3 Ways Photographers can Grow or Diversify

Partner with your competitors.

Chicago 1920's
Chicago 1920’s

I know three successful still photographers working in the Midwest area of the country shooting and competing with one another for regional and national clients. They recently formed a separate production company and are shooting broadcast commercials for the national market. It has proven to be a smart move for them. They’ve expanded their businesses by offering video solutions that meet their clients’ needs and have collaborated with one another by bringing different skill sets to the video production team. I often think that we (photographers) miss out on collaborative opportunities due to our independent nature. But I’ve learned that when I work in a collaborate team and we each bring our own perspective and skills to the whole, it has made me raise my own bar. Partnering doesn’t solely pertain to video production. It works in any business that benefits from scaling up.

Shoot outside your niche. I’ve always been a commercial still photographer working primarily in the editorial and B2B markets. About 15 years ago my partner/husband and I started exploring the motion medium. We began by shooting stock motion footage on 35mm film, which was a very expensive proposition, but I fell in love with this medium. When digital video hit the scene, my passion for storytelling led me straight to it. Digital video enabled me to shoot in the motion genre with our small team and at an affordable cost.

Kelly/Mooney is now a fully integrated still and video production business in the commercial market. We recently embarked into the retail niche offering high quality “Ken Burns” style family biography films (videos).

School children - 1930's
School children – 1930’s

Every family has a story to tell and I wanted to use my craft as a filmmaker to tell their stories for future generations. I’m finding that people desperately want to organize and preserve their family photos whether they are digital images or inherited analog snapshots. I didn’t want to just digitize their family photos and put them on DVD’s. I wanted to capture their family stories with on-camera interviews of their loved ones retelling them in their own voice while they are still here to tell them. It has been well received but it comes with a learning curve and getting to know the retail market.

Shoot what you want to shoot. Shoot something that you are passionate about not because you think it would make a good promotion piece or portfolio sample. It could be that you photograph something you are interested in and have access to. As a female photographer I’ve spent the better part of my career working in a male dominated profession. I decided to seek out other women who work in male dominated fields and create a series of short videos about them. Here are some of the amazing women I met; Natalie Jones a helicopter pilot, Simona deSilvestro a professional racecar driver and Patrice Banks and auto mechanic and engineer. Working on this series not only keeps my skill set sharp but has led to making some great connections.

Don’t think that you have to pursue an overwhelming topic or project. You may just want to explore with your phone. We live in an age that I used to dream about – an age where technology makes it possible and even easy to create the images that only exist in our mind’s eye. Technology has made communicating visually immediate and spontaneous. Think about the power and the opportunities that provides.

 

Pricing, Photographers & the Race to the Bottom

The bottom is getting crowded.

I read Seth Godin’s blog daily. He’s usually concise and right on target. His post entitled,”Clawing your way to the bottom” really hits the mark as far as what professional photographers and other visual creators are up against.

I used to make a lot of money shooting stock – that is before the consolidation of agencies and the commoditization of stock. While it’s understandable why that happened when the world went “digital”, the prices and value of images has dropped so far that an “average” stock shooter can no longer make a living shooting stock.

I’m grateful that I never relied solely on stock photography to make a living. However, commissioned photography has not escaped the race to the bottom as far as photographers pricing themselves out of business. There’s only so low one can go on their fees. It’s a short fix to nowhere.

The solution is there for anyone who is willing to do the work – that is, make the effort to stay at the top of your game. Focus on the big picture. Be curious. Don’t panic. Stay away from trends., Focus on the story – not on the gear. Tell them a story. Live life because if you don’t – your work will show it.

 

 

 

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

How to be Productive in a World Full of Distractions

I’m an organized person. I need to be organized otherwise I feel that my life is in chaos. Scraps of paperI’ve always been able to define an end goal and break down the tasks that need to be completed in order to attain that goal. I am able to prioritize tasks and assign deadline dates. I’ve always been pretty good at getting things done. I have to be – I’m an independent entrepreneur.

My business is visual communications. I create storytelling images and films for corporations and non-profits. I market myself to buyers who commission still photography and video production for that market. These buyers work for ad agencies, in-house corporate agencies, non-profits or publishing companies.

My business has changed dramatically since I opened shop over 3 decades ago. The possibilities and tools that are available to small independent entrepreneurs to use in their marketing strategies are endless. The problem is the vast amounts of opportunities ends up being a double-edged sword because it overwhelms most of us. There are endless ways to target a global audience through, social media channels, electronic ads, online portals/websites/blogs, emailer promotions, print promotions, print and online directories……….the list goes on and on.

