What I Would Say to my 30-Year-Old Self

Most folks would write about what they would say to their 20-year-old self, but I chose to address myself a decade later when I’ve had some time to experience more of life.

You’ll be OK – How many of us have thought at times that things will never work out? I have survived a lot of experiences that I thought I would never get through. I’ve done some stupid things and made some dumb decisions. Some have taken their toll but I’m OK.

Don’t confuse “young” with “emerging” – It’s common in our culture to equate youth with fresh or emerging. Don’t tell yourself that this will be the only time in your life that you will “emerge”. I was young when I first started out but I am only now “emerging” in terms of my craft. I am creating from a lifetime of experience and my authentic self.

 Business is personal – Relationships are what it’s all about. People will come and go in your life in both business and personal. Be mindful of the relationships that have value and keep those connections secure. As singer/songwriter Don Henley wrote, “you get the best light from a burning bridge”.

Don’t preach to the choir – Don’t just hang out with likeminded people. It’s boring and provincial. Broaden your perspective by connecting with people who are different ages, genders, races or religions. It will bring more understanding and tolerance in your life and others.

Don’t be a quitter – but know when to walk away – I tell folks, “I’m not a quitter. I don’t even walk out of a bad movie”. I’m tenacious and it has gotten me far in my life. At a film festival where I won best documentary, I told a filmmaker that I might have never started to make my movie if I knew that I would still be involved with it, 3 years later. He told me “that’s normal” and then said “you’ll know when it’s time to walk away”. I have found that to be true with all kinds of things – not just making movies.

Make each day count – I’m paraphrasing a bit,

LeonardoTitanic
Leonardo di Caprio, Titanic

but in the movie Titanic, Leonardo di Caprio’s character, Jack makes a remark about making each day count. I love that scene. Life goes by in a blink.

Traveling Solo (as a woman)

I’ve been traveling solo to all corners of the globe since I made my first big trip hitchhiking half way around the world when I was 19 years old. That was decades ago. I no longer hitch hike and I prefer to stay in a nice hotel over a youth hostel these days, Hanoi-0347but I still spend a great deal of my time – traveling solo. You can see some of the images I’ve made on these journeys on www.kellymooney.com

Whenever I tell someone that I will be traveling somewhere – solo – they usually respond with the same question: “Aren’t you afraid? I generally answer with my own question: “Afraid of what? Safety is a common concern, especially from women – and for good reason – but fear or fear of the unknown shouldn’t stop you. I do believe that being fully prepared prior to heading out solo is the best course of action to minimize fears.

Some of the biggest pros of traveling solo is having the flexibility of making your own itinerary and schedule, immersing yourself in the local culture and meeting people you probably never would have if you had not been on your own. Those things far outweigh any fears or trepidations I may have.  I’m more afraid of having regrets because I let my fears stop me.

Some tips:

  • Be prepared – research. Good research ahead of time can eliminate a lot of problems. And I don’t mean, just researching hotels, restaurants and the sites but research the local customs, other traveler reviews online, scam alerts, US State Department warnings or simply talk to someone who has gone before you. So, be prepared and do your research before you go, but don’t forget to leave time in your itinerary to let serendipity happen. Those moments make for life’s greatest memories.
  • Alert your bank and credit card companies before going overseas. My ATM card and credit cards are my lifelines when I’m traveling, especially when traveling solo. I need to make sure that they will work when I’m in a foreign country and not blocked. Many times if a credit card company sees unusual behavior on one of your cards – especially foreign transactions, security may put a block or hold on your card, suspecting fraud. I call a couple days before I leave on an overseas trip to give the appropriate companies a heads up.
  • Make copies of your itinerary and important documents. I make a few copies of any credit cards I’m taking, my passport, visas, flight itinerary, hotel info and any other important information. I leave one copy behind with my husband and take a few copies with me and keep them in separate places. I also keep a contact list of important phone numbers etc. and store them on my electronic devices, but I also have printed copies with me. If I do get robbed or lose something, I am in a better position to get assistance.
  • Keep your passport in hotel safe. I am keenly aware of where my passport is at all times. When I’m at my destination, I leave my passport in my hotel room’s safe. When I’m traveling, I keep my passport in the same place at all times. That makes it easy when doing a checklist to make sure I have everything after going through security.
  • Know before you go. Perhaps the most intimidating times for a solo traveler is upon arrival in a foreign place. If you aren’t comfortable with public transportation or even grabbing a cab, then have a pick up waiting for you at the airport or train station. If you do take a cab – make sure you negotiate what the price should be before you get in – even if it is a metered cab. Also, find out how long it should take for a taxi to get you to your destination. It’s a good idea to get familiar with the currency exchange rate. Nowadays it’s easy to get foreign currency out of an ATM machine but you should know the exchange rate so that you know how much to exchange. I just returned from Vietnam and I did not check the exchange rate before I got there. At the ATM machine I was given a choice of withdrawal amounts and selected the lowest amount of 350,000 Dong. Little did I know it was less than $20.
  • Don’t look like a tourist. I’m a photographer but I don’t want to stand out by looking like one. Not only is it not a good idea from a safety point of view, walking around a city with two cameras dangling around my neck or wearing a photo vest stuffed with gear, it’s not conducive to getting good images. The biggest plus of traveling solo as a photographer as opposed to traveling in a group is that I am able to blend in more, be more discreet and get more intimate images than if I’m in a group of people all shooting the same thing.
  • Don’t eat room service. It can be lonely and some women are even intimidated dining alone but don’t cheat yourself out of a cultural experience by eating alone in your room. I frequently eat in outdoor cafes. It’s more casual, more conducive to solo diners and has the extra added bonus of people watching. It’s hard to be lonely in that type of environment. In many countries, it’s quite normal to seat an individual at an empty seat at someone else’s table. I enjoy this because it’s an icebreaker and is a great way to meet people.
  • Don’t be shy – mingle. One of the best parts about traveling solo is that I immerse myself more in the culture of where I am. Most times I don’t seek people out to talk to – they usually initiate a conversation with me, mostly out of curiosity. I have had a lot of great experiences by meeting people this way. I am cautious, but at this point in my life I can usually size people up if they are trying to scam me or not. It’s become almost instinctive. For the most part though, it has opened up many opportunities that I may not have taken if I had been traveling with someone else or in a group. It’s also beneficial to talk to other travelers. I have had a lot of great experiences that I never would have had if other travelers hadn’t made me aware of them.
  • Use common sense. Be trusting and open but be aware. Don’t walk down unlit streets by yourself at night. Don’t wear a lot of jewelry or flash around a lot of expensive gear. Be mindful of your bags and belongings at all times, never leaving them unattended. (One of the cons of solo travel is not having someone to watch your back or your stuff.). Most of all – Go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t.
  • Be confident. If you look confident, you will be less likely to be a target. Most problems occur when a traveler is doing something that makes them an easy mark – getting intoxicated, not being mindful of their belongings or venturing into unsafe areas.   Don’t let yourself become an easy mark.

I’d love to hear other tips solo travelers have or experiences they’d like to share.

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

The Value of Personal Projects for Photographers

For as long as I can remember, in my professional life as a photographer, I’ve always had a personal project that I was working on. I’d either be thinking about an idea that I wanted to explore or I’d be actively producing and shooting something. I never felt that I had to do personal projects. I did them because I wanted to.

Taking/making photographs has never been just a job for me. It’s not something that I look forward to retiring from. It’s something that makes me feel like I am “on purpose” and living the life I am meant to live. It’s also how I communicate and connect with people. That brings me joy especially when my imagery creates awareness or provokes thought.

One summer, early in our careers, my husband/partner and I decided to photograph the Jersey Shore.

Jersey Shore
Wildwood, NJ   ©Kelly/Mooney

We shot every weekend that summer, from the perspective of a bicycle, as we peddled our way through different towns along the shore. We spent one memorable afternoon in Wildwood taking portraits of all sorts of people,  in front of the graphic facade of a fun house. Some of those images created decades ago, still resonate in a timeless way.

There are very few images that I am still drawn to decades after I shoot them. Most of the images with staying power were shot on personal projects. Those images came from a personal place, my unique way of seeing the world at that point in time.

Gail - NJ Shore
Gail – NJ Shore

Those are the images that still speak to me and resonate with others.

I’m not quite sure I could come up with an exact dollar value on the personal projects I have done. Many have been monetized in in a variety of ways.  But the true value goes far deeper than the pocketbook.

