john mullora imperfectly empowered podcast with ahna fulmer

Empowering Confidence Through Portrait Photography

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From 15 years with NASA to the creative arts, multi-award-winning portrait photographer, John Mollura shares his inspiring journey through grief, anxiety, and loss and how he now empowers others through portrait photography.

Listen to the episode today to hear John’s stories which range from rock climbing on earth to rock collecting on Mars and a supernatural experience that saved his life.

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  • How John went from NASA to the creative arts.
  • How a supernatural experience saved John’s life.
  • The dichotomy of responsibility and passion.
  • The power of unhappiness.  
  • John’s top tips for taking better photos.
  • John’s secret to success.


From 15 years with NASA to the creative arts, multi-award-winning portrait photographer John Mullora shares his inspiring journey through grief, anxiety, and loss and how he now empowers others through portrait photography.


John Mullora is a multi-award-winning portrait photographer recognized among celebrities and Fortune Five Hundred Companies alike for photographing their stories in a creative and impactful way. John combines his personal story of grief, anxiety, and loss with his unique professional experiences that include 15 years with NASA and studying under celebrity portrait photographer and global humanitarian Jeremy Cowart to empower men and women with confidence and self-worth through creative portraits.


Ahna Fulmer Signature

I became very adept at developing reports with people super quick, which translates phenomenally well into portrait photog. Which is what I focus on now. Welcome to the M perfectly empowered podcast with leading DIY lifestyle blogger on a Fullmer where women are inspired with authentic stories and practical strategies to reclaim their hearts and homes by empowering transformation.
One imperfect day at a time. Hello. Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the imperfectly empowered podcast. I am your host. On a former today, it is my pleasure to introduce you to John Malora. John is a multi-award winning portrait photographer, recognized among celebrities and fortune 500 companies alike for photographing their stories in a creative and impactful way.
John combines his personal story of grief, anxiety, and loss with his unique profession. Variances that include 15 years with NASA and studying under celebrity portrait photographer, and global humanitarian Jeremy cohert to empower men and women with confidence. And self-worth through creative portraits, welcomed master photographer and storyteller.
John Malora, John, welcome to the perfectly empowered podcast. Thank you. Thank you for having me on it. Yeah, absolutely. I, you have such an eclectic story. It was so fun reading about you and your story. One of the things that made me laugh is I at one point in your bio, you talk about how you spent four years at Penn state feeling like the dumbest person in the room.
Yeah. So you were an engineer, so we’re in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. So I’m very familiar with Penn state, right? Yeah. Awesome. My husband was in industrial engineering. So I’ve heard the sentiment more than once. I don’t think you were alone there. I think pretty much everyone felt like they were the dumbest people in the room, except for that one person.
Exactly. I think that goes for just about any area. Tell me a little bit though, because again, we’re going to dive into more of your, where you’re at currently, but I love talking about the backstory and the journey that got people to where they are today. So you started years and years ago in engineering.
You were at Penn state. Tell me a little bit about. Kind of the former years and sort of what brought you to where you are today? Tell me a little bit about those those years. Yeah, I truthfully, I don’t know how I ended up in engineering. I, one of those things where I went to a very conservative Catholic high school and I’m pretty sure I went and talked to my guidance counselor and they looked at my math and science scores and said, oh, you’re really good at that.
Did you like figuring things out? And I probably said, uh, yeah, sure. And they probably just said you should go into engineering one. All right, cool. I really don’t know how I ended up there and it was a good fit. I mean, I do have a sciency and math. Brain. So, yes, I went to school for engineering, considered changing majors numerous times.
I mean, you can blame you in engineering was like drinking water from a fire hose, but yeah, I did internships and co-ops, I worked for Campbell soup the eight month co-op with them and Camden, New Jersey, which the internship was an experience and working in Camden, New Jersey. Late nineties was also experienced and had a couple other internships.
And then before my, I think right before my junior or right before my senior year, I was planning to work for Disney to be one of the Imagineers. And it was down to me and one other. And they got the internship and I did not, and I did not have a plan B, which is a recurring theme life. And I remember getting the call and it was back in the late nineties.
So I was just sitting with the phone back on the wall. Right, right. It was at least cordless, I think. You were somewhat that’s right. Put the, uh, the phone back on the wall and just sat down on my couch. And I was just totally dejected and thought, what am I going to do? And one of my fraternity brothers walked in the room.
I lived in a house with any, at that time, there were 44 unsupervised college aged dudes, just living together in this house that was built in the, I think the mid 18 or 19th century. So like right after the civil war, the house got. So one of my buddies came walking in and he goes, you’re right, man. And I said, no, I’m not.
And I told him what had happened. He goes, well, you’re outdoors. You’re I go? Yeah. He said, well, you want to teach water sports for the boy Scouts? I said, I don’t know the first thing about water sports, nor was I a boy scout bill. And he said, he goes, that’s cool. He said, we’ll send you to like an intensive training.
We’ll teach you everything you need to know. You just need to know more than the kids. I said, all right, cool. So packed my bags after the semester ended and headed to the boondocks of right where in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York all come together, right north of Delaware water gap and showed up.
And I was working with a ranger crew, which was their maintenance staff. Um, until they could send me to training and me being the unskilled labor, I got all the jobs that the tradesman didn’t want to do, like pulling dead mice out of toilets. And Lord have mercy. That’s about the lowest of right there. If you want a humbling experience, that’s probably been very top of the list.
