VR – Virtual Reality – Will it Replace the Real Experience?

I just returned from the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show held annually each April in Las Vegas. With 4 huge convention halls displaying the latest and greatest technology and gear used in broadcasting, it’s simply overwhelming. Since I’ve never been enamored with just the NAB 2016gear component of my business (still photography and video), but rather in how I can apply or enhance the story that I’m working on, I spend most of my time attending the conference tracks.

Every year, there seems to be a new buzzword. Two years ago it was all about 4K. Last year it was drones (UAVs) and this year it was all about VR (virtual reality) but not the VR of the 1980’s. I’m talking about VR that provides a totally immersive experience for the viewer. Even though I was a bit skeptical and didn’t really see opportunities beyond the gaming sector, I made it a point to check out the VR Pavilion and take a look at some cameras ranging from Kodak’s PixPro SP360 4 K ($499-$899) to Spericam’s V2 a 360° video camera (actually 6 cameras) no bigger than a tennis ball that records in 4K with automatic-stitching, WiFi and streaming baked right in, making viewing and sharing content easy (around $2500), to the high end Nokia Ozo selling for $60,000! As far as the viewer end, here are some of the headset options out there: Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR

It wasn’t until I attended a session entitled, Being There – VR in News & Documentary that I began to realize the potential and possibilities of this technology. The panel consisted of filmmakers, journalists, and creative directors from news outlets (USA Today and Sky TV) who talked about how they were applying the tools and utilizing the medium. Like any new technology there are plenty of challenges in both the production and postproduction process, but with technology’s fast moving pace in this niche it’s only a matter of time before just about anyone and everyone will be able to create using this medium. One challenge right now is in stitching together the content in post that is created by 6 -10 cameras. It can be cumbersome and slow accompanied by hours of angst if the cameras haven’t been perfectly aligned and in sync with one another. A question was raised about the reluctance that viewers might have with not wanting to wear the necessary headset, which was one of the obstacles that kept 3D TV sets from being ubiquitous in all of our homes. The panelists answered by predicting that in a year’s time the headset will give way to a contact lens worn by the viewer.

As a story driven content creator, I needed to know why I would want to deliver a story in VR. After this session the light bulbs went off. Because it’s an immersive experience for the viewer, it can also be an incredibly empathic and emotional medium. Imagine the possibilities – red carpet events, concerts or documentaries where you want the viewer to have a truly immersive experience. VR also provides an opportunity for authenticity because it removes the layers between the journalist and the viewer as opposed to 2D, which could have been created on a sound stage.

Even though the principles of storytelling haven’t changed this is a medium that requires a new language or lexicon with new rules. For instance, there is no cropping in VR. There are two important considerations when creating VR. One is proximity and you have to get the camera in close – no more than 2 feet from a subject that the camera may be following. The other component is to have a narrator or presenter – a kind of tour guide that can direct the viewer through the experience. Usually it’s the journalist rather than a voiceover talent, which can be a bit unnerving in this medium or like the voice of God coming out of nowhere. An alternative to using a narrator would be to use graphical overlays that guide the viewer visually. All the panelists agreed that because it’s such an authentic experience for the viewer it’s a medium that’s conducive to creating empathy and moving people to take action. Some said because it is so authentic it may mislead people inadvertently to disconnect because they have no sense of danger and we run the risk of viewers becoming numb to the experience but only if the filmmaker doesn’t provide the opportunity for a call to action. Live streaming in VR is a game changer because now filmmakers can influence in real time.

I’m not yet convinced that it’s a medium for me or if I’m ready to be a pioneer and deal with what comes with that. The rewards and opportunities are there, as they usually are for frontrunners. That is if it isn’t just a passing fad and you’re willing to take that risk. There is already a trade association for VR creators, IVRPA (The International Virtual Reality Photography Association) so my guess is it’s more than a passing fad. In a world of couch potatoes or those stifled by fear, there may be plenty of people who will choose VR over the real experience.

