Top Ten Reasons Everyone Should Travel

July 27, 2015

I’ve been a bit of a rolling stone

my entire life – moving 10 times before graduating high school and making a living as a professional photographer, which has taken me to almost 100 countries.

I think if I had to give up traveling, I would wither and my spirit would die.

Here’s my top 10 reasons every American (and other citizens of the world) should travel:

  • It gives you a much better perspective on our world than experiencing it virally.
    Gail Mooney as a student at Brooks Institute © Chad Weckler

    Gail Mooney as a student at Brooks Institute
    © Chad Weckler

    Let’s face it, when you are an armchair traveler, you are getting someone else’s perspective.

  • It makes you grateful for what you have. Many, if not most Americans are very privileged but you don’t really have an understanding of that when you contain yourself to your own environment.
  • You get to be a true diplomat for your country. When I’m traveling, I try to give people from other countries and cultures, a more realistic idea what an American is – beyond our government’s policies and how we are depicted in the movies.
  • It creates lasting memories of importance – or at least far more important than buying more consumer goods.
  • It teaches you a lot about yourself. When you travel, not everything goes according to plan all the time. You see how you handle stress in situations beyond your control.
  • You learn how to communicate. Many times, you don’t understand the language. You learn to read body language.
  • You meet people you would never get to meet at home.
    Gail and Erin in Egypt in 2006

    Gail and Erin in Egypt in 2006

    It makes you less fearful when you meet people from other lands.

  • As a photographer, my camera has given me access to incredible experiences, which I can share with the world.
  • You can affect change. When you travel, you realize that regardless which country you are from, you are part of the human race. We all share this planet and we are all stewards of keeping it healthy.
  • It brings wonder to your life. I have had many awe inspiring moments and not all of them were at your typical tourist sites. Some of my greatest memories have been simple conversations I’ve had with people from around the world.

 

A Professional Photographer’s Manifesto

July 20, 2015

My creed:

  • I listen to a client’s needs and provide valuable solutions.
  • I have a strategy but I’m open to serendipity.Gail showing video to children of remote Amazon village, Peru
  • I evolve, explore and keep my skill set current and up to date.
  • I have a wealth of experience – on the job and in my life.
  • I don’t need to be “picked” or assigned to pursue what I love and that is to create.
  • I use my craft to create awareness and effect change.
  • I believe the message is just as, if not more important than the media.
  • I am a storyteller and use the medium that best fits the story that needs to be told.
  • I deliver on time and on budget.
  • I challenge myself and I’m not afraid to take risks.
  • I enjoy collaborating with people who are great at what they do.
  • I ask the right questions to get the job done.
  • I don’t make promises I can’t keep.
  • I’m a great producer because I think of all the details.
  • I am an observer of real life – and it shows in my work.
  • I have a strong desire to be the best I can be.
  • I care about my subjects and it shows.
  • I am curious and am always in pursuit of a project.
  • I am grateful that I love what I do and it provides value to my clients.
  • I am authentic and stay true to my spirit.

11 Ways to Turn Random Thoughts and Scribbled Notes Into a Project

July 3, 2015

I watched a podcast last weekScraps of paper with Rich Harrington, Skip Cohen and photographer Don Komarechka. Don was taking about his snowflake project and book Sky Crystals. But the podcast was much more than just Don talking about what he did, but rather how he thinks about self-initiated projects and what makes them successful.