What am I working on now?  Check it out.

Letting Go

This past weekend our film, Opening Our Eyes, Kathmandu, Nepalhad its premiere in New York City. We have been in dozens of film festivals and events all over the world but for whatever insignificant reasons, we had never screened in New York.  I think of NYC as my “hometown”, even though I have never lived inside “the city”. It’s where many of our friends, clients and colleagues are and it has been our “home base” for over 35 years.

Despite the fact that the temperatures were in the single digits and there had been a major snowstorm the night before, so many of our oldest and dearest friends, along with some new ones, showed up. Even Nisha, a young Nepalese girl who is in the movie – came out on that cold night. I have been in front of many audiences over the years and have enjoyed it immensely, but I can honestly say that this was the most meaningful experience I’ve ever had. To be able to share my film – a body of work that I put a lot of hard work, heart and soul into – with my peers and people I’ve known since my beginnings, was pure joy.

In a way, the night brought things full circle in regards to the film.  A lot of filmmakers “open” or premiere in their hometowns.  Once again, I did things a little backwards, by “closing” in my home turf, as this may be the film’s last festival screening. I don’t have plans to pursue more festivals – but I never know what’s lies ahead, in the way of opportunities, and am open to possibilities.  This project and this journey have rewarded me in hundreds of ways and no doubt will continue to enrich my life. The film will still be available for screenings at educational venues and community events.  It’s also available on DVD and streaming.  My daughter, Erin and I made this film to inspire and motivate others to create positive change in our world, and we hope that message continues to spread globally.

A young filmmaker I met at one of the festivals I attended told me, “a filmmaker never finishes a film – he(she) just knows when to let go.”  I am able to “let go”,  because I know that this experience has set the stage for the next events in my life.

“Everyone has Oceans to fly, if they have the Heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?”
 
– Amelia Earhart

The Biggest Mistake Photographers Make in Video Post-Production

English: High end linear editing suite, 1999.
English: High end linear editing suite, 1999. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll make it simple and provide a quick answer to the title statement  – “What is the biggest mistake photographers make in the post production process, when they are just starting out?  They think they need to do it all them selves.

Photographers are independent creatures by nature. Most are solo entrepreneurs who create visual content for a living. But when they enter into the business of video production, unless they have decided to work solely as a hired camera operator, they will have to deal with a lot of other creative needs and variables – producing, lighting, shooting, sound, editing, music, motion effects, sound mixing, and color grading to name a few.  Unless you are pursuing a career as a backpack journalist, which I have the utmost respect for; you can’t possibly do it all.  If you try, you will either go broke, or you will put limits on the quality of your product.

I know how to edit – meaning I know the editing software.  But that doesn’t make me an editor.  I realized early on, how the craft that a good editor brings to a project could greatly raise the bar on what I produce.  Generally, I try to look at all my shot footage and do a very rough first edit.  This not only familiarizes me with my material, it helps me keep costs down. I did that on my film, and with 150 hours of footage, it was a long and tedious process.  But it also made me intimate with what I had shot so I was helpful to my editor and it made the collaborative process very creative and focused on the story.

Too many photographers stop them selves from getting into video because they think they have to learn how to edit and that it would be another huge software program to learn.  Don’t let that be a stumbling block.  You can delegate that task to someone who already knows how. More than likely you won’t be composing music for your videos or creating complex motion graphics. You don’t need to learn and do everything and in fact, working with an editor frees you up to start working on another job.  It’s a more profitable use of your time, especially when you are invoicing the post-production costs as part of the job.

There are times when I love to work in a solo style or with a very small crew.  I love the intimacy it brings to the production.  But when it comes to post-production, working in a collaborative way with other professionals is one of the things I love most about video production.  It has been a very powerful and creative force in my life and has challenged me in wonderful ways.

6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Take a DSLR Video Workshop

So many photographers think that buying a DSLR capable of shooting video and taking a workshop on how to use it, is all they’ll need to do in order to get into the business of video production.   They couldn’t be more wrong.  It’s kind of like someone buying a really “good” camera, and thinking that’s all they need to be able to shoot a professional photography assignment.  And yet, so many of my professional photographer colleagues continue to think that it’s about the camera, instead of the skill set.

