defined by a large stained glass window facing East and a series of skylights embedded in the ceiling. The way colors and shapes move through the space has to be seen, words fail me here. The photo provides some insight into the beauty of the space.

The impact upon me as I spent many hours there filming was significant. I felt as if I was being watched. Comforting and a bit strange at the same time.

The Challenge

What made this story particularly challenging was that it had no discernible narrative. Other than  sun moving through the space, there is no story. I naively thought that just the sun would be enough to enlighten this film: I’d make all the time-lapse sequences in chronological order and cut the movie in a the same chronological manner. Wrong! It didn’t work or rather I could not make it work to my satisfaction because it was too limiting in terms of flow. A good time-lapse edit is akin to a jigsaw puzzle: smooth pieces that seamlessly fit together. The reality of putting beautiful time-lapse sequences together so they fit just right is the art form of time-lapse. What seemed like a good edit idea boxed me into a look that was unformed, lacked emotion and uninteresting.

My job after the photography is to put on my producer hat and make it all come alive. No pun intended.

So I just went for it and made it as fine arty as I could. Really pushed the order and intensity of the colors. Got way out in la-la land and stopped, evaluated and eventually pulled back to what you see in the finished film because after all I did have a client to satisfy. Smile.

  Nice concept but not the right application

Hope you enjoy it and please share if you do: Radiance Corridor

Thanks for reading and watching!

Michael

Expertise In Craft & Vision: The Story of Syncreon

How It Began

In January of 2015, the U.S. headquarters marketing director of a German based supply-chain company hired me to direct and produce a time-lapse film about how they as a company transform empty warehouses into order fulfillment centers. From the jump it was envisioned as a stand alone film. Filming began in early February and ended in late April.You can see it here. Note the high view revealing the package conveyor system getting installed. It’s near the end of this film and is pivotal to the rest of this story.

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