The story behind the photo – An afternoon in Versailles.

I was on assignment for Smithsonian Magazine, shooting a story about the restoration of Versailles after storms had severely damaged many of the gardens. That was the bad news –  I was going to be shooting damaged beauty. The good news was that a lot of work and money had been infused into the gardens of Versailles after they had been neglected for years – some gardens had been gated with no entry.

I consider myself as a people photographer so photographing gardens wasn’t exactly in my wheelhouse but the magazine editor must have seen something in me that I didn’t. After seeing dozens of uprooted trees, I asked the head gardener if he would pose for a portrait. He obliged and his body language said it all. He was confident – in control – and was restoring the beauty.

It’s not often that one gets to see to behind the scenes of a place but I did at Versailles that day. It will be a day I won’t forget.

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“There are no Secrets on Easter Island”

Out of the blue, on a lonely stretch of road, a car slowed to a stop and the driver rolled down the window and yelled out “there are no secrets on Easter Island”. I was on assignment on the island and I was shooting a portrait of this Rapanui man in a very remote spot on the island which was is one of the most remote places in the world. It was also mysterious and a wonderful place for exploration and photography.

One night I attended an indigenous dance performance. Native Rapa Nui Man, Easter Island, ChileIt was exhilarating and alive with sexual energy capturing the primal spirit of the people. I knew immediately that I wanted to photograph him with the barren environment of the island in the background.

He agreed and we set up a time and place. He drove up on a scooter sans makeup and tribal dress and proceeded to strip down naked in the middle of the road using the mirror of our car to apply his makeup. The shoot was memorable and what I remember the most was the fierce wind that was blowing and the engaging spirit of this man. His eyes tell the story and secrets of this mystical island.

Gail Mooney is an award-winning photographer and storyteller. 

 

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.

 

 

 

Top Reasons for Doing a Personal Photography Project

I have spent a lot of time purging things lately and one being my enormous collection of analog and digital images. For the most part, it became obvious that the commercial work that I had done for the money years ago, looked dated and wasn’t worth keeping. However, the images
Beijing, Chinathat I shot for personal projects were timeless even though they had been shot decades ago.

I  have grown weary in our youth obsessed culture that as an older creative female many times I am being dismissed – I have become invisible. I don’t say this to complain and I’m certainly not the first one to echo these sentiments, but I found that it was beginning to undermine my self-worth. As I looked through some work that I hadn’t seen in many years
Havana, CubaI realized that I am reacting to people who are judgmental and ageist. There are two things that I can’t change – my height and my age – so I thought that it does me no good to care about others who define me and my value by my age. Rather than feel bad about the longevity of my career, I choose to tell myself that I must be doing something right to be in such a competitive business like photography all these years. The answer is that I love to create photographs and now videos – it’s something that I HAVE to do.  It keeps me alive.

Regardless of where Blackpool, Englandyou are in your career, take the time to shoot what you care about. It’s the most important thing you can do, not only for your career but for your self-esteem.

Here’s why:

  • Assuming it’s an idea you are passionate about and not doing it to second guess the market – it will be a reminder of who you were then. It’s  also great to put new eyes on it a second time around.
  • When you’re paying for it yourself, you’ll work harder. Failure is not an option because there is no failure.
  • There are no restrictions or mandates – the world is your oyster. If you dream it, you can probably make it happen.
  • Working on a personal project is great for making new contaPinetop Perkins, blues musiciancts. You learn to be tenacious in selling your idea in order to gain access to someone or a place. It’s much harder to sell yourself and an idea when you don’t have a letter of assignment from a major magazine.
  • Most likely these will be the images that won’t get old even as you do.

 

 

What’s the Worst Thing that Could Happen?

I was always the “new kid” in school. My family moved more than 10 times before I graduated from high school.  We weren’t a military family, running from the law or in the witness protection program. My Dad was moving up the corporate ladder, our family was growing and it just set up a series of moves.

Being the perpetual “new kid” forced me to take risks every time we moved, forming new friendships, adjusting to new schools, dealing with the inconsistencies in the curriculum from school to school, and learning

gail and wagon
Me, taking a stand in the new neighborhood.

new neighborhoods and the local culture.

