Rants of a Digital Bard

OMG! Who gave this idiot a blog?

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

My Dream Stock Footage Site…

My dream stock footage site would have the following features:

Allow the artist to set the price for clips.  Allow creating “bundles” of clips and allow the artist to set the price for bundles. Pay a minimum of 50% royalty on sales.

Mobile device friendly site.  A lot of producers I know have iPhones and would kill to search/browse clip libraries without having to crack open the laptop.

Allow me to create a “brand” and apply that branding to my portfolio page and all of my clip pages.  Almost like a mini-store for my clips within the main site.

Allow me to have a blog on my portfolio.  More importantly, allow me to have a VIDEO blog on my portfolio where I can produce tutorials on how to use my clips or ideas on using my clips.  Something integrated into my portfolio, not just a link to YouTube or Vimeo.  And allow me to upload a show-reel to my portfolio.

Allow me to embed clip previews on other sites, such as my blog so that I can drive more buyers to my portfolio.

Allow me to create time-sensitive discount codes for my portfolio.  So I could create a discount code for 5% off of all my clips and that 5% comes out of my end, not the sites.  This would aid me in marketing my own stuff.

Allow me to upload different sizes and encoding for my clips and set different prices for the sizes, but show it all on the main clips page.  (RevoStock already does this and Pond5 “sort of” does this.)

For buyers, have a “My Studio” feature that allows them to place purchased clips in their “Studio” and do things like re-encode them in another codec, resize them, trim them, etc.

Allow artists to edit the data for their clips, even after they’ve been submitted and approved.  (Pond5 and RevoStock both do this.)  Allow artists to download all of the meta-data for their portfolio.  (Pond5 does this.)

Provide artists with sales data.  Most popular clips over a given period by both dollars and downloads.  (Pond5 does this.)

Daily notifications of sales at the end of day.  When rejecting a clip, please include the original uploaded filename in the rejection notice.  Do not delete the clip and make the artist re-upload it if there is a problem that can be fixed without re-uploading.

Support both FTP and Web uploaders for submitting footage.

Flexible limits on both clip length and file size depending on the content.  Not hard limits.  (Pond5 does this.)

Automatic monthly payments when the payout limit is reached.  Reasonable minimum payout. (Pond5 leads the pack with $25 minimum.)

No exclusive contracts or exclusive vs non-exclusive pricing.

July 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography | , | 1 Comment

Can Stock Photo, friendly folks but ugh…

A friend on Pond5 notified me when Can Stock started accepting footage recently.  They’ve got a pretty good reputation in stock photography, so I decided to sign up and give it a try.

Finding footage on their site is a horrible experience.  But I don’t think most of their sales come from their own web site.  They offer their entire catalog through Fotosearch.com which has a TON of buyers.

They set the prices on clips, but they offer 50%.  I haven’t actually sold any footage through them yet, so I don’t know what Fotosearch sets for their prices.

Quite honestly, the submitter interface is easy to use, but not artist friendly.  But footage is still a work in progress with Can Stock, so it’s getting better.

They accept footage encoded in most codecs as long as it’s in a .MOV wrapper (just like Pond5) which makes uploading a lot of stuff with alpha real easy.

But the main reason I like them is the staff there are ultra friendly.  They answer questions quickly, answer you directly and are always looking for suggestions.  Reminds me of the good ole’ days with Pond5.

For most people, Can Stock probably isn’t mature enough yet for submitting unless you like getting in on the ground floor.  Footage sales are slow (I haven’t sold anything yet), but it’s a maturing site that keeps getting better.

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

RevoStock, getting better

I think RevoStock is one of the oldest stock footage sites on the net.  It’s certainly the first one I ever encountered when I first got into the business.  But it’s one of the last I actually joined because they make you take a stupid test in order to sell through them.

The site looks very professional, but it’s not a “clean” interface by any means.  It’s very cluttered, although it’s not a complicated site to use.

At present RevoStock sets the price on all footage.   And they pay you 60% for clips that are exclusive to their site and 45% for clips that are not.  The goal is to get you to submit unique clips to RevoStock only, but the extra 15% isn’t really worth it.  If you are not uploading to more than one site, you’re losing way more money than 15%.  Their pricing is also really convoluted as clips are given “levels” based on how many times they sell (the price goes up as a clip sells more). It’s a tad confusing.  Rumor has it they are going to allow artists to set their own prices, if they do… Watch out Pond5 because RevoStock has a huge customer base and can seriously compete as most artists join.