Check it out for yourself.

VR Stories by USA Today Network

Immerse Yourself in Stories of America 

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gannett.vrstories&hl=enand

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vr-stories-by-usa-today/id975006820?mt=8

Condition One*
Experience a Perilous World with At-Risk Species, and at a Factory Farm

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.conditionone.vrplayer_cardboard&hl=en

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3VWeehBnL_VL-92K6VImiw

Ryot – VR
Go Around the World to See New Perspectives, Regions, Cultures and People

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.apto.ryot_vr&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ryot-vr/id1046058227?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
http://www.ryot.org/virtualreality/the-second-line-a-parade-against-violence
(This piece is a RYOT and AP collaboration. Go inside New Orleans, one of our nation’s most culturally rich cities in a socially, politically, and emotionally potent moment in time.)

Google Cardboard
Launch Your Favorite VR Experiences, Discover New Apps, and Set Up a Viewer

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.samples.apps.cardboarddemo&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/google-cardboard/id987962261?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
youtube.com/360

 

Traveling Solo (as a woman)

I’ve been traveling solo to all corners of the globe since I made my first big trip hitchhiking half way around the world when I was 19 years old. That was decades ago. I no longer hitch hike and I prefer to stay in a nice hotel over a youth hostel these days, Hanoi-0347but I still spend a great deal of my time – traveling solo. You can see some of the images I’ve made on these journeys on www.kellymooney.com

Whenever I tell someone that I will be traveling somewhere – solo – they usually respond with the same question: “Aren’t you afraid? I generally answer with my own question: “Afraid of what? Safety is a common concern, especially from women – and for good reason – but fear or fear of the unknown shouldn’t stop you. I do believe that being fully prepared prior to heading out solo is the best course of action to minimize fears.

Some of the biggest pros of traveling solo is having the flexibility of making your own itinerary and schedule, immersing yourself in the local culture and meeting people you probably never would have if you had not been on your own. Those things far outweigh any fears or trepidations I may have.  I’m more afraid of having regrets because I let my fears stop me.

Some tips:

