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 backwards.
  • 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/

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Having a Sounding Board

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David states so eloquently:

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

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

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

Working from Home- Avoiding the Pitfalls

A lot of my photographer friends have closed their studios, due to a lousy economy and changes with the type of work they do. They’ve set up offices in their home, and some have faired better than others. GailMaggieI think it’s kind of a “hunter/gatherer” type thing where some people feel the need to head off to a “place of work” and if they don’t have that – they feel less “legitimate”.

 

This winter one of my friends was having a particularly tough time making this transition and he was ready to pack it all in and get a “real” job. He called me because he knew that I’ve always worked from home, and he wanted to know how I dealt with it and stayed productive. We had a long and very honest conversation and he thanked me. I saw him at a party recently and he came up to me, thanked me again and told me things were looking up for him. Quite honestly, I had forgotten the conversation but he reminded me of some things I said to him and suggested that I blog about it. So here goes.

 

Some tips to do and some things to avoid:

  • Start off by calling it your “home office” – not “working from home”. Somehow it’s different psychologically.
  • Be prepared for well meaning family and friends to encourage you to get a “real job”. This happens a lot with people who have creative careers. It’s hard, but you need to explain to your loved ones that what you do IS a real job. Just because you’ve had to lower your overhead and work from a home office, doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It does mean that you’ve had to make adjustments just like a lot of others have had to do these days to make ends meet.
  • Avoid falling into the trap of taking care of personal tasks during your business hours. My friend found himself spending a lot of time on errands that his spouse asked him to do – “since he was home”. That’s fine once in awhile, but if you find yourself spending half your day doing personal stuff – you are sabotaging yourself and your business. And personal stuff includes putting together Aunt Ann’s birthday bash photos in a fun presentation for all to see. Sure do that – but not during business hours because this is not your hobby – it’s your business.
  • Don’t get overly complacent as soon as you get rid of the expense of your studio. I’ve seen this happen a lot. The pressure to make that overhead is gone so you let your guard down and along with that your clients start to disappear. But it’s because you’ve disappeared – you’re not marketing yourself anymore – and you’re off your clients’ radar.
    • • Have a routine just like you would if you walked out the door to go to work.
    • • Get up at a set time and get dressed – sounds simple but it’s important
    • • Have set work hours
    • • Have a plan – just because you’re in your home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a business plan with action items.
    • • Avoid distractions – tough one. If you find yourself doing something that a “boss” wouldn’t approve of – then stop yourself. You’re the boss so stop cheating yourself.
  • Network and connect with your peers and colleagues. This is important, especially in a creative business. You need to have people you can bounce things off of. I have a couple of friends in my life that I’m really grateful for because I know I can share my vulnerabilities and ideas with them without being judged. Friends can do that for you because they don’t have anything personally at stake and can look at things with unbiased eyes. These connections are critical when working from home. These days it’s easy to connect with others. If you can’t do a face-to-face – you’ve got hundreds of other options with social media, listservs or just pick up the phone.
  •  Remember on your darkest days when it seems like it’s hopeless and you’re ready to pack it in and get one of those “real jobs” – don’t totally abandon your dream just yet – leave the door cracked open at least. Maybe get a part time job to start. It will take some of the pressure off and if photography or music or writing or whatever – is your passion – then you’ll quickly find out that a “real job” may not be what makes you happy. The cynics may say that you shouldn’t expect happiness with a job and that the expectation of a job should be to just pay your bills. Maybe so, but do you want to spend most of your life being miserable or counting down the hours to your next vacation? Many times that part time job gives you the push you need to re-invigorate your business because you’ve had a taste of the alternative.
  • Don’t burn your bridges. If you’ve had even the slightest bit of success in the past, following your passions but are in a slump – don’t be so quick to announce to the world that you’re moving on to another career – unless you are thoroughly convinced that you will never have any regrets making that decision. You get the best light from a burning bridge – but it’s usually too late by then. If there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way – it’s not to burn bridges – because life has a way of making you regret it.

 

The Value of Photography – (a reminder)

I wrote this blog in the fall of October 2013, after the Chicago Sun Times fired its entire staff of photographers.  Yesterday, the Sun Times laid off its video staff.  I thought that it would be a good time to repost this blog,  about the value of what a professional photographer brings to photography and to our lives.

The who’s who of photography gathered last night, at Carnegie Hall to honor the “masters” of their trade at the Lucie Awards. The Lucies are like the Oscars of the “photographic industry”.

2013 Lucie Awards, Carnegie Hall ©Thomas Kelly
2013 Lucie Awards, Carnegie Hall
©Thomas Kelly

I had been asked to step in to present the “2013 Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year Award”. on behalf of the ASMP when Executive Director, Gene Mopsik and President, Ed McDonald couldn’t attend.

I don’t usually get nervous about things like this, but I was last night. As I stood in the wings with photographer John H. White, who was waiting to go on stage to accept his Lucie, for Achievement in Photojournalism, I was mesmerized as I watched John.  He seemed to glow and I felt his grace, his humility and his gratitude.  It was a moment in my life that will stay with me forever.  It was calming. I watched and listened to his acceptance speech on the monitor backstage, and I was deeply touched.  So was the audience, as evidenced in their standing ovation.

John H. White is not a “rock star” type of photographer.  His images don’t “shock and awe”, not in the way a war photographer’s images do. John’s photographs capture the subtle moments of the human experience.  His legacy of images show us life as it really is.

