Best and Worst Things I’ve Been Told

I can make you a lot of money and you won’t have to live in NJ anymore. In its heyday, stock photography was big money and various stock photo agents actively sought after my partner/husband and me. We had a deep body of travel and portrait images that were valued by many and we had set up meetings with some of the stock houses that were located in NYC – just across the river from where we lived, in NJ. One day we had a meeting with a rep who repeatedly praised our work as she went through our portfolio and made it clear that she wanted to sign us up. Then she said, “I can make you a lot of money and you won’t have to live in NJ anymore.” We didn’t sign up with her, went on to make a lot of money in that part of the business (at that time anyway) and live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States that happens to be in NJ.

We call this the “love” contract. When many photographers were making pretty good money producing and/or licensing “stock” or existing images, one of the big stock outlets decided to roll out the new contract. At that time, stock photo contracts were changing and to be brief, the changes were never in the favor of the content creator. One day, there was a huge meeting of the photographers at their NYC headquarters and the point people from the company came out on stage and joyfully announced the rollout of the new contract, which they called the “love contract”.

That immediately caught my attention but not for the right reasons. Later the audience asked dozens of questions about changes or alterations to the contract, which were answered with replies like “we’ll take that to corporate”. After about an hour of listening to this but not seeing anyone taking notes, I instinctively asked, “How are you going to remember all this?”

They say your print is only as good as your negative. When we were starting out we were very lucky because we were embraced and mentored by a leading art director at a prestigious magazine and he gave us a lot of opportunities. I can honestly say, that knowing and working with this man has changed my life for the better I many ways. One thing he loved to do was to have a luncheon or dinner with the photographer(s) and writers and staff who worked on the article together. We were young and very green and we’d be at the table with some of the legends in the business. During one of those luncheons, a very prestigious photographer and his wife were in attendance. The photographer was going on and on complaining that he couldn’t find an assistant that could make a good print. This particular photographer was well known for complaining. I’m not sure if it was the 2nd glass of wine I had or the fact that I was sympathetic for the assistant but for some dumb reason something popped into my head from what they always told us at Brooks and I blurted out – “You know what they say. The print is only as good as the negative.” I don’t know who laughed harder, the photographer, his wife or our mentor.

We didn’t feel we needed to see you. One day my daughter came home from school and told me that her teachers didn’t feel they needed to see me on parent/teacher night because she was a great student. At the time, our town was growing and class sizes were getting big and I suppose the teachers felt that since there were no problems, there wasn’t the need to talk. I understood their plight, but I have one child and pay dearly for the public schools through high property taxes. So, please don’t tell me I can’t have 10 minutes of your time. When I met with her teachers, they praised her and said they really didn’t have much more to say. I instinctively said, “ I didn’t know it was going to be a one-way conversation.

What’s the worst thing that could happen? When I was headed to Brooks Institute and planning to drive my 10-year-old VW bug from NJ to California, by myself, my Dad told me that I would be foolish and it would be better for me to buy a better car. I immediately said, “How will I pay for it? My dad said, “you’ll get a job”. I said, “What if I don’t get one?” He said, “Gail, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” I thought, well they would take away the car if I couldn’t make the payments, but at least I’ll get to California.

Why not? I got together recently with my friend and fellow filmmaker when she was in town to do a Q&A at a screening of her new movie. She reminded me of something that I once said to her and has stayed with her and inspired over the years. I said, that whenever someone questions me and asks me why I’m doing something that may seem too outrageous or daring, I answer by saying – why not?

 You’re 25 and already making compromises? I call this story my Jay Maisel story and is one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me. I was young and showing my portfolio around in NYC. My love was travel and I wanted to shoot for magazines, but it wasn’t a good time to pursue editorial work, Look magazine had recently shut down and Life had folded for the first time. Everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living with photography then I needed to shoot commercial work. I had put together my commercial portfolio and went to see the legendary and blunt NYC photographer, Jay Maisel. He looked at my work and pretty much threw it back at me and said: “This is crap, this isn’t what you want to do – is it?” I told him no, and that I wanted to shoot for magazines and travel but everyone told me that I wouldn’t be able to make a living at it. And the blah blah blah of youthful excuses. He asked me how old I was to which I replied that I was 25 years old. I’ll never forget what he said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises!”

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My Money Shot

Attached is a jpeg of a photo I call My Money Shot.   If you can’t see the image, please read further. If you can see the image, please read on anyway.

I had a shoot last week to photograph a wine tasting event that was a fundraiser. In addition, there was a silent auction as well as a 50/50 drawing. At one point people were bringing around a basket of 50/50 tickets and crumpled up bills (American money). I took a quick photo of it and moved on.

Later that evening I downloaded everything that I had shot that night, even though it was late. I had shot both raw files and jpegs so I did a quick spot check by clicking on some of the jpeg files. When I clicked on one of the jpegs in Photoshop CS6 (a non-cloud app), I got a plain grey PS background with a message that said

 “This application does not support the editing of banknote images. For more information, select the information button below for Internet-based information on restrictions for copying and distributing banknote images or go to http://www.rulesforuse.org.”

 

 

I have been in business a long time and I’ve used Photoshop since its inception, but this was the first time this had ever happened to me.

I was very surprised for a couple of reasons.

  • I was not using a cloud-based app (although I was online)
  • My photo was a picture of crumpled up money – not a picture of a complete banknote that I could possibly counterfeit.

The next day I attended Photo Plus Expo and I spoke with some of the Adobe folks at the show. They seemed a bit skeptical of my story. Finally, one of the reps pulled a dollar bill out of his pocket and took a picture of it with his phone. Then he brought it into his mobile Lightroom app and he had no problem opening up the file. At that point, I was questioning if it even had happened to me. But I was determined to find out if it would happen again and decided to try it on another computer when I got home.

I brought the files into my laptop that has the same Photoshop CS6 app installed and the same thing happened. I wasn’t allowed to open the jpegs. I tried twice, once while I was online and once when I wasn’t. The same thing occurred both times – I couldn’t open the jpegs. Then I discovered that I was allowed to open the raw files. This really perplexed me because it made no sense and it wasn’t consistent with its own policy.

Ultimately, I delivered all the images using the raw files. Granted, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I hadn’t been able to open “my money shot”. But, I persisted because at that point I was on a mission to clear up my confusion.

I never really did figure out why this happened and why it happened with this particular image that seemed so harmless. To be honest, it’s downright creepy. I’d love to hear from people who may have experienced the same thing. Or even hear from some folks who can shed more light on the matter.

Moving Forward

I got a memory today, on Facebook, letting me know that 3 years ago I posted this blog on Journeys of a Hybrid. I read it and started to look back on the last three years.  The website has been updated hundreds of times and the reel has been redone twice. Work has definitely been a mix between still photography and storytelling video and I launched a new project entitled, Like a Woman, about women working in predominately male professions. I also put more effort into my Instagram account bringing new life and eyeballs to my legacy images as well as my new ones.  Please follow me.I’ve been a terrible blogger, and in fact, have disappeared the last few months, but I’ve decided to blog more.  But I will take a different approach and that is to talk about the story behind the making of the photograph or video. I like to learn by example and I hope that others do too.

 

New Website, New Reel, New Look for Kelly/Mooney

It had been far too long since we did a redesign of our website – more than 5 years. Not only the industry (visual communications) has changed in the past 5 years, but so has our KM Logobusiness. More and more, clients are asking us to provide visual solutions in mixed mediums for a variety of uses – print, the web and social media. That’s been true especially with our editorial and corporate clients. It’s rare when a client comes to us for just one photograph for one usage.

With that said, we wanted a new website that would demonstrate the scope of our business. The first thing I did was to define the look and functionality of the website as well as what I wanted the website to communicate to potential buyers. We knew that a template site with just our still images no longer represented our business. We also knew that we wanted a website that would speak to our client’s needs and the services we provide that meet those needs.

My list of must haves for our website:

  • A site I could manage and update easily.
  • A site I could move to another server if I chose to do so.
  • A “scrolling” website. In researching numerous websites, the scrolling or parallax scrolling websites appealed to me and I began to see them everywhere – small and large film companies, graphic designers, non-profits, etc. We wanted a site that told the Kelly/Mooney story.
  • Messaging throughout the site communicating to potential buyers, what we do, the services we provide, how we work and who we are.
  • Intuitive navigation.
  • A site that would not only show our work but our experience as well.

I should point out that before I even got to this point, I had spent over a year culling through a vast archive of our work – literally terabytes of still images and footage – both digital and analog. I did the task over time, sifting through new work and old, trying to distill it down to the best representation of what we do, what we want to do and our self-initiated work, Ultimately sorting through this body of work, not only served the purpose for the website but resulted in a new reel as well.

Challenges:

  • One of the biggest challenges we’ve always had was showing one unique vision because there are two of us. This website shows our combined work throughout the galleries, but it’s the first time we show individual galleries for Kelly & Mooney.
  • New reel – I took 7 hours of footage down to a 90 sec. reel. And then I re-edited it! That doesn’t take into account the time I spent sifting through music selections to pick the right piece for the soundtrack of the reel.
  • Picking images – We have a huge body of work because of the longevity of our careers. Ultimately we selected mostly recent work, but we didn’t want to discount our classic images so we decided to create a legacy gallery.
  • Realizing that I sized the images too big. In addition to the images having long load times, they bogged down the site by adding to the size making it a double-digit Gig file. I had to go back to the images and resize them all. That was not fun as I’m not a big fan of going backward.
  • Finishing the site at the beginning of the summer and then cutting it back all summer long because it was just too overwhelming. No doubt, there’s still editing that should be done on the site but at a certain point, we had to launch. We finally did on Oct. 6, 2015. That in itself was traumatic. Right after we went live, somehow I deleted a critical file, which shut down the site. I was very fortunate that I had great support from our host server who had everything restored within the hour.
  • This is the first time I’ve ever built a website. It was frustrating, challenging and scary. I thought that my limited knowledge of WordPress from working on my blog would be enough to create a WordPress website. It wasn’t, and it has been a huge learning curve for me. But I wasn’t the only one who worked on this website and I’d like to acknowledge the people who helped me through my meltdowns: my partner Tom Kelly, my colleague Jan Klier, and all the lifesavers at DreamHost (our host server) and folks at Envato who designed the WordPress theme.

