10 Things Freelancers (Photographers & Filmmakers) Should Do in 2017

Marathon swimming, East River, New York City

Be optimistic – I’m going to start with the hardest one of all, because it’s really difficult to be optimistic these days. But I find that if I can maintain a positive attitude and turn my thoughts to what is possible, I actually open myself up to more opportunities in my life, instead of creating more roadblocks.

Be open to possibilities. – Be more flexible in how you perceive things and who you are. Change is always happening, but it’s usually gradual. Most people don’t take notice until “change” forces their hand to act. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive so embrace “change” as an ever-present fact of life that creates opportunities for those who are open to seeing them.

Collaborate – Photographers are very independent creatures and collaboration is not part of their norm. As the “photography” business continues to change, photographers will find that collaborating with other artists will make their own businesses stronger. There is so much more to running a business than there used to be. While social media marketing has opened up numerous possibilities, it can also be overwhelming to a solo photographer. You can’t do it all. Work with people who can bring out each other’s strong suits.

Diversify – I’m not quite so sure why so many photographers are so rigid in how they define who they are and what they do. Having a “style” is great, but the trick is to not to be so narrowly defined by that style, so that when styles change, you don’t find yourself obsolete by your own design. It’s kind of like being type cast, where your audience or your clients can only see you in one way. Diversifying might be creating a whole new niche of your business. I recently created a business niche that is more geared toward the retail market. We create high end “Ken Burns” style family biography videos to preserve a family’s legacy with personal interviews with ones loved ones combined with old photos and home movies.

Concentrate on “the story”– I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of still photographers and filmmakers this past year and I began to notice a difference in the conversations I was having with each. Most times, filmmakers would be telling me a story, whereas still photographers would be telling me how they executed a photograph, or essentially telling me the “back story” of the creation of the image. It’s all interesting but “the story” is the bottom line – if that doesn’t come through to the viewer – the rest doesn’t matter – including how it was executed.

Be authentic – be true to yourself. That means that you have to trust your gut instead of second guessing it. This is hard, especially when things don’t always work out the way you had hoped. Step away from the “noise” and listen to the voice inside.

Fail more. – Rejection is a tough pill to swallow but it usually means that you are either pushing yourself to try new things, you are too far ahead of your time or it just wasn’t meant to be. If you look at successful people you’ll see that most have had failures and rejections in their lives but they stuck with it – instead of letting failure defeat them.

Self-Initiate more projects. – I don’t like to call non-commissioned work, “personal projects”. That co notates that there is no monetary value, and these days just the opposite could be true. With more and more lopsided contracts being presented to photographers for commissioned work a photographer has a better chance to make more money and keep ownership of their work by creating self-initiated projects. But they need to be prepared to work hard. We’ve been working on a project entitled “Like A Woman” where we shoot environmental portraits and a short video about women who are working in traditionally male professions. It is a subject I know all too well after working in the career of photography and now filmmaking my entire adult life.

Forget about the past and learn from mistakes. – You can’t change the past but you can learn from it and then, move on. Look toward the future but make sure you take time to enjoy the “now”.

In the scheme of things, you’re just one small speck in the universe. – I think we all get way too stressed about things that really don’t matter and we let those things control our life. When we become more conscious of that, we really begin to live life.

Why You Should Preserve Your Family’s Story

I have fond memories of my grandmother telling stories as we lingered around the table long after the family meal had been consumed.  If she never had a story to tell, my mom would.  Maybe that’s why I became a storyteller, as a still photographer and as a filmmaker.

My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. We had no warning and then one day she was gone from our lives forever.  I’d give anything to hear her voice again. Or hear her giggle.  Or listen to her tell a story that she had told a hundred times. But other than some scattered photos, Mooney Family, Chicago, ILrandom letters and a few mementos, all I have left are my memories of her. But sadly they have begun to fade.

I’m a commercial photographer and videographer and have shot on assignment for magazines, non-profits and corporations all over the world. I love what I do and the value it has for my clients and their products or message and God willing, I will do that till the day I die but I wanted do something more. I wanted to create personal films (videos) about and for families and preserve their legacy in a keepsake memoir. More importantly, I wanted to capture those family stories through the eyes and voices of a family’s loved ones, while they were still here to tell them and before the memories were gone.