I did it and I knew it was only for a couple of weeks. I had this light at the end of the tunnel that. Yeah. I was going to learn to drive a motor boat and sail and do all these things I wanted to. And right before I supposed to head off to additional training, I was thinking I was scrubbing and rust off of propane tanks and have another garden.
Pardon, the spot job. And they came walking up and they were like, Hey, you, you excited for training? And I said, yeah, I’m super psyched. And they said about that, I went, no, I’m like my heart just sank. I’m like, I’m going to decent, like seeing images of more mice and more toys, more minds. And like, I can only imagine.
The biological load that would be coming with thousands of CA you know, oh, I got some boys Scouts. I said, all right. And he said, well, we, the maintenance crew are really impressed with your work ethic. You’re welcome to stay on with them. And I thought, okay, well, again, I don’t have a plan B. Right. And they said, or.
We’re looking for a director of rock climbing, the guy who came back last year, didn’t come back because the water sports person had decided to come back. They’re like, so you can’t get a training for that. And I thought, okay, well anything’s better than right. And toilets and rust off propane tanks that are missing.
And I wondered if what their structural,
I said, I don’t care. I’ll learn to rock. And so they sent me the training and it was pretty intense training. It was like I said, about a week and they were like 12 to 14 hour days and they taught me everything I needed to know to, to have people running. And this was your senior year. Yeah, this is right before, right before, like my senior year.
And because I was actually delayed a little bit because I went, I did that internship Campbell’s soup and took a semester off. So yeah, junior, senior year timeframe. My dad wanted me to work for like Boeing or something. Get another internship. I’m going to have a job for the rest of my life. I’m going to go play in the woods.
Yeah. So how’d you get from the woods to. NASA I’ll bring it all back together. I was a director of rock climbing the whole summer. I ran a staff. I think we had like over seven, 800 people successfully rock climb, and that’s a pretty pass, fail success criteria. Like did anyone die off a cliff? No one died.
No one got their limbs. Everyone had a limb. Everything was where it was when they showed up. Right. I put that on my resume when I graduated, but everyone had their lambs. Yeah. That I was a director of rock climbing for the, yeah, no one died because I thought it showed responsibility. And I put in my resume to a company that makes the space suit for NASA as a joke, they sent like a blast email to all graduating mechanical engineers.
Put your resume in, we’d like to interview you. And I put it in as a joke, you know? Cause I thought I’m like a 3.0 GPA, which is pretty good for engineering, but not the smartest person in the room. I thought that was for other people to do that. Wasn’t for someone like me to work for NASA. So they actually called me back for an interview and I’d seen her being interviewed to be a project manager, which is like schedules and budgets.
Looking back on it. I dodged a bullet, not getting that job, but when they got to the part of my resume about being a director of rock climbing, the director of engineering said, what is this about rock climbing? And I went through my spiel and he goes, hang on, someone, just walk by my office. I want you to talk to, and again, here I am sitting on my cordless phone and it just went on me and I thought, okay, And this guy got on the phone, who I hadn’t heard before he goes, what do you think about rock climbing on Mars and the stroke, gravelly, nasally voice, and me being, do you think about rock climbing on Mars?
I said nobody ever, right. I just very flippantly said, are you going to pay for the airfare? And I went, oh my God. I just said, by being a smart Alec, yeah. This voice on the other end of the phone goes, get them down here for an interview. And that was the first time I talked to the guy who would eventually become my mentor.
His name was skip Wilson. And I went down for an interview and he, and I hit it off like a ball of fire. And he said he ran all the test programs for the landing systems for the. NASA Pathfinder. And to be the Mars exploration rovers, he was the guy who did all the testing on the landing systems and that involved, heading out into, um, these very extensive test sites all across the country and sometimes the world.
And he needed someone who had the book smarts of engineering, but also had some practical skills because sometimes engineers aren’t always known for their practical application of all those books. Right. So when he saw rock climbing on a resume. Here’s someone I could actually, that might be able to understand the technical aspects, but I can send out into the field.
And that’s how I ended up at NASA because his background was, he was a former special forces guy back to college and got his degree. And when he got out of the military, use the experience, he had gathered testing things for the military and parlayed that into just another area of government service. So that’s how my journey went from losing.
My dream internship that Disney too, a few weeks later, pulling mice out of toilets, just raising my hand and saying, I don’t care. I’ll learn to rock climb. I’ll do that. Whatever. And ended up traveling all over the world then for a decade and a half as a test engineer for NASA and various military projects.
It’s always fascinating to me because one of the most consistent themes that I hear over and over again is that these incredible experience in life so often stem from. What seems like at the time, I very simple, not as engaging, not as important type of activity, whether it be rock climbing or being a janitor or mice and toilets, like whatever it is, but it’s so fascinating to see.
It’s like, if you take opportunities that are presented today, you never know how that will lead to what you’re going to do tomorrow. So you’re in NASA. I mean, we could just pause right there. Alone. What in your time there, can you think of one experience that if you could have told your younger self, like as a kid, Hey, by the way, in 15 years in eight, whatever it is here is what you were going to do.
