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Michael Ver Sprill (Milky Way Mike) Interview

Photo by Michael Ver Sprill

Today’s blog post is a bit different than usual – we’ve interviewed the truly outstanding timelapse photographer and Unleashed user, Michael Ver Sprill, also known as Milky Way Mike. In this blog post you’ll learn about his journey to becoming a photographer and his tips for the best timelapses, from planning to shooting.

Michael Ver Sprill Headhsot

Quickly introduce yourself: Name, where do you live, favorite photographer, what camera do you use, what kind of photography do you like?

First and foremost, I would like to say thank you for this opportunity and allowing me to test out this fantastic piece of gear that Foolography has developed. My name is Michael Ver Sprill and I currently reside in North Brunswick, New Jersey in the USA. I follow a lot of photographers and it’s extremely hard to pick a favorite. As a landscape photography lover, I guess I would have to say that Max Rive is up there on my list of favorites. A few months back I recently traded in my Nikon DSLRs for the Nikon mirrorless system. So my main camera for still photography is my Nikon Z7 and I like to use the Z6 for time lapse work. As I started my journey to grow as a photographer I had dabbled with photographing just about everything from weddings, real estate, products, baptisms, birthday parties, newborns and portraits. This was all great for learning and gaining experience, but I naturally gravitated towards landscape and nightscape photography, since I loved to travel to the great outdoors.

What got you into night photography, specifically shooting the milky way?

About 8 or 9 years ago, I remember seeing an article which featured a picture of a Milky Way that had been photographed from a beach in New Jersey. Growing up in this state we are surrounded by light pollution from New York City and Philadelphia so we’ve kind of forgotten how beautiful the night sky can get when it is really dark. I got inspired from that article to give Milky Way photography a shot and I got hooked ever since. This obsession led to me travelling cross-country for the first time in my life so I could get a glimpse of some truly amazing dark skies out west, as well as photographing the unique landscapes we have all across America.

<Milkyway Timelapse by Michael Ver Sprill

How do you go about planning your shoots? How long does it take? When do you make a decision to go out?

I like to use Instagram and Pinterest to get inspiration for new locations which I add to my bucket list of places to photograph. Then typically I’ll check google earth so I can examine that location and see if it will work well as a Milky Way location. I’ll also use the app Photopills which allows me to check dates and times for when the Milky Way will be visible in that location during a New Moon phase when the sky is the darkest. Planning this out can take a few minutes to a few hours depending how complex it is to get to the location. Making the decision to go out is the hardest because of the weather. When I go out west it typically has less humidity and is very dry, so clear skies are more frequent compared to where I live in a coastal state. So usually my eyes are glued to the weather channel waiting for clear or mostly clear nights to become available and that will dictate my decision to go out.

Photo by Michael Ver Sprill

What camera accessories are essential and what are nice add-ons (for every hobby photographer and night photographers)?

As a landscape and night photographer, a tripod and remote trigger is an essential part of gear that I need to make my photos possible. Typically I am taking photos during golden hour, blue hour and at night, so I need to keep the camera very still as I take long exposures with the help of a remote trigger like Unleashed. Great add-ons would be ND or Graduated filters which allow you to get creative with your long exposures especially during sunrises and sunsets. Another great add-on that comes in handy for me is a Nodal Slider which allows you to pivot from the camera’s lens instead of the camera’s base. This helps prevent parallax when doing panoramas both during the day and at night when doing Milky Way Panoramas.

How do you get the most out of your (night) long exposures? Any tips?

Since we often have to push our ISO when photographing at night, a process called stacking has become extremely helpful with long exposures and Milky Way photography. There are programs like Sequator (for PC) and Starry Landscape Stacker (for Apple) which help track the stars and stack your night photos which essentially reduces the noise by averaging the photos together. I have numerous tutorial videos on Youtube which explain this in more detail to help new night photographers. I also recommend a fast wide angle lens to allow you to gather in more light. One of my new favorite lenses is a 20mm 1.8 prime which is extremely sharp, gathers in a ton of light and perfectly wide for landscape or nightscape photography.

Photo by Michael Ver Sprill

What compositional tips do you have for making your timelapses more interesting?