After my mother died I did connect with members of the family to interview them. I must tell you that it was awkward at first but somehow I knew that it was important to do. Here is a short trailer about my mom’s story told through her siblings. Her brother had died before I had made this and a sister has died since but I feel very fortunate to have captured their stories when I had the chance.

I am working on a film now about the Pitney family. The Pitneys had inhabited a property in my town for 11 generations and their story is rich in history not only about their family history but also about our nation. Sadly, the Pitney homestead was destroyed by fire this past winter after over 300 years but the family lives on.   I’m so grateful that I was able to capture and preserve a part of their legacy. Please look at the trailer about the Pitney family and the fire and let me know your thoughts.

A film has the power to preserve family stories Nola Mooney, Garden, Michiganwith imagery, interviews, sound and music. Imagine capturing and preserving your family’s story through the power of cinema. Imagine
what a priceless gift that would be for future generations.

A laugh, a giggle, a blurred smile, a glance, a wink, a memory – a life’s story preserved.

 

Business Tips for Photographers in a Multiple Media World

In the blogging sphere of photography and video there is a lot written about gear and how to use it, but precious little written about business.  Chances are, if you are photographer who has been in business for more than 10 years then you know that technology has not only changed our tools, it has changed the way we do business.

For starters we are doing business in a global economy and with that comes pluses and minuses.

Cuba-3858
Havana, Cuba

One huge plus is that we are able to reach a much wider audience than ever before. That is if you have an understanding of how to do that and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.  One minus or downside is if we don’t adapt our dated business models in a business that has seen monumental changes we won’t be able to compete.

As commercial photographers we are in the visual communications business.  We create imagery that delivers a message or tells a story for a variety of markets including; advertising, corporate, architectural, editorial and others.  Each market has a need for visual content and these days that encompasses both still photography and video.  In the last couple of years the lines dividing these two mediums have faded away at least in terms of how content is consumed in our culture. What’s next – VR (virtual reality)?

Here are a couple of tips to help photographers prosper in our multi-media world:

  • Decide what your company will offer.  Will you only provide still imagery?  Or will you expand your business and offer both still photography and video? Are you quick to answer the question with; “I don’t want anything to do with video” ? The problem with that answer is that most of your clients probably have a dual need for stills and video.  Are you going to send them away to your competition?  Or will you keep your clients in house and take care of their video needs by hiring or outsourcing? That’s a different way of thinking and has the potential to broaden your revenue stream.
  • Decide what role you will play if your company does offer video?  Will you be the director and work with a camera operator?  Or will you assume the role of a DP (Director of Photography) and direct as well as operate the camera?
  • What will you outsource and what will you keep in house?  Maybe you want to expand your business by offering both still photography and motion but you’d prefer to just shoot the still photography and outsource the video.  In that case you could assume the role of the producer and oversee or outsource the video production.
  • Reassess your insurance.  Video productions have a lot more variables. They also usually have larger crews.  More than likely you will need to upgrade your current insurance policy to accommodate and cover that.
  • Change your paperwork.  Make sure that you go through your talent and property releases and modify the language for multi-media.  Change any and all boilerplate contract language to include video (motion).
  • Licensing.  Regardless, if you decide not to expand into video production you will have to contend with the fact that your still images won’t always be used in a stand-alone fashion.  Many still images will be commissioned and/or licensed as part of multi-media projects and that has a dramatic effect on licensing. And if you do decide to expand into video production you too will be licensing other people’s work.
  • Understand new business models.  Let’s face it things have changed in the business of photography.  Photography has become ubiquitous and the competition is fierce.  You are not only competing with professional photographers – you’re competing with semi-pros, amateurs AND video production companies.  One thing is certain, it’s never been more important to have an understanding of multiple mediums and to be unique and stand out amongst the noise. There are no templates you should follow.  Be authentic and true to yourself.
  • Keep an eye out for the next big thing. At this year’s NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Virtual Reality had a big presence. I’m not quite sure if it’s for me but I will follow the trend and keep my options open.

