Another Year and More News

Stolen Equipment

In May someone broke into my car and stole roughly $5,000 of equipment including my Panasonic GH4, several lenses, Sennheiser wireless audio kit, a portable LCD, some LED lightning and misc other accessories.  It was devastating.  And it was not covered by my insurance (loophole).

In a desperate home to recover as much as I could, I created a GoFundMe campaign where I raised just over $1,000. Coupled with another $1,000 in direct donations, I was able to get a new camera within a few weeks.  I am very grateful to all those who contributed or sent me messages of encouragement.  The campaign is still active and I still need to raise a little more to cover my audio needs if you feel like you might have a few dollars to spare.

I am especially grateful to some close friends who donated generously and Pond5 who gave $300.  They were the only agency that donated and I am so blessed by their kindness.

Major Changes in Microstock

Since my last post on Microstock news, there have been a lot of changes…

  • Revostock closed up shop – They were buried under a lot of legal debt from their patent infringement lawsuit (that they won) and couldn’t recover. They shut down owing a LOT of money to a lot of contributors.
  • Dissolve, a partnership from some former iStock employees, started up a new Microstock Footage web site. They talked a lot of people into joining promising a lot of things and then screwed everyone over a few months later. Given they come from iStock, it’s not surprising they would do that.
  • VideoBlocks started allowing contributors to upload footage and after effects projects. So far, they appear friendly and are like Pond5 used to be when they started. Very communicative with the artist community and they are doing very well in sales.
  • The founders of Pond5 are almost all gone and it shows.  They are no longer artist friendly (except for the industry leading 50% revenue share) and of course they stopped communicating with artists a long time ago.  They got a huge influx of cash from investors who want their investment back, so they replaced a lot of people that made things happen. They are still a top seller, but I expect that to change over the rest of the year as they are rejecting over 50% of all new submissions and favoring a few artists over everyone else.

Microstock revenue as a whole is growing as more and more of the world joins digital.  But we’re seeing agencies do more to keep more money and share less.  And we’re seeing a lot of changes at agencies as they try to increase their share of the market.  Most of the changes are NOT good for artists.

A Little Bit of Positivity

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have been really hard on Pond5 over the past year.  And it’s real easy to complain about how things are going there and the poor relations they have with contributors.

So, I while contemplating yet another rant, I decided to think about the positive things at Pond5, because in reality, the positives do outweigh the negatives.

Pond5 is still in the top tier of Microstock agencies in revenue sharing.  From the get-go, they’ve offered a 50/50 split compared to the 30% or less provided by the other big names.  They still allow artists to set their own pricing.  And the process of submitting is still pretty simple, making it easy to grow your online portfolio.

So, despite the many issues on the negative side, I have to say “Thank You” to Pond5 for remaining an “overall” positive marketplace for Microstock contributors.

My Audio Journey

Most of my friends who do stock footage also either work in the entertainment industry, or they do other projects such as short films and weddings.  Typically, we remove the audio from our stock footage clips, but when we need audio, we typically need GOOD audio.

That’s where I’m at.  My current “day job” is shooting television commercials and corporate commercials for the web.  So I am often recording actor dialog and/or voice-overs at a remote location. And since the T2i I used to shoot with recorded audio poorly (even with Magic Lantern, it wasn’t great) and my new T4i isn’t much better, I went the separate audio recording route.

I started with the Zoom H1 Ultra-Portable Digital Audio Recorder that I got for $99 + shipping.  Yes, it’s made with cheap plastic, but it does an excellent job as a voice recorder for dialog and voice-overs.  I also picked up the Audio-Technica ATR3350 Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Microphone for about $30.  The Zoom H1 is so small it fits in a pocket, so it was easy to clip the lav mic onto the talent, turn on the recorder and have them stick it in a pocket.  After learning how to use it for a few days, it ended up working EXTREMELY well.  I got great sound out of it and shot about 20 or so commercials and a half dozen short films.  I even used it with a Rode VideoMic mounted on a boom pole numerous times.  The main problem I had as that most of the time, I couldn’t monitor the sound being recorded because the Zoom H1 tucked away in an actor’s pocket.

So after saving up some money from my new-found career, I upgraded.  Of course, it wouldn’t be worth it to upgrade to a better recorder (I’d have the same problem, plus a new problem that the better recorders won’t fit in a pocket) unless I also moved to a wireless solution for mic’ing up actors.  So, I sold the Zoom H1 and bought a Tascam DR-40 Recorder and an Audio-Technica Pro 88W Camera Mountable VHF Lavalier System.

