Monday, September 28, 2009

Experiment 11: from Still to Motion !

I recently invested in a HD camcorder (a Legria HF 200, twin of the Vixia HF200 in the USA) to get into stock footage. In this post, I will talk about my first impressions about switching from photo and video and the differences I came across during capture and editing.
  • Equipment and capture
The HF200 camcorder is surprisingly small and light (340g). However, it lacks a wide angle lens. Luckily, I managed to get down to a 31.6 mm (from 39.5 mm) without any loss of quality by adding a WCON 08B converter. Similarly, the TCON 17B brings the 592.5 mm to a 859.1 mm. When I shoot video, my SLR viewfinder is replaced by a very convenient multi-angle LCD screen. If a 8GB card is more than enough to record 10MP raw pictures, it is not so much for HD videos so I am currently using a 16GB class 4 SD card. The Legria comes short in battery life since I can record only about 1h of footage. Often the battery gives up before the card is full which never happened with my DSLR. Unfortunately, replacement batteries are much more expensive than for my DSLR as well…

Like in photo, I use aperture priority quite a lot and occassionaly speed priority. I almost always use manual focus (which is surprisingly precise on the LCD screen) to avoid changes in focus while recording footage which happen sometimes when focus is set to automatic.

Photo and video are quite similar but also very different. The big difference is that in video you have to predict the action and how it will play. If we take the basic scene of a autumn leaf on the grass; in photo, composition, control of the depth of field, exposure will be the main parameters before pointing and shooting.

In video, these parameters are still there but you have to compose also with external elements like the wind and the light that can sometime make your sequence more powerful.
While I do not really pay attention to the wind while taking pictures, I learned that it can be in video, your best friend or your worse enemy. Wind can give some movement to a static scene but also if you don’t have a steady tripod it can ruin all your footage.
In some ways, I found video more restrictive since you cannot do vertical shooting for example and it is, with the HF200 at least, difficult to change the focus while recording. At the same time, video brings more freedom since you can pan and zoom.
  • Processing time….
Instead of processing raw files, I work now with AVCHD which is a compressed format developed jointly by Sony and Panasonic.

I found out quickly that if the AVCHD format sounds appealing (you take your SD card from the camcorder and open directly files from it on your computer), its processing can be quite a headache. Few softwares are capable of rendering correctly AVCHD and its conversion can be tricky (files have to be converted to Quicktime, the format accepted by all agencies). I am still working on a standard workflow but I found out that scenes with fast moving subjects are the most difficult to render properly in Quicktime. Apparently it comes to the fact that I record 1080i (i stands for interlaced) and that computer displays are progressive... I am not sure that HF200 progressive mode is really true progressive so following some advices I will shoot interlaced from now on, the customer can easily deinterlace the video if needed.

It comes with no surprise that processing videos takes longer than processing pictures (even when doing HDR or panorama). Process a 20 seconds clip can take anywhere between 4 minutes and 5 minutes depending on what corrections are applied. It can last more than an hour if you speed up your videos to do timelapse.
Process AVCHD files definitely put my laptop (Core2Duo 2GHz, 3GB RAM) to the test….
Storage of raw footages can also be an issue so an 1TB hardrive should come handy especially if you want   to store these few GB timelapse videos....

  • Uploading
When it comes to uploading, there is a huge difference  between photo and video: if a 10 MP picture  weights between 3 and 5 MB, a 20 seconds HD1080 clip can be between 200 and 250 MB, the equivalent of about 50 pictures.... Uploading 20 HD clips can be a daunting task without a high speed internet access and I would consider that a 1Mbps upload speed is a minimum to have.
As I rather want to upload once, I use picWorkflow (referral link included) platform to distribute my videos across different agencies. Amazingly, once on the platform , my 200 MB clips are redistributed in a matter of seconds......

  • Final submission
Unfortunately, there is not yet an equivalent to the IPTC system for videos which means extra work: you have to copy paste title, description and keywords in each agency. Until such system comes up, the best option I found is to keep a document with all my metadata  and simply copy/paste the different fields from there.

