The Business Of Creativity

Creating content for stock means anticipating the needs of a wide variety of users. Images and footages need to be generic enough to fit multiple uses, but specific enough to suit the needs of a given project.

It’s 2018, and as a still photographer, videographer or cinematographer, making the same income or increasing your income can be challenging in our ever-evolving business. If you’re a still photographer making the transition to video, selling stock images, video and even motion graphics may or may not be something you have considered. If you’re making as much money as you want to and are constantly booked, creating and selling stock may not be on your radar. If you’ve decided that you want to increase your income, though, shooting stock footage is something you might want to explore.

If you’ve never sold stock before, there’s a sort of a vetting process that goes on with the stock agencies. There is also a vetting process that goes on with stock footage buyers. Footage or images that you shoot that you find compelling and super cool-looking may languish with no sales while simple, somewhat boring images (to you) may turn out to be a top seller for you. What does it take to start actually selling stock footage?

Getting Started, What Kind Of Gear?

No article would be complete without a deep dive into the minutiae of which equipment is needed in order to accomplish a particular project or goal. Generally, in speaking with stock footage shooters, some of the priorities that may turn out to be most important are camera size and weight. If you break it down, sure, you can shoot stock footage anywhere of anything, but generally, you may find that stock shots of things, people and places that are beautiful, dramatic and spectacular tend to sell well. Another equipment consideration is an old one; “the best camera is the one you have with you” is how the saying goes. If you want to carry your camera with you most or all of the time, it’s essential that it be light and small.

The Business Of Creativity
Work from Swatch+Soda (above) and Eyeidea (below) are great examples of well-executed stock, and both companies have created (and profited from) the thousands of clips available in their collections.

Is The Best Necessary?

Many stock shooters begin with the noble intention that they want to shoot the absolute best images possible. For some, this may mean lugging a RED or Arri digital cinema camera with an accompanying tripod, batteries, media, cases, lenses, monitors, etc. Depending on where you travel and if you normally work with a crew, this may be a valid production strategy. But if you’ve ever hiked up a cliff, a mountain, a pyramid or other landmark, lugging 50 or 100lbs of gear will wear you out. It will make you a target as a “TV or film” production, where local authorities may ask if you have clearances, permissions and permits to be shooting where you are shooting.

A smarter strategy for today’s stock shooter is a small, mirrorless hybrid model camera with correspondingly small lenses, batteries, media and tripod, if you even need a tripod. With a mirrorless camera, you are also able to shoot high-resolution still images as well as 4K footage (more on if you need to shoot 4K later). Although there are plenty of suitable cameras on the market for this type of work, both of the stock shooters we interviewed currently favor the Panasonic Lumix GH5. The versatility of its 20.3 megapixel imager, Dual I.S. 2.0, 4K 422 10-bit recording capability, and 3” Touch LCD in a small, lightweight body and its ability to mount almost any type of lens with adapters as well as the quality of the native Panasonic/Leica lenses make it a favorite with stock shooters.

Does It Still Go Back To Lenses?

A smaller, lighter camera is much easier to carry and to shoot with. It also makes you look a lot more like a tourist and not like a professional shooting stock footage, which means you will have fewer hassles and less attention paid to you as you are shooting. All of the accessories needed to complete your package will be smaller and lighter as well. Stock footage shooter Gabriel Schroer weighs in on the importance of glass, “The one thing I notice with the gear I use, the camera used obviously matters, but to me, the lens you are using on that camera matters more. A lot of people don’t seem to notice small things like color depth and the qualities and tints that a certain type of glass brings to the image. I’ve invested in better quality glass than buying the most expensive camera.”

The Business Of Creativity

Dedication And Mindset

If you are beginning from scratch and want to get into selling stock footage and stills, the most obvious question is, “What sells?” Chad Anderson has been shooting stock footage, stills and producing stock motion graphics for over two decades. He says, “I went to England recently, I spent two weeks in London and I also went up to Scotland. I shot stock every day for six to eight hours, and I returned with about 700GBs of footage from that trip. I shot time lapses, landmarks, nature, cityscapes, all kinds of stuff. You’d be amazed at how often at my day job, producing motion graphics for a network show, we need shots of doors and doorways. Search the top five stock agencies, and you’ll discover that there are very little to none on any of them. So I keep these sorts of things in mind when I am out shooting stills and footage. What have I needed in my work that just doesn’t seem to be available?”

What Kind Of Stock Is Most In Demand?

Shooting stock footage and images, it often matters more how you shoot a subject than exactly what the subject is. We asked Ross Dhyne, manager of footage review at Shutterstock, about what kinds of video sells best. “Static establishing shots are always in demand, but so are shots with models and dynamic action between actors,” he says. “My advice to contributors is shoot what you are passionate about and strive to make the best version of that content that you can. In general, model-released lifestyle, technology, nature and buildings are popular categories that will always do well.”

