Rants of a Digital Bard

OMG! Who gave this idiot a blog?

Moving my blog

I have installed WordPress on my own web host and I’m moving my blog…

Please visit http://www.digibard.org/blog for new updates.

November 19, 2009 Posted by | Geek stuff | , , , , | Leave a comment

Being successful in Microstock Footage game

My good friend Jake Hellbach wrote an excellent article on the Shutterstock forum about some of the keys to his success in the stock footage business, which you should definitely read.  Besides being extremely talented, Jake is a pretty modest guy.  He really doesn’t like to use the word “successful”, although I think he has been.

The folks at Shutterstock edited his original article a little bit to center on the stock footage industry, but the basic premise that Jake discusses can be used in stock photography or pretty much any “hobby” that you want to monetize.

One thing that I wanted to point out is that while it does make it “easier” to spend the thousands of dollars Jake has on equipment, it doesn’t always make it better.  It’s a short article, so he briefly discusses how important lighting is, but in my experience lighting is pretty much the whole game.  Especially if you don’t have a $3000 camera that makes almost anything look good.  If you are using a camcorder instead of a “Video DSLR”, you are going to run into low-light noise issues.  That’s where having lots of light and proper lighting really helps.

I did a recent shoot in my home studio and I’m spending a lot of time fixing noise issues with dark clothing.  Anything in the image that is light (skin, light colored clothes) looks beautiful, but I didn’t have enough light on the subject to deal with dark clothing.  Lesson learned.  I talked my local library into getting the book “Lighting for Digital Video & Television” by John Jackman.  I highly recommend it, and the library is going to be lucky to get it back from me.

I can tell you from the many, many, many discussions I’ve had with Jake on his techniques and trying to pry details of his shoots out of him (he’s actually very forthcoming), I have learned that Jake plans every shoot as well as he can before any filming actually takes place.  That’s another lesson I learned the hard way this last shoot I did.  I made a shot list beforehand, but I had the talent for 2 hours and I only had about an hour’s worth of ideas on my list.  I lost 15 to 20 minutes during the shoot because I had to stop and think up more stuff for her to do.  In the future, I’ll have a MUCH MUCH longer list that is prioritized on what I really want to accomplish and if everything goes right, we’ll run out of time before we hit the end of the list.

What is not in Jake’s article, but if you were to talk to him he would tell you is that patience is THE most important skill you can have to be truly successful in the Stock Footage game.  If you are just starting out, or you’ve been doing it for a short time, success comes slowly.  Not every clip you produce is going to sell (even if it’s your personal favorite).  In fact, only a small percentage of your portfolio will ever sell even once.  And a tiny percentage will sell on a regular basis.  This business is a numbers game.  The more clips you have online, the better your chance of being seen.

But that doesn’t mean that you can shoot everything you see and uploads hundreds of clips at once to build a large portfolio.  Those days are gone.  Most stock sites are starting to reject clips that are too similar to those already online. Sunsets, time-lapse clouds, time-lapse moonscapes, etc…  Everybody has done it and unless your shot REALLY stands out as unique, it’s gonna get rejected.  It’s a very tired cliche, but “you need to think outside the box” and you need to come up with something new and unique.  Tough to do when everyone has a video camera these days.  But I think Jake’s article touched on something important…

Buyers are looking for a “Cinema Look” on clips.  If you spend time on each clip to color correct it, maybe even do some color grading to make it softer, harder, darker, or some unique artistic look then you’ll have a better chance of standing out in the crowd.  Some sites, like Pond5, will even let you submit the same clip multiple times, but with different artistic looks.  The important thing, however, is uniqueness.  If a buyer searches for “sunset” and your clip is in the middle of thousands of others, it won’t get noticed unless there is something unique and special about it.  So don’t just upload your footage without any kind of artistic touch any more.  Because I already did, Jake already did and so did the hundreds of others who started a long time ago in this business with us.