It simply becomes overwhelming and seemingly impossible at times, for me to address all the needs of a small business, to keep our business afloat. What I’ve found is that it’s never been more important than it is now in our tech driven culture, to be organized and focused and not succumb to distractions.

Here are some tools that help:

Basecamp – essential management tool if you’re collaborating with others.

Wunderlist – organize your personal/business life. Notes, notifications, reminders, due dates and share lists with colleagues and family. Free

Post Planner – If you or your company engages their audience on Facebook, this app saves you time and boosts engagement. Schedules your posts – finds content.

Sweet Process – Do you feel like you have to learn all over again, every time you do the same things? It could be a workflow for creating emailers for example. This app systemizes and records your process. Essential in employee transitions.

Magical Pad – Organize – be more productive – get things done. Projects, Tasks, Brainstorming.

StayFocusd – Are you super distractible and find yourself spending hours on social media and not getting anything done? Perhaps you should install this app if you are a Chrome user. It will limit the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites.

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/

Working from Home- Avoiding the Pitfalls

A lot of my photographer friends have closed their studios, due to a lousy economy and changes with the type of work they do. They’ve set up offices in their home, and some have faired better than others. GailMaggieI think it’s kind of a “hunter/gatherer” type thing where some people feel the need to head off to a “place of work” and if they don’t have that – they feel less “legitimate”.

 

This winter one of my friends was having a particularly tough time making this transition and he was ready to pack it all in and get a “real” job. He called me because he knew that I’ve always worked from home, and he wanted to know how I dealt with it and stayed productive. We had a long and very honest conversation and he thanked me. I saw him at a party recently and he came up to me, thanked me again and told me things were looking up for him. Quite honestly, I had forgotten the conversation but he reminded me of some things I said to him and suggested that I blog about it. So here goes.

 

Some tips to do and some things to avoid:

  • Start off by calling it your “home office” – not “working from home”. Somehow it’s different psychologically.
  • Be prepared for well meaning family and friends to encourage you to get a “real job”. This happens a lot with people who have creative careers. It’s hard, but you need to explain to your loved ones that what you do IS a real job. Just because you’ve had to lower your overhead and work from a home office, doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It does mean that you’ve had to make adjustments just like a lot of others have had to do these days to make ends meet.
  • Avoid falling into the trap of taking care of personal tasks during your business hours. My friend found himself spending a lot of time on errands that his spouse asked him to do – “since he was home”. That’s fine once in awhile, but if you find yourself spending half your day doing personal stuff – you are sabotaging yourself and your business. And personal stuff includes putting together Aunt Ann’s birthday bash photos in a fun presentation for all to see. Sure do that – but not during business hours because this is not your hobby – it’s your business.
  • Don’t get overly complacent as soon as you get rid of the expense of your studio. I’ve seen this happen a lot. The pressure to make that overhead is gone so you let your guard down and along with that your clients start to disappear. But it’s because you’ve disappeared – you’re not marketing yourself anymore – and you’re off your clients’ radar.
    • • Have a routine just like you would if you walked out the door to go to work.
    • • Get up at a set time and get dressed – sounds simple but it’s important
    • • Have set work hours
    • • Have a plan – just because you’re in your home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a business plan with action items.
    • • Avoid distractions – tough one. If you find yourself doing something that a “boss” wouldn’t approve of – then stop yourself. You’re the boss so stop cheating yourself.
  • Network and connect with your peers and colleagues. This is important, especially in a creative business. You need to have people you can bounce things off of. I have a couple of friends in my life that I’m really grateful for because I know I can share my vulnerabilities and ideas with them without being judged. Friends can do that for you because they don’t have anything personally at stake and can look at things with unbiased eyes. These connections are critical when working from home. These days it’s easy to connect with others. If you can’t do a face-to-face – you’ve got hundreds of other options with social media, listservs or just pick up the phone.
  •  Remember on your darkest days when it seems like it’s hopeless and you’re ready to pack it in and get one of those “real jobs” – don’t totally abandon your dream just yet – leave the door cracked open at least. Maybe get a part time job to start. It will take some of the pressure off and if photography or music or writing or whatever – is your passion – then you’ll quickly find out that a “real job” may not be what makes you happy. The cynics may say that you shouldn’t expect happiness with a job and that the expectation of a job should be to just pay your bills. Maybe so, but do you want to spend most of your life being miserable or counting down the hours to your next vacation? Many times that part time job gives you the push you need to re-invigorate your business because you’ve had a taste of the alternative.
  • Don’t burn your bridges. If you’ve had even the slightest bit of success in the past, following your passions but are in a slump – don’t be so quick to announce to the world that you’re moving on to another career – unless you are thoroughly convinced that you will never have any regrets making that decision. You get the best light from a burning bridge – but it’s usually too late by then. If there’s one thing I’ve learned the hard way – it’s not to burn bridges – because life has a way of making you regret it.

