What Changed in Professional Photography and Why I’m Grateful

August 4, 2014

In a word – digital. The digital revolution has been a game changer, and not just for professional photographers, but just about anyone and everyone who has been in the “workforce” for more than 10 years.

When a “change” is so profound that it creates a cultural shift, as digital has in the way we do business and communicate with one another, we can’t ignore it. It’s pretty tough to be, as Joe Walsh says “I’m an analog man in a digital world”. It may seem like the “digital revolution” happened over night, but in fact it started many decades ago. Technology’s pace has risen exponentially over the last decade and will continue to escalate, thrusting change upon us. I think what we are experiencing now, is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Tom and I have been spending time recently “purging” ourselves of all the things we’ve accumulated over the last 3 + decades that we really don’t need any longer. One of our biggest tasks has been to cull through hundreds of thousands of analog images – from 35mm “chromes” to 4×5 transparences as well as B&W and color negatives. It’s a daunting task and it’s super easy to get sidetracked down memory lane. But, we are steadily making progress sifting through the analog archives – digitizing anything worthy – Old transparenciesand tossing the rest.

When we first began our careers in still photography, we used to toss our assignment rejects (chromes) into big wire trash bins, like the ones you’d see on NYC sidewalks. Back then, photographers had to pretty much “nail” their exposures or the images got thrown away. Those were the days before auto focus cameras and many images also got tossed because they were out of focus. These bins filled up a long time ago, but for whatever reason we held onto them. So, now we are asking ourselves – should we take a 2nd look or just haul the bins of images out to the trash?

No doubt, we’ll just trash the images, but we did take a look at a few of them and I could see in an instant how our profession has changed for good. The technological skills that a professional photographer needed to learn and master just 10-15 years ago, have been replaced by highly advanced gear and software, making just about anyone able to shoot a reasonably good image, and call themselves a photographer. And whether we like it or not – that’s our competition.

In looking back, I realized that the single one thing that has kept me in business all these years, is that I never put technology first. Rather, I always focused on the “idea”. Nowadays, people call it “vision”, but regardless, the idea always came first and then figure out how to use technology to execute it. Funny thing is a lot of my ideas were ahead of the times, in terms of the possibility of making them happen – but that has changed. It seems like anything is possible now. I am grateful for the perspective I’ve gained over the many years that I’ve been in this business. One thing is for certain, change is a constant and I look forward to a future where I can make more of my ideas and dreams come true.

Expect the Unexpected – The Photographic Journey

July 25, 2014

My husband and I have been partners in marriage and in business for over 35 years. We have collected a lot of memories together over those years and because we are both photographers and filmmakers, we have recorded many of those moments.

_MG_6235GailMichener

Gail Mooney with James Michener. Chesapeake Bay, MD

I’ve been sifting through our analog archive of photographic prints and “chromes” lately in the process of purging other “stuff” in my life, that I no longer need. It is amazing how much stuff one can accumulate over the years. We have never been “consumers” in the typical sense. I’m almost embarrassed to say that we don’t even have a flat screen TV in our home – we do in our office, which is part of our home – but not in our living area. But we have somehow accumulated lots of folk art from a lifetime of travels, lots of photographic gear and hundreds of thousands of images.

As I continue to look through a lifetime of images, I occasionally pull a couple of photos out of the archive and share them on Facebook on “throw back Thursday”. What stands out to me in looking through a lifetime of photographs is that my husband and I have had an incredible journey together. I don’t think either one of us could have begun to imagine some of the experiences we have shared, when we first started out – I know I didn’t.

I’ll share one image and story with you. Tom and I had an assignment for Travel & Leisure to shoot a story on the Chesapeake and we had arranged to photograph Michener for the article. The day of the shoot, I brought my dog-eared paperback copy of Michener’s “Caravans”, that he had written in 1951. I had carried that paperback in my backpack for a year when I circled the globe the first time. I was told by some that I shouldn’t hand a paperback to Michener to sign – but I did anyway. He was touched, because he knew how important the book had been to me on my journey.

I remind myself daily to enjoy each day that I am given and to never underestimate what may be around the next corner. Expect the unexpected.

 

 

Another Year Gone By

July 18, 2014

When I was a kid, my year would begin and end around the school calendar – essentially September to June. Summertime was a delightful escape CoupleBicycleNZfrom the rituals of academia with lots of time to sleep late and do other things – or simply just do nothing.