One last thing for those of you just getting started or who have only been doing this a relatively short time…  Look at the clip count on the home page of each site..  Over 250,000 on Pond5 (congrats, btw), almost 150,000 on Shutterstock, etc…  Your 50 clips, or 100 clips simply aren’t going to stand out in that large of a crowd.  Especially if none of it is unique.  Jake has over 1,700 clips on Pond5 and over 1,000 on the other sites.  So it’s much easier to find his stuff.  That’s where patience comes in…  Until you start getting around the 500 clip mark, don’t get frustrated or depressed because you’re not making $1,000 a month in sales (or even $100 a month).

To paraphrase one of my favorite fish… “Just keep producing, just keep producing, producing, producing”…  As long as you keep producing new stuff your value on each site will grow and you’ll get in front of more buyers and you’ll sell more.

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First ‘professional’ video shoot

I did my first real professional video shoot in my new home green screen studio today.  I hired the teenage daughter of a friend to come in and do some typical stock footage type stuff (talking on a cell, texting, etc..).  It went pretty well.

I had done some test shots earlier in the day to check my lighting.  But somehow it changed slightly and I have some green screen lighting issues in my shots.  Fortunately, Keylight in After Effects is really easy to use and works very well. I was able to use it to get a decent key and then put the result back on top of a clean green solid.

The HF11’s poor low light capability is still and pain-in-the-ass.  When she changed into a darker shirt midway into the shoot I ended up with a bit of noise in the dark areas.  If you resize the video down to SD it looks great, but you can clearly seen the grain in the HD footage.  I need to overlight the subject next time and step down the exposure slightly.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What a difference $200 makes

For the first few months that I have been shooting with my new camcorder, I have been using a cheap ‘wal-mart’ photo tripod that I got for $40.  It’s fine when shooting indoor as long as I don’t need to pan or tilt.  It’s fine outdoor as long as there isn’t even a “hint” of a breeze, otherwise I get a lot of shake in the footage which has to be stabilized.

After many discussions with friends who are professional videographers, I bought my first professional tripod.  A Weifang 717E.  It has strong and heavy legs for stability with a wide base to prevent the camera from moving.  It’s got a great professional fluid head that does smooth pans and tilts.  It also cost $200.  But it was well worth it.

I went out and shot some new footage with it yesterday at Lake Shawnee here in Topeka, KS.  The early morning had only a light breeze, but the wind picked up as the day wore on.  After processing the footage last night I was pleasantly surprised to find NOT A SINGLE CLIP with any kind of wind shudder.  The only time the camera/tripod moved was when I did a pan or tilt (or the two times I accidentally bumped into the tripod).

I would highly suggest that the very second most important purchase after your camera is a good professional tripod.

November 2, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting some new toys

Okay, so I’ve been whining to the wife for some time about needing to get some new equipment for my video business.  And we’ve finally worked things in the budget so that I can get a few things… but with a world of possibility, what do I buy?

First thing I need is a polorizing filter.  I have an ND filter that is nice, but it doesn’t cut the mustard.  Second thing I need is a backup battery and charger.  I’ve decided to go third-party rather than spend an extra $70 on a genuine Canon battery.

I have been desperately wanting to set up a small ‘studio’ in the house for doing green screen shots, and last week I bought a bunch of equipment at some thrift stores and a few cheap lighting fixtures at Home Depot.  I ordered a set of 3 Muslin backdrops (white, black and green) from eBay.  What I still need to get is some light bulbs designed for photography, so that’s the third item on my list.

I also found an inexpensive dolly for my tripod (not a track dolly), so that’s number 4.  But I really need a decent tripod.  The problem is that “decent” means $200 or more.  Which is more than half of my budget… It’s on my list, but I have a star next to it which means it’s not critical.

Also on my list is an external monitor for my camera.  The little LCD is nice, but it only shows 90% of what’s in the shot and I have some clips I’ve had to lose because of what I couldn’t see in the LCD.  LCD’s made for video are around $300 which is way out of my budget, but I did find a nice 7-inch wide-screeen LCD for $89 that is for a car visor.  So that’s on my list.

I need wide angle and telephoto lenses, so those are on my list.

