From cable sitcoms to documentaries, from film students to commercial directors - all are users of stock footage in one form or another and they're looking to buy your footage.
A Detroit based police drama may be actually shot in Hollywood, but editors can repurpose stock footage of Motown to set the scene. A commercial being produced for a travel agency needs shots of international vacation destinations, so they download footage from an online reseller. All are potential customers for your footage, provided you can deliver high quality shots in the needed format.
The Flavors of Footage
DV, HDV, HD and film. Companies sell stock footage in a variety of formats because that's what customers need. But sales of standard definition footage are decreasing as the production world migrates to HD. That being said, it still makes sense to offer a SD option alongside your HD footage. For producers of web videos, the extra quality of HD is often overkill, so the cheap lower resolution shot would be their first choice.
Stock footage is sold with different licensing options. Rights Managed means you sell footage rights according to usage and often attach extra strings. For the buyer, this means paying one price for broadcast rights, another price for internet usage and yet another price for local commercial use. All that translates into more money for you, but only if the footage is unique enough to warrant the extra cost. The footage has to be something that can't be easily found elsewhere.
The other option for selling your footage is using the royalty free model. Simply put, this allows the customer to pay one price and acquire all rights. The majority of internet footage resellers use this type of licensing. Selling your footage royalty free will increase your chances of a sale, but unfortunately won't command the high price of the more exclusive rights managed clips.
It's All in the Shot
As cheap HD cameras continue to proliferate, the number of stock footage offerings increase almost daily. But just because someone owns a camera doesn't mean they can create sellable images. To make a sale, you must remember these basics:
1. Watch your focus - When it comes to a focused image, "almost" won't make the cut. Be obsessive about making sure your images are sharp, crisp and clear.
2. Invest in white balance - When a potential buyer is scanning through their purchase options, they'll skim right by shots that look crummy in the preview. Good white balance only takes a minute - so do it.
3. Avoid the shake - The shaky camera is a hallmark of certain television genres. But it's generally not a selling point for stock footage. Keep your camera on a good tripod and level it. That slightly off horizon screams "amateur".
4. Smooth pans and tilts - Yet another reason to invest in quality equipment. A professional tripod will enable you to pull off pans and tilts that are smooth and unvarying. Check out our Tripod Buyer's Guide for recommendations.
5. Hold that shot - It's easy to stop recording too soon when capturing footage. Try to make your shots 30 seconds or more in order to guarantee that there's enough video there for an editor to work with.
6. Multiples matter - Shoot with your probable customer in mind. Get different angles and multiple viewpoints. Provide options so that the director will be able to use your footage throughout the piece if needed.
These tips may seem incredibly basic, but they're the foundation of your stock footage business. If you want to earn anything more than a few dollars, master your shooting technique. And don't sell footage that's less than. It will reflect on your reputation and potentially bias a customer's perception of your product.
Set yourself apart
Once you've mastered the basics, it's time to set yourself apart from the competition. As stated earlier, there is a glut of stock footage available these days. If someone's looking for shots of Chicago, well, there's plenty to choose from. That's why your footage needs to be unique and offer something that the buyer can't find elsewhere.
Take a look at what's already been shot in the area you're considering capturing and avoid traveling down the well-worn road. Instead, look for new takes on the subject. To get ideas, watch commercials - lots of them! This will help you spot trends, both artistically and in subject matter.
Craig Lillard of Revostock says his company looks for that creative edge: "We love to see our producers push themselves beyond the norm to take shots that would otherwise be ordinary and make them extraordinary through their use of composition, lighting, color and subject matter." As you learn new shooting techniques, you'll not only increase your skill set as a videographer, but you'll also be able to offer a wider variety of stock footage for sale.
Look for under represented subjects. While you don't want your footage to be so niche that there's only 25 potential customers, you DO want to find areas that aren't oversaturated with content. One way to do this is by contacting resellers and finding out what types of footage they need. Donald Silverman of Silverman Stock Footage says that some of his best selling footage includes, "aerials, crazy/daring home movies clips, 'green' energy/transportation, crime, gangs, 70s/80s rock music performances, night establishing shots of recognizable buildings and familiar sites, anything shot in the Arctic, Antarctic or in jungles."
If you're shooting with recognizable locations or using talent, a properly signed release is a must-have. Big companies will be looking for that kind of legal clearance before they even touch a shot. And if you don't get releases? Well, the word of mouth agreement you had with an actress won't stand up in court if she changes her mind about letting you use her image. Avoid any legal hassle by getting a release.
Shoot the highest resolution footage you can. If it's possible to get your hands on a RED camera, then do it! The greater the resolution you shoot, the more in demand your footage will be. Lots of people can shoot plain Jane HD. Only a few can provide it in flavors that are more exotic and thus command higher prices.
Finding a reseller
While it's certainly possible to sell your footage directly to the customer, it's a whole lot easier to sell through stock footage resellers. They're the top listed companies in search engine results and have the marketing budget to lure buyers to their virtual doorsteps.
For some resellers, your calling card is your demo reel. This should be a collection of your best shots and will give the company an idea of what kind of footage you offer. Contact them to see how to submit your reel. Other companies just want to see a few sample shots and will require you to upload them for review when signing up with their company.
Don't send your footage to every possible reseller. First, check out their royalties structure. Some companies will only pay you 20% of the selling price. Others will pay you up to 50 or 60% commission. If you flood the market with your images, then people will likely buy those shots at the lowest price possible and rob you of increased profit.
Where to start? Well, there are quite a few companies out there, but here's some to consider:
1. RevoStock - RevoStock offers an easy upload process and sells both HD and SD footage. They give producers a 45 to 60% cut of the clip's price.
2. Shutterstock - Shutterstock also sells both SD and HD footage and accepts uploads. Their commission is 30-40% of a shot's selling price.
3. Buyout Footagek - While the company doesn't reveal what type of commission it pays until you contact them, they do sell their footage at much higher prices, thus netting you a bigger profit if your clip sells.
4. Artbeats - Known for high quality footage, Artbeats is probably a little pickier than most about what types of footage they'll accept. A single shot can range in price from $50 to $200 or more. You'll have to contact them directly for more information about commission.
(Our associated Buyer's Guide on Stock Footage has a comprehensive list of stock resellers. It's another good starting point to find out who's out there.
Don't Quit your Day Job
Stock footage can generate a steady income, but it's rare to be able to make a living off footage sales alone. Getting started, your profits will be small to non-existent and it may take a while for sales to trickle in. Don't let that discourage you! If you shoot quality footage with an unique bent, your income potential will increase.
A great resource for learning the techniques to use to make your footage catch the eyes of the buyers, the tools of the trade, and tips on how to manage your footage so it won't get rejected, can be found in the just-released book Taking Stock by Rob Sylvan from Peachpit Press. It's a very insightful read.
So you are now armed and ready to go - what's holding you back? Grab that camera and head out. Great stock footage awaits!
Julia Camenisch is a freelance video producer and writer who successfully sells stock footage on several sites.