This past spring, after 35 years with the Chicago Sun Times, John and the rest of the newspaper’s photographic staff were fired.  It was a huge blow to the photographic community, magnified by the fact that even John H. White, the “chairman” was “let go”, without even as much as a thank you. John wasn’t bitter about it though.  Michelle Agins wrote a wonderful article for the New York Times where she quoted John: “A job’s not a job because of labor law,” he said. “It’s just something you love. It’s something you do because it gives you a mission, a life, a purpose, and you do it for the service of others.”

All he had wanted to hear from the executives who let him go was two words that never came: thank you. But even then, he did not respond with anger.

John spoke more about the Sun Times’ firings in an interview with NPR where he said: “I will not curse the darkness. I will light candles. I will live by my three “F” words: faith, focus and flight. I’ll be faithful to life, my purpose in life, my assignment from life. Stay focused on what’s really important, what counts.” He repeated those three “F” words last night as he accepted his award.  The audience was humbled.  John had shed his light.

I have been thinking a lot lately, about the value of photography and the value that a professional brings to this craft.  John H. White and his archive of work is a stellar example.  His images, capturing the subtleties of life stand out amongst the noise.  They make us take notice of what is often over looked – the quieter moments of life.

As far as what a professional photographer brings to the world, I think John stated it best: “Every day, a baby is born. Every day, someone dies. Every single day. And we capture everything in between. You think of this thing called life and how it’s preserved. It’s preserved through vision, through photographs.”

As John walked off the stage and back into the wings, I felt enveloped by his glow that had seemed to magnify.  I caught his eye for a moment and said “thank you”. He nodded, and flashed his wonderful smile and in that moment, we connected and shared our understanding, of the “value” of photography.

Still Photographers and the New Media Landscape

I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing lasts forever. I’ve experienced the up and down cycles of business and life in general and can tell you that nothing ever stays the same. Having an understanding and acceptance of that gives me the freedom to look around corners for opportunities red cameraand think outside the confines of my box. What I’m seeing is a growing demand for mixed media storytelling content from communications and marketing people to fill a plethora of needs –social media campaigns, TV spots, online pre-roll ads, and print ads.

Last September while attending the Next Video Conference and Expo in Pasadena, CA a light bulb went off after seeing a presentation given by Max Kaiser, Founder/Director of Hand Crank Films called Make Content That Resonates and Multi-Purpose. It was eye opening. Max explained how he demonstrates to clients the value of creating content that not only resonates with an audience but can also be multi-purposed and fill their other visual needs – including provide still images from his frame grabs. He said because he shoots 6K – he is able to produce high quality still images.  I could see that still photographers aren’t just competing with other still photographers any more, they’re competing with guys like Max and small production companies that are providing solutions to all their visual needs.

There’s no reason still photographers can’t provide mixed media for their clients’ visual needs, but they need to scale the way they think about their business and their role and become more of a visual assets producer. Most photographers are producers anyway, so why not provide more services to a client and keep them in house – in your house.

I think sometimes it seems easier to give ourselves reasons not to do something but change is going to happen regardless if you embrace it or not.

Some things to keep in mind:

Video is not a business model – It’s a medium and one that is well suited for storytelling.

There is a demand for mixed media. Video is not new. But these days it’s easier, faster and cheaper to distribute, stream and watch motion content online – anytime -anywhere. Our phones and other mobile devices are our “go to” platforms for news, shopping and even entertainment. Position your brand and business to fit with today’s communication needs.

Make content that resonates and multi-purpose it. Video + Stills + Sound = Storytelling messaging. Content should be well-planned, scripted with high production values and should feel authentic. Create from your own point of view and identify the niches and needs in the marketplace that fit with your vision and style. Demonstrate value to a client by providing solutions to more of their visual needs.

 

“Try to have a little more control”

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately purging – getting rid of a lot of stuff I don’t need any longer. I came across a portfolio of architectural drawings that I had made during my days as an architectural student at Syracuse University. Stuck inside the portfolio were graded copies of the drawings with remarks from the professor. The comments were consistent and repeatedly pointed out Gail's college architural renderingsmy lack of “control”.

“Try to have a little more control!”

“Without control of lines and line quality, solution is lost!”

Back then I used a rapidograph (technical pen) for rendering these drawings. Unlike a lot of my fellow architectural students, I had very little training in the way of art classes before coming to Syracuse and my skills as an artist were terrible. Drawing fine straight lines with a rapidograph was my downfall. The ink would blotch or would seep under the ruler or triangle that I was using and my drawing would usually end up being a big mess.

I think my lack of “control” as an artist ultimately turned me away from pursuing architecture as a career. Instead, I changed my path and pursued a career in photography. Today, architectural students use CAD for their drawings and I would imagine that perfecting one’s skill with a rapidograph is no longer a requirement.

I wonder if things would have been different as far as the path I chose, if I had the tools available to me, that we have today? It’s an interesting question to ponder, but ultimately I don’t think I was well suited for a career in architecture and it went beyond the fact that I had poor drafting skills. I was a “big picture” thinker and not focused on the details.

Fundamentally, I haven’t changed. I’m still a big picture thinker. I am able to clearly visualize, my creation or project as a “whole” and know usually know what I need to do to achieve that end, but in determination to finish, I sometimes overlook the details. I’ve trained myself over the years, to not be in such a rush to complete something, that I compromise the quality. I’ve also accepted the person I am – what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at and found that I’ve produced my most gratifying work in collaboration with others.

I will always be a big picture thinker – the bigger the idea and the more possibilities – the more I love it. I have learned to have more control, but I still love to color outside the lines and push the boundaries.