Of course, I have a long list of wants, but this covers the current budget.  I desperately need a DSLR and I prefer to get one with Video.  So I’m hoping to save up for a Nikon D5000 or a Canon 7D.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Geek stuff, Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pond5 adds Music and Sound Effects

This is going to be an interesting experiment…  But a welcome one.  I am a former high school band geek and “I got the music in me”, so I’m working on some stuff.

Got my first music clip accepted: http://bit.ly/2QQe0v

October 6, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stock Footage Sales 2009

Okay, I have 22 clips which are common between Pond5, RevoStock and ShutterStock and have been online for 6 months or more on each site.  Over the past 6 months Pond5 has outsold RevoStock nearly 12:1.  RevoStock has outsold ShutterStock a little over 3:1.  Why?

Pond5 only rejects clips for technical reasons, they do no pass judgement on what they believe a buyer may actually buy. So, they get some crap, but “ugly is in the eye of the beholder” and I have stuff I consider crap which has sold.  Pond5 allows artists to set their own pricing.  Pond5 has the second highest payout in the industry.

RevoStock rejects files for stupid reasons sometimes, but anything good does get through.  Still, the “ugly” stuff they rejects is selling on Pond5 (meaning, it generates revenue).  RevoStock has a limited ability to allow artists to set pricing.  Still, there is a TON of stuff which is simply not competitive.  They are getting killed on the low end where Pond5, Digital Juice, and other sites with low cost clips are making bank.  RevoStock pays 40% which isn’t bad, but isn’t near the top.   They pay more if you’re exlusive, but if you go exlusive with them you’ll lose more money that you’ll get from the extra %.  They offer no real incentive for going exclusive.

ShutterStock rejections are a puzzle.  I have stuff which has sold many times over on Pond5 and even RevoStock, but has been rejected by ShutterStock.  I’ve had stuff rejected by one reviewer on ShutterStock, re-submitted a few weeks later and accepted by another.  There is no consistency to it at all.  ShutterStock sets the pricing and their per clip pricing is high on animations and low on many HD camera clips.  The real bargain for ShutterStock buyers is in subscriptions, but artists get royally screwed on subscription sales.  And ShutterStock is among the bottom of payouts to artists.

Is it any wonder that Pond5 has come out of basically no-where in the past 2 years to LEAD the stock footage industry? Revo is one of the sites that helped start the industry, but they’re behind in the curve (although, admittedly they are making changes for the better).  And ShutterStock is just so big they honestly don’t care about artists at all.  They have big money behind them and a very large loyal customer base because they treat their buyers well.

October 6, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hours of video…

While in California we were only allowed to visit with my nephew for a limited time since it was important for him to get his rest.  So that left me with a lot of free time.  I spent some of that time visiting with my daugher, my granddaughter, aunt’s, uncles, my grandmother and old friends… but it left me with a lot of time to shoot video with my camera.

The weather was bizarre with lots of morning fog, burning off in the afternoon, but returning quickly as the sun went down.  So it wasn’t “typical clear California weather”.  Especially on the coast.

Still, I got lots of footage of beaches, boats, people on the beach, the desert, oil pumps, California farms and a bunch of animals from a visit to the Santa Barbara Zoo with my brother and dad.  Much of which is processed and has been uploaded to my accounts on Pond5 and RevoStock.

I learned a lot more about my camera and shooting footage for stock while on my trip, which I’ll share…

First, a critical missing item from my camera bag was a zoom lens.  I had an opportunity to shoot the oil rigs off the California coast but the built-in optical zoom in my HF11 simply wasn’t up to the task.  I have got to get a zoom lens for my camera.

I only have two filters at the moment, a UV filter and an ND8 filter.  I could have used a polarizing filter.

I am still having major issues with the wind causing camera shudder while filming with my tripod.  I really need to get a heavier tripod made for video.  Fortunately, I have learned how to use Mocha for After Effects to salvage my jittery footage.