I did a ton of research and all the “pros” kept telling me to spend $600 on a Sennheiser G3 system, but they weren’t willing to give me the money to spend. I read enough reviews that I felt taking a chance on the Pro88W wireless system was worth it.  And I can tell you, 5 short films and 60+ commercials later, I was right.  It’s a great system as long as you understand its limitations and work within them. First, it eats batteries, so ALWAYS keep fresh new 9-volt batteries in your audio kit.  I generally find that I’m using a new set of batteries for each shoot.  It comes with an omni-directional mic, so take a few minutes to have the talent be silent so that you can listen any other noises being picked up.  It’s also an advantage in that, if two people are standing next to each other, you can record both of them (great for weddings with the lav on the groom).  On a fresh set of alkaline batteries, I’ve successfully used it with the transmitter/receiver 100-feet apart in a large room or outdoor without any noise, but after about 20 to 30 minutes the batteries are used enough that 40-feet is your max range for noiseless audio.  After another hour of continuous use, that drops to 20-feet. Quite honestly, 90% of the time, I never have them more than 15-feet apart, so I rarely have an issue.  And at 15-feet you get a STRONG noiseless signal for about 2-hours of continuous use.

I could have used the new wireless mic with my Zoom H1, but I wanted a recorder with XLR connections and the ability to record multiple tracks.  On a few occasions where I shot interviews, I’d put the wireless mic on the talent who was on camera and I’d use the wired ATR-3350 lav mic on me.  Or, I’d use the wireless mic and shotgun mic simultaneously.  With the ability to record 4 separate tracks at once, it was very versatile.  The only issue I ran into with the DR-40 was that it was susceptible to electronic interference.  If I put the wireless mic receiver too close to the recorder, I’d get electronic interference recorded as noise.  Also, while Tascam released a new firmware that give you independent control over the line-levels for all 4 recorded tracks (previously, they shared the same levels), it was difficult to set them and monitor each one.

So, this last week I sold the Tascam DR-40 and bough a Zoom H4n Handy Mobile 4-Track Recorder. It’s not as easy to use as the DR-40, but I don’t get ANY electronic interference with it and so far it seems to be working just as smooth as the DR-40 did.

Oh, I bought a “boom pole adapter”off eBay to convert a cheap painter’s pole into a boom pole.  The problem is that it came with a 3/8th screw that wasn’t compatible with my Rode VideoMic. Plus the Rode Mic worked well mounted on my camera for general sound, but as a “shotgun mic” for dialog mounted on a pole, it just didn’t seem to work well.  I sold it and bought an Audio-Technica AT8015 – Shotgun Microphone. It’s really great at picking up sound that you point it at and rejecting sound from the sides, but it’s a bit too long and I can’t mount it on my camera without it showing up in the frame because it sticks out so far. It works great on a boom pole, though.

Right now I’m saving up for my next two upgrades.  a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic and a Sennheiser G3 wireless lav kit.

Some new charts

If you’ve visited in the past week, you probably noticed that I added some new charts to the right sidebar where I have tracking data.  The first chart labled “Agency Sales 2012” represents the number of footage files sold for the agencies listed.  One thing you’ll notice is that Pond5 is trending down, while Shutterstock is trending up.  At the present rate, those should meet early next year.

The second chart is revenue by year, although not in dollars.  I don’t want to give out how much I actually make. I mostly want to show the trends.

I’ll add ClipCanvas into the charts soon since they have become a major player for me in the past couple of years.

One thing that is extremely important to understand, especially for anyone just starting out.  The stock photography market is over-saturated and it’s EXTREMELY difficult to make much money without a massive portfolio. The stock footage market is starting to move in that direction.  Without a massive portfolio of unique and high quality items, don’t expect to make enough money to live off of.  Look at it more as a little extra money each month to pay for some gas in your car and a few nights out with your significant other.

Artists who are making a significant amount of money have been in the game for some time, have large portfolios and spend a LOT of hours adding new content on a weekly basis.  it’s actually a big job to be successful in the industry now.  That’s not to say that if you put in the effort and have the quality, you won’t also be successful.  But you can’t upload 100 clips and expect to make much of anything these days.  There are too many people in the game now.

The beat goes on…

October already… Wow, does time fly. Lot’s of changes in my life over the past few months.

First, I’ve purchased a lot of new equipment, including a new camera.  I’ll be posting reviews.  I sold my T2i and was going to buy a T3i, but I ran across an amazing deal on the T4i that I couldn’t pass up. I also “downgraded” my tripod and picked up a new track dolly and other various gadgets.

My “day job” running my business has grown incredibly fast and has me working 60 to 70 hours a week, so there’s not much time for shooting stock.  But I do manage a few shots here and there.

Things with Pond5 aren’t any better.  Sales are still pretty dismal there and still not much in the way of communication.  However, things have been AMAZING at Shutterstock.  After ingesting over 1,000 new footage files my sales have more than tripled and consistently for the past few months. They are really going after the stock footage market hard.