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!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Lifestyle Stock And Minutes You'll Never Get Back

I had lunch yesterday with an old friend of mine who remarked that "Things change when you can see the end". He was referring to the fact that he wants to work less and enjoy his life more. He, like me, is 57 years old. It is true. Even at, say 49, life looked different to me. Increasingly, every minute is important. More and more I look at my stock photo career and ask myself how I can use it to not just make money, but to enjoy my life. A good example can be seen in a stock shoot I did in Buenos Aires.

I arranged to go with two friends of mine, Dew Kelly and Sam Diephuis. Both are excellent shooters and often work with me to produce stock photos for Blend Images. This was a ten day trip to produce stock photography and produce it in a way that we could also really enjoy the experience.

After committing to the shoot the first thing we did was to look for some locations for our shoot. We settled on three primary locations knowing that once we were there we could fill in other locations and shoots as needed. The first of our locations was found via the Internet, We found a luxury Apartment on one of the top floors of the second highest building in Buenos Aires. It has 360 degree views of the city and a clean, modern look. The apartment easily accommodated the three of us, and we were able to stay there as well as shoot there. Even at $600.00 per night it was a bargain. What we saved over the location fee of a comparable place in the U.S. more than paid for our travel expenses! We shot stills and video. Sam shot a panorama video from the roof of the building and that footage, while only having sold twice so far, pretty much paid for the cost of renting the location.

The apartment provided for both upscale lifestyle shots and business shots (the dining room also passed for a corporate boardroom). We shot party scenes, people with their dogs, romantic couples, domestic chores, home exercise and much more. I was able to wake up in the morning to breath taking views and to begin shooting without schlepping equipment. We could dine out or cook our own meals. Actually, we had so much "shoot" food that we couldn't eat all of it. But hey, we had a refrigerator and freezer to store it in. We had a washer and dryer, rooftop access and grounds to enjoy. Not a bad way to conduct a stock shoot!

We rented a smaller, but still nice apartment, for the remainder of the shoot. Our shoots (put together with the help of our Argentinian producer Paula Zacharias) included a gym (shooting a gymnast doing his routine in a business suit), a theater (where we staged a rock concert, a bodybuilding contest, a political debate and also shot audience reactions), and a soccer shoot in which we hired a local semi-pro team. We had an awesome time and came back with tons of great content including ethnically diverse lifestyle, Business, and concept images.

An important thing to remember for these kinds of shoots, is to get property and model releases upfront. This trip went smoothly in that regard, but I have had some unpleasant surprises when I have failed to take the “upfront” precautions. Another important thing is to look closely at every model release before the model leaves. On the whole, models do a terrible job of filling out releases (they also do a terrible job of bringing their own wardrobe...but that is another story). When shooting in situations like these I also tend to hire extra models. The expense of one or two models is small compared to having everything set up and ready to roll, and then not having enough models. It is always a good idea to allow for the "model flake factor" (no offense to the many models who are professional, prompt and thorough).

Also, when in foreign countries it is important to understand the cultural differences around time and commitment. I have shot in Argentina many times and have finally gotten use to my producer calling up models at 1:00 in the morning for a shoot that day! Come to think of it, maybe the most important thing to remember when shooting in far off places is to bring you best attitude. I always try to keep in mind that if a shoot just isn’t working, for whatever reason, it won’t be the end of the world, and every minute I spend in unhappiness over it is a minute I will never get back.