Here are a few of my take aways:

  • Make a commitment – If I tell myself that every day I have to do this (like photographing a snowflake every day for a month), then I will have something at the end.
  • Be passionate about your project. It must be a subject or topic that you are extremely interested in to be able to stick with it.
  • Find an idea that has depth. This will allow you to stay interested in the project over time as well as scale it beyond your original goal.
  • Pick a subject or topic that is unique to you. Pick something that everyone else isn’t already doing.
  • Think your project through – have a plan or a workflow.
  • Find the audience that thinks like you. Understand that you won’t make everyone excited about what you are doing.
  • Remember social media isn’t about selling – it’s about engaging people. The story about the process or project is almost as important and more valuable than the success of the project.
  • Be prepared to fail – lots of times.
  • Don’t pick a project with the primary motive of monetizing it. The projects that tend to go viral and resonate with people are the ones that come from the heart.
  • Think outside your box and imagine all kinds of possibilities for your project. Don is thinking about printing his snowflakes on a 3D printer and making ornaments or jewelry or all sorts of things.
  • Don’t force your idea. Think about it. Jot things down on scraps of paper. Talk to people about it. And when the time is right to act on it – you’ll know.

Having a Sounding Board

June 24, 2015

Sounding board: a person or group on whom one tries out an idea or opinion as a means of evaluating it

 

As a solo or semi-solo entrepreneur House on its own island, Thousand Islands, New York(my business partner is my husband), I have found that one of the most important things to have is a sounding board for my ideas. My husband and I are fortunate that we have each other to bounce ideas off of, but sometimes we need to seek out other people and solicit other perspectives.

Photographers are independent creatures. Take me for example; I’ve spent a great part of my life observing people and capturing the moments. Even though I refer to myself as a “people photographer”, being a street shooter can be a solitary activity. It’s easy to get accustomed to a lone lifestyle as a photographer, but I find that when it comes down to making decisions about promoting and marketing my business, I’m far better off to seek an outside perspective.

I’m lucky that I have people in my life that I can call on from time to time and bounce ideas around. I need to know if an idea that I think is going to rock the world, isn’t totally wacky or off kilter. Essentially, these folks are my sounding board. If you are stuck, or have been ignoring the ideas that come to you because you lack the confidence in them, consider reaching out to a sounding board of your own.

  • Solicit opinions from your colleagues; pick people who will give you their honest thoughts.
  • Seek opinions from the folks who you are targeting in your marketing – the people who will buy your services.
  • Test your ideas – it’s easy these days with social media. But go to the platforms that you trust. For example: when I am creating a trailer or a new reel, I’ll upload it to my Vimeo account, because I know I will get valuable feedback from my peers.
  • Remember, people are busy so build in extra time for them to respond when you ask them for their feedback. If you don’t hear from them in a reasonable amount of time or not at all – move on.  Maybe they’re not good contenders for your sounding board.
  • Reach out to different demographics – gender, age, socio-economic – depending on what you are working on and the message you want to deliver.
  • Even though it can be intimidating, seek the opinion of a pro.
  • Seek  out different people for different types of advice. I frequently ask my daughter’s opinion on music soundtrack choices. Music has been a big part of her life and she’s knowledgeable and savvy in that area.
  • Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your job to sort through all the opinions and suggestions and take away what you choose. The worst thing you can do is to try to incorporate everyone’s ideas because you’ll end up with something that’s neither here – nor there.

Staying “On Purpose” as a Creative

June 22, 2015

Have you ever felt like your hours and days are spent doing things that aren’t beneficial for you? I certainly have. I’m sure we all have. But, when I sort through and analyze how and where I spend my time, I realize that even the time I’ve spent on some mundane tasks or my self-inflicted distractions have had merit. Everything, in it’s own way plays a role in our lives. It’s up to us how we play that role.

I’ve been reflecting on this of late, because I’ve been feeling a shift happening in my life right now. I feel a creative surge and energy, fueled by ideas and the technology available to bring them to life. I’ve gone through many creative surges as well as the times when I didn’t have a single creative thought or idea. I’ve learned not to try and buck those tides, but rather go with the flo and recognize it all serves your “purpose”. Here are some things I do to get back “on purpose”:

  • Connect with an old friend. They’ll remind you of who you are.
  • Get away from electronic devices and do something simple – sit by a fire or on a beach, look at the clouds, let my imagination take over.
  • Go with the creative energy when it is present. I have been working on a redesign of our company’s website and have been frustrated by it, excited and totally energized – stay tuned.
  • Have conversations with people. Nothing formal or forced. The best ideas and observations come up organically.
  • Find interesting stories. I love stories – whether I read one in a book, watch one play out in film or listen to one on the radio. A good story provokes thought and that leads to a million possibilities.
  • I don’t stop myself from making a decision because I’m afraid it won’t be the right decision.
  • I remind myself that I’ve made a lot of decisions that didn’t seem like the right ones at the time……but they led me to the right path.
  • I listen to music.
  • I pay attention to small things that most of the time I barely notice.
  • I remind myself, I’m not here long and to make the most of it.

Cuba – The Forbidden Fruit

May 5, 2015

Originally posted on Journeys of a Hybrid:

How can I possibly sum up a 5 day trip to Cuba, a country that up until recently was theMural, Havana, Cuba “forbidden fruit” for US citizens. That in and of itself is what made me want to go there. My childhood impressions of Cuba came from seeing Ricky Ricardo on the “I Love Lucy” show and watching the Cuban Missile Crisis play out in my living room on our

TV set. What I saw as a child, was enticing with its music and its passionHavana, Cuba, and threatening, all at the same time.

I had an opportunity to join a group of travel writers who were traveling to Cuba, on a “people to people” program. The purpose of the trip was to make cultural connections with the people of the country through various planned interactions. As a “people shooter” and a photographer who is drawn to capturing the spirit of…

View original 316 more words

Cuba – The Forbidden Fruit

May 5, 2015

How can I possibly sum up a 5 day trip to Cuba, a country that up until recently was theMural, Havana, Cuba “forbidden fruit” for US citizens. That in and of itself is what made me want to go there. My childhood impressions of Cuba came from seeing Ricky Ricardo on the “I Love Lucy” show and watching the Cuban Missile Crisis play out in my living room on our

TV set. What I saw as a child, was enticing with its music and its passionHavana, Cuba, and threatening, all at the same time.

I had an opportunity to join a group of travel writers who were traveling to Cuba, on a “people to people” program. The purpose of the trip was to make cultural connections with the people of the country through various planned interactions. As a “people shooter” and a photographer who is drawn to capturing the spirit of a place” through my visuals, Cuba-3858I knew I had to go to Cuba at a time when the country was on the brink of change.

We had a lot of interesting experiences as a group and I had many more on my own exploring the streets of old Havana and walking along the Malecon. The people were open to being photographed, – that was my experience. When I’m street shooting and I come upon people that I want to photograph, initially I approach the situation in a candid way. After I take a few shots, I will engage the person and proceed to shoot more. Man with armarall, cleaning car. Havana, CubaOur interaction is usually natural and seamless, even though we don’t speak the same language. We communicate in another way.

One day we met with a student at the University of Havana. University of Havana, CubaHe spoke about the day that President Obama met with President Raoul Castro in Panama.Havana, Cuba He said that all around the University, students and professors stopped what they were doing to watch the event on TV. As he told the story, his eyes filled with tears. He spoke of hope for his family, his people and his country and looked forward to the “embargo” being lifted so that Cuba can move forward. But he was also mindful of the potential downsides that come with rapid change.

Early on in our trip, we were driving through one of Havana’s neighborhoods that had been built during the “American years” and our guide said; “These are the good buildings built by the bad people”.Havana, Cuba As I look back at my interactions with the Cuban people, I hope that I had an impact on how they perceive Americans.

The Cuban people give true meaning to the word “resolve”. They’ve had over a half a century of practice.Gail in Havana, Cuba I will surely return to Cuba and see what’s yet to come in this country’s story.

Labels, Finger Pointing, Fear, and the Real Value of Photography

April 20, 2015

I read an interesting blog post “On Real Photographers” by David duChemin recently. He talks about growing weary of the photographers’ complaints that “now everyone has a camera and suddenly everyone’s a photographer”.

