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

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

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

Vimeo has now jumped the shark

New this month…  Vimeo has changed their policy so that the original source files are only kept for one week if you are not a paid subscriber.  After 1 week, viewers will only be able to download the MP4 conversion created by Vimeo.

Their reasoning is perfectly sound.  Storing all of that footage costs a lot of money.  And like every other business in this economy, they need to cut costs and run more efficiently.

But with all of the other changes they have made since offering their paid service, Vimeo is now actually worse than YouTube to free users.  YouTube has unlimited uploading of HD video, Vimeo lets you upload a single HD file per week. YouTube has unlimited uploading with a 2GB per file limitation.  Vimeo lets you upload 500MB per week.  Average conversion time for getting a video online with YouTube is 45 minutes for a 10 minute video (the max length).  With Vimeo that has plummeted to a miserable 5 days.

If you’re a paid Vimeo subscriber, Vimeo will not delete your original files as long as your subscription is in good standing.  But in this economy, $60 is a lot for the service they offer.  And even then you still have a 2 GB over all limitation on uploads per week.

Personally, I think this is the beginning of the end for Vimeo as a serious competitor to YouTube.  I think they will continue to survive as a niche service with a very strong and loyal following among the current paid subscribers.  But there isn’t much to attract new users any more.

And as for me… I’m gonna start exploring all the new features YouTube has added over the past year.

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Canon Vixia HF11 HD Camcorder

This is the camcorder I got for my Stock Footage work:

http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelInfoAct&fcategoryid=177&modelid=17384

You can go to the Canon site to get the technical details on it.  What I want to post here is some info that is harder to find, plus my general impressions…

First, it records to memory.  It has 32 gigabytes built-in plus a SDHC slot to add more memory.  The recording format is AVCHD.

You need a REALLY REALLY good computer with a lot of horse-power and RAM to edit AVCHD files.  So if you’ve got an older computer that is not at least Dual Core and you don’t have a MINIMUM of 2 gigabytes of RAM, you should not get an AVCHD camcorder.

The HF11 will record in 1920×1080 at 60i, 30p or 24p.  However, it encodes the video into the AVCHD files at 60i, even if you have selected 30p or 24p.  It just does some funky stuff with the fields inside the file to make it fit.  So keep in mind that to work with the video, you will probably need to transcode it into another format before adding it to your timeline.  And if you recorded in 24p, you’ll need to deal with the pulldown.

Also, 30p and 24p are a misnomer in the U.S.  30p footage is actually encoded at 29.97 and 24p is encoded at 23.98.

In a later blog, I’ll post some info on my workflow.  I record my footage using the PF30 (30p) setting and then I copy the H.264 stream from the MTS files into QuickTime .MOV files without re-encoding the video using FFMPEG.  I discard the audio altogether.

Whenever possible, I use a tripod and I try and set up my shots and camera settings before I record.  Thanks to a tip from good friend from Pond5, I use a white dixie cup to set the White Balance before each session.  And once the auto-focus has my subject in focus, I disable the auto-focus while recording.  I also have the digital zoom and optical stabilizer disabled.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finally got a good Camcorder!

Until a month ago, 99% of my Stock Footage portfolio was animations created in After Effects, Cinema 4D, 3D Studio Max, Vue, etc…  And judging by my sales, my stuff is improving all the time.

But animations take a long time to set up and render.  So I can usually only do about 5 to 15 a week depending 0n how complex they are.  Not to mention that animation makes up a small percentage of overall Stock Footage sales on the big sites.

To truly be successful, you need a good camcorder and you need to go outside and shoot some footage (well, the “outside” part is from my sweetheart, you could do studio shots indoors).  I can record 2 hours of footage over a 3 or 4 hours period and get 20 to 40 useable clips out of it.

So, I had been saving up to get a new camcorder.  I had settled on getting the Canon Vixia HF11 which was in my price range and has great reviews on all the various Indie Film and Camcorder Review web sites.  But times are tight and it was taking me awhile to save up the money.

Along comes my father to the rescue.  He offered to help me out by giving me $400 towards the purchase of a camera. But when the time came to pony up the dough, he instead just bought it outright from Amazon.com for me.  You’ll hear no complaints from me about parents or family for quite some time…  Thanks Again Pops!!

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Don't get me started..., Stock Footage & Photography | , , , , , , | 1 Comment