Photography Gear I Would Pack on a Trip Around-the-World in 2017

Seven years ago I wrote a blog post about the gear I was taking for a 3-month trip around the world with my daughter, creating a documentary on six continents about people who were creating positive change. The post has gotten more hits (by far) than any other blog I’ve written.

At the time, I had just purchased the Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D. Along with lots of lenses, audio gear, accessories, hard drives and 2 laptops, my daughter and I filled up two large (heavy) backpacks. It worked out very well. We used everything and captured some beautiful footage as well as quality sound.

My partner and I have recently embraced mirror less cameras

Gear2017_IMG_1628 FB
Gear I would bring on a 3 month trip around the world in 2017. (not pictured laptop, various cords and backpack.) Shot with an iPhone

and purchased the Sony A7R Mark II and A6500 camera bodies and 5 lenses: Sony FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS, Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS and Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS. All that plus 8 batteries and 2 dual chargers took up far less space than my Canon DSLR cameras and lenses, not to mention the Sony gear was half the weight.

We put the Sony gear through its paces, shooting video and still images on an extensive job for NJ State Travel and Tourism. The 4k video is beautiful and the still images are extraordinary, especially those shot with the A7Rii. I had heard lots of complains about the menus but after taking numerous tutorials, I created lots of pre-set buttons and it has made operating the camera much easier and quicker.

My biggest complaint is when switching to a mirror less camera system it is far too easy to get dust on the sensor, especially when changing lenses frequently like we did on this job. I have heard good things about the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly 724 (Super Bright) for cleaning your sensor. I bought one but haven’t used it yet. After the NJ job had been completed we had a thorough cleaning of both cameras at Photo Tech Repair Service in New York City. My other complaint is that Sony’s customer service is dismal at best. It took too many hours online and on the phone simply to apply for ProSupport. You can do better than this Sony. I love your products but don’t make me hate the company.

Since my last trip I’ve upgraded my audio kit a bit. I replaced my transmitter/wireless kit with a Sennheiser ew 122-p G3 Wireless system with microphone and I upgraded my Zoom to the Zoom 6N. Along with those items, now I would pack 2 lav microphones (1 Tram, 1 Sennheiser) a shotgun microphone, deadcat, earphones and a very small boom stand.

I’ve also upgraded my Go Pro and now have a Go Pro Hero4 Black (which shoots 4K) with a couple of different mounts. In addition I purchased two Ikan stabilizers: MS-PRO Beholder 3-Axis Gimbal Stabilizer with Encoders which works well with the A6500 camera but not so well with the A7R ii and the 3-Axis GoPro Gimbal Stabilizer which is great for the GoPro Hero4 Black but it’s been discontinued.

I also bought a small portable slider – Edelkrone SliderPLUS small – also discontinued. I’m not sure if I would take this on a long backpacking trip because even though it is very small for a slider – it still takes up quite a bit of space.

A small Manfrotto tripod and video head. Tripods are a necessity for shooting video but I always have a conundrum because small tripods aren’t necessarily the most sturdy. There’s always a trade off.

I would still bring a laptop to download and backup up my assets. I’d love to find a solution for downloading and backing up on site without having to bring a laptop. There are too many travel restrictions these days. I’d love to hear about other solutions that work well for intensive traveling.

There have been huge changes in portable hard drives. I replaced my (8) Lacie Rugged 250 GB Drives (total – 2000 GB) with (4) 4T My Passport Drives (16 T).

I no longer have a Blackberry – I got enlightened and bought an iphone years ago.

Technology changes our lives and our professions quickly and continually. It mandates that I must upgrade my gear and software much more often. As a professional photographer I need to update my tools about every two years. I do wish that company’s would invest and upgrade in their customer service. Good customer service stands out these days. It is also affecting how I make a decision as to which products I want to buy.

Am I taking a trip around the world?  You never know – I just became a million miler with United.

 

 

 

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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.

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.

 

Video Editing – Some Tips Not to Forget

I have a love/hate relationship with video editing, depending on which point I’m at. HotShoeExtensionExtenderMy initial ingestion of content and first edit is always tedious, but once I’ve edited the time line sound bites, I feel as though I’m more than half way there. But sometimes I lose sight of some critical thoughts in the process. Here’s a few:

  • Remember your commitment / story. Your story gets told and comes alive in the editing. If you don’t have a clear and concise message or story that you want to tell, then go no further, until you do. I have found when editing the latest short film in the Like A Woman series, that there is more than one message to relay. This video is about Simona de Silvestro, one of the few female professional race car drivers who races for the Andretti Autosport Team in Formula E (electric). It has two themes – one, about a woman in a man’s profession and another about electric racing. It’s tough to get across one theme in a film that is less than 3 minutes long, let alone two themes. I knew that I needed to be concise and to deliver the messages organically without forcing the issues. As much as Simona is one of the few females in this profession, she still wants to be known as the best driver she can be .
  • Let a piece breathe. I always make the mistake of trying to squeeze too much dialog into a short piece. It took me a dozen cuts, each time, taking out soundbites and stretching them over added b-roll to get the balance just right. Breathing gives the audience a rest and allows them to digest the information better.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. In an effort to leave no stone unturned in regards to my b-roll, I initially went through everything and then put all the selects on a timeline (or in a event). It was the first time we shot 4K GoPro footage and I put that in a separate event on a timeline. It was a big mistake. It took me a long time to make the timeline and an even longer time to look for a clip within the timeline. Next time, I will edit my clips from my bin and mark “favorites” as I go along, which is what I usually do, and is much faster.. Not sure why I departed from that approach, but I learned my lesson.
  • Audio is everything. The interview with Simona was challenging. We were literally in a tent set up on the side of an active roadway. Even with a shotgun mics and a lavalier with an undercover we still picked up some background noise of the traffic. I did everything I could think of to blend the sound including S-Curve transitions and adding another noise track to fill in the dead air spots. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’d like to up my skills in audio mixing. My only consolation is that the story is about racing, so the audio is somewhat acceptable.
  • 4K – What a memory suck! I love the results from the GoPro Hero 4 Black but the clips are difficult to view as it can be sluggish. But, because my final output is HD 1920X1080, I was able to crop the 4K and/or blow it up and it looked great.

Check out the other short videos and portraits on the Like A Woman channel. And please like our FB page.

VR – Virtual Reality – Will it Replace the Real Experience?

I just returned from the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show held annually each April in Las Vegas. With 4 huge convention halls displaying the latest and greatest technology and gear used in broadcasting, it’s simply overwhelming. Since I’ve never been enamored with just the NAB 2016gear component of my business (still photography and video), but rather in how I can apply or enhance the story that I’m working on, I spend most of my time attending the conference tracks.

Every year, there seems to be a new buzzword. Two years ago it was all about 4K. Last year it was drones (UAVs) and this year it was all about VR (virtual reality) but not the VR of the 1980’s. I’m talking about VR that provides a totally immersive experience for the viewer. Even though I was a bit skeptical and didn’t really see opportunities beyond the gaming sector, I made it a point to check out the VR Pavilion and take a look at some cameras ranging from Kodak’s PixPro SP360 4 K ($499-$899) to Spericam’s V2 a 360° video camera (actually 6 cameras) no bigger than a tennis ball that records in 4K with automatic-stitching, WiFi and streaming baked right in, making viewing and sharing content easy (around $2500), to the high end Nokia Ozo selling for $60,000! As far as the viewer end, here are some of the headset options out there: Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR

It wasn’t until I attended a session entitled, Being There – VR in News & Documentary that I began to realize the potential and possibilities of this technology. The panel consisted of filmmakers, journalists, and creative directors from news outlets (USA Today and Sky TV) who talked about how they were applying the tools and utilizing the medium. Like any new technology there are plenty of challenges in both the production and postproduction process, but with technology’s fast moving pace in this niche it’s only a matter of time before just about anyone and everyone will be able to create using this medium. One challenge right now is in stitching together the content in post that is created by 6 -10 cameras. It can be cumbersome and slow accompanied by hours of angst if the cameras haven’t been perfectly aligned and in sync with one another. A question was raised about the reluctance that viewers might have with not wanting to wear the necessary headset, which was one of the obstacles that kept 3D TV sets from being ubiquitous in all of our homes. The panelists answered by predicting that in a year’s time the headset will give way to a contact lens worn by the viewer.

As a story driven content creator, I needed to know why I would want to deliver a story in VR. After this session the light bulbs went off. Because it’s an immersive experience for the viewer, it can also be an incredibly empathic and emotional medium. Imagine the possibilities – red carpet events, concerts or documentaries where you want the viewer to have a truly immersive experience. VR also provides an opportunity for authenticity because it removes the layers between the journalist and the viewer as opposed to 2D, which could have been created on a sound stage.

Even though the principles of storytelling haven’t changed this is a medium that requires a new language or lexicon with new rules. For instance, there is no cropping in VR. There are two important considerations when creating VR. One is proximity and you have to get the camera in close – no more than 2 feet from a subject that the camera may be following. The other component is to have a narrator or presenter – a kind of tour guide that can direct the viewer through the experience. Usually it’s the journalist rather than a voiceover talent, which can be a bit unnerving in this medium or like the voice of God coming out of nowhere. An alternative to using a narrator would be to use graphical overlays that guide the viewer visually. All the panelists agreed that because it’s such an authentic experience for the viewer it’s a medium that’s conducive to creating empathy and moving people to take action. Some said because it is so authentic it may mislead people inadvertently to disconnect because they have no sense of danger and we run the risk of viewers becoming numb to the experience but only if the filmmaker doesn’t provide the opportunity for a call to action. Live streaming in VR is a game changer because now filmmakers can influence in real time.

I’m not yet convinced that it’s a medium for me or if I’m ready to be a pioneer and deal with what comes with that. The rewards and opportunities are there, as they usually are for frontrunners. That is if it isn’t just a passing fad and you’re willing to take that risk. There is already a trade association for VR creators, IVRPA (The International Virtual Reality Photography Association) so my guess is it’s more than a passing fad. In a world of couch potatoes or those stifled by fear, there may be plenty of people who will choose VR over the real experience.

