To capture a building under construction, for example, I used to stop on my way to work each day, and try to put my feet in exactly the same spot on the sidewalk as the day before. As car horns blared and pedestrians rushed past, annoyed that I was standing in their way, I lifted my camera and composed the scene. I aligned the verticals with the correct gridlines in my viewfinder, and my finger slowly closed on the shutter release. I tightened the grid, captured the shot, and I finally relaxed, knowing that I was one 30th of a second closer to the result of a time-consuming experiment.
At the time, I wondered if all the effort would pay off. The scene described above unfolded with subtle variations over a period of several months in 2008.
For every frame I captured, I would later spend up to an hour or more editing. I cloned out any ads that crept in, and also matched the sky, the white balance, the shadows, and lighting as closely as possible. In addition, it was important to align each shot manually with the frame that came before it in the sequence.
My goal was to create a unique, marketable time-lapse clip, and although I knew I was doing it the hard way, I couldn’t see any other practical way to do it.
With all the work, time commitment and attention to detail involved, some may ask how I ever got interested in shooting time-lapse footage in the first place.
I started on the photography side, submitting images to Shutterstock in 2007. After my first couple batches were rejected, I spent a lot of time on the forums, shooting, getting critiques, and working on the basics. As I began to take photography more seriously, I purchased a Nikon D80. A year later, when the D300 came out I couldn’t resist – it solved all of my minor frustrations with the D80. It had lower noise, dust reduction, all the controls directly on the body, much faster rate in frames per second, and it had a built in intervalometer. In the meantime, I started to notice and wonder about the footage side. I decided to experiment with that the same year and submitted my first clip in early 2008.
At the time, I thought that the market for stock footage was a few years behind the market for stock photos, and yet it also seemed poised to follow a similar explosion. If it were indeed going to follow a parallel trajectory, I wanted to ride it up. Plus, the footage libraries seemed to offer a little more wiggle room compared to the photo libraries in terms of raw numbers. There was not as much competition, plus a little more space to grow, some extra flexibility to make a few mistakes, and the opportunity to turn them into valuable experience.
I immediately recognized the possibilities in stock video to expand on my photography skills. However, I also knew that establishing a unique and well-defined niche was critical to long term success, because my efforts would have to stand the test of time once the competition caught up to the potential.
This brings me back to my building construction time-lapse project, and the question I left hanging earlier. I was consumed by a theory that creating marketable content – even high quality content – might not be enough to truly thrive in this business. Niche-carving requires more. When I looked at my initial resources: experience, time, money, equipment, etc., they were all extremely limited. However, I did have a couple resources that I knew I could use effectively – a very deep technical background on which to draw, and a strong sense of stubbornness.
Further, I knew it was unlikely that very many other contributors would be willing to put up with the repetitive and tedious commitment required to produce similar clips. Therefore, it had the potential to define one aspect of my de facto niche, even in its infancy.
So far, I am happy to report that my efforts have not been in vain. The clip has sold well, and I am confident that it will continue to do so.
Another one of my most successful footage clips to date is my subway time-lapse. This project also presented a few challenges. For example, due to the environment, I could not use a tripod. Also, I had to guess the best exposure and lock it in ahead of time. In addition, I had no idea how many total frames I would be able to capture. Yet, with a little trial and error, I was able to create the following piece:
Capturing high quality time-lapse imagery involves finding creative solutions to problems, and it is well worth the effort figure out what works best. I do a lot of time-lapse work because I love it. Even though time-lapse clips are only a portion of the overall footage universe, you can find a lot of amazing, competitive work out there.
So, again, in my mind, it isn’t enough to define a niche simply by producing time-lapse footage (or any other specific style or genre). A niche must be established and protected by fostering additional distinction from the competition. For example, when I think about taking on new projects, my primary objective is to craft clips that can find a permanent place at the top of the most popular sorting for relevant searches. And yet, as a stock photographer and videographer (among other things), I also need to cover a variety of subjects that might appeal to the widest customer base possible.
Given that I also happen to be the father to five children, it may not come as a surprise that I enjoy shooting scenes depicting family lifestyles and children as well. For example, this past spring, my wife and I packed our kids and everything we own into a camper trailer pulled by a diesel SUV and hit the road indefinitely. You can see some of the shots from our adventure here: http://www.theedgeofall.com/journeys. Although it’s not like I can leave my day job as a technology consultant thanks to my stock footage sales, I know the steps that I need to take to earn an increasing percentage of our income from stock media so that we can stay on the road. In addition, our travels provide an endless supply of raw material. The challenge is converting it all into intentional and unique footage that expands my niche and prevents it from plateauing under the inevitable increase in competition.