Tuesday, December 26, 2017

6 Months on Shutterstock and Others: Earnings and Thoughts

December 26, 2017 - Vero Beach, Florida

While looking through my portfolio this spring, I realized that I had reached a point in my life where stock photography sales might make sense. At this point, I have thousands of good photos, many of which are unique, that can totally be sold online. Understand that this is a very long-term investment…and right now I have the time to get started, so why not!
This was my number 1 seller on Shutterstock for the first 4 months.

After a lot of research, I started with Shutterstock, figuring it would be the easiest to get a foothold on. Most others making money in the stock world recommend it, even if the average sale is only $0.25 per photo. The fact is, while other sites pay more, Shutterstock has the volume. As a side note, many sales make significantly more than this. 

The biggest problem I have with selling on these sites is the time commitment it takes. For the first year, I have spent more time than I can count keywording and adding metadata. I’m sure I’ve lost money on year 1 because of this, but I’m counting that over the course of 20 years I won’t remember. Furthermore, I’m getting better at the keywording game and automating the process through Lightroom.

The Numbers
So, how has it worked out? Here are my stats from the four sites I have been approved on. I’m posting this because I searched for information like this and could not find it. As you can see, on some sites I have pushed more photos, while on others I have waited to see what sorts of images sell. I have had limited luck on Alamy so far and I have only very recently joined iStock. iStock requires exclusive content, so I plan to experiment with how new shots as they come out. This is far from a full-time gig for me, and I would estimate that I am averaging 2 hours per week on stock photography.
Current best seller on Shutterstock

Joined April 2017
Total photos uploaded 241
Total rejections 70
Total number of sales 224
Sales as of Dec 18, 2017….$103.20
Average earnings per sale…$0.46

Joined May 2017
Total photos uploaded 76
Total rejections 3
Total number of sales 1
Sales as of Dec 18, 2017…$5
Average earnings per sale…$5

Joined July 2017
Total photos uploaded 29
Total rejections 0
Total number of sales 10
Sales as of Dec 18, 2017 $9.45
Average earnings per sale…$0.95

iStock by Getty
Joined November 2017
Total photos uploaded 44
Total rejections 1
Total number of sales 1
Sales as of Dec 18, 2017 ?? (doesn’t tell you until next month)
Average earnings per sale…??

What Photos Have Sold
The next question is, what has sold? By far, the most successful images are photos on Shutterstock and Dreamstime that I took during a Florida Christmas boat parade. The number one best seller is:

Most of these sites also publish a list of desired photos or some sort of photo assignment every month. As I build my stock portfolio, I'm looking for these as good opportunities to build my portfolio and do some "assignment" shooting. Dreamstime has a month assignment contest, which I've entered twice. Both times all submissions were rejected for various reasons which seemed bizarre, so I'm not really sure what's going on there.

I've used Shutterstock as my example for these rejection photos because their process has taught me how to succeed in other places. Notice, I have a lot of Shutterstock rejections, but not too many on other sites. That's by design to some extent. If there's one thing I've learned it's that it's impossible to predict. Sometime I'll submit a photo that I don't think is very good or that I'm sure would be rejected (like photos from the GoPro) but they will be approved. So if they like the photo or they think it could sell, they will overlook certain things. And just because Shutterstock says no doesn't mean someone else won't like it. 

Rejected...by Shutterstock. Accepted and for sale on Dreamstime.

Rejected for trademark/copyright. I'm not sure I agree.

iStock rejected this image for needing a property release.
I don't think this is identifiable in any way!

While the numbers look small, I’m considering this endeavor a success. I plan to continue uploading photos (and soon videos too) and letting my portfolios grow slowly. I now have a pretty smooth system for keywording, so it takes significantly less time to do the work than it has previously. Plus, it’s fun to go through old photos and put my portfolio to use. And I am making money off of the photos that I really enjoy shooting…beautiful beaches and sunsets and boat parades!

