Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ruminations On Moving Into Motion Stock Photography

Stormy seas,sailboat,lighthouse

I was recently privy to an Internet conversation among a number of accomplished stock shooters about stock video. These photographers range from some who have barely tested the waters to veterans with solid backgrounds in shooting motion stock footage. In that conversation one photographer mentioned that he had sold his RED (The Red One is a high end digital camera that can shoot both feature film quality video and still images as well) and is no longer producing video. He feels that the return on his investment just isn’t worth it when compared to both the satisfaction and the return on investment he gets from shooting stills. Still another shooter was lamenting the disappointing results he is seeing from the sales of his initial efforts in the realm of motion stock.

Those two aren’t the only ones who are backing away from motion. From what I am seeing it seems there is about a 50/50 split, among those who are speaking up, between the shooters feeling negative about motion stock and those who are bullish on it.

Some very respected people are saying there is money to be made in Micro stock footage. The demand for video is growing and there is still “low hanging fruit” in the micro video world. Some are advising jumping into that market using the new crop of DSLRs that shoot HD video…and keeping the shoots at the lowest end of the cost spectrum. To me it seems that may well be true, for a while.

When I look at my own admittedly small experience I see some of my clips doing very well, and some not selling at all, similar to stills. But here is what I am thinking. The right video can pay well. But video is harder to shoot. Everything has to be perfect. You can’t solve problems with Photoshop. I was watching video with one of my compatriots. It was a beautiful shot panning with a woman jogging over a hilltop at sunset. As the woman jogged she came between the lens and the sun creating a beautiful flare. It was perfect except for the just noticeable camera bag in the background. If it had been a still image the fix would be simple. As a video, it’s a no go.

The scary thing for me about shooting for Micro is how much competition there will soon be. If there is opportunity there, at least in the long term, I think it will be by producing footage that rises above what the majority of shooters will be doing. It seems logical that most shooters will be “grabbing” footage, so the opportunity will be for “produced” footage that is targeted and has reasonably high production value.

As for me, I plan to compete in the RR/RM categories where the potential returns are much greater and the competition will be less. I am also going slowly. I am being very careful about shooting footage. I am also keeping my eyes out for unusual opportunities. My recent three-week shoot with the Phantom HD camera is a good example. The ultra slow motion HD footage that we could capture with that camera made it a no-brainer when the chance to shoot with it came up. It was worth the investment in time, models, supplies and so forth. But for the most part I will confine my video to just those situations where I already have made the investments for a still shoot and it is a relatively easy situation to add in some video, or there is a unique opportunity in terms of the content we can capture and/or virtually no costs involved in the shoot. A couple of examples of video that has done well for us: A pan across Buenos Aires from the top of the second highest building in the city, footage of a rock concert we staged for a still shoot, young children running and tumbling by the camera.

One possible reason to get into motion is the increasing likelihood that advertisers will want to have cohesive material in both motion and stills for their campaigns. That could become an important selling point and increase the price point of the material as well. Another reason might be if you have a burning desire to shoot motion. I don’t, and that might be another reason for my caution. I do enjoy my brief forays into motion, but my true joy comes from making still images.

For me, the most important reason to “dip my toe” in the video waters is to keep on top of my profession of stock imagery and to continue to learn and grow. If there is a sea change towards motion I want to be at the helm and not in the lifeboat!


Anonymous said...

I agree - you have to be "perfect" with video. But aside from that, I just enjoy stills more, and I don't perceive the "explosion" in video others seem to forecast.

John Lund said...


I agree with you...I don't see video as an "explosion" but it is a growth area and there may be some good opportunities for those inclined to be involved in it.


donfarrall said...

I too have struggled over this decision. I am confident in my ability to produce saleable work, but I remain skeptical about the return potential. It is interesting, from what I can tell by reading the microstock video forums, most of the contributors are displeased when their distributors (agencies) raise the price for video. They report fewer sales and overall less revenue after a price increase. On the still side I think price hikes are generally viewed positively by contributors, micorstock and traditional. It is also interesting to note that some of the highest earning videos available as microstock are not videos at all, at least not from the standpoint of being produced with a video camera; they are moving animations, computer generated. Video is a different animal. A few years ago I was convinced that video was the next logical step, but now like you John, I feel like I should, just to be ready, but I am investing cautiously.

John Lund said...


Thanks for sharing that info. I am missing a huge chunk of information by not perusing the microstock blogs!


Alex said...

I'm sure video does currently offer the low hanging fruit opportunity you mention. I'm less sure I can be bothered to make the effort to try doing it properly! I feel like I already spend too much time on the computer with stills as it is. I could just be lazy!