I did try turning on the optical stabilizer in my camera for my tripod footage to see if it would compensate for the jitter and to a small degree it did.  But mostly it wildly overestimated the camera movement and overcompensated.  Resulting in much smoother jittery footage, but still jittery.

The Canon HF11 absolutely sucks when shooting video with poor lighting or at night.  I experimented with every setting and I couldn’t get anything that didn’t have a LOT of noise.  My daytime shots are beautiful, but low-light and night shots are barely watchable.  The closest I came to anything decent was using the Spotlight mode and I still had issues.  So it looks like I’ll need a different camera if I want to shoot at night or in low-light.

I need to shoot everything I can on a tripod.  I really suck at shooting steady hand-held video, even with the optical stabilizer on, my shots wander.  I’ve been looking over some plans for making a home-made steadycam, I’ll probably try that and see how it works out.  Once again, thank goodness for Mocha to fix things, otherwise some really good shots would not be very useable for stock.

Overall it was a great learning experience and I got over 400 useable clips for stock from my trip.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Back from a trip to California

Almost a month ago we got a phone call from my brother about a serious illness with my nephew, so  I packed up the car and drove my mother to California to be with the family.  It was a somber occasion but it marked a few milestones.

I haven’t been to California in over 9 years, so it was good to be with the family again.  I hadn’t seen my brother since my last trip to California and my father also made the trip from Florida and I hadn’t seen him in nearly 14 years.  And the three of us hadn’t been together in nearly 23 years.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Touchy feely... | , | Leave a comment

Queen of Diamonds – Retrospect

Kyle is an amazing writer and the story he wrote is truly a gift to mankind.  And I’m totally serious.  Especially after watching Stephanie, Theodore and the rest of the cast give it life.  But he wrote a 20 minute film, not a 7 minute film.

Having now viewed the footage shot on my camera, I am even more impressed with it.  But for this (or any) project we really needed to have two of them so that we could have shot each scene from two angles.  Having two angles of the exact same take would have helped the editing process move a lot smoother and a LOT faster.  The second camera we had was an SD camera and the picture quality wasn’t nearly as good as that from my HD camera.  Not to mention that when both were used together, the “look” from the SD camera was very different.  We lit each scene for my camera and we had not done much before hand on fiddling with manual settings to get both to shoot similar video.

I really wish we would have shot more “behind the scenes” stuff.  And taken a million photos during the process.  It was fun, it was hilarious at times, it was frantic, and it was extremely exciting…  For most of it, all I have are memories…  A shame.

In my opinion, Vegas failed us.  I don’t know if it was just the Mac version or it was because we editing a lot on PCs and copied the projects to the Mac.  But had Vegas not crashed we would have turned in the vision we wanted the film festival to see and not what we could cobble together at the last minute.

But, while the festival audience won’t be able to see “our film” the way we intended at the showing next weekend, all is not lost…  After we’ve had time to recuperate from an extremely intense weekend, we’re gonna get back together and do a “Director’s Cut” that has all of the scenes, all of the music and shows Kyle and Jess’ vision of a truly remarkable story.

I am looking forward to that process and I really hope that I get a chance to work with the team again.  It was an exciting time and a great experience.

I don’t know if I’d do another 48-hour project, but only because I’m 42 and most everyone else was in their 20’s and early 30’s.  Keeping up with them was a little bit of an ordeal (it doesn’t help that I’m a fat bastard).  And I haven’t gone 38 hours without sleep in a very long time…  It’s gonna take me a few more days to recover.

But I would love to do another indie project.  I learned a lot and I hope that I taught others a few things as well.

I’m going back to bed… 🙂

(I wrote this after only having an 11 hour nap, so some of my facts about the others might be a little off, but not intentionally…  Mostly I just wanted to get my experience down while it was still pretty fresh in my memory and to make sure that Jess, Zach, Merlin, Tanya, and the rest gang know how much I appreciate being invited to their team and enjoyed both their company and the experience they’ve given me.  Thank you so very much!)

August 3, 2009 Posted by | Touchy feely..., Videography | , , , , | Leave a comment