What story would have shocked you? The most? My dream was always growing up was to. Go into the military. I always want to be either a pilot or special forces. However, I have a congenital foot issue that precluded me from any type of military service. So what I would tell myself is because when I found out I was disqualified from military service in high school, and I went to try to go the ROTC and even enlist in the army route, I would have told myself.
Don’t be discouraged because you’re going to have opportunities to actually serve those who serve us. Because in addition to working on the space stuff, we did the company I worked for. We developed systems to keep air crews, the men and women that flying crew, the aircraft station. And the event they ever, God forbid came in contact with chemical or biological warfare agents.
We develop systems to protect them. So they could still do their full mission profiles and come home safely. So I would tell myself, whenever I found out I was precluded from military service, you will have opportunities to still be able to serve your country. It’s just not going to be in the ways that you thought.
Mm. I love that. What is, what is one memory that sticks out to you? Maybe he has the most exhilarating, maybe it isn’t the most exhilarating, but is there one, I mean, you have so many crazy stories from your time in NASA, but can you share one memory in particular that sticks out in your mind? That you maybe would or would not want to do again?
Yeah, I think I would definitely do this again, but a memory that sticks in my mind involves, I think it was like 30 to 40 hours of air travel, getting into full architect gear while it was 85 degrees out, sitting on a runway to be loaded onto a. Military transport, plane and New Zealand. And then sitting in this tin can with a giant tank of liquid oxygen in front of me for about six hours.
And when the cargo doors opened, once my eyes adjusted, being able to see Antarctica for the first time, that’s definitely a core memory for me. And what were you doing? I’m trying to. In what scenario would you need? Would all those things be aligning to create this story? So the company I worked for, like I said, to make the space suit for NASA.
So their specialty is anything with real high tech fabrics and figuring out different ways to utilize fabrics in ways that I’ve never been done before. And I was in an article. Working on a joint project between NASA and the national science foundation, where the company I worked for developed a inflatable building, essentially that the science crews in Antarctica could chop her out to whatever remote work site they had just cause you’re in Antarctica, there’s even places more remote in America that they’ll have to fly out to.
And. It used to involve sending teams of carpenters out to build an erect, these structures out in the field and that’s time and money and resources are very short. Yeah. You can’t just run to home Depot. If you forget your drywall screws down in Antarctica. So the company I worked for developed a inflatable building that they could chop her out, kick it out of the helicopter or cargo plane.
It would land on the ground, the advanced team land. Fires up the generator inflates the building and NASA was looking for the same technology to use because you could fold it up super small. They were looking for the same technology to use for planetary exploration or lunar exploration. So we built this, our team went down and deployed it in, I think January of 2008.
And I went down in December of 2008 to do an inspection after the Antarctic winter. Cause it’s obviously very cold down there. The soil is all. It’s very much like Mars and the moon, because it’s crushed up volcanic rock, which is super nasty to any kind of equipment, which so I was down there to do an inspection of our stuff.
That’s how I found myself literally halfway around the world at the bottom of the earth. That’s amazing. So basically trying to create these inflatable working environments for. Yeah. Wow. Yeah. Planetary analog, I think was the fancy word they used. We wanted to see it. How much of a beating you could take that?
I mean, it’s so crazy to me. Just what I love hearing stories like this, because there’s so many things happening in parts of the world that you just, the pieces that all need to come. It’s like a movie there’s you watch the credits. 5 million people in the tiniest little letters. And you think the role that all of these people played to putting on this one production and it’s like that in so many fields and NASA being one of those they’re.
So in the credits of NASA, there’s just so many people that are playing roles in creating one trip or one landing that you. Think about it’s so fascinating. That’s amazing. And my uncle was a west point graduate. He’s one of the, I think he might be the only other engineer in our family. I remember when I was talking to him growing up and Sam, you know, I want to be a pilot or special forces.
He said, well, why? And I said, cause it’d be pretty cool. To like go streak in through the air because it’s also pretty cool to see something you worked on go streaking through the air. John, I want to, okay. What he said to me in that conversation, I was probably in eighth grade at that point that really stuck with me.
He said, if you go into that field or whatever you do, don’t make it more complicated than it has to be. So you hear all these fantastical things about NASA, and obviously there’s a big, long credit list of people that could happen at the end of the day. If you can distill things down to a very simple formula, it really makes sense of the world, whether it be emotional or, you know, in the space of physics.
For instance, he’s the example of a fighter jet said, you know, fighter jet, there’s hundreds of thousands of moving parts and all this stuff. He said it operates on the same principles that door wedge, John. He said, it’s shaped like this and there’s a force applied to the back and it just pushes through stuff, just like a doorway.
So every time I would find myself going down some rabbit hole and making things more complex, I think, think of that. The door wedge, then uncle George stole wedge Norwich. I’ll make it more complicated than it has. Says the mechanical engineer working for NASA, right. Don’t make, oh, if there’s one thing I specialize in, I can make things way more complex and maybe we need to be, oh, that’s so funny.
I love that the door wedge. So that’s going to be the new, just think of the door wedge. So during these years, I mean, again, kind of talking about. That idea of growth and kind of never knowing what the next step holds. You also experienced some personal difficulties in this. You had professional growth and journey as well, but tell me a little bit about the personal challenges and journey that you also went through in this time, that kind of created a pivot point.
Yeah. So the job was a perfect fit for who I was at the time when I graduated college. And even for years after, because the job gave me a lot of accolades that I could put up on the wall from mission certificates, I, and just various things. And. I would never believe them. I’d be up on stage getting some commendation letter from the department of defense.
