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. It 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.
I’ve been a professional photographer my entire adult life. Here are my thoughts about photo gear, access and vision.
Gear: Gear talk has never really interested me. I’ve always looked at gear as the tools of my trade and used what I felt was the best tool for the job. I don’t buy gear simply because it’s new or it’s the latest. I buy it if I need it to tell the story I want to tell. I’ve been a Nikon shooter, a Canon shooter and now a Sony (mirrorless) shooter. I can’t honestly say that my favorite images or my most successful images were shot with one particular camera or brand. However, I’m most proud of the images that I obtained the hard way – before auto everything cameras or Photoshop.
Access: Access is everything and is more important today than ever before. But it’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. What comes first – a good portfolio that leads to an assignment with great access or access that leads to a good portfolio? I spent a great deal of my time at the beginning of my career shooting travel. But I don’t feel that one needs to travel to the other side of the earth in order to get great travel images. It may help (or it used to) in catching someone’s eye but a good travel photographer should be able to make good images anywhere. I learned that early in my career when legendary National Geographic photography director Bob Gilka asked me to show him what I shot in my own backyard.
Vision: I have actually grown to dislike this word because it has been overused. I think that it should go without saying that all you really have that is unique is your vision or perspective. When it comes down to it your perspective and vision is what’s worth sharing. I suppose that’s why I’ve never tried to emulate someone else’s style. I’ve always used my tools as a means to an end – the end being what I want to say or share. Styles come and go. No doubt my style has changed but it happened organically as I got older and saw things from a different perspective.
What’s most important to you? That’s something you have to find out on your own. I’ve learned a lot at workshops over the years but I’ve never taken a workshop that defined my priorities.
Note: I’m looking for subject for a project. If you are someone or know someone who has been dismissed simply because they’ve gotten older (between the ages of 40 – 60) and have a story to tell please dm me. I’m hoping to hear stories that had a happy ending because it nudged them to a better situation.
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
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 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.
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. The 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 NBCaffiliate. 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.
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
that 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
I 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 you 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.
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 contacts. 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.
It was a sad day when I read about award winning photographer Souvid Datta infringing on another photographer’s work by using elements of their photographs and claiming that the photos were his. In the age of “fake news” Datta erodes the integrity of the profession of photojournalism and the reputation of dedicated photojournalists who risk their lives taking photographs that create awareness of the travesties in the world.
I was further bothered by Datta’s explanation in an interview he did for Time magazine. Using his lack of knowledge because of his youth and inexperience is no excuse for his actions. There are too many articles online about ethics and copyright to excuse his ignorance, especially for someone who admittedly learned Photoshop techniques on You Tube.
While I’m glad that he eventually told the truth, there’s nothing commendable about doing so after getting caught in a lie. There is no turning back of the clock or enough apologies that will undo the damage this has done to the profession of photojournalism.
It is easy to manipulate images and seeing is believing is no longer true. In an age where many if not most images have been greatly altered or composited, we’ve become somewhat jaded by a real image that is straight out of the camera. Manipulation has become the norm but it should never be accepted in journalism.
I’m not a photojournalist and have on occasion altered my images, but I’m most proud of the images that I shot that have not been manipulated.
Nowadays, folks who look at the images contained in this blog will assume that they are composites – but they’re not. It took a lot of skill to produce them along with a bit of luck.
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
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 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.