I’ve been out of school a long time, but my annual calendar still seems to revolve around the “academic” year, with summers still spent relaxing and playing. As I enter into yet another year on this planet as my birthday approaches next week, I realize just how important it is to take time to simply relax and play. As a creative being, it is not only important to “play“– it is critical.

As I look back on the many years that have ticked by, I am profoundly grateful for the many blessings and people in my life who have made it a life well lived. My memory fails me at times but what I do consistently recall are all the little moments of laughter and levity. I have not amassed a fortune, but I have been very comfortable and never left wanting. But I realize that I have had a rich life indeed and the best times have always included experiences near and far with people who have entered into my life – sometimes for a moment – sometimes for the long haul.

I suppose you could say that my spirit has never aged and it is still as playful as it has always been. When I’m at my most creative, my spirit is shining through. It’s not hampered by self-doubts, fear or uncertainty. My spirit is forever curious and is always exploring. Rather than being fearful of what’s around the next corner, I am excited at the prospects of opening myself up to new ideas, places and people. It’s all those experiences and relationships that make up a life worth living.

So, as I face the start of another year, I look back at the smiles and laughs as well as the tears that I have encountered on my journey and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

 

 

Golden Days – a Life in Photography

June 27, 2014

I’ve been sifting through a lifetime of images over the last few weeks, in a myriad of formats – prints, transparencies and digital files. Gail Mooney - early 1980's - New York CityWhat started out as a simple quest: to find photos of my daughter Erin at various ages in her life, for a bridal shower “game”, quickly turned into a major,  yet wonderful distraction.  I was looking through the visual archive of my life – my husband/ partner’s life – Erin’s life and all the family and friends that made up a lifetime.

In the “old days” it was more of a working chore to take photos of casual gatherings.  You needed to bring a camera, a flash and  lenses with you (not to mention film), to be able to document various life events.  Now, with cameras with us at all times in our phones, we are able to capture and share the moments of our lives, easily and all the time.  Sometimes, it almost seems like we are more intent on capturing and sharing our “moments” than we are just living those moments.

I can tell you that experiencing something through the lens of my camera is a totally different experience than just “being in the moment” for me. There have been times when I’ve been intensely photographing something, when I didn’t really feel like I was experiencing “the moment”.  I was shooting “the moment” but I wasn’t part of it.

My camera(s) have been a major part of my life.  They have provided me access to my dreams and still do.  As I looked through the decades of images, it was like reading chapters in a book, each unique yet connected and integral to my life’s journey.

As I thought about my journey, I realized that if I had one big “take away” – my curiosity for life is what drove me. There was always something I wanted to try or do or learn about – and so, I did.  That usually put me in a position where I moved forward, rather than be left behind.  I was lucky because it was organic to my nature.  I was smart and maybe a little brave because I listened to myself.

My passion nowadays is to photograph and film others’ stories as my continued curiosity leads me to another chapter in my life.

Enjoy and savor every one of life’s moments – they go by in the blink of an eye.

“With my maps and my faith in the distance – Moving farther on”     Jackson Browne

What is Your Value as a Professional Photographer?

June 22, 2014

Let’s face it, these days, professional photographers Bouncer at Pure Night Club, Las Vegas, NVaren’t only competing with other pros – they are competing with anyone and everyone with an iPhone. Before you get upset and kill the messenger – ask yourself “What is my value proposition?” What do you offer that your competition doesn’t’?

I started making a list of things that professional photographers could offer to boost their value to potential clients:

  • Skills – Do you have any unique skills that can set you apart from your competition? If you define yourself by a specialized piece of gear that’s new – keep in mind, you may have just 5 years or less before ‘everyone” has it.
  • Vision – Make sure your “vision” comes from you and isn’t just a copy of what’s “hot” or trendy at the moment.
  • Access – Do you have access that others don’t? I realized when I was shooting for National Geographic that I was given access to a lot of photo opportunities that others didn’t have. Sometimes these opportunities yield photo opps that are off limits to others and make some stand out portfolio samples.
  • Rapport – If you are working in video and part of your job is doing interviews, then having a good rapport with your subjects will give you results that only you will get. Good interviews are dependent on social chemistry.
  • Your audience or following – These days, even getting a commissioned assignment may be dependent on your own social media following. Advertisers want to capitalize on that if it’s the same target audience they are trying to reach.
  • Project management skills – Getting the shot is only one skill set that photographers need to compete. Clients expect you to manage the project from soup to nuts and deliver the goods. That could mean wrangling large crews, getting access or simply making sure that everything that needs to get done to complete a project – is done.
  • Sensitivity – Be sensitive not only to your clients’ needs and problems but to whomever you are working with. I know a very good photographer who began burning most of his bridges with his clients. He was more interested in getting his point across and making demands than he was listening to the needs of his clients.
  • Likeability – Similar to above. There are just too many photographers out there to choose from that if you aren’t likable – well – you may want to look for work that doesn’t require any social skills.

If all this sounds simple –  it is. It’s applying it that’s the tough part. But if you do, you will set yourself apart from your competition.

Thinking of moving into motion?  Check out The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion

Timing is Everything

May 24, 2014
NPPA_MultimediaImmersionWorkshop

© 2014 J.C. Carey

Have you ever looked back at your life and wondered “How would things have turned out differently if…..I hadn’t have moved to a new part of the country when I was 13 years old or if I had stayed at Syracuse University instead of leaving school after completing my sophomore year and traveling around the world?  Or if I had taken the job at Boeing after graduating from Brooks Institute…..or  if I hadn’t seen that article in Time Magazine about “Indie” media ventures, referencing the 1st Digital Video Symposium that was going to take place at the American Film Institute?” Every one of those events at pivotal points in my life, carved out my next “chapter “ – determining who I was going to be and where I was headed. Some of my life’s twists and turns, I had no control over – like moving from Rochester, NY to the greater NYC Metro area when I was barely a teenager. But there have been a lot more pages turned in my life since then, and along with that a whole lot of decisions to be made along the way. The best decisions I’ve made in my life happened when I was open minded to possibilities and I listened to my gut. Last week I coached at the NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion Workshop.  It was a perfect example of peers helping peers and a wonderful collaboration between NPPA and ASMP, my trade association that I’m about to be President of next month.  Even though these workshops are exhausting in every way, I get as much as I give on so many levels. Ultimately the workshop is about learning good solid video journalism storytelling, but the technical learning curve can be daunting to many coming from a still photographer background.  Many of the students were totally green when it came to audio, movement, sequencing or the post-production editing process.  Some became so overwhelmed by the gear that they lost focus of the most important part of the workshop – “the story”. It’s easy to lose sight of the “story”. At the workshop, Bruce Strong from Newhouse School of Journalism gave a talk about “Storytelling Basics”.  He said something that really resonated with me “Ask the why behind the why.  Look for the emotional core of the story”. I realized that I needed a reminder at this particular time in my life, as to what was the essence of a good story. I’m currently working on a documentary film about a family that has a deep and rich history. To be honest, I had been floundering on the story aspects of the film as I had begun to get lost in the details and facts. I had an epiphany as I listened to Bruce and realized that my job wasn’t to document the timeline of this family, that had already been done in written form – my job was to “tell a story”. That epiphany may sound obvious and simple, but sometimes I get blindsided by the daily consumption of life, and the “obvious” gets overlooked.  But if I put myself in a different place, in body and mind, at a time in my life when I am open and receptive, the “right” path does become obvious.  That path was there the entire time, but perhaps it wasn’t the right time for me. As Orson Welles once said “If you want a happy ending, than it depends on where you stop the story”.

10 Tips for Sustaining a Long Career as a Professional Photographer

April 28, 2014

Grow or die – My good friend and coach Ian Summers coined that phrase. He also taught me that growth requires a temporary surrender of security.

Be yourself – There’s a great quote – “be yourself because everyone else is taken” Many folks say that you need to have your own vision but I really don’t like this phrase because it is overused and is not really specific or clear – to the point that most of us get frustrated if we don’t feel we have “a vision”. Your gut will let you know when you’re “on purpose”.

Don’t operate in a vacuum – Photographers are independent creaturesYJ2X9041 for the most part. Take joy in collaborating and/or networking. Expand your networks to include all types of folks – not just your fellow photographers. This is how and where ideas are born.