And I would just think, oh my God, someone’s going to find out I don’t deserve to be here. And came later to find out. After I started really digging into myself that, that imposters. I never believed the data that I had, you know, to speak in engineering terms. I had all these missions under that I led or teams that I participated on and I just never believed that I was worthy of it.
So the job really helped, even though I didn’t believe as accolades, it was nice to continually receive them and these kind of attaboys and prove to, I don’t even know who I was trying to prove to that I was worthy. And. I would always take on the toughest projects, the toughest missions, and again, with this kind of desire to prove that I was worthy.
And what eventually happened was I build up this veneer of perfection. And if I ever felt that that veneer perfection was being challenged, or maybe I looked foolish because one thing I definitely hated doing and would pretty much refuse to do is say, I don’t know. I didn’t want to appear less than perfect.
Less than less than some like Superman. And the way I would cope with that is I would be very, very sharp tongued to people. Very sarcastic. If I felt like I was being threatened, like my reputation, I would immediately say something very cruel or very, just kind of nasty shirk. You know, and I later came to find out that that was because I didn’t feel confident with myself.
And even though after I would say something, you know, you feel good in that, like split second, but then the demons come to call at night and you kind of play back the day. You think, man, those people must not like me. And. I’ve wrestled with anxiety for much of my life. And as does nearly 50% of America, if truth be told, I imagine it’s much higher than that.
Yes. Well, correct. Exactly. I mean, clinical diagnoses are not the same as, yes. Yeah. So I had anxiety my life. I, and then coupled with this Superman syndrome, I had an imposter syndrome and sharp tongue. I just find anxiety coming in waves. And when our first child was born a few weeks after she was born, I had left home alone with her for the first time.
Then she wouldn’t take a bottle and that pretty much caused me to have like a huge panic attack and you know, a lot of anxiety because that voice and went back to my. See John, you really can’t take care of the ones you love. You will fail. Everyone shares my daughter like premature baby clothes, like having me like unravel.
So that was the first thing that happened in 2008. And then a few months later, my best childhood friend, Nathan, we lost him to suicide. I’ll never forget getting the call from our mutual friend that he had intentionally overdosed. And he and I. Parted ways. I knew he was struggling. I was struggling myself at the time and tried reaching out to him a few times and he was just, we never reconnected after we separated paths.
And when Nathan died, Didn’t know how to handle that. I just was able to like show up and go to work, but I’m sure I was operating at far less capacity and probably should have taken sat down on the bench and taken a time out because some of the things we did were potentially very dangerous, but I just kept pushing through.
And I remember a few months after Nathan died, just getting ready for work. I thought I can’t live like this. Like. Like, I’m not a functioning human, like I’m just kind of operating on some like basic primal thing where like, I’m just next step. Next step. Next. And I mentioned earlier that I went to Catholic high school and given my rebellious nature, growing up, uh, coupled with some things that I observed during school, I actively actually pushed God away.
After high school, I felt that anyone who needed God or would rely on something so foolish is that it’s just weak and dumb. And that’s how I operated from high school up until this point. And I just remember just standing in the bathroom. Houses MTO silent. And I just said the strength, courage, and wisdom, prayer.
I don’t know why, but at that moment of like utter brokenness, I physically felt like. A warm sensation come over me. And I thought I’ve either just lost my mind for real, or maybe God’s real. So that day in the summer of 2009, a few, few months after Nathan’s passing is where I just welcomed Jesus into my life.
Didn’t really understand what that meant, but at that moment, like my heart. Started changing, you know, we’re just coming out of the Christmas season here. It’s, uh, the Grinch, you know, the story, you know, when his heart grows, that’s really how I felt and began this journey of just being kinder and gentler to other people and also learning to be kinder and gentler to myself.
So from then on, you know, I’ve really worked on, there were a lot of apologies. To people in my immediate circle, even going back to like reaching out to people and like grade school, I think he got named Zach has the record for the longest time period. I went back to apologize for something. And he said, I like, I reached out to him through Facebook.
He’s like, dude, I don’t even remember that. He’s like, but kudos for you, you know? Good luck on your journey except for you though. Yeah. So yeah, so my heart really just changed. To just be kinder and more gentle. Over those years, the company I worked for this job that I had loved and was such a dream job for me, the company changed how they operated and the job was no longer serving me.
I no longer felt like I was doing the kind of work that I was called to do. I felt like I was being called to do something different, but. Now my wife and I had three children. And what kind of responsible father leaves a high paying job just cause they ain’t happy. Right. So I went and got another job where I made even more money and they’d fly me around to fly me to Asian first-class and I would go to these meetings and, you know, had a very high level position.
And on a I’ve never been more unsatisfied in my life as I was during the nine months. I lasted at that time. I’ll never forget. It was a day. Like it is here where I’m at in Delaware. Yeah. Just kind of gray. It’s like 35 degrees. There’s rain. I remember walking into this new job I had after I left the NASA job.
And like, water’s like going down the back of my coat. I can just remember walking to the. And just thinking, thank God I’m being paid so much money to be this miserable, miserable. When I said that to myself, like I remember going into the building, but I don’t remember the walk back to my sheriff office in the back, just cause my mind was reeling to actually kind of hear those words out loud.
