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.

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

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/

Another Year Gone By

When I was a kid, my year would begin and end around the school calendar – essentially September to June. Summertime was a delightful escape CoupleBicycleNZfrom the rituals of academia with lots of time to sleep late and do other things – or simply just do nothing.

I’ve been out of school a long time, but my annual calendar still seems to revolve around the “academic” year, with summers still spent relaxing and playing. As I enter into yet another year on this planet as my birthday approaches next week, I realize just how important it is to take time to simply relax and play. As a creative being, it is not only important to “play“– it is critical.

As I look back on the many years that have ticked by, I am profoundly grateful for the many blessings and people in my life who have made it a life well lived. My memory fails me at times but what I do consistently recall are all the little moments of laughter and levity. I have not amassed a fortune, but I have been very comfortable and never left wanting. But I realize that I have had a rich life indeed and the best times have always included experiences near and far with people who have entered into my life – sometimes for a moment – sometimes for the long haul.

I suppose you could say that my spirit has never aged and it is still as playful as it has always been. When I’m at my most creative, my spirit is shining through. It’s not hampered by self-doubts, fear or uncertainty. My spirit is forever curious and is always exploring. Rather than being fearful of what’s around the next corner, I am excited at the prospects of opening myself up to new ideas, places and people. It’s all those experiences and relationships that make up a life worth living.

So, as I face the start of another year, I look back at the smiles and laughs as well as the tears that I have encountered on my journey and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

 

 

How to Sustain a Long Career in Photography

I came across this old “tear sheet” in the process of cleaning out the attic.  Tom and I have dozens of boxes containing over 35 years of printed collateral with our “work” in it.

Tom Kelly and Gail Mooney
Tom Kelly and Gail Mooney

This brochure cover was from a shoot for I Love NY.  Clearly it was a low budget job, based on the fact that we were also the “talent” in our own photograph.  When this photo was shot, we were just starting out in the business of photography. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 35 years since we started Kelly/Mooney Photography, because it seems like yesterday.   As I sifted through decades of work, I started thinking  – “What is it that sustains a career?”

Some thoughts:

Don’t let age define you.  Let’s face it; we’re a youth obsessed culture. It’s not easy getting older, especially when you’re in a creative business like photography where “fresh” is equated with “young”. But there’s absolutely nothing you can do about your age.  You can’t change it.  It’s like your height – it is what it is.  But you can choose how you think about it. If you tell yourself that you’re old – you will be.

Take more risks – not less. Why not?  What is the worst that could happen?  Am I the only one who thinks this way?  I guess I was lucky that my mom and dad put those types of thoughts in my head a long time ago and they’ve served me well.  Why should I change my outlook now, when I have fewer years on the planet?

You’ll fail more than you succeed.  I sure have.  In the last couple of years I’ve been rejected more times than not, but only because I have been challenging myself more than at any other time in my career.  I have always “been on the move” in my life and my career and I am not one to stay too complacent or static.  There are just too many things left to explore.

Fear comes with the territory.  Fear is what motivated me to start writing.  For me fear would often visit in the wee small hours of the morning.  My mind would bounce from one unfounded worry to another and I couldn’t turn off the chaos in my head. So rather than toss and turn for hours, I got out of bed and started to write down my thoughts. It’s amazing how trivial some of the worries looked in the light of the day, written on a sheet of paper.

Listen to the ideas that don’t go away.  We all have ideas.  But how many of us act on them?  Less than 5%.  When I have an idea that just won’t “quit me”, I take action. The first thing I do is I commit to the idea.  Then I tell someone – someone I respect, because then I have to carry it out – just to save face.  I call it forced accountability.

Don’t take things for granted.  Nothing stays the same or lasts forever.  Be grateful for your loyal clients and show your gratitude.  Business is all about relationships and it is amazing how people seem to pop in and out of your life.  Doors are always closing and windows are eternally opening in a well-lived life.  Recognize those times when they happen.

Always wonder.  My spirit has not aged past 25 years old.  I still have dreams and they are vivid and real in my mind.  My dreams are propelled by my insatiable curiosity about everything. Many years ago I made the choice to become a professional photographer because I knew that my camera would give me access to a rich and rewarding life and to interesting people, places and cultures. My cameras (“my tools”) are still a means to a life of wonderment.