  • Conclusion
Stock footage has definitely its technical challenges: processing and uploading are both much more time consuming than for photos. On the bright side, it is an opportunity to learn video capturing and editing. Also on the money side, there are much less submitters in footage than in photo, prices are higher so it might be a good time to enter before it is getting too difficult (see my previous post). At the time of writing, Shutterstock have 138,000 clips on line (with more than 8 millions pictures) and Pond5 200,000 clips. In January 2011, Pond5 has more than 510,000 clips, Shutterstock more than 230,000.

If you want start selling your footage online, I would recommend for a start  Pond5 and Revostock . My referral links are below!

Revostock footage

Royalty-Free Stock Video at Pond5

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Is microstock still open to hobbyst photographers ?

Competition is fierce in the microstock industry between agencies but also between photographers. In this article, I will try to answer the following questions : who is responsible of lowering or raising barriers of entry for hobbyst microstockers and is there a scope for them to make some money ?

  • Camera manufacturers
Camera manufacturers played a big role in the inception of microstock business model giving access to DLSR to a large number of people. As a reminder, back in 2002, the 14MP Kodak DCS Pro14n had a price tag of  $ 4,995 ! Today, a entry level DLSR kit or a high end compact is the minimum required to get into the microstock market as a photographer and represents an investment of about  $1000.
Few full time microstockers are getting an edge using top end DSLR (Canon EOS5 MarkII 21MP, Nikon D3X 24.5 MP) or digital medium cameras (Hasselbal H3D-II-39 39MP, Phase One P65+ 65MP).

  • Agencies
Leading agencies as Istockphoto and Shutterstock are doing an initial evaluation, like an entry exam if you prefer and it looks like that this exam  got more difficult the past few years.It is quite easy however to get into some of the new agencies as they do not have initial review but sales volume is low.
  • Knowledge and time
A less obvious barrier of entry is the knowledge that photographers need to acquire about the microstock industry, photography and post-processing techniques. All the information is widely distributed on blogs, forums and social networks but processing this knowledge can be time consuming and time is by definition a scarce resource for hobbyst photographers….

  • Internet access

Microstock photographers share their time between shooting, research, processing, keywording and uploading pictures. As far uploading concerned, lot of photographers are taking an initial strategy to distribute their pictures to multiple agencies (up to 20 or more) to see which ones are working for them. Beside time, uploading to multiple agencies be an issue with a slow internet access and become a barrier of entry. Some solutions came up recently to get around this issue like the Isyndica platform which allow multichannels distribution by uploading the photo once to their server.

  • And now, the money side of things……

Even is money is not the main focus of hobbyst photographers, they can rely on it to finance new equipment. If it was possiblle few years back, you should not expect now to make a lot of money with only few hundreds of pictures on line.....

Initially microstock agencies advertised themselves as a quick money scheme: according to them you just have to upload your vacation pictures from your harddrive.

Things are certainly very different now as the quality of pictures increased considerably. Recently, some agencies took the step to promote special collections within their database (Istock Vetta, 123RF EVO, Fotolia Infinite) but getting into these collections is almost impossible for hobbysts. Agencies are usually putting some size restriction on images and we can imagine that in the near future they will list a recommended or required list of cameras like it is done already by Alamy and Getty Images.

Full time microstockers are not only improving the overall quality (technical and creative) of pictures but also producing a large quantity of pictures making it more and more difficult for hobbysts to compete. If a hobbyst can produce up to 100 pictures a month, full time photographers can produce thousands….

With a low volume of production, it looks like that that the only way to make some money is actually to produce pictures in one or more selected niches.

  • Conclusion

Leading agencies and full time microstockers raised the barriers of entry for hobbysts. Even if photography equipment to get into microstock is affordable and web distributors like Isyndica exist, it appears more and more difficult for hobbyst photographers to get accepted from leading stock agencies and therefore make some money. Time and knowledge are also serious barriers of entry. However microstock is definitively a good learning experience and a chance to interact with an active and diverse community which is priceless:)

Also, every year few hobbysts made it full time and make a living out of their passion so I would say that everything is possible !

This article reflects of course my own opinion and I welcome every constructive comments!

Barriers of entry in microstock