I thought, what would I tell my friends or my children, if it came to me and said they were this miserable and what kind of example, my setting for my kids. Yeah. So that started the conversation with my wife, who I was really nervous to say, you know, I’d love to do photography. Full-time right. Cause I thought she was going to say, are you out of your mind?
Because we’re, I’m like flying off to Antarctica and doing all these things. Like my wife is very much like, whoa, hang on. We need to plan this out. Like, let’s not do anything too crazy here. Right. So says here it’s like, I’m not happy. I thought she was going to be like, no way Bucko. Like we got to figure something else out.
And her words were, thank God. Hmm. She said, you need to get out of that job and go do your photography. Full-time if it doesn’t work out, we’ll figure something else out. So I totally give her the credit for giving me a kick in the Keester, take the leap, which is almost five years ago in April of 2017.
Wow. It’s there. I mean, I just love this. There’s so much about this, that first of all, I didn’t know. And I resonate with even going back to when you were talking about that supernatural experience that you had, I did not know that part of your story and what is so amazing is I resonate with that. I have been there.
I have had probably two of those moments in my life. And what’s amazing about it is it’s like, You know, it’s supernatural because there’s this change that you cannot explain for any other reason, it is nothing else in your entire life has been able to give you the transformation, whether it be mentally or emotionally, not to mention just the experience that you have.
It’s almost like an out of body experience. Jesus specifically being the one who has certainly been life-changing for me as well. But what I love about that is I think so often we have this idea that when you have a moment like that, suddenly everything will line up. But what your story is also speaking to that, I’ve seen in my life as well, is that it takes.
Intentional steps after that to grow and to recognize the areas that whether it was apologizing to people or taking a next step. So thank you for sharing that part of your story. And then to the job experience I can also resonate with because I was a nurse practitioner for. Seven years. I worked in medicine for 15 years and I am now a blogger and a podcaster.
So to your point as well, I remember having the thought walking into the ER, and this was even before COVID people didn’t realize we were exhausted in emergency medicine even before COVID hit. So, but I resonate with that too. Cause I remember thinking that. At least I make a lot of money an hour, but it’s to your point, I got to the point where I was like, I just, there’s something about not being satisfied in what you’re doing, that it just might not be worth the stability.
And the money. Yeah, there’s a, um, one of my favorite rock bands. I’m a, I’m a huge music fan, as you could probably guess there’s gets hard behind it, but there’s a band called the struts and they’re from the UK and they have this song called, could have been me. And the whole song is we should link it in the show notes.
I’ll send you a link to YouTube. Okay. Say it one more time for my producer. What is it? Could’ve been me. Could have been me by the. The struts. Okay. We’ll include that in the show notes. Yeah. You want your video because the whole song just talks about never want to look back on your life and say, you know what?
I think that could have been me had I just taken the chance, you know? Cause I said, I don’t want to be sitting there when I’m old and gray doing a crossword with my wife on a patio somewhere. Right. So, you know, I think I could have made a go at being a photographer and having this different life. Yeah, well, and it seasons, I think that’s something that I’ve learned is I don’t regret at all the years that I spent getting my masters, I have two master’s degrees.
You know, I have so many years of experience and education in medicine, and I don’t regret any of that because I see how it serves, where I’m at now and the people that I can serve now in an even more impactful way. So it’s like, I don’t regret where I was, but I try to use that in such a way moving forward.
So it’s like what you’re saying. Second job after NASA, maybe you never would have been miserable enough to take the step to pursue your dreams if you hadn’t been there. So it’s like you use it all. It all gets used. Yeah, it certainly does. Whenever people hear that I used to be an engineer, especially working on the space program.
They’re like, well, that’s a huge sleeping, uh, a portrait photographer. And I say, well, of course, I understand why you say it. I said, but number one, I can totally nerd out on photography stuff. There’s more than enough gear and physics involved that I can get my belly fill of, of nerd talk. Right. I said, but also my specific job was they would send our group out.
Like I said, like I was in Antarctica testing something, so they would send us out anywhere in the world to either test our products, evaluate stuff, load it, be the last person to touch it before it gets loaded onto a space. And they dropped me off in like the Mojave desert at some military base and say, all right, when you get the test off in a few days, find the people to talk to you to make sure we can get the explosives on site easily.
So I became very explosives on. Yeah. Yeah. So I became very adept at developing reports with people like super quick. Right. Which translates phenomenally well into portrait photog. Which is what I focus on now. Being able to put people at ease and, you know, whereas before I was cutting through layers upon layers of government red tape, right now I’m cutting through layers and layers of personal, like, yeah.
Cause I always joke that I have one of the few jobs where people that are paying. Straight up, tell me they hate my service whenever they show up people. So many people show up and say, just so you know, I hate having my picture taken. I hate how I look in pictures. That’s so funny. So I’m able to break down those walls and have them feel comfortable before I even shoot a frame of, I always say film cause I want to show on film, but before I take a single picture, You know, I, I feel, and then afterwards, you know, after we’re talking about things and they say, oh my God, I never realized I looked like that.
I’m like, well, no, that’s actually you. That’s how everyone sees you. I just push the button. I say, just so you know, I said, so do you not hate how you look in pictures? They’re like, well, no, I really like these. I say, just so you know, You coming in and saying, I hate having my picture taken was like you showing up at like a restaurant and the chef comes out and the chef comes out and you say, Hey chef, just so you know, excuse me, Gordon Ramsay.