 

10 Tips For Getting GOOD Audio When Using a DSLR

If you’re like most of the professional still photographers I know, you have either expanded your business and offer videomicrophones (in addition to your still photography) to your clients, or have plans to.  If you do have future plans to offer video to your clients, then you are either learning the particulars of that skill set, or you are collaborating with others who are in the know, or both.

Perhaps, one of the most daunting components of video, for still photographers is audio. Capturing audio is totally foreign to a still photographer, yet it is the most important component of all, in video production.

Here are a few tips for getting good audio:

  • You’ll never get good audio using the camera’s built in microphone, – at least not for interviews. Don’t turn the camera’s audio off however.  You can use it later for reference audio when syncing sound later in post-production.
  • Use external microphones for capturing audio interviews.  Ideally, you should record your interview audio using a digital recorder like the Samson Zoom H6 or the Tascam DR-60D with XLR connections.  I usually place a “lav” microphone on my subjects. I will also use a shotgun microphone, mounted (with shock mount) on a boom pole that’s on a fixed stand.  I rely on the microphone on the fixed stand, as opposed to hiring a boom operator, especially if I don’t have the budget for a big crew. If you should decide to use an amateur or assistant as a “boom operator”, rather than hire an experienced operator who knows how to capture “consistent” audio, you’ll most likely end up with poor audio captured at inconsistent levels. The shotgun microphone should be about 12-18 inches away from your subject. You can sync the sound with the video, later in post- production, using the software Plural Eyes.
  • Don’t cross your audio cords with your electrical cords. This causes a hum that you will detect if you are wearing headphones.
  • For run and gun” situations, you can probably get away with using a microphone mounted on the camera, as long as you are close to your audio source. You can either run a microphone (with a mini plug) directly to the camera OR you can run a microphone with an XLR adaptor through a pre-amp like a JuicedLink or a Beachtek, which will yield a cleaner audio capture. This works well for capturing ambient sound for b-roll or live action, and your audio will be recorded to the same card as your video. If you do want to capture your interview audio using a microphone mounted on the camera, make sure that you get your camera in close to your subject (not more than 18 inches away), and that you us a mixer or a pre-amp.
  • Microphones – Use an omni-directional or cardiod microphone when you are in a more controlled situation and you want your sound coming from more directions – like on a sound stage.  “Lav” microphones can be used for interviews, either hard wired or with a wireless kit. Be careful when you attach it to your subject and position it to avoid any unnecessary noise coming from hair or jewelry rubbing up against it. A good camera mounted microphone is the Sennheiser MKE 400 (compact shotgun). For interviews I use my cardiod Sennheiser ME66 with K6 powering module.
  • Use a wireless system only when you NEED to. In cities like New York you can get a lot of interference on various frequencies. Always go wired when you can. A great and affordable hard-wired “lav”, is the SonyECM44B And if you find yourself needing a wireless system, spend the money to get a system that has a good range.
  • Use a good windscreen or “dead cat” when outside. Even if you’re inside, on a windy day, with windows open, you can pick up wind noise.
  • Use headphones. Don’t just look at your meters.  Your meter may indicate that you are recording sound, but it may not be good sound – it could be you are picking up interference or getting distorted and clipped audio. Wear headphones and make sure that you are getting quality sound.
  • Always consider that you will be using the audio – even for your b-roll.  You will need clean usable audio for b-roll, even if it’s only intended as ambient, background sound.
  • Pay attention to audio. Start by letting your ears do more of the work. Every room and situation has its own sound. Listen up. Be quiet and tell your crew to be quiet as well. You never know when you’ll want to use the audio – even if you think you won’t need it.

You can read more about what I brought with me in the way of gear, when I literally circled the globe, creating my first feature length film.  The film is now available on DVD.

If you’d like to know more about “moving into motion”, check out my book, The Craft and Commerce of Motion and Video.