A Man of Many Hats: Michael Stern on pursuing dreams and making a living

I recently had a chat with Michael Stern, winner of the multi-media category for the Copyright Alliance’s first national art show. Find out more about Michael Stern on his websites: www.buildabetterphotograph.com or www.cyberstern.com

The life of a self-employed photographer is one that is driven by passion, creativity, expertise, and of course, patience. At least that’s how Pasadena-based photographer Michael Stern approaches his career.

“I take the slow, steady approach,” Michael told me. “Much like the tortoise that ends up winning the race, I build my skills and client base with a purpose to grow opportunities and to move closer in the direction of my goals.”

“And what are those goals as an artist?” I ask.

“To get a good night’s sleep as a consequence of having moved the stone a bit further away from survival mode towards thrive mode. My goal: to thrive and not just survive. I ain’t no spring chicken anymore.”

And yet, when I talk to Michael, I get the sense that he does thrive, though perhaps it’s not always easy. Michael claims to have about ten jobs – not within the span of his career, but at one time – each of which expand his portfolio, solidify his expertise, and aid in his income stream.

Though photographer may be his official title, he has earned many other titles as well. He is a published author, writing a book, Build A Better Photograph, A Disciplined Approach To Creativity, about how to build a professional photography career creatively. He is an educator who has developed a series of workshops to help people understand photographic theory, Photoshop, business practices, and salesmanship. He is a digital compositing expert and loves restoring historical photos. He also owns income property.

His most recent endeavor in time-lapse photography is what caught the eyes of the judges for the Copyright Alliance’s art show in May. He submitted a two-minute video segment called “Rock and Roll Around.” This particular piece is just one “chapter” in a fifteen-part series that documented the building of the Japanese Garden Tea House and surrounding areas at The Huntington Botanical Garden in San Marino, CA. With four cameras, over the span of ten months, Michael took 103,937 photographs for this project. This project is a labor of love as each two-minute segment requires about sixty hours of editing, which produces an end product that balances a sensitivity of the viewer’s needs with accurately showing the building and completion of the space.

Rock_On! from Michael E. Stern on Vimeo.

“What inspired you to work on this project?” I ask. “The client had never done anything like this,” says Michael, “and they put 95% of the project responsibility on me and I wasn’t going to disappoint.”