I hate eating. I hate food, but your money, but give me your best dish. I’ll give you your best. Yeah. That’s so, uh, I love that we’re going to take a quick break, but we come back, stay tuned for speed round of this or that with John. And we’re going to dive into portrait photography. What makes his photos so unique and his expert advice on photographing?
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Okay. John is very simple. You get two options, you pick one or the other. Okay. All right. Canon or Nikon, Nikon, the Martian or rocket man. Wow. I’m impressed that you know, both of those. Well, I’m a huge music fan, so I’m going to have to save rocket, man. I agree. Some Elton love me some Melton DC or Marvel Marvel shoot in a studio or outside studio cat or.
I tell my dog to hold her ears, but, and be cat, watch yourself. I know, I think she’s outside. I think I’m clear. That’s hilarious. Okay. And Arctica or the desert? Ooh, the desert fun fact though. Antarctica is technically. Because it really is actually a desert because what defines a desert is not temperature.
It’s the amount of precipitation it gets. Antarctica gets so little precipitation actually qualifies as a desert. It just doesn’t melt. That’s why. Yeah. So I could say desert and be in the clear for both trick question. He’s an engineer guy. Sorry. Sorry.
I love it. I love it. Okay. Water skiing or scuba diving? Scuba diving. All right. Last one. Football or basket. Or rock climbing, I guess we’re going through that next year. I’m a nice hockey player. So football probably you’re an ice hockey player. I grew up playing ice hockey thing. Yeah. The town where I grew up Johnstown, Pennsylvania is where they filmed the old Paul Newman hockey movie called slapshot.
Yeah. So one of my coaches was actually one of the main characters in it. So it was interesting. I mean, Pennsylvania is not like, that’s where we are. I can’t say ice hockey is huge. So it’s interesting that ice hockey is kind of what you grew up. Yeah. Western PA it’s really big. Okay, well, that’s fair. Okay.
Interesting. Well, we’ve moved everywhere from NASA to mice, to toilets, to rock climbing. I love it. This is the way that we roll here. So let’s get into portrait photography. I love your links and everything are going to be included on the show notes. I really love the portraits that you take. Tell me a little bit about portrait photography.
What. Makes you excited about doing it? It’s a creative aspect and what’s fun. And again, I resonate with this is even though again, like I would have been like you, you know, I was in medicine for 15 years, two masters worked in the ER for a lot of that. And now I get to explore the creative side, which I love with blogging and everything here.
Tell me what is it that you love so much about portrait photography and what makes yours so unique? What I’ve always loved about photography is showing something from a point of view. That’s not normally seen when I started photography. I mean, I got my first camera when I was, I think, seven or eight for my birthday.
So it was like mid eighties. I got my little Kodak camera. You had your cordless phone in one hand. I don’t even think we had four of those phones at that time. It was like the big loop that was like on the kitchen wall. Parents were hip. So they’d upgraded their avocado green one to like the cream colored of the eighties.
But when I started photography, I said, I would, one thing I said, I’d never do is own a photography business and do that full time. So liar, second thing is that I would definitely never do after I got my photography business was photograph. Hmm, because. And looking back on it, it all makes perfect sense. I didn’t have the confidence to direct someone and have something not work out with a client is in front of me.
If I’m taking a picture of the ocean or a mountain, no, one’s judging me. I can move my shoes and doesn’t speak back. Right. Whereas with portrait photography, you’re directing people and it just might not work out. It might not create a vision in your head might not execute as you thought. So. Yeah, I never thought I would photograph people until I started doing events and realize I had a knack for it.
And what I have a knack for is preemptively seeing an emotion someone’s going to have, and that all actually stems back to remember, you know, at the beginning part of the interview, when I was talking about, I was whenever I’d feel threatened, I would snap back at like a hurtful comment to someone to shut them down.
I came to realize that that wasn’t a good use of a quote unquote superpower it’s because I can read people’s emotions very well. So I would be able to unfortunately wound people back in the day because. Very quickly. See what makes them tick? Well, the same thing, I feel like some superhero who flips the script is able to see people’s emotions and almost see them before they see them show up.
So when I’d photograph these events, I would capture these like very natural, very captivated. Informal portraits or lifestyle shots of people. And when I saw how good that made people feel, I started dipping my toes into the water of portrait photography a little bit more. And also it was my self esteem was increasing at the time.
So I didn’t feel so bad if I look at my cameras and say, well, that didn’t work. All right. Let’s try something else. 10 years ago. I wouldn’t have been able to do that to say that didn’t work. So. The creative aspect of portrait photography, and the reason why minds that doesn’t look like something from like a JC penny on like plain white background is not everyone has that personality.
I like working with people that have a little bit edgier or avant-garde, or just really want to see themselves differently. I work with a lot of people who have come through like a major life transition and. Either explicitly or maybe subliminally want to see themselves different because they have changed.
And I get that because I’ve walked that. So the, whenever I do portraits, if you look at my work, it’s very dramatically, or at least not like a quote normal photo shoot. That’s how I really approach everything. And the tagline for my business is uncovering incredible. Mike, the guy who helped me develop my logo and that slogan, your CEO, and I was just getting started, said, you know, what do you want?
He said, what do you want people to think about or feel whenever they look at your stuff? I said, I want people to know. Look at my photos and say, oh my God, how did he see that? And I wouldn’t say it’s because there’s something incredible. In whatever I’m photographing, especially people. And it’s my, my task to uncover that and share the rest of the world of what might be below the surface in someone.
Mm. I love that photography was something that I really paid very little attention to. I was terrible at taking photographs. And then of course, once I became a blogger. It’s a huge part of, of what we do and, oh, my word, my photography was terrible. Oh my gosh. So bad. I remember the point when I had family come up to me and say, your photographs have gotten so much better.
Oh my gosh. And one of the things that I learned, so again, what I’m taking photographs of, maybe a little different, well, they are very different than what you’re doing. One of the tips that I learned is you want to get rid of the yellow toned lighting, use natural light. Like I did a lot of. Photos. And so everything was like yellow toned and yeah.
So I had to learn a lot of tips for what I was doing. What are some of your best just photographing tips in general, for those of us that are not photographers? Yeah. So it’s so nice to have cell phones in our pockets. I mean, they do a phenomenal job as long as they have the necessary light that they need.
One of the best things. I tell my students is whether you’re shooting through a cell phone or through a $10,000 Nikon or Canon is turn on the grid system. There’s they call the rule of threes. The way, your mind processes images, is it almost looks like there’s a, well, I guess hashtag is the appropriate thing to say.
Whenever you look at something there’s two vertical lines and then two horizontal lines and on phones, they call it, I think the three by three groups. You can go in there. You just Google it, whatever iPhone or Android. So you turn on three by three grid and this little grid will pop up whenever your camera launches and our eyes naturally go to the intersection point.
Of the hashtag anywhere on one of the vertical lines or horizontal lines. So if you look at a magazine or watch anything on TV, whatever they want you to pay attention to, and an advertisement is going to be most likely one of those intersection points. So that’s very fascinating. And that’s a setting on your phone.
I did not know that that’s called a three by three grid. So if there’s something you, if there’s something you want to like really highlight and obviously dead center, like that’s a no-brainer. But if you look at things, a lot of times I’ll position it right on one of the lines. Interestingly the cross section.
Yep. Yeah. There’s all different aspects of psychology that go into it. So if it’s a picture of a person they’ll likely be on the far left, so they’re looking off. Whereas if I did a photo shoot marketing photo shoot for am a fair. That like operates around here on the water. Oh, I was thinking of like Tinkerbell, like load your car on photo-shoot we’re back to Disney.
Okay. Yeah. Right. But I want to show like an expensive thing. So I put the people in the other side, so you can just see this big sweeping water Panorama, and then it leads you right to the people. So there’s so much, so people are often on the left is what you’re saying. A lot of times, like, if it’s a portrait, like you open up, you know, look at like a L’Oreal.
The model’s likely, probably on the left-hand side and looking the other way. And just as if they would be like in Israel, they would likely be on the other side because English readers start at the left and go. Yeah. Whereas people that read Hebrew, start at the right and go to the left, these little nuances that go into it.
Yeah. Do you travel? So if people are interested in your services, do you travel? Are you primarily. Shooting people locally. We can just pause right there. Even though I’ve been doing this so many years saying that I shoot people, I’m sure I’m on some kind of watch list. Cause I mean, you know, I, I shoot people.
I contract for headshots, you know? It’s like, you got kids, y’all shoot your kids. I think we’re talking about photography, but really? Yeah. That’s so funny. My podcast is going to be flagged. Sorry. No funny. I tried. I always had my camera with me and they’d send me all over the earth. So that’s how I really build up my photography skills.
Like in Antarctica, like I had my camera down there, so people were interested. I certainly travel, obviously, you know, given the current climate, it might be a little, right, right. But that’s still good to know though, because I mean, this podcast will obviously live forever. So for people interested and again, we’ll have all of his links at the end, but John does travel.
Well, I might have. I want to see the creative things that you would do for me, because I’m very vanilla. As you can see, my photos are all white in the. Yeah, but I was actually going to compliment you and say, that’s so on brand with even the color of your chair. And I mean, my God, your tissue boxes, even on brands, I’m a little OCD.
So yes, everything matches. Well, no, all those things play into it. Like when I have a commercial shooter, like a personal branding shoe, like your. Like with the nail gun and stuff like that was brilliant. I was like, that’s awesome. Oh, thank you. Yeah. I have to tell you though, that experience was real. I did a whole blog post on it because it was hilarious.
I am not a model kudos to models. It sounds incredibly stressful. And the thing that killed me the most is it was my first ever. True. Like photo-shoot and it was my hands. It was my hands. I was like, what on earth am I supposed to do with my hands? You know, what are you doing with them? They’re so awkward.
Like, I could not figure out what to do with my hands and not look absolutely ridiculous. So it’s funny. There’s so many little things that I think when we don’t like getting our picture taken it’s cause we look at it and we’re. Hmm. I didn’t even think about that body part, like what is happening there?
You know, plus my heart, that’s something that I really guide people. I actually wrote a whole thing on my newsletter on what to do with your hands in a photo shoot. And I have Ricky Bobby from Talladega nights. That’s like the header on it, but yeah, hands answer. One of those things. Your listeners a quick tip.