My first experiences of being part of a group of my peers did not go well. My memories of being in school are mostly filled with my efforts to fit in, and the efforts of others to keep me out. The new kid. The smaller kid. The kid with the funny name. So I come honestly by my desire to see others included.

 So when I hear people complain that “now everyone has a camera and suddenly everyone’s a photographer” I hear the same old, fear-driven, mean-spirited, zeitgeist of the schoolyard.

 The same craft, beautiful for it’s democratic nature, that admitted you, and admitted me, will admit others. And with the same tools we picked up with such wonder, those others will make photographs. That’s what cameras do. And it’s what people who own them do. And they will, in that moment, become photographers: makers of photographs.

They are not faux-tographers. They are not necessarily “just camera-owners”. Neither are they DSLR-monkeys, or whatever other pejorative seems clever at the time. Shame on you. Shame on us as an industry.”

Gail shooting feature doc "Opening Our Eyes" at the Kopila Valley Primary School, Surkhet, Nepal

Gail shooting her feature documentary “Opening Our Eyes” at the Kopila Valley Primary School, Surkhet, Nepal

It hit home. As the perennial “new kid” (moving 11 times before I graduated from high school), being one of only six women when I attended Brooks Institute and now being dismissed or frequently feeling invisible because of my age, I’ve personally faced a lifetime of the “same old, fear-driven, mean-spirited, zeitgeist of the schoolyard.”

I despise our seemingly human need for “definitions and categories” and placing people into boxes defined by gender, age, race or religion. So I question why do we determine the creative value of photographers based on whether they are “professionals” or “amateurs” or if photography is their sole means of making a living? It’s exclusionary and judgmental based on fear and the notion that someone has to be excluded for the rest of us to win. This attitude has no business in a creative business because creativity has no boundaries dictated by “who’s in” or “who’s not”.

I have always been more interested in the power of what a good photograph or film can do – not who created it and what box that creator fits into. I’m interested in the story one has to tell. We are visual communicators and we are all unique but only if we listen to our own voice and create from that voice. Whenever I have trusted and listened to my internal voice and created from my own unique perspective and my life’s experiences, I have been “on purpose” and my work has resonated across genders, race and age. I suppose I could copy or mimic the “style du jour” whether it is HDR or photographing hipsters with tattoos and attempt to be someone I’m not. I don’t have the desire to do that because that is not why I became a photographer or filmmaker. That’s not to say that I don’t like and appreciate photographers who are following these styles but it’s not me and creativity doesn’t come from mimicking others. I’ve seen a lot of styles and techniques over the decades I’ve been in the photo business. They come and they go – just like the photographers who chase after the latest trend.

David states so eloquently:

‘Our categories are useless. Harmful, even. They separate us. They keep us siloed and cut off from generosity and openness and collaboration. They keep us focused on our own “qualifications” and not on the audiences and markets we should be finding new ways to serve, to inspire, to connect with. Our scarcity mentality is hurting us. It’s stopping us from being creative about making a living. The world owes us nothing, which is hard to accept when we’ve paid for a degree, invested in gear, or bought business cards, only to find out the universe doesn’t give a damn, and cares only about what value we bring.’

I too am weary of the blame, the finger pointing and all the stupid human tricks based on fear, and the notion that someone has to lose in order for me to win, because ultimately that comes from a place of insecurity and ego and rarely does that produce something of value. I don’t need a license that proclaims I’m a professional or feel the need to hide my age in order to compete. My value comes from a lifetime of experiences that made me who I am. If I choose to allow someone to define who I am or what I am capable of, or allow myself to be stopped by the naysayers, then I only have myself to blame.