This will continue to be a work in progress and I welcome comments and suggestions. http://kellymooney.com/

Gear, Access and/or Vision

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 Blackpool, Englandor 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.

 

Photography Contracts, Social Media and Business

I read an interesting article today online about a bride and groom who slammed their wedding photographer on their social media outlets, which allegedly resulted in a loss of business for the photographer and they were ordered to pay $1.08M. House surrounded by construction site, Atlantic City, NJThe article stated that the photographer’s contract required that the client must submit an order form and select a cover photo before the album could be completed (cost of the album was included) and the hi res photos could be released. Even though the couple had signed and submitted an order form, they objected to paying $125 for the cover because they felt that should be part of the album as they explained on their local NBC affiliate. After weeks of going back and forth, the photographer learned that the couple had taken the story to the media saying that the photographer was “holding their pictures hostage”. The couple also made other disparaging statements on social media and blogs, which resulted in a loss of business for the photographer.

After being in business for well over three decades and having been a member of my trade organization ASMP for the same amount of time, I know all about the importance of contracts. In the litigious society we live in, it’s imperative to have a contract when doing business. It’s also important to spell out the details clearly about what is included and what isn’t. In addition, because photographers are always being asked to sign their clients’ contracts, it is critical, yet tedious to scrutinize those contracts before you sign them and be prepared to negotiate terms if they are not acceptable. However, even when contracts have been agreed on and signed, things can still go south as in the case mentioned.

There will always be issues because all humans are different. Ultimately, I think some are honorable and some are not. We live at a time when rumors can go around the globe in a matter of seconds and the lines between truth and lies have been blurred with “alternative facts”. I think it all comes down to common sense and trust. I don’t shy away from social media but I don’t believe everything I read. I don’t think I have ever done business solely online with someone. At the very least I will have a phone conversation with them. There is a lot to be said about having a human connection with someone and what is gained by doing so.

The bottom line is that while it is incredibly important to have a contract when doing business that doesn’t mean it will always end well. It all depends on the human variables as far as how the story will end.

3 Ways Photographers can Grow or Diversify

Partner with your competitors.

Chicago 1920's
Chicago 1920’s

I know three successful still photographers working in the Midwest area of the country shooting and competing with one another for regional and national clients. They recently formed a separate production company and are shooting broadcast commercials for the national market. It has proven to be a smart move for them. They’ve expanded their businesses by offering video solutions that meet their clients’ needs and have collaborated with one another by bringing different skill sets to the video production team. I often think that we (photographers) miss out on collaborative opportunities due to our independent nature. But I’ve learned that when I work in a collaborate team and we each bring our own perspective and skills to the whole, it has made me raise my own bar. Partnering doesn’t solely pertain to video production. It works in any business that benefits from scaling up.

Shoot outside your niche. I’ve always been a commercial still photographer working primarily in the editorial and B2B markets. About 15 years ago my partner/husband and I started exploring the motion medium. We began by shooting stock motion footage on 35mm film, which was a very expensive proposition, but I fell in love with this medium. When digital video hit the scene, my passion for storytelling led me straight to it. Digital video enabled me to shoot in the motion genre with our small team and at an affordable cost.

Kelly/Mooney is now a fully integrated still and video production business in the commercial market. We recently embarked into the retail niche offering high quality “Ken Burns” style family biography films (videos).

School children - 1930's
School children – 1930’s

Every family has a story to tell and I wanted to use my craft as a filmmaker to tell their stories for future generations. I’m finding that people desperately want to organize and preserve their family photos whether they are digital images or inherited analog snapshots. I didn’t want to just digitize their family photos and put them on DVD’s. I wanted to capture their family stories with on-camera interviews of their loved ones retelling them in their own voice while they are still here to tell them. It has been well received but it comes with a learning curve and getting to know the retail market.

Shoot what you want to shoot. Shoot something that you are passionate about not because you think it would make a good promotion piece or portfolio sample. It could be that you photograph something you are interested in and have access to. As a female photographer I’ve spent the better part of my career working in a male dominated profession. I decided to seek out other women who work in male dominated fields and create a series of short videos about them. Here are some of the amazing women I met; Natalie Jones a helicopter pilot, Simona deSilvestro a professional racecar driver and Patrice Banks and auto mechanic and engineer. Working on this series not only keeps my skill set sharp but has led to making some great connections.

Don’t think that you have to pursue an overwhelming topic or project. You may just want to explore with your phone. We live in an age that I used to dream about – an age where technology makes it possible and even easy to create the images that only exist in our mind’s eye. Technology has made communicating visually immediate and spontaneous. Think about the power and the opportunities that provides.

 

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.