  • Be prepared – research. Good research ahead of time can eliminate a lot of problems. And I don’t mean, just researching hotels, restaurants and the sites but research the local customs, other traveler reviews online, scam alerts, US State Department warnings or simply talk to someone who has gone before you. So, be prepared and do your research before you go, but don’t forget to leave time in your itinerary to let serendipity happen. Those moments make for life’s greatest memories.
  • Alert your bank and credit card companies before going overseas. My ATM card and credit cards are my lifelines when I’m traveling, especially when traveling solo. I need to make sure that they will work when I’m in a foreign country and not blocked. Many times if a credit card company sees unusual behavior on one of your cards – especially foreign transactions, security may put a block or hold on your card, suspecting fraud. I call a couple days before I leave on an overseas trip to give the appropriate companies a heads up.
  • Make copies of your itinerary and important documents. I make a few copies of any credit cards I’m taking, my passport, visas, flight itinerary, hotel info and any other important information. I leave one copy behind with my husband and take a few copies with me and keep them in separate places. I also keep a contact list of important phone numbers etc. and store them on my electronic devices, but I also have printed copies with me. If I do get robbed or lose something, I am in a better position to get assistance.
  • Keep your passport in hotel safe. I am keenly aware of where my passport is at all times. When I’m at my destination, I leave my passport in my hotel room’s safe. When I’m traveling, I keep my passport in the same place at all times. That makes it easy when doing a checklist to make sure I have everything after going through security.
  • Know before you go. Perhaps the most intimidating times for a solo traveler is upon arrival in a foreign place. If you aren’t comfortable with public transportation or even grabbing a cab, then have a pick up waiting for you at the airport or train station. If you do take a cab – make sure you negotiate what the price should be before you get in – even if it is a metered cab. Also, find out how long it should take for a taxi to get you to your destination. It’s a good idea to get familiar with the currency exchange rate. Nowadays it’s easy to get foreign currency out of an ATM machine but you should know the exchange rate so that you know how much to exchange. I just returned from Vietnam and I did not check the exchange rate before I got there. At the ATM machine I was given a choice of withdrawal amounts and selected the lowest amount of 350,000 Dong. Little did I know it was less than $20.
  • Don’t look like a tourist. I’m a photographer but I don’t want to stand out by looking like one. Not only is it not a good idea from a safety point of view, walking around a city with two cameras dangling around my neck or wearing a photo vest stuffed with gear, it’s not conducive to getting good images. The biggest plus of traveling solo as a photographer as opposed to traveling in a group is that I am able to blend in more, be more discreet and get more intimate images than if I’m in a group of people all shooting the same thing.
  • Don’t eat room service. It can be lonely and some women are even intimidated dining alone but don’t cheat yourself out of a cultural experience by eating alone in your room. I frequently eat in outdoor cafes. It’s more casual, more conducive to solo diners and has the extra added bonus of people watching. It’s hard to be lonely in that type of environment. In many countries, it’s quite normal to seat an individual at an empty seat at someone else’s table. I enjoy this because it’s an icebreaker and is a great way to meet people.
  • Don’t be shy – mingle. One of the best parts about traveling solo is that I immerse myself more in the culture of where I am. Most times I don’t seek people out to talk to – they usually initiate a conversation with me, mostly out of curiosity. I have had a lot of great experiences by meeting people this way. I am cautious, but at this point in my life I can usually size people up if they are trying to scam me or not. It’s become almost instinctive. For the most part though, it has opened up many opportunities that I may not have taken if I had been traveling with someone else or in a group. It’s also beneficial to talk to other travelers. I have had a lot of great experiences that I never would have had if other travelers hadn’t made me aware of them.
  • Use common sense. Be trusting and open but be aware. Don’t walk down unlit streets by yourself at night. Don’t wear a lot of jewelry or flash around a lot of expensive gear. Be mindful of your bags and belongings at all times, never leaving them unattended. (One of the cons of solo travel is not having someone to watch your back or your stuff.). Most of all – Go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t.
  • Be confident. If you look confident, you will be less likely to be a target. Most problems occur when a traveler is doing something that makes them an easy mark – getting intoxicated, not being mindful of their belongings or venturing into unsafe areas.   Don’t let yourself become an easy mark.

I’d love to hear other tips solo travelers have or experiences they’d like to share.

Five Ways Shooting Motion Will Make You a Better Still Photographer

I’ve been shooting both mediums – video and still photographs – for over a decade. Some may say that I was an early adaptor of motionForty Deuce burlesque club, Las Vegas, Nevada, but that’s now how I look at it. In a way, I’ve been a motion shooter ever since I became a still photographer – not in the literal sense – but in how I approach the craft of photography.

I’m a storyteller; in fact that’s why I made photography a huge part of my life. I want to utilize my craft to tell the stories that I feel compelled to tell. I think in terms of paginations, like pages in a magazine or scenes in a film and I realize now that I have always approached still photography like a cinematographer.

Here are some tips I learned from shooting motion that will make you a better still photographer:

  • Cover it – Get comprehensive coverage – a variety of perspectives, focal lengths (wide, medium, tight and close-ups.) When shooting video, you always need plenty of b-roll to work with when editing a story. My still photography clients enjoy getting the variations that I shoot. It gives them an abundance of choice and I benefit by making more money.
  • Get sequences – Get mini stories of people interacting within the whole story. When I’m shooting, I think about how my shots will come together as part of the whole video. I approach still photography stories the same way – in paginations. How will I connect the still images to make the whole?
  • Get storytelling images – With still photography I need to make sure that my independent shots (or moments in time) will also be able to stand on their own and tell the story. They can’t just be “wowy zowy” images as Bob Gilka (former Director of Photography of the National Geographic) used to say when I showed him eye catching, colorful photos that didn’t say anything.
  • Action/motion – make the images feel. I started exploring motion because there were times when I found it difficult to convey the feeling of motion that I was trying to express in a still image. I find it is easier to convey the feeling of movement in a still image now because my eye is trained to look for the opportunities.
  • Give the images sound – (like a hammer hammering). Natural sound gives a video the element of reality. It’s almost like it gives the video a well-needed extra layer or dimension. When I’m shooting stills, I look for images that will illustrate the sound of the environment.