If you’re interested in selling on these sites and have found this info helpful, please use the following referral link to sign up!

Friday, December 1, 2017

What they don't tell you about Mirrorless

December 1, 2017 -- Vero Beach, Florida

Shortly after selling all of my Canon gear and getting Sony mirrorless equipment, two observations that became quickly clear to this once I switched over to mirrorless cameras.

Number 1: dust is problem. 
Dust on the sensor! Time to clean. Sony a6000

Probably pretty obvious to anyone who has used an SLR camera…if you take away the mirror and the physical shutter, there’s nothing protecting your sensor! You have to be really careful with these things when changing lenses. Like, really careful. Like, I’m not even sure I want to do it on a beach careful. And you’ll have to be handy with sensor cleaning wipes like these from Amazon:

Camera Sensor Cleaning Swab Type 2 (VSOG DDR15) for APSC Sensor (CCD/CMOS): Package includes 10 X 16mm Cleaning Swabs

Number 2: lens distortion.
I’m sure not all mirrorless cameras are created the same, but these Sony lenses create a ridiculous amount of distortion. That includes the $1000 Zeiss FE 24-70 I bought. You probably would never notice this as an issue if you shoot in JPG mode. The camera's built in correction automatically fixes the pictures for you. It does a decent job too. But I’m a RAW guy, so once I loaded those pics into Lightroom some ugliness happened. Not only am I a RAW guy, I’m also a cheap guy. When Adobe switched to subscription based pricing they lost my business. So I’m stuck with Lightroom 4. Luckily Lightroom has a built in lens profile for my a6000…but not for my a7! For the moment I’ve been surviving in JPG mode, but I will eventually create my own lens profile for Lightroom for this camera/lens setup. What a PIA!
Sony a7 image in RAW vs JPG format, i.e. without and with built in corrections

All of this can be fixed with software, of course, but as someone who learned on film I don’t think that’s an acceptable answer. For someone who spent this much money on the “nice” lens, I don’t think that’s an acceptable answer. This is a price I didn’t know I was paying to “upgrade" to mirrorless: the impossibility of perfect, right out of the camera photos.

What do you think is better, an old school heavy camera that takes better pictures or a smaller, lighter camera that uses software corrections to achieve the same result?  

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Photos from the Road, ICW Southbound 2017

November 22, 2017 -- St. Augustine, Florida

Here are few photos from our fall migration down the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. We made the trip from Deltaville, Virginia to St. Augustine Florida in a little under three weeks, with a few stops along the way.
MV Nixie, Deltaville, VA

Final sunset in Deltaville, Fishing Bay

Two days after the Dismal Swamp Canal reopened

Fall in the Dismal Swamp

Foggy morning on the Alligator-Pungo River Canal, North Carolina

Shrimp boat, Swansboro, North Carolina
Beach at Isle of Palms, South Carolina before the offshore jump to Florida

St Augustine, FL

St Augustine, FL

St Augustine, FL

Creepy door, St Augustine

Neat textures, St Augustine

Streets of St Augustine

Christmas time in St Augustine!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Photos from the Road, New Bern, NC

September 1, 2017 -- New Bern, North Carolina

We spent the better part of the summer docked in New Bern, walking the town, working on the boat and doing various projects. Here's just a few photos from around town, most taken with the new to me Sony a7 mirrorless camera.

Town docks

July 4th!

Lucy's Designer Boat Bagz

Happy family

It's a great town for walking

Summer squalls while safely tied to the dock

Ok, you caught me, this is an iPhone photo.
But those croissants are so good, they deserve a photo...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Upgrading to Sony Mirrorless

August 1, 2017 -- New Bern, North Carolina

In my last post I covered how my L-series lens let me down. After a lot of soul searching (and even more Googling) I decided to switch up my life: I’ve gone mirrorless <gasp!>
Assorted shots from around the Abacos with our new toy, the Sony a6000

The Rebel (my backup camera) was the first to go, replaced by a Sony a6000. This was an experiment to see if I even liked it. I played with the a6000 for a month in the Abacos and during our passage back to the States. I was hooked and converted. 