RevoStock only supports clips encoded with PhotoJPEG and MotionJPEG.  They do not accept clips encoded in other formats, which I think hurts them.  They also limit  clips to 20 seconds which also hurts them.  I have a number of very big sellers on Pond5 that are 30 seconds and cutting them to 20 seconds ruins the clip.

The submitter interface isn’t nearly as good as Pond5’s, but it’s still pretty good.  And like Pond5 you can edit clip information even after a clip has been submitted.  Unfortunately, they don’t save the original filename so it’s harder when the first frame of a clip looks the same or similar to other clips in your portfolio.  They do let you upload your own still for the preview image which is pretty cool. They also let you upload different sizes for your clip which are offered on the same page as the original.  This is actually better than ShutterStock which automatically resizes clips and the artist loses control of the quality.

The RevoStock staff seems pretty friendly on their forums.  They love feedback from both artists and buyers and they have open conversations with people.  Although, they’re a little slow to respond at times.  I’ve made a few suggestions and the answers I got back were friendly, but I felt like they were “blowing me off”.  But that could just be me…

I think at one point they were actually the “Stock Footage Champion” before Pond5 really became popular.  And from the posts in their forums of late, I think they realize it and are working to get back to #1.  They seem like really nice folks and although I think the whole “exclusive” thing is a crock, they are still very artist friendly.

And in case you missed it before, they have a HUGE customer base.  So they SELL A TON OF FOOTAGE.  RevoStock should definitely be on your list of sites to sell through.

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

ShutterStock or ShudderStock depending on your point of view

ShutterStock started out as just stock photos and artwork, then added footage later.  And from an artist point of view, if you only do stock footage, the tools and features of the site make you feel like footage is the “red headed stepchild”.  The submitter interface feels like an afterthought and certainly isn’t nearly as friendly as Pond5, RevoStock or several other sites.

ShutterStock sets the prices on the footage they sell and they only pay 30% for per clip “downloads”.  They offer subscriptions and they pay even less if a clip is purchased through a subscription.  Definitely among the lowest in the industry.

Besides rejecting clips for technical reasons, a reviewer may also judge the “value” of a clip and decide that the clip you uploaded isn’t “stock worthy” and reject it because they simply don’t like it.  With dozens or more reviewers, that means you get a dozen or more opinions as to what is “stock worthy” and what isn’t.  If you get a clip rejected for this reason, you can usually wait a week, re-upload, re-submit and have it pass from a different reviewer.

And yes, I said “re-upload”.  If a clip is rejected, it’s deleted by the system.  Even if it’s a keywording error, you still have to re-upload the clip.  And if you have more than one clip rejected, you have to guess what they were.  The original filename is lost, all you get if the number they assigned to it.  The submitter interface is really not very friendly.

Most of the artists who participate in the forums are pretty nasty and not very helpful people.  Most of them only use the “photography” side of the site, but they have no problem jumping in and giving their opinion in any thread.  Not all of them are that way, certainly there are a number of friendly people. But I have found the majority to be mean and unfriendly.  Including some of the staff comments I’ve come across.

So why submit there if the site is that bad?  Because, like Wal-Mart, they SELL A LOT OF FOOTAGE.  They’ve been in the business for a very long time, they have a HUGE number of buyers.  If you have a good number of clips with them and they are popular, you can make a lot of money with ShutterStock.

Unfortunately, the people who run ShutterStock realize this and know that they don’t have to treat artists fairly or even well.  Oh sure, there are individuals at ShutterStock that are nice helpful people, but not anyone who makes any of the business decisions.  ShutterStock is all about business and making money.

So, yes, because they know how to get buyers and how to make money, I keep my account active and I am increasing the size of my portfolio there.

Btw, I want to make it perfectly clear that nobody from ShutterStock has treated me badly.  My opinion is based on a comparison of how they do things versus how other sites do things.  They pay low, reject high, and from reading thousands of posts in their forums over the past few years, they have an unfriendly tone to their posts.  The overwhelming majority of comments I read on other sites about ShutterStock are negative… with one glaring exception… they make people a lot of money.  Which is why artists continue to submit and deal with them.

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