Don’t focus on the gear – I get weary of people asking me about my gear or the age old question “Does that camera take good pictures?” – to which I reply “It depends on the operator.”

Embrace failure – Or at least don’t let your fear of failure stop you. Try instead asking yourself “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Let’s face it, we don’t do brain surgery, so for the most part, our fears don’t involve fatalities.

Do the work – I believe it was Malcolm Gladwell who said that it took 10,000 hours to get good at something. If you want to sustain a long career in any career, be prepared to do the work to get good at it.

Get rid of the resistance – It’s really easy to give yourself lots of seemingly logical reasons why NOT to do something. Try replacing your reasons NOT to do something, with why you SHOULD. Get rid of the people in your life that are giving you resistance – they’re poison. Read more about resistance in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

Don’t set out to prove yourself – Instead strive to improve. This attitude is ultimately more beneficial and leads to better self esteem. It’s also not dependent on someone else’s validation or approval.

Enjoy the good times – but be prepared for the bad times. Nothing stays the same – ever. Don’t let those glory days mislead you or your ego. There are always competitors waiting in the wings.

Keep your passion and enthusiasm – If you don’t, you’ll never survive this business. And if you have to ask “should I be a professional photographer or practice law?” I would have to answer – “practice law”. If you have to ask that question, it’s an indication that the passion isn’t there.

If you are thinking of expanding your skills with video,  check out my book “The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion”

2014 NAB Wrap Up

April 15, 2014

Still photographers and motion shooters love to get a “first”  look at “new gear”. Here are a few interesting items I saw last week at the NAB Show (National Association of Broadcasters):

Cameras

  • Black Magic Ursa A 4K camera 2014 NAB Showat an affordable price (around $6,500) that will be shipping in July. They’re calling it the first user upgradable-camera because you can change the sensor and the lens mount. It looks like this will be a great camera for filmmaking and documentaries.
  • Sony A7s Sony’s latest mirrorless camera features a wide-dynamic-range sensor and amazing sensitivity. With this camera, Sony didn’t jump into the megapixel competition against other camera manufacturers, but instead concentrated on image quality at staggering ISO’s. I would use this camera more as a still camera, but it’s small and it also shoots 4Kvideo.
  • GoPro  This company continues to innovate and make products that provide shooters with the tools that allow them to come up with incredibly creative solutions, especially in sports/action content.

Storage/Monitors

  •  Atomos has created the Ninja Star, a tiny ProRes Recorder for theGoPro Hero 3 that has an HDMI-out port and allows you to loop the signal through the Ninja Star and out to a monitor for composition or review. Atomos also debuted their Shogun, a combination seven-inch monitor and recorder with 4K capability.
  • G-Speed Studio by G-Techology This product, a hardware RAID 4-Bay Thunderbolt 2 storage solution, won the “Best Storage of NAB 2014 Award.” The G-SPEED Studio is a storage device with room for four hard drives and is configurable to RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, or 10. You can bring the total storage up to 24TB; at a lesser amount, the sustained 660MB/s transfer rate will get your files going quick.

Sliders/Stabilizers/Helicopters

  • Kessler Unidrive This is a motion control system (slider) that’s automated to enhance your production values.
  • Shape ISEE 1 Camera Stabilizer for GoPro A very cool device to stabilize your action GoPRo footage. The SHAPE ISEE I is a handheld gimbal-based stabilizer for GoPro cameras and smartphones. The powered, self-calibrating ISEE I enables steady shots with the GoPro and features a joystick for up/down tilting of the camera.
  • DJI’s Phantom 2 Vision Plus with Gimbal and GPS The latest addition to DJI’s quadcopter lineup gives you stunning images at a super affordable price ($1,000, or $1,099 for a version with extra battery). The copter has a 1080P camera that supports Adobe DNG RAW, which is great for workflow. There are also features that allow you to stream video to your smartphone in real time and to synchronize your phone with the quadrocopter through WiFi up to 700 meters away.
  • Syrp Genie Time Lapse & Magic Carpet Slider This is a motion controller coupled with a simple slider that provides a relatively low-cost solution for great time-lapse photography.
  • GimbalGunner A new device designed for run-and-gun video shooting. It’s essentially a cross between a two-axis gimbal and shoulder-mounted rig.