I usually incorporate both video and still components when working on personal projects. For my current project, Like A Woman, I’m shooting still environmental portraits and short 2-4 min. films. And when I travel, I’ll always take a digital audio recorder and microphone to capture good sound.

I’m headed to Vietnam tomorrow to shoot stills primarily, but I’ll be shooting with the eye of a hybrid.

Dos and Don’ts of Refreshing or Reinventing a Brand?

When you’ve been in business for more than 10 or 20 or 30 years, you need to reassess your marketing and/or your brand. Our company went through this process this past year and did a total redesign – logo, copy, website etc. KM LogoOur business had totally changed but our branding didn’t reflect those changes.

While we had always been two photographers shooting both independently and as a team, our branding was never clear that there were two of us. Many thought Kelly Mooney was one person. We hired a graphic designer to come up with a logo that not only reflected the partnership but also reflected that fact that our business was more than just still photography. We were no longer two photographers shooting still imagery, but a small production company offering integrated still and motion solutions for buyers with multi media needs.

Do start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Has your business changed? How?
  • Does your logo/branding reflect those changes?
  • Does your logo and branding (taglines) say something about what your business does?
  • Do you want a total revision – new logo, color scheme and copy – or a simple refresh? Why?
  • What is your company known for? Does your branding reflect that?

Some Don’ts

  • Don’t make the mistake of redesigning your logo and colors and overall packaging to look current if your company is still providing the same services the same way. It may freshen up your image on the outside, but if it doesn’t reflect what your company does or offers – it will be a fail.
  • Don’t forget to establish guidelines and be consistent. Logo, colors, fonts, taglines, imagery and your “voice”. When you have a clear sense of your brand, it will be easier to make choices about images or copy to use that are in alignment with your brand.
  • Don’t use vague or generic copy. Copy loaded with catchwords or phrases that are overused and meaningless.
  • Don’t overcomplicate it. The whole point of branding is to make your company’s logo or tagline memorable and define what your company does.
  • Don’t change your branding if the benefits don’t outweigh the risks. Remember that changes to your brand could potentially reduce the connections you already have. So have a good reason for re-branding.

5 Ways to Leap Forward and Get Unstuck

Roller skaters jump over teammates, Tokyo, JapanIt’s February 29th and that means we all get an extra day this year. Let’s celebrate leap year by taking action to leap forward – not just today, but every day this year and every year.

  • Finish something you started. This could be anything from an online course, a book you put down, a personal project etc. I always tell myself that a start is a start to nowhere if you don’t finish it.
  • Identify one thing that you’ve talked yourself out of (for all the right reasons) and take action on it. This could lead to the start of something. After you’ve faced your fear or resistance and have overcome your inertia – follow up with a plan for completion.
  • Toss out one bad habit. It’s easy to fall into a rut with bad habits. Identify one bad habit and change it. Start easy. If you find yourself starting your day in an unproductive manner change it. If you begin your day by checking your emails and then letting it consume your entire morning then start your day by tackling something that you keep putting off before you get distracted by someone else’s urgency.
  • Get rid of the resistance in your life. Are you letting toxic people derail you? Misery loves company but I’d rather hang out with people who energize me than those who bring me down. There are plenty of people on both sides of the misery camp. Surround yourself with those who add value to your life and stay away from those who suck the life out of you.
  • Tell yourself you can. Take notice how often you stop yourself by telling yourself you can’t. Really take note and every time you find yourself in that default mode of “I can’t” – tell yourself you can. You are your thoughts so be careful of what you tell yourself.

