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.

Pricing, Photographers & the Race to the Bottom

The bottom is getting crowded.

I read Seth Godin’s blog daily. He’s usually concise and right on target. His post entitled,”Clawing your way to the bottom” really hits the mark as far as what professional photographers and other visual creators are up against.

I used to make a lot of money shooting stock – that is before the consolidation of agencies and the commoditization of stock. While it’s understandable why that happened when the world went “digital”, the prices and value of images has dropped so far that an “average” stock shooter can no longer make a living shooting stock.

I’m grateful that I never relied solely on stock photography to make a living. However, commissioned photography has not escaped the race to the bottom as far as photographers pricing themselves out of business. There’s only so low one can go on their fees. It’s a short fix to nowhere.

The solution is there for anyone who is willing to do the work – that is, make the effort to stay at the top of your game. Focus on the big picture. Be curious. Don’t panic. Stay away from trends., Focus on the story – not on the gear. Tell them a story. Live life because if you don’t – your work will show it.

 

 

 

How a Personal Project Can Augment a Career

I’ve shot 10 short films for my latest project entitled,  Like a Woman. The project is about women who work in traditionally male-dominated professions. Sadly, there are a lot of professions to choose.  The latest films consist of profiles of Simona de Silvestro,

Simona de Silvestro, Formula e Race Car Driver, Berlin, Germany
Simona de Silvestro, Formula e Race Car Driver, Berlin
Taylor Laverty, Pilot of Good Year Blimp, Carson, CA
Taylor Laverty, Pilot of Good Year Blimp, Carson, CA

a Swiss, female, Formula e (electric) race car driver for the Andretti team, Taylor Laverty, a pilot for Good Year Blimp (airship) and Tayna Ragir

Tanya Ragir, Sculptor, Los Angeles, CA
Tanya Ragir, Sculptor, Los Angeles, CA

, a talented sculptor. Every one of these women was inspirations to me.  I have been a minority female photographer and filmmaker for almost four decades.

I have come to the realization that success has been about my journey and pushing my own boundaries. Many times I have been well paid, but I define my successes by the value of the journey, not by the monetary gain. My memory  is full of incredible experiences, including the last three – riding the Good Year Blimp, being in on the race track in Berlin with the Andretti team and meeting multi-talented sculptor Tanya and significant other David, both who energized my mind and spirit and awed me by their creativity.

I came away from these three experiences enforcing what I knew already, that a   “personal project” has a life of its own and that they have been an outlet for what is inside me. These projects they’ve given me PR value and memorable experiences, but most of them have been timeless and continue to resonate with me as well as others, years after the fact. I suppose,  I already knew that but it wasn’t until David told me that my Delta Bluesmen film (which I created more than a dozen years ago) excited him and made him want to see more, that the thought hit home. I touched upon a subject that was near and dear to him and he let me know about it and that made my afternoon. It may seem like a small gesture, but his acknowledgment and appreciation will stay with me a lifetime.

I have been very blessed in my life and I should remind myself of that more often. I became a photographer a very long time ago because I felt that the craft would provide me with access to a lifetime of memories and the means to create awareness. Every so often, I get reminded of the why I became a photographer and visual communicator and whenever I have, it has buoyed my spirit when I needed it the most.

Thank you to all my subjects, Good Year, Andretti and TE Connectivity for all your gracious help and support. Stay tuned for the short films.

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

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

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

Do start by asking yourself the following questions:

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

Some Don’ts

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

7 Things I Learned About the Business of Photography

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

Times Square New York City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Things Freelance Photographers Should Do in 2016

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 thingsphotographer on bridge, Chicago, IL 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.

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.

Concentrate more 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.

Forget about the past except to 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”.

Realize that in the scheme of things, you are 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.