I’ve found that the most important thing with time lapse photography is not necessarily the composition, but actually having elements that show movement. Typically cloudy sunrises and sunsets make for great time lapses. If the sky is clear, then maybe you want to show the movement of shadows drifting across a landscape. It’s all about showing the viewer the movement that happens during a span of time. Now typically when I set up a composition during a timelapse I usually follow the rule of thirds. I tend to keep ⅔ of the composition on the most interesting part of the scene that shows movement with ⅓ on the less interesting part. So for example with a Milky Way time lapse I will tend to keep ⅔ of the sky with ⅓ foreground.

Sunrise Timelapse by Michael Ver Sprill

What photography projects do you have in mind to do next?

I’m about to head up to Acadia National Park in Maine to capture a Milky Way photo from a location that I believe has not been done before. I’m hoping to document that trip in an upcoming vlog for people to see the behind the scenes footage and my editing process.

We’d like to thank Mike for sharing his insights with us and being part of our Foolography Ambassadors team. Be sure to check out his instagram and website to see more of his amazing work!

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Unleashed Journey Pt. 1: Crowdfunding – Why and How?

Crowdfunding: How to run a successful campaign

30th of September 2016: Against all odds, the Foolography office in Berlin Mitte is filled with over 50 people. Not employees, but friends and family who want to celebrate the successful funding of the new Unleashed on Kickstarter. 186,723 €, more than 300% of the initial funding goal. All achieved by a couple of people committed to a dream and passion. Honestly, we could have never imagined of the amount of support we got – from the people around us, and especially from the Kickstarter backers and supporters who also believed in what we were trying to achieve.

11th of April 2018: Looking back today, we’re still amazed by the journey we are on and the development of Foolography and its employees. Being finally able to ship the Unleashed in a couple of weeks, we decided to give people the opportunity to be part of that journey: The journey of the Unleashed.

In this three part series we want talk about crowdfunding, what it’s like to be and run a hardware startup and where we see Foolography in a couple of years. The goal is to give you valuable insights, tips, dos and don’ts and hopefully encouragement to chase your dreams and hang in there – whether you have or want to start a business, are a photographer yourself or just interested in what we do and wondering how we do it.


WHY

Why crowdfunding?

This is the question we asked ourselves two years ago when we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the new Unleashed – a smartphone DSLR remote control. And to be honest: We’re still asking us this question today from time to time. Clearly, crowdfunding is one of the best things that ever happened to help you to turn ideas into reality. Kickstarter puts it this way: “Our mission is to help bring creative projects to life.” However, what many people don’t know or at least underestimate: Doing a crowdfunding campaign is a lot of work – before and after it. Especially after it.

Maybe you didn’t know, but there is a Berlin hardware startup community. And many of those startups actually started off with a successful crowdfunding campaign. This is great and was especially helpful to us when we were playing with the idea of doing a Kickstarter campaign ourselves. We met with people who were further along the journey and absorbed all infos and insights we could get. Even though Foolography has been around for a couple of years at this point, doing a crowdfunding campaign was definitely a step into the unknown.

After a couple of weeks we had our “whys” and essential reasons why crowdfunding could be helpful and, what is even more important, why it might be the right next step for us. This is why we launched the new Unleashed on Kickstarter:

1. Money for production.

Marc Andreessen, a pretty famous investor, once said: “Hardware is hard”. Well, we couldn’t agree more. Building a technology hardware company is by far much harder than building a software company. There are many reasons why that is and one of the biggest is: In order to deliver the product to your customer, you need to produce it first. Meaning, physically produce it. Including finding the right parts, producing the PCB, the casing, the packaging, taking care of the assembly and much more. All things you don’t really have to worry about when having a digital product. And those things mentioned are usually pretty expensive and most important: You have to pay for it in advance before you are actually able to sell your product. So crowdfunding definitely is a big help when it comes to production of your product.