Why Playing it Safe is Bad for Business

Gladys Mooney on motorcycle
My grandmother on a motorcycle. circa 1920’s or ’30’s.

Have you ever talked yourself out of doing something that you felt passionate about?

Have you ever bought into others’ advice, even though it was contrary to your own beliefs?

If you answered yes to either question then you are like most of us humans, and you second-guess yourself by buying into your fears.

Now ask yourself – Did anything good ever come out of NOT doing something? Other than stopping yourself from following foolish pursuits that may have put you in harms way, stopping yourself probably never led to a positive outcome. In my experience whenever I stopped myself from following my own instincts, it not only didn’t move me forward – it set me back.

So, why do we let resistance keep us from what we are meant to do? It’s fear of the unknown. And why do we let others’ resistance and fears stop us from taking a leap of faith? Can other people predict the outcome anymore than we can? Just because something didn’t work for someone else doesn’t mean it won’t work for you or me. There just are too many variables that play a part in whether someone succeeds or fails.

I’ll make one prediction – If you stop yourself from pursuing your big idea or even your small idea – it won’t happen.

So why are you letting resistance rule your life? That’s just plain stupid.

Watch this and then ask yourself – what are you waiting for?

 

 

7 Things I Learned About the Business of Photography

It’s a Business – You may catch some lucky breaks in your career or you may be an incredibly gifted photographer – but if you want to make a living taking pictures and sustain yourself financially,

Times Square New York City

you will need to manage your art and your career as a business. That means find a way to make a profit in pursuing your craft.

It’s Not Personal – Keep emotions out of your business decisions. This is a tough thing to manage because it’s usually at odds with the passion that energizes the creative side of you. I think my best work is very personal but I try to avoid the pitfalls of letting my emotions cloud my business decisions that are in my best interests. That could mean walking away from a job or a bad contract.

You’re Selling Value – If want to make money and stay in business, you need to understand your value or your photography’s value in the marketplace. Are you unique, have special skills or access to places other don’t, have one of a kind images, or are you simply a really good professional photographer who a client can hire with complete confidence? The answer to that question can help you assess your value in the marketplace. If you don’t know what your value is, then it will be very tough to sell yourself. You can’t sell what you don’t believe in.

“Always be Marketing” – I learned this from James Malinchak – America’s Big Money Speaker. I’ve never been comfortable selling myself, which is somewhat odd in that my dad was a great salesman. It always felt a bit disingenuous to me to toot my own horn, and no doubt I missed a lot of opportunities by not doing so. It’s tough to sell ones self and many of us are better off having a rep or an agency do that for us. But, I have found that the best marketing happens organically, when I’m at conference or a social gathering and connections are more personal.

Be Proactive Not Reactive – Change is inevitable. If you want to sustain your business, you can’t get complacent. Keep in mind two things: 1. Nothing lasts forever and 2. There will always be cycles of ups and downs. As Robert Frank said the other night when I heard him speak “Keep your eyes open”. He said that in answer to the question, “What advice would you give students?” and I’m sure he was speaking about creativity, but if you allow yourself to become complacent as an artist – your business will surely suffer.

Don’t Burn Bridges – Singer/songwriter Don Henley wrote; don-henley-don-henley-sometimes-you-get-the-best-light-from-a-burning“Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge”. Isn’t that the truth? It’s also a lesson that I have learned the hard way. Think twice before you say something or react in a way that might come back to bite you.

Relationships are Key – Most business people will tell you that their best clients have been from referrals. It’s a lot easier to create a bond with a new client when you have already been vetted. Some relationships are easier to manage than others. Some are good and some are toxic. It’s up to you to sort through which relationships you want to nurture or abandon.

More practical tips can be found in The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion