Out of the blue, on a lonely stretch of road, a car slowed to a stop and the driver rolled down the window and yelled out “there are no secrets on Easter Island”. I was on assignment on the island and I was shooting a portrait of this Rapanui man in a very remote spot on the island which was is one of the most remote places in the world. It was also mysterious and a wonderful place for exploration and photography.
One night I attended an indigenous dance performance. It was exhilarating and alive with sexual energy capturing the primal spirit of the people. I knew immediately that I wanted to photograph him with the barren environment of the island in the background.
He agreed and we set up a time and place. He drove up on a scooter sans makeup and tribal dress and proceeded to strip down naked in the middle of the road using the mirror of our car to apply his makeup. The shoot was memorable and what I remember the most was the fierce wind that was blowing and the engaging spirit of this man. His eyes tell the story and secrets of this mystical island.
Gail Mooney is an award-winning photographer and storyteller.
I was fortunate, early in my career to have a mentor that not only encouraged me to do my best but also taught me not to be afraid of taking risks. There were times when shooting assignments for him, I’d push the envelope maybe a little too far with some ideas or images but when it came to him to make a decision on whether or not it made the magazine, I’d see a devilish twinkle in his eyes and he would say, “f__ck ‘em if they can’t take a joke”. Sometimes, he’d catch a little flack from the publisher but most of the time; it turned out to be the right decision.
This past week, we cleaned the office and in the process purged a LOT of unnecessary things. We’d been creating new imagery for decades either shooting paid assignment work around the world or executing personal projects. We were surrounded by dozens of boxes containing slides from shoots for National Geographic, B&W negatives and contact sheets from hundreds of corporate jobs and dozens of tear sheets of ads and magazine stories. Adding to that we had hundreds of CD’s and DVD’s containing digital files and hundreds of mini DV videotapes from shoots. We had been creating content and adding to the office for 24 years but we hadn’t been getting rid of things that we no longer needed. Now was time to let go. We were being choked by an analog legacy that was encroaching on our space and zapping our creative energy.
After separating our personal photo archives from our job assignments, I set up a criteria for determining what to keep and what to toss by asking myself two questions:
Does it have any value for my current business?
There was no longer a need to keep hundreds of contact sheets and negatives from decades of corporate shoots. They had to be tossed along with hundreds of 120mm and 35mm film that had been shot on corporate assignments. I decided that it’s not our job to store a company’s photo archive indefinitely. Unless the photos were of notables, such as the portrait we took of attorney Roy Cohen, they were thrown away. Incidentally, The Cohen photos were assigned by a magazine early in our careers. What ultimately transpired with the cover is another story which I will tell when/if I find the tear sheet of the cover.
We tossed analog stock photography catalogs containing our work along with old promotional mailers and Blackbook, Workbook and AR ad reprints. They no longer had value.
There were hundreds of magazine tear sheets of our work. Most were recycled and a handful were kept for scanning.
There were and still are dozens of boxes of slides shot for travel assignments around the world for major magazines. They need to be edited. I have found with travel photography that it either has to be contemporary (less than 5 years old) or it has to be oldenough (more than 20 years old) to be relevant.
There is a historic value for photos that can no longer be taken, like the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers at dusk.
Is the photograph something iconic from my past that I may want for my memoirs?
I set the bar high and tough decisions had to be made as to what images met the criteria. Which photographs were worth keeping for my legacy? What I discovered was that the images that made the cut were the images that I made when I took a chance or pushed myself a little harder. I could hear my mentor’s laugh and his irreverent words every time I salvaged a photo for saving “f__ck ‘me if they can’t take a joke”. Ultimately it is my legacy, isn’t it?
I attended the NYVR conference last week at the Javits Center in New York City, which collocated with PPE (Photo Plus Expo). I’m not quite sure that VR is for me especially from a content creator’s point of view
The conference took place over three days with two days of seminars directed to those in the industry and one day toward users or consumers. I attended sessions on all three days, which gave me great insights from different perspectives. The sessions directed toward those already working in the industry were very compelling even though a lot of the information was over my head. However, I had the extra value of learning from the attendees and their questions
The VR industry is making a big presence in New York City. Los Angeles is a huge center for content creation and San Francisco is a big center for tech and New York City is where major Networks are located and where a lot the money is. The industry is in its infancy so for a start-up company it’s a big plus to be just a subway ride away from major Network headquarters and Wall Street investors.
One session that intrigued me was Spatial Audio in VR. VR isn’t or shouldn’t be just only a visual experience. It should be an experience that touches upon many of our senses and certainly sounds. That’s what makes it immersive. Mono audio in VR is somewhat like watching black & white TV. To truly give a viewer an immersive experience the audio that a user experience needs to impact them as well as the visual does. Sounds should change as the user walks through an environment or turns their head. Prices have come down for binaural audio headsets making them more affordable and accessible for the consumer. Check out Hooke Audio.
Another session I attended was VR Tourism with a speaker from YouVisit who is working in that space.
Some interesting stats about the travel market:
It’s highly competitive
Consumers seek large amounts of resources before finally making a decision.
Usually, a consumer makes 350 touch points before making a decision.
Tourism has one of the lowest conversion rates in the e-commerce space.
VR lends to have a much bigger conversion rate – about 24%! The more immersive the experience is, the more engagement a user makes and the more of an emotional connection they have with the content, bringing the consumer closer to their decision. It’s important to get the user to “buy” and make that possible for them while they are still in the VR space.
I sat in on a panel discussion about Branding and Marketing with VR. VR does well with brands that are emotive, brands that you have to feel. If you are able to identify the emotion that you want someone to feel about your brand, then you can create a good VR experience. VR also turns someone who has had a VR experience into an advocate because they talk about. And that has real value. VR is a good space for capturing user data because it’s interactive. It’s easy to see how and where the user connects with the experience.
Traditionally, advertisers have targeted people in the 18-34-age bracket. VR has also been targeting that same demographic because their typical user comes from the gaming space where VR has played a big role. I wonder though if that target will change somewhat and perhaps include the “baby boomers”, especially since it’s a huge demographic and still holds the majority of the wealth? It seems to me that there is a lot of opportunity in that area and not just in the area of pain management. I see opportunities in travel and entertainment that can provide VR experiences when the real experiences are no longer accessible – like climbing Mount Everest.
I recently spent a couple of days at the NAB NY Show (National Association of Broadcasters). It’s much smaller than the annual NAB Show held in Las Vegas every year, but it is definitely worth the time.
This year I focused my attention on VR (Virtual Reality). To be honest, as much as VR intrigues me I’m not sure it’s for me simply because I’m all about real experiences as opposed to virtual ones. Nevertheless, the future implications of this technology are mind-blowing.
NAB NY is much more limited on space than the Las Vegas conference so VR didn’t have much of a physical presence at the show. However, there were quite a few interesting floor talks that intrigued me and were well attended.
This technology is in its infancy but its also experiencing exponential growth. Naysayers predict it will go the way of 3-D TV sets but my instincts tell me otherwise. Right now its popularity is in the gaming industry but these sessions opened my eyes to numerous possibilities. But speaking of gaming, check out PokemonGo or this demo video from Oculus Connect 4.
In terms of filmmaking, it’s an immersive experience which touches upon all of our senses and is not just visual. In fact, there’s a term used in VR called “haptic” which means “relating to the sense of touch, in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception.” One filmmaker Alton Glass, described it as letting you get into someone else’s shoes and live the experience. Because it’s immersive it creates a more empathetic storytelling experience. Some doubters say it’s isolating, however, one speaker pointed out that you can actually be immersed with other people in the virtual experience.
Branding experiences in VR. Tom Westerlin of Nice Shoes makes some good points about using VR in advertising/branding:
Once you put on a headset you have someone’s undivided attention
VR can create a lot of feelings – love, excitement, empathy
From a brand perspective, you can create a whole world.
It’s suspended disbelief. It’s not a hard sell and one doesn’t feel like they are being marketed to.
VR can offer a treasure trove of data by finding out what people are focusing on in a virtual story. Some see e-commerce using VR in the near future.
Travel – It’s perfect for an armchair traveler who may not have the funds or the access to certain places. Or perhaps VR is a great way to show off a property or resort. To be honest, I want to really experience a place, but there may be times that I don’t have access or I may simply want a better reference of a destination or hotel than what more traditional mediums offer. Look at this sample VR sample – is this a game or a virtual travel experience.
VR is being used in healthcare to minimize pain rather than to solely resort to drugs. That in itself is something to think about especially because we are experiencing an opioid epidemic. One spokesman pointed out that it can reduce pain impact by about 60-70%. It’s being used now to help people with autism learn as well as in challenging mental health disorders like PTSD. VR is also being used for medical training.
Education – Harvard Business School provides amazing VR experiences that used to be available only on their campus but are now available all over the world. Interesting to point out that the most valuable part of this experience isn’t just watching the videos but the discussion with the immersive community. What Harvard is doing with VR,
Entertainment – While VR is still in its infancy in this sector, it’s quite impressive. VR allows a venue to sell the best seat in the house a million times. IMAX opens first VR theater in LA.
Certainly, there are challenges to overcome with VR. Headsets need to be wireless, which is essential for growth in this medium. Bandwidth is not a challenge, but latency is because of the round trip delay. If you’re confused between AR and VR or 360, check out this video interview with a spokesperson from Radiant Images and listen to what they’re working on. And if you want more insight on where the experts think this technology is going then check out this TechCrunch article
It will be interesting to see what’s next in this technology. It will also be interesting to see if there will be any unintended consequences. Stay tuned.
As I prepare to head out of the country next week I’ve been thinking about why I travel. I’ve been a bit of a rolling stone most of my life, moving 10 times before I graduated high school and pursuing a career as a professional photographer which has taken me to over 100 countries.
Gail in Egypt 1971
I think if I ever had to give up traveling I would wither and my spirit would die.
Here are my top ten reasons that I think every American (and other citizens of the world) should travel:
It gives you a much better perspective on our world rather than just experiencing it virally. Let’s face it, when you are an armchair traveler, you are getting someone else’s perspective.
It makes one grateful for what they have. Many, if not most Americans are very privileged but don’t really have an understanding…
I’ve been a professional photographer my entire adult life. Here are my thoughts about photo gear, access and vision.
Gear: Gear talk has never really interested me. I’ve always looked at gear as the tools of my trade and used what I felt was the best tool for the job. I don’t buy gear simply because it’s new or it’s the latest. I buy it if I need it to tell the story I want to tell. I’ve been a Nikon shooter, a Canon shooter and now a Sony (mirrorless) shooter. I can’t honestly say that my favorite images or my most successful images were shot with one particular camera or brand. However, I’m most proud of the images that I obtained the hard way – before auto everything cameras or Photoshop.
Access: Access is everything and is more important today than ever before. But it’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. What comes first – a good portfolio that leads to an assignment with great access or access that leads to a good portfolio? I spent a great deal of my time at the beginning of my career shooting travel. But I don’t feel that one needs to travel to the other side of the earth in order to get great travel images. It may help (or it used to) in catching someone’s eye but a good travel photographer should be able to make good images anywhere. I learned that early in my career when legendary National Geographic photography director Bob Gilka asked me to show him what I shot in my own backyard.
Vision: I have actually grown to dislike this word because it has been overused. I think that it should go without saying that all you really have that is unique is your vision or perspective. When it comes down to it your perspective and vision is what’s worth sharing. I suppose that’s why I’ve never tried to emulate someone else’s style. I’ve always used my tools as a means to an end – the end being what I want to say or share. Styles come and go. No doubt my style has changed but it happened organically as I got older and saw things from a different perspective.
What’s most important to you? That’s something you have to find out on your own. I’ve learned a lot at workshops over the years but I’ve never taken a workshop that defined my priorities.
Note: I’m looking for subject for a project. If you are someone or know someone who has been dismissed simply because they’ve gotten older (between the ages of 40 – 60) and have a story to tell please dm me. I’m hoping to hear stories that had a happy ending because it nudged them to a better situation.
Seven years ago I wrote a blog post about the gear I was taking for a 3-month trip around the world with my daughter, creating a documentary on six continents about people who were creating positive change. The post has gotten more hits (by far) than any other blog I’ve written.
At the time, I had just purchased the Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D. Along with lots of lenses, audio gear, accessories, hard drives and 2 laptops, my daughter and I filled up two large (heavy) backpacks. It worked out very well. We used everything and captured some beautiful footage as well as quality sound.
My partner and I have recently embraced mirror less cameras
We put the Sony gear through its paces, shooting video and still images on an extensive job for NJ State Travel and Tourism. The 4k video is beautiful and the still images are extraordinary, especially those shot with the A7Rii. I had heard lots of complains about the menus but after taking numerous tutorials, I created lots of pre-set buttons and it has made operating the camera much easier and quicker.
My biggest complaint is when switching to a mirror less camera system it is far too easy to get dust on the sensor, especially when changing lenses frequently like we did on this job. I have heard good things about the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly 724 (Super Bright) for cleaning your sensor. I bought one but haven’t used it yet. After the NJ job had been completed we had a thorough cleaning of both cameras at Photo Tech Repair Service in New York City. My other complaint is that Sony’s customer service is dismal at best. It took too many hours online and on the phone simply to apply for ProSupport. You can do better than this Sony. I love your products but don’t make me hate the company.
Since my last trip I’ve upgraded my audio kit a bit. I replaced my transmitter/wireless kit with a Sennheiser ew 122-p G3 Wireless system with microphone and I upgraded my Zoom to the Zoom 6N. Along with those items, now I would pack 2 lav microphones (1 Tram, 1 Sennheiser) a shotgun microphone, deadcat, earphones and a very small boom stand.
I also bought a small portable slider – Edelkrone SliderPLUS small – also discontinued. I’m not sure if I would take this on a long backpacking trip because even though it is very small for a slider – it still takes up quite a bit of space.
A small Manfrotto tripod and video head. Tripods are a necessity for shooting video but I always have a conundrum because small tripods aren’t necessarily the most sturdy. There’s always a trade off.
I would still bring a laptop to download and backup up my assets. I’d love to find a solution for downloading and backing up on site without having to bring a laptop. There are too many travel restrictions these days. I’d love to hear about other solutions that work well for intensive traveling.
There have been huge changes in portable hard drives. I replaced my (8) Lacie Rugged 250 GB Drives (total – 2000 GB) with (4) 4T My Passport Drives (16 T).
I no longer have a Blackberry – I got enlightened and bought an iphone years ago.
Technology changes our lives and our professions quickly and continually. It mandates that I must upgrade my gear and software much more often. As a professional photographer I need to update my tools about every two years. I do wish that company’s would invest and upgrade in their customer service. Good customer service stands out these days. It is also affecting how I make a decision as to which products I want to buy.
Am I taking a trip around the world? You never know – I just became a million miler with United.