Stock Media Buyer's Guide

Stock Media Buyer's Guide

Research is Key to Getting What You Pay for.

Mileage varies but in today's world of stock footage, be it video, music, sound FX or photos, even film, a bit of research into this wonderful world of production resource options will bring you the satisfaction you seek for production content, often at a price you're able. or the client is willing, to pay.

Whatever production elements you need to expand, enhance or address specific commercial, even personal, video project needs can be found in today's highly competitive stock footage market. The only thing that might get in the way of finding exactly what you need, or what the client is demanding on the cheap, is time. Time to research all those resources.

Taking time from your busy production schedule to review the hundreds of available stock footage resources out there today, instead of doing StumbleUpon in a fit of serendipity or playing a relaxing on-line game, will quickly introduce you to a wonderful world of alternate scenes, music selections, photos and more. Familiarizing yourself with these resources can be fun, educational and enlightening. Bookmark sites that appeal to you and gain some experience in browsing them so that you can more quickly drill down to the elements you're looking for when the time comes that you need these resources. And the time will come sooner than you expect.

Most everyone in the video world is probably aware of stock footage. Many of us have used music tracks from one or more of the countless sources that include Music 2 Hues, The Music Bakery, Crank City Music and the ever-popular SmartSound, a source and tool that allows you to edit or create your own music tracks. We've found graphics and photos that can be used for cover art, even montage segments. And this all ranges from free to budget breaking.

There's certainly some seriously expensive stock sources out there but money no longer need be the deciding factor or deal breaker. Video producers of all walks will often discover that even with researching for the perfect video clip, music bed or illustrative photo, the time spent searching and money spent acquiring is way less than trying to create or produce that element on their own.

For those who have not yet explored the possibilities and production opportunities of these resources, let's look at some of the countless options, potential applications and range of cost.

What Are my Options?

A broad range of usage rights, from extremely limited single use (rights managed) to non-exclusive multi-use (copyright free libraries) to free-to-the-public (public domain) collections are available. You can purchase exclusive stock custom-created for you at a premium that might still come in under what it would cost you to generate the footage yourself.

Most of us might not need something that exclusive or expensive, but the choice is there. A step down is choice footage, creative or from historical archives and collections. While you will not want to spend the money for exclusivity, much in the stock resources market is available that allows you reasonable assurance that you won't see it on every commercial clip produced in the current year.

As your options are more open and your needs less exclusive, a whole new world of affordable quality footage and stock resources becomes available. Just keep in mind that you will likely see others using many of the more popular elements, same as yours.

So whether you obtain rights-managed stock, limited-use, buy-as-you-go, memberships that allow you relatively unlimited use of stock libraries on an annual basis, or make outright purchases of full libraries, the selectivity, exclusivity, quality and depth of offerings varies broadly.

High end stock production can include companies like Mammoth HD Footage Library, that specializes in film and RED Digital Cinema (REDOne Camera) HD that goes beyond the high definition most of us independent video producers work with. The site is worth a visit, even if it is beyond your pay scale, simply to get an idea of what high end is all about. This site has royalty-free and rights-managed galleries of some of the most awesome clips you'll find anywhere. There's even 3D/stereoscopic footage. Even so, costs are not necessarily out of sight, depending on how much you value a twenty-dollar bill. A dozen aerial clips, for example, featuring canyons, coastlines or waterfalls, range from $600 and up.

A visit to will get you royalty-free selections for a broad range of prices. Pond5 is a pleasant site to visit, with great samples (check out Icebergs Tracy Armby by WMSimons for an eye-full). The site boasts more than 400,000 video clips, 6,500 music tracks and over 28,000 sound FX. They also feature free stock clips that change weekly.

Most of the stock-for-pay acquisitions state the use and limitations of your purchase but paid or not, use caution because "free" does not always mean the content is without restrictions. Users ranging from the stock resource company to the video producer may utilize a broad generality when it comes to the provision and use of copyright-free resource stock. The less careful, however, may discover that even though it's free, someone involved in the process, or actually included in the footage, might have a problem with, or even be unaware of, the free, unlimited use of their likeness, creative content or music, lyrics, etc.

So, while "free" might not always prove so, likewise be sure to read the fine print and TOA (terms of agreement or use) because regardless of how much you paid, restrictions do exist and are not always obviously stated. Even paying for stock footage or other content does not always guarantee you exclusive or carte blanche creative application.