In my early years, I was not the one who was initiating “change” or deciding to take a risk – my parents were. Nevertheless it made me the person I am.  As a child I was learning that it was OK to take chances and in fact, it was a good thing. But I also knew that we were not a “normal” family and at times I longed for a life that was less transient and more like the families I saw on TV.

I look back at my upbringing and Roller skaters jump over teammates, Tokyo, JapanI believe that the greatest gift my parents gave me was to teach me that it was OK to take chances.
And in fact when I was afraid to take a risk, I remember my Dad asking me “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” To be honest, I never really thought of anything that was all that bad.
So, is it any wonder that someone like me would opt to go around the world with my daughter, traveling to remote places on six continents, and live out of backpacks for 99 days while creating a movie?

Erin and Gail, Peru
Erin and Gail and children of village along Amazon River, Peru

I was actually going to do this by myself until I received an email from my daughter telling me that she wanted to quit her job and sublet her apartment and go with me.

At first, it surprised me when she said that she wanted to do this with me.  She had only been working for a year after graduating from college and was lucky to have a job. But she was willing leave her life as she knew it, apartment, take a trip around the world for four months and face looking for employment upon her return. Then I realized I shouldn’t be surprised at all, she too had grown up with the notion that “taking a risk” was normal.

These days, I see young people growing up in a society that has been so over litigated in an attempt to make our lives more risk free that it seems like we are teaching our children NOT to take chances. Losing or failing is looked at as a bad thing and that instead everyone has to be a winner.  It seems that fitting in and becoming part of the status quo is what we should strive for rather than being unique or original.  The problem is, if everyone thinks and acts that way, innovation will die.  No on will dare to be different.
In the last few years, I’ve probably had to face more rejections than I’ve had to over my entire career, or at least it’s seems that the way.  On the other hand, I have had the most incredible experiences and successes of my life.  To be honest, I’m scared to death just about every day but I grew up thinking that was normal and that came with growth. Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me the courage to spread my wings.

 

Why Everyone Should Travel

 As I prepare to head out of the country next week I’ve been thinking about why I travel. I’ve been a bit of a rolling stone most of my life, moving 10 times before I graduated high school and pursuing a career as a professional photographer which has taken me to over 100 countries.

Gail at the Great Pyramids 1971
Gail in Egypt 1971

I think if I ever had to give up traveling I would wither and my spirit would die.

Here are my top ten reasons that I think every American (and other citizens of the world) should travel:

  • It gives you a much better perspective on our world rather than just experiencing it virally. Let’s face it, when you are an armchair traveler, you are getting someone else’s perspective.
  •  It makes one grateful for what they have. Many, if not most Americans are very privileged but don’t really have an understanding of that because they isolate themselves in their own environment.
  • You get to be a true diplomat for your country. When I’m traveling I try to give people from other countries and cultures a more realistic idea what an American is beyond our government’s policies and how we are depicted in the movies.
  • It creates lasting memories of importance or at least memories that last longer than buying a consumer product.
  • It teaches you a lot about yourself. When you travel things don’t always go according to plan. You get to see how you handle stress in situations beyond your control.
  • You learn how to communicate. Many times you don’t understand the language and you learn to read body language and pick up people’s vibes.
  • You meet people you would never get to meet at home. It makes you less fearful when you get to meet people from other lands.
  • As a photographer my camera has given me access to incredible experiences that I have shared with the world.
  • You can affect change.
    Gail showing video to children of remote Amazon village, Peru
    Gail with children in small village along Amazon River, Peru

    When you travel you realize that regardless which country you come from we are all part of the human race. We all share this planet and we are all stewards of keeping it healthy.

  • It brings wonder to your life. I have had many awe- inspiring moments and not all of them were at typical tourist sites. Some of my greatest memories are the simple conversations that I’ve had with people all around the world.

Check out some of the images that I’ve captured from my journeys. www.kellymooney.com

Top 3 Tips for Photographers, Filmmakers, Writers – Everybody

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

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

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

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

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

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