Another category that Anderson and Schroer have done well in selling is stock motion graphics. Anderson says, “The majority of my stock footage sales shifted a few years ago to motion graphics, but I still enjoy shooting video and stills as well, and I often end up enhancing the video and stills that I shoot with motion graphics.” If you are handy with Illustrator and After Effects, it can be more efficient to try producing motion graphics for stock, although the same rules that apply to video and stills apply to motion graphics: You have to generate content for the end user, not just something that you think looks cool or artsy.

Kyle Trotter, director of video content acquisition & production at Shutterstock, adds, “Popular landmarks and cities are always a good bet. People will be making shows and telling stories about NYC for quite some time, and there are an infinite number of ways to showcase the same thing. When filming landmarks, it’s always good to vary the weather, time of year and time of day, as the customer will often need specific combinations of these variables. Time lapses are important, but the market is already saturated with them. High-quality, well-thought-out and executed time lapse are the ones that succeed.”

Selling Your Stock

If you’ve never sold stock before, you may think that it’s a simple matter of digging through your archives or going out and shooting some new footage, submitting it to an agency, they list it and it hopefully sells. The reality is all of the agencies have a review process before they will accept or reject a given image, footage or motion graphic for stock. The review process is different for each agency, and often one will reject a given clip or image while another will accept it. So what do agencies look for when deciding on whether to accept or reject a clip? Dhyne at Shutterstock says, “Every clip that is submitted is reviewed and needs to meet our technical, compliance and metadata standards, each serving a specific purpose. We want to ensure our customers are receiving high-quality clips (technical) that meet our legal standards (compliance) and are discoverable with accurate and compliant metadata.”

What About Codecs And Resolution?

As far as video submissions, says Dhyne, “4K is the future and also the present, so it is best to capture and deliver like that. If lower resolutions are required, you can always go down. Higher bitrate and color bit depth obviously denote a higher level of quality (at least at a technical level). This is always desired but does not mean that the clip is good on its own. We currently do not accept RAW, and ProRes 4444 is one of our highest preferred accepted formats. We always advise capturing and delivering in the highest quality codec and settings your camera can capture.” In speaking with stock buyers and with shooters, it appears that today, a significant portion of stock is still delivered at 1080 resolution, but 4K is obviously becoming important now and will become essential in the near future. It’s important to shoot images and footage that will have some shelf life, and shooting at least 4K resolution ensures that, at least technically, your footage will remain relevant for the near future.

The Business Of Creativity
Different jobs need different styles of work, and the most successful stock creators provide a wide range of footage, which allows them to act as a one-stop shop for project creation needs.

Stock Footage Is A Long Game

One theme that repeatedly recurs when speaking with stock footage shooters is that making a significant portion of your income with stock footage requires patience and perseverance. While there are dozens of stock and microstock agencies out there, it appears that some of the most relevant agencies to target would be Shutterstock, Pond5, Adobe Stock, Videoblocks and iStock/Getty. There are many others, but research shows these five agencies have controlled the majority share of the stock image and footage market over the past few years. How much can you sell a stock clip or image for? This answer varies widely, like everything in a creative business, but in researching this article, rates ranged from as low as two-cents per clip (minimum on iStock/Getty for an HD Clip) all of the way up to hundreds of dollars. The microstock market is truly capitalism at work; you can sell your clips for whatever the market will bear, and some of the agencies, like Pond5, let you set the price, while others deal in a fixed price. If you extrapolate the numbers for selling an average amount of clips and stills at average prices, you’ll quickly discover that you need to have thousands of clips and stills listed with the agencies to even realize a modest income.

Stock shooter Schroer says, “It’s a numbers game; the more you shoot, the more you’ll potentially make. It’s small numbers that add up long-term. You have to be in it for the long haul, it’s not quick money. You have to be patient and stay with it. It took me a couple of years of shooting and uploading to make stock a significant portion of my income. My first sale, I made $.35. It took almost six months for me to earn $100.00 into my account. A few months later, it would also pay for dinner out, then my cell phone bill, then a car payment, then a mortgage. I have roughly about 6,000 files online. I know if I double my portfolio, I can double my money. This is just like any other job; you have to put the time in, and you will eventually be rewarded.”

Chad Anderson’s stock images, footage and motion graphics are available for purchase and download on Pond5 at pond5.com/ artist/eyeidea.

Gabriel Schroer’s stock images, footage and motion graphics are available for purchase and download on Pond5 at pond5.com/artist/swatchandsoda.

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