Upon reaching North Carolina, basically my entire camera bag went on eBay or got sold to KEH. The 6D was replaced by a Sony a7 full-frame mirrorless camera. The Canon EF 24-105 f/4L was replaced by a Sony-Zeiss FE 24-70 f/4. In the end, I came out about even money-wise with two caveats: I lost my telephoto lens and have not decided what I’m going to replace it with. I kept my two Rokinon manual focus lenses that I use for nightscapes and bought an adapter tube to use the Canon EF-mount on the Sony e-mount. 

The primary reason I made the switch was size. The Sony is much lighter and easier to carry. I learned a long time ago, the lighter and easier to carry a camera is, the more often it will get used!
This might be a contender for one of my all time favorite photos.

The Sony cameras are very popular for use with older manual focus lenses. The Sony glass can sometimes make Canon L-series lenses look cheap. When spending this much money, I want the best, most reliable and quality glass I can get. I’m very interested and looking into adapting Leica M-mount lenses for use on the Sony. More on that later! 

Beach walk

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Death of a L -egend

June, 2017 -- Sea of Abaco, Bahamas

The last photo series my Canon 6D took before I dumped her for another...
While on our sailing trip to the Bahamas, my trusty and beloved Canon EF 24-105 f/4L bit the dust. A bit of internet research turned up that this is a common problem: a tiny ribbon cable that controls the aperture assembly becomes worn over time, rendering the $800 lens into a sharp looking paper weight.

I should also say this isn’t the first Canon lens to let me down. Before I bought my 6D, I was shooting with Rebel bodies because I loved their compactness. They travel easy! My favorite lens for the Canon APS-C cameras was the EF-S 16-85 f/3.5-5.6. I’ve been through three of these guys. They all stop focusing eventually. Ugh!

To say I was bummed about the loss of the L-series would be an understatement. Basically, my camera bag revolves around this lens. It’s supposed to be a weather-sealed, go anywhere, professional quality lens. The repair costs about $300-400. I started shopping around (why would I put 50% of the value of the lens towards it’s repair? I could pick up a used one cheaper, but would it do the same thing? If I did repair it, would it happen again?) 

In the end, I sold the non-functioning lenses on eBay. To my surprise, the L-series lens sold immediately under Buy It Now. Some dude in Russia bought it for parts, and I wish him the best of luck. For me, I've moved onto a new love. 

What would you do if your favorite piece of photo equipment let you down in the middle of a trip of a lifetime? Would you stick with your brand or move on? Can you guess what I did?

Looks like some fun "frolicing"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

First flights: Xiro Xplorer G for Photography

I had wanted a drone for a couple years, and I had been eyeing the Splash waterproof drone with waterproof gimbal. I waited until the very last minute before we departed for the Bahamas because I had read some horror stories about Bahamian import requirements, duty levied to the tune of 70% (!!) and general other misinformation I found on the web and on forums. I ordered the Splash, waited for a week to get it only to find out that they were backordered. Not wanting to delay my trip any longer, I choose a cheap “starter” drone to play with. It was so much cheaper than the Splash that I immediately realized I could crash or drown 6 Xiros before I even spent the money of 1 Splash. The photographer in me really doesn’t see the difference, since they both fly GoPro cameras and the pictures will be the same! It seemed like the backorder was a blessing in disguise

Shots from my first photo shoot over Key Largo.
As my first drone to play with, I opted for the Xiro Xplorer G. The G model of the Xplorer series comes with a gimbal to hold your GoPro and offers iPhone integration for FPV flying. Other options are the Xplorer (no cameras or gimbals) or the Xplorer V with Xiro’s proprietary camera and gimbal. A 4K video option is coming soon. The Xiro ships boxed very nicely and everything is very well made. Being my first consumer drone I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was impressed with the cleanliness of the design and the ease of use of the controls and setup. Compared to the DJI consumer drones I’ve seen, the Xiro is sexy.