For starters, most of the professional video productions I do,I wouldn’t be able to shoot with a DSLR camera.  Don’t get me wrong, a DSLR can produce stunning video, but those cameras  fall short on certain tasks.  More importantly, they won’t necessarily meet the expectations that many high-end advertising art directors require. red cameraYou’ll look like a fool if you show up with your DSLR kit when they expected a lot more in the way of gear.

I get quite annoyed when I see the proliferation of DSLR video and filmmaking workshops that mislead photographers that this “tool” or camera will be sufficient for any and all video assignments – because it won’t.  It may be fine for a wedding shoot and I even made a feature length film with a DSLR, but for a lot of corporate jobs I shoot – it just doesn’t cut it.

My advice to photographers who want to learn video:

  • Learn how to think and shoot video.  It’s not just about the camera. When I shoot motion, I’m thinking and shooting much differently than I do for stills.
  • Pick the right camera for the job.  That means you’ll have to know how to use a traditional video camera or a more sophisticated camera like a RED or hire someone who does.
  • If you contain your video experience and knowledge to the DSLR, realize that your competition will be fierce.  The buy in price is low – so you won’t be the only one who thinks they can buy a relatively inexpensive camera and go after video jobs.
  • Stay away from DSLR workshops.  They are way too limited and limiting.  Plus, they are based on technology that changes way too fast.  It may be tempting – but you’ll place yourself in the lower end crowd and will most likely be competing on price.  How low are you prepared to go – or can you go and stay in business.
  • Learn video and/or filmmaking the right way.  Don’t make it dependent on a particular camera.  Learn the cinematic language and how to translate the message in a motion medium.
  • The business of video is much different than that of still photography.  If the workshop you are thinking about taking doesn’t address sound business practices – move on. You can lose your shirt on a video production if you don’t know how to price and/or structure your shoots.

Think about it.  If you were just starting out and learning photography – would you take a workshop that was about a particular camera?  Obviously not, so why would you approach learning video that way?

For more information about video production check out Gail’s guide  The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion

One Million Miles

Yesterday, I took a look at my United Airlines frequent flyer statement, and realized that I had flown 822,571 miles with that airline!

United Airlines Boeing 777–200 landing in the ...
United Airlines Boeing 777–200 landing in the Blue Tulip livery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was 177,429 miles away from a million lifetime flight miles. And that’s just the miles that I’ve flown with United!  It doesn’t include all the miles I’ve flown on other airlines, nor any of the miles I’ve flown using reward tickets. And it doesn’t include the miles I flew traveling around the world during the making of my film, Opening Our Eyes.

As I looked at that number, and thought about all those miles, Gail Mooney and daughter Erin Kelly, Giza, EgyptI couldn’t help but think about the destinations, the purpose and the motivation behind them. When I set out to live the life of a “traveler” at the young age of 19, I had absolutely no idea of how that would mold my life.  As a professional photographer, I’ve gone to the corners of the globe on dream assignments for magazines and corporations and loved every bit of it – my work has always been my pleasure.  When I wasn’t working, I’d still find a reason to travel, whether on a press junket or simply exploring the world with my husband and daughter.  Some of my favorite family memories are from our travels to Peru and Egypt.

I will always be a traveler.  I am a nomadic creature and I have a huge curiosity about our world and its people. For me, travel is more than going from point A to point B. Sure, there are plenty of times, on corporate jobs when I travel somewhere to photograph a particular person or a place and I’m never there long enough to get a sense of the place I am in.  But, for the most part, I travel to a destination to find out more about that place and tell the visual story of that particular place and its people.

As I thought about all those miles traveled, I started to think about reaching the “Million Miler” status with United.  I was only 177,429 miles away!  That may seem like a lot to many of you, and it might seem like no big deal to others, but to me it seems like a very attainable goal.  In fact, when I started to think about reaching that goal, I thought that I could easily attain that in 3 year’s time – just in time for a milestone birthday.  That’s something to consider and I shall.  I certainly have the motivation; I just need to define the destinations and more importantly the purpose.

Any suggestions?  I’m open to your thoughts.

