Say someone editing video needs a shot of a beagle catching a flying disc. Or maybe someone needs video of a teenager performing a yo-yo trick on a contest stage.
Both of those shots might prove difficult or expensive for some people to acquire unless you have that athletic beagle or a yo-yoing teenager — you have something that many others simply do not. Why not turn that unique access into cash as you shoot and sell stock video?
Many people use the word “footage” when referring to stock video recordings. We’ll focus on stock video instead of analog tape. Here, we may use the more generic term “stock media”to include video elements like images, music and sound effects..
The concept of buying media that is hard to obtain is not something new, but the digital age makes capturing and distributing it faster, easier and potentially more profitable. Clip art, stock photography, sound effects and music are other examples of media sold to those in need of content that isn’t readily available.
Playing the Stock Market
Enterprising videographers can turn their stock video efforts into cash. Companies like RevoStock (revostock.com) and Getty Images (gettyimages.com) sell and distribute stock media to customers. You may have seen images from Getty Images on breaking news coverage of the the one-in-a -thousand shot at a basketball game, for instance.
Freelance videographers and photographers, like you, submit content to these companies called stock agencies or “microstock.” After the content is submitted, reviewers decide if they want to include your assets in their collection. The more unique the video is — and the more rare — the better.
Video clips that tell a story, or have a dramatic or emotional theme, are of special value. Video of one tow truck towing another tow truck is an example. The shot could illustrate some very bad luck, or a loyal friend helping another in need, or even the concept of irony. Video that has both literal and conceptual meaning is more likely to be popular as stock media. Images of a smiling middle-aged female rock climber slowly but steadily climbing up a rock face represent the literal subject matter of a rock climber. But the video could also illustrate abstract concepts such as how risk-taking can pay off; the excitement of adventure; overcoming dangerous situations; how a steady approach leads to success; women facing their fears or how to stay young – each concept is trendy and current.
In most situations, it is legal to record images of people in public places if the subjects of the image are newsworthy — this is generally called “editorial use.” But, what is legal and what is ethical can be different things — it’s best to err on the side of respecting personal privacy.
When acquiring video for commercial use — like selling stock video — things get more restrictive. Stock media resellers, like iStockPhoto.com, require a model release agreement for all identifiable faces. If the model is less than 18 years old, a parent or guardian will need to sign. You’ll find boilerplate model releases on websites that sell stock video or on Videomaker’s website: www.videomaker.com/article/10015-boilerplate-model-release-form
In some situations you might also need a signed location or property release. A property release documents the owner's permission to capture images of buildings, cars, artworks and pets — just about anything except people. The more recognizable and unique the property, the greater the need for a property release.
Harley Arnett of the San Francisco area became involved in stock media after a friend earned thousands of dollars selling rights. Arnett describes himself as an amateur with 30+ years of experience in still and video work. He learned valuable lessons from both his accepted and rejected work. He captured a gorgeous shot of a fisherman in a canoe on a foggy morning. It was rejected because, even though Arnett only showed the fisherman’s back, the stock agency feared recognition of the man. In addition, Arnett warns others to also be aware of recognizable logos and brand names — concerns by the stock agency over copyright and trademark issues will almost certainly lead to rejection. Also, avoid including audio that contains copyrighted music.
Know Your Rights
Technically speaking, stock media customers don’t buy your video, they buy a license that gives them permission to use your work — which is where you earn money. You still own the rights to distribute and display your video and even place it on multiple stock agency sites.
Royalty-free is a licensing model granting the customer the ability to use a specific clip in an unlimited number of projects for a fixed, one-time fee. This type of license is generally more affordable than a rights-managed license. Rights-managed (sometimes called rights-ready) is a more complex licensing model giving the customer the right to use a clip in a specific project for a fixed fee determined by the category of the project like broadcast TV, Web video or training production.
The rights-managed model is best if you’re convinced you have a clip that is in demand, and one-of-a-kind. To prevent use by others, some prefer rights-managed media with an exclusive license. In contrast, a royalty-free clip could appear in limitless productions.
Payment methods and rates vary across the industry. For example, iStock (istock.com) pays contributors a base rate of 15 percent for each file download — up to 45 percent for exclusive contributors. iStock issues payment when an account balance reaches $100. Earnings at Shutterstock (shutterstock.com) top out at $23 per download. Getty Images pays 25 percent for royalty-free video and 30 percent for rights-managed content.
Some agencies allow you to upload your clips on their websites. But, due to the massive file size of high quality video — think 4K — it might be best to submit your assets on DVD. Some agencies even take submissions sent on a hard drive or USB drive.
Before an agency accepts a clip, they review the required information submitted with the video. This metadata could include a description of the camera used, capture and submitted format, shoot date and location, color correction or enhancements, clip filename and suggested keywords. Accurate, relevant keywords provided by you are critical for potential customers to find your clip.
Most agencies structure pricing based on a range of video resolutions, so always capture video at the highest quality possible and with high production value. For example, make sure all video is in sharp focus. Autofocus systems are prone to getting confused — it’s best to use manual control. Shots that smoothly change focus from foreground to background, or vice versa, will give your shot some extra drama.
Smooth boom and dolly shots are beyond the reach of some filmmakers. If you own such equipment, use it to make your video stand out above the rest. In addition, a good quality tripod will ensure silky smooth pan and tilt movements. Don’t overlook white balance and lighting. Arnett found that lighting and composition are far more important than using a top-of-the-line camera.
Don’t Chase Ambulances
Successful stock video entrepreneurs shoot popular concepts in unique ways that distinguish their video from the pack. Use your unique knowledge and insights gained from your job, hobbies or interests — or location — to your advantage.
A handful of people make a living selling stock video, but for many it’s more of a hobby — one with the potential to pay for itself. If you create a small business, you might even be able to claim some of your expenses like travel and equipment.
Want to double your commercial success? Shoot still images along with video and submit those images as stock photography. Using a DSLR makes it easy.
Arnett offers some advice to stock video novices, “Be very, very patient. They will likely reject most of what you send them. Try to learn from the rejections and you will come out the other end much better at your craft.”
David G. Welton teaches college media production courses.