At this point, FAA registration is mandatory prior to the first flight. The process is painless and is all web based. $5 poorer and 15 minutes later, I have a FAA registration number and it is labeled on the Xiro.

I chose to make my first flight in a quiet park, with no camera on board, on a calm day. After having flown RC airplanes and helicopters, I was blown away by the stability of the Xiro. Hands off flying make it a perfect photography platform. If you are uncertain of your flight status, just let go of the controls and the Xiro stops and hovers where it is. Amazing technology!

Getting the Xiro setup and in the air was very painless. The Xiro is fully GPS enabled, meaning that it has auto takeoff and land and auto return home functions. I used these functions the first day, but my goal is to fly this drone from the boat which will require manual control to compensate for the boat’s motions. Even at anchor, the boat is likely to have moved from the position that the drone took off from, therefore the auto return home mode can’t be used.

For my training flights I purchased the Xiro Prop Guards for the drone to protect the propellers. I thought flying it would be a lot trickier than it is. Had I realized how easy it really is, I would not have bothered. The prop guards came off quickly once I began shooting with the drone because it’s nearly impossible to keep them out of the GoPro’s field of view.

The Xiro also includes a 1-2-3 toggle switch which allows the user to choose the sensitivity of the controls. Basically it’s a beginner, intermediate and advanced switch. It really does make a difference, and as your skills grow the drone grows sportier and quicker with you. It’s a very fun feature. 

Attaching the gimbal and GoPro and getting the system paired took a bit of time. It’s obvious that Xiro cut some corners here. The gimbal functions beautifully, but has a lot of exposed circuitry and is very delicate. It feels difficult to get the gimbal on and off the drone without breaking it. It’s also worth mentioning a fact that I really didn’t think through before purchase: you cannot use the Xiro gimbal with the GoPro’s protective cases. When I first purchased the drone with the intent to fly over water I incorrectly thought, “if it goes in the drink, at least the camera will survive.” Not so much. 

One other limitation that becomes obviously quickly but is not made clear in the Xiro documentation: when shooting with a GoPro, the app cannot control shooting from the ground. In order to record video you need to begin the video prior to takeoff and end it manually after landing. If the GoPro dies during flight you will lose everything. To record aerial photos, you will need to set the GoPro in time lapse mode, recording photos every 1 or 2 seconds. I’ve been using every 2 seconds with some success. The app basically functions as a simple mirror of the GoPro’s back screen, which will flash off quickly every time the camera takes an image. In hindsight, if the Xiro is your ultimate goal, I would highly recommend investigating the Xplorer V model with their proprietary camera to fully use all of the drone’s functionality. The cost is very competitive with the cost of an addition GoPro, with the added benefit of not risking your “good” GoPro to possible catastrophic destruction. Despite these limitations, I’m very happy with the drone so far. I’m looking to upgrade to a mirrorless system that I can fly from a hexacopter, so version 2.0 isn’t far off! Still thinking about the original Splash, I’m very happy that I went the route of getting a “starter” drone and growing from there. The goal of my next drone will be to get the highest quality camera and lens aloft I can.
Practicing "carrier landings" while underway...that was a bit tricky, but no damage done!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Photos from the Road, Washington, DC

We traveled so many miles and took so many photos last year that I am just now beginning to sort through everything to find the gems. At the apex of our journey north found us anchored in the Washington Channel, practically underneath the Washington Monument.
Metro station
Capital building from the National Gardens
National Mall from Lincoln Memorial
Anchorage on the Washington Channel
Dragon boat races in Washington Channel
Independence anchored in Washington Channel
National Gardens
National Gardens
National Gardens
National Gardens
Daytrip to Alexandria, Virginia