Software

  • There were hundreds of booths demoing software, but perhaps the most impressive of the bunch for me was the iZotope RX 3 2014 NAB ShowThis audio postproduction software will take away your fears about working with sound. I saw a demo in which it fixed substantial audio issues with the push of a button. Technology continues to make our lives easier. There is an incredible deal on the software until May 1, with prices slashed from $749 to $249. I don’t advocate capturing bad audio, but you’ll want this repair tool if you do.

Lighting

  • Litepanels This company launched its new Hilio series, versatile panels that emit a raw, narrow beam that provides high-intensity light for long throws.

“A Photograph is the Biography of a Moment”

April 4, 2014

Facebook can be a real time suck for me if I let it, but every once in a while I find out about something that makes a mark on me in some way.  Today, I saw an interesting story posted, about a photographer, Art Shay who was in his nineties.  Art was reflecting upon the photographic legacy he will leave behind, when he dies.

Going through his lifetime of images, it was clear what has been his favorite subject matter – his wife. His wife, Florence, passed away 2 years ago, and as Art picked up a framed photograph of one of his favorite shots of her, he teared up a little and said, “a photograph is the biography of a moment”.

That line hit home and it got me thinking about “the moment” People watching, South Beach, Miami, Floridaand how I have spent a lifetime, capturing them.  That is the power a still photograph has – to capture the moment and preserve it in time.

Think about how your recall your own personal history or the era you grew up in.  How do you remember things?  For me, many of my memories of childhood are drawn from old photographs, when someone who had a camera, snapped a moment in time.  We all remember history through images that have become the icons of their time.

Still photography is a powerful medium.  It captures that one special moment in time and preserves it forever.  It has the power to provoke and to move people to action. It can give you hope or fill you with despair. It can bring a tear to your eye or a smile to your face. “A photograph is the biography of the moment”.

Art Shay has an exhibit of his work: “My Florence: Photographs by Art Shay” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College in Chicago till May 24, 2014.

 

 

Seeing Opportunities

April 3, 2014

The interesting thing about getting older is the perspective that one gains in the process.  You realize that all those decisions that you’ve made over the years, ultimately led to pivotal points in your life.  Looking back,

Gail in Window1983

Photograph of me taken in 1983

one either has regrets or is happy with the decisions they’ve made.  It’s usually a mixture of both. Regardless of a decision’s outcome, they all play their part in the life we have.

Some of the decisions I made early on in my “adult life”, charted the course of my future.  Perhaps, one of the biggest was my decision to take a sabbatical from Syracuse University where I was studying architecture.  I was a sophomore and only 19 years old, but I had an insatiable curiosity for the world beyond academia. So, instead of returning to college in September, I took off for Europe.  My plan was to meet up with a friend and travel around Europe and be home by Christmas.  The short story is that when I arrived in Munich and my friend wasn’t there, I made the decision to do what I set out to do – travel around Europe, except now I would be doing it on my own.

The long story is that I eventually met up with my friend a couple months later in Greece and we traveled around together until she went back to the U.S and I stayed.  I ended up traveling (mostly hitch hiking) around the world for a year and when I got home, I knew that I wanted to pursue a lifestyle that centered on travel and exploration.  I decided to become a photographer and use my camera as a means to that end.

I never did return to my studies at Syracuse University.  I headed to California, graduated from Brooks Institute and eventually came back East to make my mark in the editorial world – and I have in a richly rewarding way.  A lot as happened in my life since the day I made that decision to take a “break” from my studies so long ago, and I am grateful for all the opportunities and joy it has brought to my life.

I have just returned from a trip up to Syracuse.  I had been asked to moderate a discussion for an ASMP event, with National Geographic photographer, David Doubilet and Mike Davis, Alexia Chair for Documentary Photography at Newhouse School.  It was a fabulous event and was well attended by students from 9 different colleges in the area – all so eager to learn and make their mark on the world.

After the event was over, I reflected back on my days at SU and the life I’ve had since then. Somehow despite the angst and chaos of the times and the naiveté of youth, I made the “right” decision that changed the course of my life.  Here I was, decades later, at Syracuse University moderating a discussion between a legendary shooter for the “Geographic” and an esteemed editor and educator from the Newhouse School of Journalism. I smiled at how the universe continues to connect the dots in my life  – that is when I tune into it and “see” what it has in store for me.


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