So please. Yeah. So you never really want to look at a camera like straight on, you know, unless you’re a linebacker for the NFL and you want to show intimidating, look intimidating, but you always want to usually angle your. And with your hands, if you need somewhere to go, you could, a lot of times you can just hook your thumb in your pocket.
If you have that, or you just lay it, imagine big core of your listeners are female. Just rest it gently on like the top of your thigh or put it around someone in a group shot. Cause it always looks better if everyone’s actually touching instead of separated out. Yeah. I could have used those. I feel like I spent half the time figuring out what on earth to do with my hands.
Yeah. Yeah. Not to mention that. I’ll tell you what to do with your hands. If you, John will tell you what to do with your hands. Yeah. I love that aspect of. Trying to help people see how other people see them. I think that’s a beautiful concept of photography, especially in the filtered world that we live in, where you can put all of these crazy filters to make you look nothing.
Like you actually look in real life. And the idea of creating a more organic kind of raw photo, I think is really a beautiful concept. Do you have a favorite photo you’ve ever taken? Whether a person or a place or. Yeah, I have a couple for different reasons, but probably one of the shoots that sticks out the most in my mind really plays off of what you just said.
My friend Molly was trying to be on the cover of Inc magazine. She has like, I don’t even know how many tattoos she has a lot. She probably doesn’t know how many she has. I’ll never forget. We were doing the shoot for her contest entry and. I think this was one that might have been the first time or one of the first time she’s ever in like a studio.
And when I do my studio portraits, the images pop up on a screen. So as I’m shooting them, they pop up completely unedited. And I took these photos over and she was just killing it all day, like look phenomenal. And she kind of peeked around the light and went, I went what’s wrong. She goes, I look so pretty.
I said, what do you mean? She goes, you made me look so pretty. I go, I said, that’s you? I said, there’s no editing. I said, that’s how the rest of the world truly sees you. So yeah, so that sheet I did with her was probably one of my friends. I love to see her sprinkled throughout my portfolio, because I’ve done numerous things together since that point.
That’s awesome. I love that if we could like summarize your journey, whether it be professional and personal, and I love the points are all over. Like, it seems like when you hear a story like that, they’re all over the map. Mine would be similar, but really there’s this consistent through line. It makes complete sense and hindsight vision’s always 2020, but as you look back on your journey in your personal and professional success, if you could sum it up, what the secret is in one word to overcoming those challenges and experiencing success in one word or one phrase, what would it be?
Go for it because Nike has just do a trademark. So go for it, Nike. Yeah. How dare they? Yeah, just go for it. Just go for it. Cause like I mentioned that something you don’t want to look back and say, that could have been me because even though. Doesn’t turn out. Like you thought, if you go for something, which I can pretty much guarantee you 100%, it’s not going to turn out.
Like you thought it was going to, like, I would, would’ve thought I’d be a portrait photographer. When I left corporate world five years ago. If you go for it, you’re going to learn so much about yourself and to really learn how best to serve other people. And I think that’s probably the truth. Is figuring out how to do what ever it is that you do best in the service of others, because Rory Vaden well through BBG, you know, I love when he says you’re best situated to serve the person you used to be.
And then that’s so true. Your website is www dot Malora photos. That’s M O L L U R a P H O T Malora For those of you listening and you also offer one-on-one photography coaching, is that right? Yes. Okay. So I also have that link as well. We will make sure that’s all. The show notes. There’s an opportunity for you to subscribe and to learn more about the coaching opportunities learning.
How are you specifically coaching portrait photography or just photography in general? So the coaching I do is something I’m just getting started into. It’s more for people that are looking to make a change. We know how beneficial it is to have a tribe around you to help you facilitate that. So that’s what the coaching is.
I mean, I do private instruction too, for photography. So to learn what that three by three grid is witchcraft that I’m talking about, that’s something I do, or I teach everything from beginners to advanced and through the miracles of technology, we can do that, obviously remotely. Love that. So there’s also a link that we will include on the show notes as well, where you can subscribe to John’s website and get all of that information and all of the different services that he offers.
John, you don’t live that far from me. I may need to just hire you for my next. So you can tell me what the world to do with my hands. No more. Ricky, Bobby, Ricky, Bobby, although, please, you know, it’s the ridiculous ones that ended up being the ones that you love, I guess. Oh yeah. Yeah. The outtakes are always the, oh, I have, I have some, I was in this studio.
I was at one point on a ladder with a Brad nailer, with a hammer wearing a tool belt, holding a spatula. In high heels and my lab coat, like I had everything going on and they were like, I have to ask, what is this shoot like story of my life. I’m a little bit of a lot. Yeah. Kindred spirits. I’m glad we came across each other.
That’s exactly right. Well, we will definitely need to connect more, John. Thank you so much. Thank you for sharing your story. I pray God’s richest blessings over your home, over your career, and we will definitely have to chat again. All right. It, thanks so much for your time. Take care. Bye-bye thank you so much for joining us for this episode of the imperfectly empowered podcast.
It is my honor to be here with you. I am so grateful for each and every one of you. If you were watching on YouTube, be sure to click the subscribe button below. So you don’t miss a show and leave a comment with your thoughts from today’s episode. If you are listening via your preferred podcasting platform, would you help keep us on the air by rating our show and leaving an honest review of your thoughts from today in case you haven’t heard it lately, your story matters and you are loved.
This is your host on a former, and I will see you here next time on the, in perfectly empowered podcast.

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