Doug Jensen’s Stock Footage Critiques

Recently, an avid follower of the Brutally Honest blog wrote to me asking for my opinion on some of her stock footage, in particular why they weren’t selling regularly.

As you have probably gathered by now, I come from a photography background and footage is only something I’ve started to pursue in the past two years. Therefore, I kindly asked Doug Jensen if he would mind getting involved, which he agreed. They have both consented to having the exchange published, so thank you both. Here’s a link to Sandra Potere’s mainly nature portfolio on Pond5.

All Doug from now on…

Introduction
“After 7 years there and $140K in earnings at Shutterstock I have a much better feel for what sells and what doesn’t in my own portfolio. I also try to look at clips from the perspective of a professional editor who is working on a documentary, TV show, corporate video, TV commercial, or some other production where high production values are required.
You have some great photos in your porfolio and are obviously a talented photographer, but video is a whole different game — as I think you are finding out.’
Even though I said there was no single problem I could point to, there are a few common problems running through many of your clips. Brace yourself, this is going to sound very negative but I mean it to be helpful and constructive feedback. I really do.
I would bet you are using a DSLR or mirroless camera for shooting video, right?  If that is the case, then you will be fighting an uphill battle that you may never win.  You are trying to pound nails with a screwdriver instead of a hammer.  If you are serious about making money from video then you really need a camera that is designed to shoot video and not a camera that just happens to shoot video as an afterthought because the engineers could force it to do it.
Need to use a tripod
Some shots that look they were on a tripod are still not steady enough due to super long focal lengths, wind, or whatever.
Unmotivated zooms and jerky pans
Some shots are just locked down with no movement at all, while the action dictates that the camera should move. And the action should be closer to the camera.
Some shots are good, but nobody needs them. This is a big problem we all face. No matter how great our footage is and how much we like certain shots, the simple fact is that hardly anybody would have a use for it. I try to envision who would buy my clip and how would the use it?
toad
Link to clip
Some shots are too far away from the subject to be of interest.
moose
Overexposed as well. Link to clip
Still life
This shot is too messy for a nice food shot. Ask yourself who would buy it and how would the use it? Look at the crumbs, the clumpy spread, and the awkward way the last item is removed. The hand and fingers do not look like a model. The lighting is not attractive. I would have chosen one item, lit it very nicely, and then had very smooth action as a nice-looking hand came in and grabbed it. Also, in this day and age, you almost need to have some slider motion to give it a little more interest. That is what you are competing against. A locked down shot of food is old fashioned. You need some motion if you want to compete.
Too wide, unmotivated zoom, exposure changes in the middle of the zoom. Camera is not level. Shot is under-exposed at the beginning.
The cat is facing away from the camera. Too much clutter. Unsteady.
Underexposed. Sloppy pouring action. Boring lighting (if any at all). Fake scenario that might work for a still but not for video. Who would buy it? How would they use it?
Fake looking setup. Awkward motion with fork. Cake falls off fork.

Doug’s my main tips on shooting stock footage that sells:

  • Focus your efforts on subject that is actually in demand.
  • Think about who would buy this clip and how would they use it?
  • Use a tripod.
  • Never shoot stationary handheld shots.
  • Get closer to the subject.
  • Shoot at times of day when the light is more interesting.
  • Choose subject matter that customer are looking for.
  • Learn to expose better.
  • Does the setup look fake?
  • If you’re going to do indoor tabletop shooting of food or other objects, get some lights and learn about lighting.
  • Use a video camcorder.”

About Doug

Doug Jensen, from Vortex Media is a professional in the television and video production with over 35-years of experience working with major corporate clients. More recently, he has translated his extensive broadcasting experience towards achieving financial success as a stock footage contributor.

Numbers don’t lie, Doug earns on average $2,700 a month ($279/hour) by working part-time and submitting his mainly wildlife/nature clips to a handful of agencies, including Shutterstock (he has agreed for me to provide a link to his SS port) and Adobe Stock.

Doug has recently published a comprehensive 5-hour / 26-chapter Master e-Class, entitled “How to Make Money Shooting Stock Footage” on the Vimeo platform.

If you would like to take your stock footage to the next level, we’re nearly there…take advantage of an exclusive offer by the Brutally Honest Blog. When paying for the course, use the code “BRUTALLYHONEST” to receive a 20% discount.

$158.37  $126.96 (20% off)

—–> “How to Make Money Shooting Stock Footage” <——

Would one-to-one coaching be something you’d be interested?