5 Tips for Filmmakers (and other artists) for Building an Audience

The good news for Indie filmmakers, musicians, photographers and new media artists is that technology enables us to take control and distribute our own work to the masses or a more targeted niche audience.  The bad news is that even though we are able to reach a global audience without giving the lion’s share of our profits to an agent or distributor – it’s a lot of hard work.

When I completed final production on my first feature documentary, Opening Our Eyes, I knew I was hardly finished with this film, not if I wanted people to see it. theater interioeIMG_0150Since most filmmakers make their movies to be seen, they need to decide how they want their movies distributed and marketed.  As a filmmaker, do you want to delegate this task to a distribution company or do it yourself?  Will you be one of the lucky 1% of filmmakers who get their films picked up for distribution?  If not, do you have a plan on how to do that?

1. Identify and build audience – Regardless if you decide to sign with a distributor or distribute your work yourself, the most important part of marketing and distributing a film is to identify and build your audience – and you should start building your audience before the film is finished.  As soon as I made a commitment to make a film, I started blogging about it.  I created a blog specifically about the film where my daughter and I talked about preparing for and taking a 99-day journey around the world. I also wrote about the making of the film on this blog where I talked about gearing up for it as well as the post-production process.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building our niche audience.

2. Have a social media plan:

  • Decide on platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, YouTube, Vimeo
  • Carve out the time to engage
  • Decide where the content will come from – behind the scenes photos or footage, blogs, podcasts?
  • Who and where is your audience? Find other Facebook groups or pages and followers who are interested in the same topic as yours.  Collaborate. Build your Twitter followers same way.

3. Finding true fans – Since most filmmakers will most likely NOT have a mega hit with huge profits, the best thing a filmmaker can do is build their “true fan” base.  First you should ask yourself how many “true fans” would you need to sustain yourself as a filmmaker? And by true fan, I mean people who are willing to buy whatever you are selling, be it a book, a DVD, a music download or a t-shirt.  The key to growing your core “true fans” is to engage them by sharing interesting content as opposed to just selling something.

4. Be consistent and stick with it – Like anything else, building an audience takes time.  Be prepared to constantly interact and engage your audience by sharing relevant and interesting content with them.  You’re building a tribe or a community.

5. Find likely partners – Making films is a collaborative effort.  Similarly, for filmmakers to be successful in marketing their films they need to find their core niche.  One great way to find your niche audience is to identify like minded groups and share links.  The non-profit my daughter works for partnered with us and we frequently share each other’s news with our followers.

Condensing a Life

I have lived in the house that I am in for 19 years. For a kid who grew up going to a new school every year until the fourth grade, this has been the longest I have ever lived anywhere.  My husband and I raised a child in this home.  We also work here, running our photography business out of a separate section of the house.  What that means is that we’ve done a lot of living in this house and with that comes the accumulation of “stuff”.

When you live the kind of life I do, always moving forward with new projects and exploring the world, you don’t realize what a past you’ve had until you begin the process of getting rid of things you no longer need.  That’s what I have been doing recently, sorting through years worth of “stuff” and tossing what I don’t need anymore.

I spent the day yesterday, taking on just one small corner of my office, going through folders that contained everything from old stock photo delivery memos, caption information for dozens of destinations, financial information, old contact info, lists of goals and good intentions and LOTS of correspondence.

And that’s where I got totally sidetracked from my mission, looking through almost 20 years of correspondence.  There were many letters from a friend who died long ago.  My friend had also been a mentor to me, and his letters were thoughtful, insightful and full of encouragement. I suppose I have kept those letters all these years to remind me of where I was at during that time in my life.

There were plenty of other letters and note cards from people who have been part of my life, including a card from my daughter withErin+Paris at the beach 1995 Happy Birthday Mommy a crayon drawing inside that she had made.  It brought back of vivid memory of when I had received it.  It was my birthday and I had been on a very long assignment, shooting in France, and as great as that sounds, (and it was) it was also hard because I missed my family terribly.

It was a bittersweet experience, going through decades of correspondence, but I’m grateful that I kept some of it.  It was like tangible evidence of chapters of my life and it somehow felt more real than my electronic archives do.  And so, while I spent hours shredding documents, feeling like I was in the movie Argo, there’s just some things I’m not quite ready to let go of. For now those tangible memoirs will stay in that corner of the office until the next edit.