Check out more tips and information in my ePub The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion.

 

How Creating a Family Story Movie Turned into Something Else

I’m a photographer/filmmaker hybrid. I got my beginnings in the editorial world telling stories through my images all around the world for magazines like National Geographic, Smithsonian and Travel & Leisure. Mostly I think of myself as a storyteller. When my mother died unexpectedly over a decade ago I realized that I only had a few photos and mementos to keep her memory alive. I’d give anything to hear her voice or her giggle again or to hear her tell a story that she had told a hundred times.

I knew then that I wanted to create films to preserve a family’s story and legacy.A film has the power to preserve those stories through interviews, imagery, sound and music in a cinematic memoir.

I’ve been working on a film over the last two years about the Pitney family that had inhabited a historic home and farmstead for 11 generations. The farm pitney-farm-before-fire-copyis only about a mile from my house but the family is flung all over the globe. The story seemed almost too big and a bit too distant and I found myself losing focus. Then I met and interviewed one family member, Barbara (Pitney/Lamb) Johnson who had researched and written her family’s biography and was extremely knowledgeable about the family history. She was also incredibly gifted in front of the camera and was able to bring her family’s stories to life through her memories and the warmth and cadence of her voice. It was then I knew that I had the makings of a priceless legacy film.

The farm had not been inhabited since 2013 when the last Pitney to have lived there passed away. The town purchased the farm in 2009 but when the last Pitney inhabitant died in 2013, the future of the historic property became controversial. Some wanted to preserve it for community use and others wanted to sell it. This past winter, one cold February night the Pitney homestead was destroyed by fire. The Morris County, NJ Prosecutor has since been determined the fire to be arson and it remains under investigation.

After the initial shock of the fire pitney-burned-out-shellwore off, I began to realize that I had captured priceless footage of the farm and Pitney family members telling the family’s story. I also realized that I had more than the makings of a just a family story. The Pitney farm had been a binding thread throughout the Pitney family’s history and the property and its demise was another story and a story whose ending has still not been determined.

I finally finished a short preview sample of the Pitney family story . In addition I ended up making a separate preview or trailer of the fire itself. The full feature length film of the family is in production. I’m not quite sure yet where I’ll go with the film about the fire that destroyed the farm but maybe I’ll follow Orson Welles’ advice;  “If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story”.

 

Professional Photographers and Value

Let’s face it, these days, professional photographers aren’t only competing with other pros – they are competing with anyone and everyone with an iPhone.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Woman with flowers on bicycle. Hanoi, Vietnam

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 Moti

Happy Birthday to John Lennon and Jackson Browne

Today marks the birthday of two of my music icons John Lennon and Jackson Browne. John would have been 76 years old johnlennon1if he had not been killed. Their songs have given me happiness and comfort throughout my life. When I first really discovered music during my prepubescent years, it was the music of Beatles that resonated with me. It woke me up and gave me a sense of belonging along with millions of others inflicted with Beatlemania. As time went by their music changed as they became more experimental and the world changed as well.

I recently saw Ron Howard’s film, “Eight Days of the Week” the other night. It was about the Beatle’s touring years. It was beautifully edited and the sound was superb and I looked at it with the eyes and the appreciation of a grown woman who was now a photographer and filmmaker. It gave me a new perspective about their early days than the one I had when I was a smitten preteen. Back then I was just another young girl who was overwhelmed by these lads from Liverpool.

I had attended both of the Beatles concerts when they played Shea StadiumBeatlesTicket4 copy in 1965 & ‘66. Even though I had been there it was the first time that I had actually heard what the Beatles played that night. My family had just moved from Rochester, NY to the NYC area and my dad had somehow obtained 4 tickets to the show in his company’s box seats at Shea. It will go on record as probably the best gift my father had ever given me. It was more of an event than a concert. It quickly became historic and an event I will always remember.

As I got older and had experienced a couple of real relationships with the opposite sex, I moved to California. It was the early ‘70’s, and it was a different time and a different culture.JB I became captivated by the early California sound of Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, the Eagles and of course Jackson Browne. Their music defined an era and my young adult life. Jackson’s songs brought awareness of social issues and motivated the huge demographic of baby boomers to take action. To this day I remain a huge fan of Jackson Browne’s and try to see him in concert at least twice a year. In some ways his lyrics became my religion.

Music makes us happy, provokes us to take action and comforts us when we’re down. It’s universal. I think back to the 1960’s and how the Beatles and their music had gone viral. That was way before we had the Internet and social media platforms and I wonder, how did that happen? I suppose the stars were aligned and it was simply “the right time” to create one of the biggest phenomenons in music of all times. Of course it had a little help pushed by the emerging demographic of baby boomers who were ready to take the world by storm.

I wonder what John Lennon would have gone on to do in his life, if he hadn’t have been stopped by a bullet some 40 years ago. His music will live on and I will keep going to Jackson Browne shows as long as he keeps giving them. Their music is the sound track of my life.

Jackson Browne in concert
Jackson Browne in concert

Top 3 Tips for Photographers, Filmmakers, Writers – Everybody

I’ve had a long career with a lot of successes and failures. Here are 3 tips with examples of lessons I learned along the way.

Get rid of the resistance in your life – Long before I became a photographer, I was on a different path. I was studying architecture at Syracuse University. During the summer of my sophomore year my friend and I went on a hitchhiking journey to Canada. Along the way we stayed with people we met while on the road. I remember one such stay very well. It was pouring outside and we decided to just hang out rather than face the elements. There were quite a few other travelers sitting around the room smoking dope and talking about what everyone talked about those days – their disenchantment with the war (Vietnam) and everything else that was status quo.

Sunset, Arthur County, Nebraska
Sunset – Arthur County, Nebraska

One fellow erupted and said – “I’m sick and tired of hearing the same old complaints – why don’t you all do something about it.” Those words have stayed with me my entire life. To this day I try to get rid of the whiners in my life and be the one who does something.  My proudest achievement to date has been making the documentary Opening Our Eyes, a film about individuals who are creating positive change.

Don’t hide your vulnerabilities – It took me a long time before I could tell anyone one of my biggest embarrassments, but when I did it was liberating. I was working on an assignment about Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for the National Geographic Traveler Magazine. I had made an appointment to photograph Walter Cronkite, who was a well-known figure on Martha’s Vineyard. The day before our scheduled appointment, I called Mr. Cronkite to confirm. This was way before cell phones and email and even before everyone had answering machines and his phone just rang and rang and rang. I kept calling throughout the day and the same thing happened. By evening, I was upset because I thought that Mr. Cronkite had stood me up. That night, I had a terrible feeling. I thought perhaps that when I had re-written my production notes and contact info for the job, I might have written down the wrong number for Cronkite. I had kept my old notes and discovered that I had been calling the wrong number all day. Imagine how horrified I was when I discovered that it was I who had stood up Walter Cronkite – not the other way around. I called the correct number, Walter answered and I was profusely apologetic as I explained the situation. He was kind and understanding and rescheduled and then he said, “Why didn’t you look me up in the phone book?” I replied that I assumed someone of his stature would not be listed.   I learned never to make assumptions. It took me years before I could tell anyone this story. It’s really hard to admit mistakes but when you do, you gain trust.

Be who you are – not who you aren’t – I had just graduated from Brooks Institute and I wanted to pursue my passions. I wanted to be a photojournalist and use my craft to gain access to a world full of stories. Before I enrolled at Brooks, I had spent a year backpacking around the world. I had one camera and one lens and came back with my snapshots and a whole lot of desire. But it was a bad time for magazine photojournalism – Life Magazine had just folded (the second time) and everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living as a photographer, I needed to do commercial work. I bought into that and built a pretty good commercial photography portfolio. Then I went to see legendary NY photographer Jay Maisel, a man known for being blunt. He looked at my work, threw a print at me and told me it was “garbage”. Then he asked me if this was what I wanted to do.  I told him no, that I wanted to be a photojournalist but that everyone had been telling me to pursue commercial work. He asked me how old I was and I replied “25” and then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises”. It changed my life and I remind myself every day to be who I am and dream big, even though I may have to settle for less.