On top of his comprehensive course, if you’re interested in taking your stock footage business to the next level, Doug is trialing an one-to-one comprehensive coaching for stock footage enthusiasts.

If you’re interested, please contact him directly at doug@vortexmedia.com and he will provide you with all the information needed to setup the review session(s).


About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’ve devoted six years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet!). I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

5 comments

  1. Great post again, thanks for sharing it. Also, fair review and very useful tips from Doug. One thing though that i have to disagree about.

    It is a known fact that Doug Jensen is an advocate of dumping DSLRs in favor of video cameras. He might have a point there, although it’s hardly a technical consideration, only usability. If you have access to a RED or similar, good for you. But most stock contributors are hobby videographers who are not invested in studio gear, nor have any interest in doing so. Considering the trends of the stock industry, they’d never see a return on their investment anyway. So let’s suppose you buy a prosumer camcorder with a tiny 1-inch type sensor, which costs about the same as a GH5s. How exactly would that up your game? You have better ergonomy for handheld and built-in ND but what else? This sounds sort of a nonsense to me, sorry.

    As for what to shoot, it’s obviously the million dollar question, and someone who sells volumes is a very credible source. But looking at Doug’s own port, i’m a bit confused. The vast majority of his material is slo-mo birds, wildlife, rockets, with some editorial thrown in. None of which belongs to today’s hot topics. I didn’t go through all his 8,000 clips, there might be some hidden gems in there that are responsible for most his sales. It’s just hard to picture that slo-mo birdies are in such a high demand today, even if shot beautifully. But of course i wouldn’t expect him to just give away the recipe to his secret sauce.

    As someone who barely started contributing, i’d imagine the hottest subject matters would be technology, environment, social issues — stuff that are trending in the news, plus seasonal things. But i might be wrong.

    Like

    • Hi Victor, appreciate your thoughtful comments. I don’t expect people to agree with everything I say and I do like it when someone makes their case and doesn’t just throw stones, as you have done. Also, I’m not going to try to convince you that I am right about what type of camera to use or what kind of footage to shoot. I’ve learned that is a waste of my time. I can lead a horse to water but I cannot make them drink. You’ll have to come to your own conclusions about those things. But I will tell you I’m 100% certain that I am correct.

      I will clarify a few things you have touched on. Not to argue or debate, but just to elaborate.

      A lot of “hobby” videographers will remain “hobby” videographers simply because they will never take the leap of faith to invest in the right equipment and/or take the time to learn to use it properly. Yeah, they’ll upload a few haff-assed videos that won’t sell, and then say “see I told you there was no money in video”. A self-fulfilling prophecy because they did not invest the time and money to make it happen. I see this over and over again with stock footage and other areas of the television and video production industry in which I work. The old adage that you have to spend money to make money will always hold true. And going beyond having the right tools, someone must also develop the skills to make use of those tools. When both needs are met, the sky is the limit.

      DSLRs and mirrorless cameras make crappy video cameras because they suffer greatly from such things as rolling shutter (especially evident at longer focal lengths) and a lack of internal ND filters. Internal ND filters are absolutely critical for shooting professional video. They also generally have short zoom ranges (2x to 4x) if you invest in quality lenses. In general DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have low-end video codecs and a lack of paint menus for customizing the image quality. They do not offer critical functionality such as customizable zebras and peaking. Their viewfinders cannot be articulated upwards or downwards to facilitate ergonomic postioning when shooting from a tripod. No DSLRs have an electronic viewfinder and it is impossible to consistently shoot high-end video by looking at a LCD panel. An LCD panel is not a viewfinder. Most lenses for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have horrible manual focus control because they are designed for stills. And auto-focus on most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is not tuned for shooting video — not that you should ever use AF for video anyway. I could go on and on about why true video camcorders are the weapon of choice for professional television and video production, but I hope you get the idea. Yes, you can certainly pound a nail with screwdriver if you want to, but a professional carpenter uses a hammer because it is the right tool for the task.

      You are welcome to look through my portfolio and form your own conclusions about where I’m making my money, but I assure you my best selling clips are not hard to shoot or exotic subject matter. I shoot a lot of wildlife because that is my hobby and I enjoy it, but that’s not what makes me money. And I have never encouraged anyone to go out and shoot wildlife or nature. In my course, I state just the opposite. But you are exactly correct that a good place to start “would be technology, environment, social issues — stuff that are trending in the news, plus seasonal things.” Absolutely. I talk extensively about what to shoot in my workshop, and that will be different for each and every individual.