Check it out for yourself.

VR Stories by USA Today Network

Immerse Yourself in Stories of America 

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gannett.vrstories&hl=enand

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vr-stories-by-usa-today/id975006820?mt=8

Condition One*
Experience a Perilous World with At-Risk Species, and at a Factory Farm

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.conditionone.vrplayer_cardboard&hl=en

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3VWeehBnL_VL-92K6VImiw

Ryot – VR
Go Around the World to See New Perspectives, Regions, Cultures and People

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.apto.ryot_vr&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ryot-vr/id1046058227?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
http://www.ryot.org/virtualreality/the-second-line-a-parade-against-violence
(This piece is a RYOT and AP collaboration. Go inside New Orleans, one of our nation’s most culturally rich cities in a socially, politically, and emotionally potent moment in time.)

Google Cardboard
Launch Your Favorite VR Experiences, Discover New Apps, and Set Up a Viewer

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.samples.apps.cardboarddemo&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/google-cardboard/id987962261?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
youtube.com/360

 

Telling Your Family Story

This time of year we try to spend more time with our families and loved ones. It’s also a time of year when we reflect on the people who are no longer with us. For the most part, we rely on our memories and some scattered photographs or home movies and videos.

Some of my fondest memories are of my mother, father and grandparents sitting around the dinner table, long after the holiday meal was over and telling or retelling the family stories. Of course, everyone would recall the same story in an entirely different way – the way they remembered it.

Every family has stories – mine certainly does and I have started to

Mooney family, Easter Sunday, Chicago, IL  (1956-57?)
Mooney Family, Chicago, IL

 

collect information, photographs and even recordings of family members while they are still around to tell them. It’s such an easy thing to do with the tools that technology has provided – easy to use cameras, audio recorders,  and of course, phones that shoot photos and video.

I often think that as photographers and filmmakers we are not only the keepers of our own family stories but we are documenting the stories for other families, through our still images, recordings and videos. Essentially, we are creating an archive of our loved ones and the memories. I believe that is the most precious gift that I can give someone through the talents of my craft. In fact we set up a separate niche of our business, Conteur Productions, to do just that – to archive the family stories in beautifully crafted cinematic videos. The idea isn’t just to string together old still photographs and footage to music, but to capture the stories of our loved ones, on camera while they are still here to tell them in their voice. Imagine, the legacy we leave future generations? My mom is no longer alive but I wish I captured her telling her stories, if only to hear her giggle when she got to the punch line.

As the art of conversation, gives way to virtual communication in our culture, our family stories are fading away with each passing generation. Well, the stories are still there of course, but they often get overlooked in the distractions of our high tech culture. But at the end of the day, it’s our family stories that should be preserved. They remind us of who we are and where we came from and that is priceless.

So as you gather your family together this holiday season – start capturing those life’s moments. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

What Does a Photographer Look Like?

When I started out as a commercial photographer more than three decades ago, it was a very different profession than it is today. It wasn’t just different in terms of technology – it was different culturally. When I went out into the workforce in 1977, it was definitely a man’s profession.

I never really thought of myself as a female photographer, just – a photographer. I didn’t think the additional gender adjective needed to be part of the conversation – yet it was at that time. Sometimes it surfaced in social settings. One time, an art director who I worked for, introduced me to a very famous photographer who shook my hand and said, “You don’t look like a photographer!” And I thought to myself, “what does a photographer look like?”

It was worse when the gender bias surfaced in the workplace. I’m not sure if having a male business partner made the situation better or worse. I do know that the assumption was always that my partner Tom Kelly, was the photographer and that I was either his rep or his assistant. That assumption negated itself during a pre-production meeting or on the job, but I needed to make my presence known.

Things have changed…….slowly, over the years in the photography profession. There are far more women in the industry now than when I first started. It’s certainly not the exclusive male dominated industry that it used to be, but there are plenty of professions that still are – the movie industry is a perfect example. There are plenty of other examples of gender bias in the workforce, which is what motivated my project, Like A Woman.

Like a Woman is a series of environmental still portraits and short films about women working in male dominated professions. The idea was first inspired by Lauren Greenfield’s Like A Girl campaign. I loved the campaign and even though I felt hopeful that younger girls are growing up a bit more empowered than girls of my generation, that statement “Like a Girl” still lingers as a demeaning remark. I wanted to flip the narrative and make the statement, Like A Woman an empowering expression said with pride.

To date, I’ve interviewed 5 women from all different professions – architecture, engineering, auto mechanics, organic farming and industrial photography.

Jenna Close, Oceanside, CA
Jenna Close with surfboard, Oceanside, CA

I’ve just completed one on industrial photographer, Jenna Close. You can see it on the Like a Woman Vimeo Channel. Jenna demonstrates that women have come a long way in terms of having successful careers in photography, but she reminds me that there are still undertones of subtle gender bias. Things are changing, but until the gender adjectives disappear entirely from the conversation, we need to stay mindful and not drift into complacency.

If you know a woman working in a male dominated profession, who you think would make a great subject for Like A Woman, please contact me. mailto:gail@kellymooney.com