2. Proof of concept.

Whenever you have an idea for a new product it is wise to find out if there is a market for it. What do other people say about it? Are people already signing (or lining) up to get your product? And with people I don’t mean your grandparents or close friends. I’m talking about people who don’t know you but who could potentially be your future customers. Do you have a proof of concept? The cool thing about a good proof of concept is that it not only helps you to understand whether there are people out there who want to have your product, but to understand whether people like the way and method how you present and sell your product. See, the proof of concept is not a single yes or no. It’s a commitment to pay for what you offer. And usually that happens – yes, because of the greatness of your idea – but also because of how you marketed and sold it. So a proper proof of concept not only confirms your idea but also helps you to find a the right go-to-market strategy. Crowdfunding definitely is a good tool for that since people are supporting you not only with words but with money.

3. Building a community.

Having a community (or even customers) when you start shipping your product is one of the best things you can have. It literally is a kick-start. You will have people talking about it, testing it and in best case recommending it. And in the end, this is something worth more than thousands of online ads: People that recommend and advertise your product to their friends and family, in their own personal and unique way.


HOW

How to do crowdfunding?

You can find thousand of infos, you can read hundreds of articles and you can talk to dozens of people on how to approach this whole crowdfunding thing. And to be honest, I believe all of that is good and necessary. Because as it is with most things in life: Preparation is the key. So you actually can prepare a crowdfunding campaign and you actually can increase your chances of getting funded. We did all of the things listed above and they definitely helped us. But nonetheless, people still keep asking: “What are the biggest tips you can give me, when I want to do a crowdfunding campaign?” So here are the top ten of, I believe, most important things to consider and prepare well when doing a crowdfunding campaign.

1. Have a working prototype.

Oh yes. Something that is super important (probably the most important) and non-negotiable. Before you go public on a crowdfunding platform, have a working prototype of your product ready. (This is something we will discuss more in detail in part two of this series.)

2. Talk to people who (successfully) did it before.

I mentioned this before and cannot emphasize it enough. Reach out to people who did a crowdfunding campaign before and get as many insights as possible. Come prepared and ask questions.

3. Have a strategy, including a Plan B and C.

This seems to be an obvious thing to do, but it is those simple things that you forget or don’t do properly. Take enough time to write down your vision, goals and strategy. Try to sharpen your product’s USPs, verbalize them and get feedback.

4. Have a CI. Or at least PI (Product Identity).

It should be clear who you want to reach out to and what people perceive when getting in contact with your business or product. This includes a logo, slogan and everything you learn in Marketing 101.

5. Have a website or landing page outside of Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

You could argue about that point, but I personally think it’s necessary in order to be able to provide further information, have an official point of contact and most importantly to build trust.

6. Have a (large) newsletter list before.

This is something that can determine whether your campaign is successful or not. Having people that are ready to support you at the very start will push you forward in many ways. One way could be that the faster you get a lot of support, the more you become interesting for press or the crowdfunding platform itself. And this in return will generate awareness of your campaign.

7. Have a good video.

When looking for tips on the internet this is one of the things you will find the most. And yes, it’s very important. But what makes a good video is such an enormous topic for itself. Write us if you want further infos. ;-) Maybe we do an own article just about that – let us know in the comments if this is something you’re interested in.

8. Spend time on an appealing crowdfunding page.

The page of your campaign probably is the first or second point of contact for your potential customers. Make sure it’s visual, appealing and nicely structured. For example, remember to not overload it since most people will only have a look at the first few paragraphs and just a few will scroll down to the bottom.

9. Have a PR strategy.

This is something that certainly needs quite a bit of preparation in advance and is something we definitely could have done better: Have a good press release prepared and a well chosen list of people ready that potentially could write about you. If possible send product samples to those people beforehand.

10. Think about (but not necessarily do) online advertisement.

We didn’t do it, but could have done it and certainly would have gotten a bigger funding. Have a strategy and decide whether it’s helpful and possible due to production, pricing and production cost.


Well, this is it for now. There are certainly more things that are important to consider when thinking about doing a crowdfunding campaign. These, however, are some things that we learned along the journey and are telling most of the people who ask us about our campaign. We hope this gives you a little insight and helps somebody. We’ll continue with this series another time and will then talk about what it’s like to build hardware and what challenges can occur along the way – and how to overcome them.

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