      Please don’t assume that I make my money from a handful of “gems”. Yeah, there are a handful of good earners in my portfolio but they don’t account for the bulk of my income. In October I had 85 sales at Shutterstock for a total of $3751. An 88% increase over October 2018. And out of those 85 sales there were 68 different clips sold. So its not the just same handful of clips being sold over and over again. 20 of those clips had never sold before that month. And 17 of the clips had been submitted to Shutterstock after March 13, 2019 — the day that my “How to make Money Shooting Stock” workshop was released on Vimeo. Heck, I have NOT even uploaded any new clips asince July 15th because I’ve been traveling too much.

      September had similar numbers. $3692 was a 56% increase over September 2018. 65 out of 107 sales were for clips that had never sold before. 35 of the 107 sales were for clips that were uploaded after March 13, 2019. In other words, if someone watched my video, followed what I told them to do, and uploaded similar clips to mine, and used similar metadata, then they’d already be making a pretty nice income. I will hit $30,000 at Shutterstock for 2019 . . . not including what I’m making at Adobe and Pond5.

      So during Septmeber and October I had a total of 55 clips sell for the first time ever. I think that is pretty nice because when a clip sells once there is a great chance it will sell a few more times. The Shutterstock search engine will give my clips better placement because someone bought them once already.

      So you see, you can attempt to poo poo the opportunities that exist TODAY in stock footage, but my sales are growing. I’m selling both brand new clips and older clips as I build my portfolio bigger and bigger. Sales are growing. Money is rolling in. And I haven’t even done anything with stock footage since July except cash the checks.

      I wish you luck.

      Like

      • Doug, thank you for your insightful thoughts, much appreciated. First off, your sales figures are indeed amazing, and it gives us all hope that we are not beating a dead horse.

        There seems to be a misunderstanding about the type of gear we talk about. You obviously mean oldschool DSLRs that offer rudimentary video functions. What i mean is the latest generation hybrid cameras that are in fact more video oriented than still. Think of GH5s for example, it walks and talks like any other MFT still camera but is actually a video camera and offers abysmal still shooting experience (10mp). Or the X-T3, BMPC 6K, or the new Sigma fp. Prores 4:2:2, 10-bit or raw video? 4K60 with 200-400 Mbps? If it’s not enough for quality grading, nothing is. They all have zebra, focus peaking, and a wealth of features only the much more expensive professional video cameras offer. Right, the lack of internal ND is painful, but hardly a deal breaker. Real cine lenses are way beyond the reach of most of us, but this equally applies to video cameras. Rokinon/Samyang and other declicked but fake cine lenses don’t count here.

        And another important factor: size and weight. When you are out in the field, running and gunning, or as Alex here, you shoot travel stuff, you might want to avoid drawing attention. Lugging around a shoulder-mounted or tripod-mounted massive beast might not be the best way to achieve this. Not to mention your travel expenses and comfort. Shooting stock is for the most part a one man show, not a professional production.

        As you were involved in video production prior to stock, it is understandable that you are biased toward dedicated video cameras. The question is, would you be able to deliver the same figures if you were shooting a video oriented MILC? I guess yes.

        On stock forums a lot of people say that content prevails over resolution and grading quality. If the subject matter is in high demand, the clip will sell unless it’s utter garbage.

        Like

  2. Hi Victor, I love your post. Yes, things are not quite a black and white as I sometimes make them appear. Guilty as charged. I think you have made a very good case for the other side of the debate so I’ll let yo have the last word. The key (as I talk about in my training video) is to choose a camera, lens(es), tripods, gimbals, or whatever stuff you think you need that will allow you to capture kind of clips you want to shoot. Those choices will be different for everyone, but I choose professional camcorders for their speed and efficiency as much a anything else.

    As I have said several times on other forums, there are three keys to success with footage (both editorial and commercial):

    1) Subject matter that customers actually have a need for.

    2) Good production values (exposure, composition, focus, white balance, grading, etc.)

    3) Excellent metadata (keywords and descriptions) so customers can find it.

    When someone ticks all three of those boxes, then they will have a sporting chance of making some sales.

    What type of camera one uses is not very important as long as it meets certain technical criteria and is capable of capturing nice images.

    I wish you luck again!

    Like

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