Use Care in the Mixing

So you've established your favorite resources, found stock companies that offer good value for the dollar and have rather extensive libraries on subjects that often apply to your kind of productions.

You've identified the quality markets with dependable resources and legitimate rights as opposed to the questionable resources where you're simply not sure how exclusive the usage rights might be, how broad the non-exclusive usage reaches or even how legal the stock might be regarding copyrights.

You've discovered music, video, graphics and photographic stock that applies to a specific project or even collections that you can purchase outright for building your own library of backgrounds or images that might come in handy and are within your business or budget operating range.

Just as you examine the applicability of other elements in your productions, give some thought to using standard definition and high definition together. Or to incorporating older analog footage with newer digital content. And reconsider your thought of using film stock mixed with video stock.

While rules are made to be broken, they're also there to help you learn, so know the rules before you go and break them. There might be certain times when mixing high resolution with low, or re-digitized analog with digital, film and ultra-high 2K and 4K resources such as that produced by REDOne and other systems can achieve a creative purpose. Your production and editing life on the whole will be a lot easier if you stick with similar looks, style, content and resolution. Select and acquire your stock accordingly.

Vanishing Resources

High definition has certainly taken over the stock resource market with video stock companies offering less and less standard definition choices. Some companies maintain original broadcast footage in a variety of resolutions, but much of this material and creative stock is being repurposed or generated in HD because that, folks, is where the market is going like it or not.

Finding exactly what you're looking for in SD may become next to impossible, requiring that you figure out a way to incorporate the HD stock you found into your project or even consulting with your client regarding upgrading her production to high definition. This isn't necessarily a hard sell especially if you're not hitting them with a high premium for HD production services over SD.

Just be aware of the increasingly limited options in SD stock and use care that you not promise something you cannot deliver in any specific format. Identify your visual, audio, graphics or photographic needs and make sure stock resources are available before promising your client you can deliver something that is impossible to obtain or create.

Make Stock Footage Resources Work for you, not Against You

While stock footage and other stock resources might not be for every production project, knowing what's out there, how and where to find it, and what it's going to cost you doesn't have to be difficult work, nor cost you more in time spent researching than the production is worth, or the client is willing to pay.

Using some of that occasional free-time to explore the world of stock library resources, make notes and discover hidden jewels that will make your personal or commercial production pop can be a fun adventure.

Don't wait until the time of need is upon you. Start exploring today and you're likely to find something that will inspire a production that hasn't even shown up on your production list or a storyboard yet. Stock footage and resource libraries might not be for everybody, but everybody can benefit from their availability and broad range of affordability.

Sidebar 1: Finding Stock Footage Resources

The accompanying manufacturer's listings and grid is a compilation of the companies known to Videomaker that produce stock footage and other library resources. While certainly extensive, no list could be definitive.

The curious could spend a day or more simply doing a search on Google to identify a boatload of resources that may be included in chart, or not. So, while you're checking out those that are posted with this article, it is worth the time to occasionally use the search engines and see what else might be available - not all of them are major companies or even specialized boutique libraries. There are countless others, including hobbyists, who collect, trade and offer surprisingly good quality content, sometimes simply for a production credit.

When searching use a variety of terms to narrow the focus. Try stock footage, of course; hd stock footage, sd stock footage, public domain stock footage, free stock footage download, national geographic stock footage, stock footage library, explosion stock footage, as well as sony stock footage and getty images.

There's more ways to locate little known, unusual or specialized stock footage resources. I found an interesting one at where in addition to the usual range of services the company offers stock footage exclusive to the Hawaiian Islands.

You can also use search specifics such as "stock video footage beaches" where I ran across and an interesting assortment of royalty-free stock footage starting at about $300.

A final point is that many of us have access to unique and special locales, organizations, groups, (missions in California, for example or west coast piers) or a personal interest in certain plants, animals, cities, mountain ranges, etc. that would offer us a unique income opportunity. Imagine doing something you really enjoy and making a few dollars in the doing that will help you support your video hobby or production company during those lean times. I call it "work once, sell many" and it can benefit you more than you can imagine. Start your own stock footage library today and let people know how to find you.

Sidebar 2: Make $$$ Selling Stock!

Read our Profit Making feature to find out how to make some money selling stock footage to companies just like these listed in this Buyer's Guide

Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Stock Media Buyer's Guide

Contributing Editor Earl Chessher is a veteran career journalist and professional video producer, working in California and marketing throughout the U.S.A.


Wed, 12/01/2010 - 12:00am