It would have been so much easier to quit or stop myself every time someone threw roadblocks in my way based on their own notions of “what’s in” or “what’s not” and that would have led to an empty life. I chose instead to follow my heart and my convictions and accept the rejections that ultimately come when one faces their fears and stays true to who they are. It has never been easy but I’ve never sought easy. I’ve too busy living a full and rich life, using my craft to create awareness, impact social change or just to bring a smile to someone’s face and create a memory.

What’s Next for Still Photography? Things We Could Never Begin to Imagine.

April 3, 2015

Originally posted on Journeys of a Hybrid:

One of the only good things about getting older is that I have gained a lot of perspective. Fortune teller through window, Atlantic City, NJ I never speculate what the future will hold by limiting it to what’s possible now because…..

When I began studying photography at Brooks Institute in the early 1970’s

I never would have imagined:

  • That I would own a personal computer that would change the way I communicated with people and ran my business.
  • There would be the Internet, email and mobile phones.
  • There would be auto-focus cameras and lenses.
  • Cameras would be fully automated – if you so choose to use them that way. When I began my career as a photographer, I needed to be a technician, and that meant understanding aperture and shutter speed and a lot of other things that went into making a still image.
  • I would be shooting still images without film.
  • I wouldn’t be limited to…

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10 Mistakes Photographers Make When Shooting Motion

March 2, 2015

1.  They forget about the story – it’s not your camera that tells the story – it’s the person using the camera. Pretty visuals, slapped into a motion timeline with music, doesn’t necessarily tell a story.  Video is a story telling medium – don’t forget that.

2.  They think they already know how to shoot – if you think because you are a professional photographer and all you need to do is get a camera with a “video mode” on it, you are mistaken. Shooting in motion is far different than shooting still images. An experienced motion shooter can spot a video shot by a still photographer with little know how, right away.

3.  Thinking audio isn’t important – audio is more important than the visual when producing video.  Hire a sound person to do it right, but don’t discount it.

4.  Thinking the DSLRcamera is all you need for video productions – this is a biggie.  How are you going to go after professional video jobs if this is the only tool in your kit?  Sure you can rent a RED – but make sure you are as proficient with this tool as your competition is before hanging out your “motion” shingle.

5.  Positioning themselves just as DP’s or Directors and thinking you’ll maintain ownership of your work. If you assume the role of a camera operator, DP or even a director – you will be in a work for hire position in most markets.  Position yourself as a producer – shoot if you want to – and direct – but realize that you’ll be just one rung on the “content ladder”.

6.  They don’t learn interview skills – this is what separates the pros from the still shooters who have DSLR cameras and think that’s all they need.  I’d say about  70% of my work includes on camera interviews.  Even though I ask the questions- I’m not on camera, my subject is.   I not only need to know how to ask the right questions and get great audio, but I need to produce a usable interview clip for an editor. That means knowing how to get great soundbites. This is one area I excel in – it’s all about rapport with your subject.

7.  They try to compete in “old business model” markets – Everyone wants to shoot broadcast spots and feature films (or short films) so they think that after shooting motion for only a few months – or even a year – they will be able to compete in the high end business of video production.  First, this market, like the still photography market,  has changed drastically, mostly marginalized by still photographers who are just starting to shoot motion,  shooting jobs for next to nothing because they have no understanding of this “business”.

8.  Learning the “how to’s” in terms of gear – but nothing about the business – this is also a biggie.  There are so many “how to shoot motion” workshops and roadshows out there but no one seems to be teaching the business end of things.  Still photographers think they already know “the business” but quickly realize that they don’t, and they put themselves out of business in this medium – before they’ve barely started.

9.  Teaching “how to” workshops in video with little or no experience – I can’t tell you how many photographers have called me for technical advice about some pretty basic stuff in terms of video,  and four months later they are teaching workshops. Please don’t become part of the problem and send more shooters out into this field without teaching them something about business. And if you are considering taking a workshop – do your homework and take the workshop from someone who is accomplished in this field and has done something.

10. They forget about the story – I know that’s #1 but it needs reinforcing.

 


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