How I earned my first $150K by selling stock footage?
[Warning! This may want you to quit your job now.]
This is a story about landing a regular, stable income by doing what you love. Who wouldn’t want that? Take the read and grab useful tips that will help you make a start in stock footage business.
Believe it or not, but this came unplanned. Let’s go 5 years back.
It was 2011 and I was working on yet another video project for my clients. The project needed cool animated graphic, so I decided to jump on VideoHive to find some fresh ideas and maybe buy another graphic template that would dramatically speed up the post production process. Each After Effects template costed around $35-$50, which doesn’t sound a lot, but when you think that polish currency is around 4 times cheaper than USD and sometimes I needed to buy more than one, the project costs started to add up. I thought that maybe I should start creating my small projects and stock footage, upload them to VideoHive and earn credits so that I won’t have to pay cash for the next templates.
I tried to create some AE projects… but I had to face the truth, I really suck at creating cool stuff with AE:) I know how to do basic things like object and camera tracking, masks, color correction, simple expressions, but that’s not enough to create awesome & useful template. But, I didn’t give up. I saw that VideoHive sells stock footage and they are just starting. Their library was pretty small at that time, maybe around 10K clips. I thought that probably no one is licensing stock footage from them… but I said, let’s test it. It was few days after I came back from New York and had captured few nice shots from the city. I uploaded them through their super complicated uploading process, got the clips approved in few days and forgot about it.
Next time I wanted to search for some creative AE template, I opened VideoHive and I saw around $30 on my account! That was huge! I bought another AE template essentially for free:)
I said to myself… I love to shoot footage, I also love time lapses, I love to test cameras and see how they perform in different environments… maybe that’s a cool way to practice my craft, shoot more great stuff and earn credits for future spending for licensing new templates.
Next month, me and my future wife took a trip to Fuerteventura Island. I shot some sunsets, surfers, palms, sun, beaches and couple of time lapses. Uploaded everything to the platform and 2–3 months after that my monthly income was something around $200. I thought… wow! That’s not bad. It’s not the amount that I will let me quit my video production company and start selling stock footage, but it’s something cool that allows me to buy a new lens or maybe a new camera in few months. This is a screen shot of my monthly earnings in 2013:
After that, shooting clips for stock footage became my small addiction. Whenever I would go somewhere, for the weekend or a short trip to a new city, I tried to be more creative and was generating new content. I remember my first $500/month. It was super cool felling. I was doing what I love, in my free time and what’s even more awesome… I didn’t have to talk with the clients. It’s all about someone needing the clips, and then buying it. Boom. Done!
Then, I started to travel more, shoot more & better videos… short story long… I’m reaching $3,000 monthly passive (!) income on just one platform:) Again, it’s not an amount that you get for robbing a bank, but it’s a pretty cool amount of money for doing stuff that you love in a free time! I can say that 90% of my portfolio was created in spare time. Depending on where you are, you may make a living out of it! Or… just pay your rent. Like I do when living in Silicon Valley. Well, it’s expensive here.
You might probably think that I was lucky, because I started few years ago, built a nice portfolio and right now the whole marketplace is too crowded. Definitely, no! It’s always a good time to build up your portfolio, find an interesting niche and start earning money by doing what you love. Currently, it’s an amazing time for videographers. Cameras and lenses are getting better and better, but also cheaper. Today, you need to spend around $3K-$5K to buy a good set that will allow you to create truly amazing pictures that will look like shot on Red Helium or Arri Alexa that cost around $20K just for the camera body:) Here are some examples from my portfolio shot on Panasonic GH4 and Panasonic GH5:
And here are few time lapses that you can shoot almost on any kind of digital camera:
I hope that I was able to convince at least some of you that shooting stock footage might be a cool addition to your daily job. It’s always super hard to start, but when you catch the flow, I assure you that you will love it.
There is more and more stock footage services available. Even apps like EyeEm or Twenty20 are starting to experiment with video, so there’s a room for everyone. I started on VideoHive, but you’ll be able to find your niche at Pond5, Shutterstock, VideoBlocks or Dissolve.
Here are my tips for everyone who starts in stock footage industry:
- Start small. Find your niche. Check out what kind of footage sells best and see what can you shoot without spending additional money for travel, models, etc. Maybe you live in beautiful place and have awesome sunsets every night, or you’re sister wants to practice acting in front of camera. Shoot, upload and test what kind of content works. Then focus on this.
- Think about every shot, every clip should try to convey a story. Don’t just put a camera and push record button. Think about the framing and what this footage is expressing. If it’s a business-style shot, have your actors act natural, be sure that they are wearing appropriate clothes, recreate real business environment and be concise. Each shot should consists of 2–3 seconds of nice pre-roll, then 5–10 seconds of “action” and 2–3 seconds of post-roll. That helps the potential buyer to make the cuts whenever he/she wants and also gives a professional look to your clip. If it’s a nature time lapse, think about what matters most. It might beautiful sky with the clouds in the sunset, or maybe shadows passing by on the ground.
- Good lighting. Doesn’t matter which camera you choose to work with. Nice lighting is a key to success. It doesn’t mean that you have to max out your credit cards and spend all money on Arri Lights — though they are great! That means that light should be in line with the type of scene you’re shooting and help to build the atmosphere around that. Don’t be afraid to experiment, use the sun light that comes from your windows. Even, a super cheap reflector will enough in many cases. Current sensors are able to shot is super low light condition, so with little bit of experimenting you’ll be able to create the Hollywood look in your living room.
- Consistency. Shoot and upload everyday, every two days or at least every week. Don’t wait until your uploaded clips will be approved. Shoot, upload and grow your skills. Don’t be discouraged when you’re footage will be rejected. Just upload more stuff.
- Slow motion. Almost every new camera sold today, offers some kind of slow-motion mode. The most interesting for me are currently Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro 4.6K, Panasonic GH5 and Sony Alpha a6500. Slow motion footage is perfect for any kind of fashion, sport, romantic and emotional shots. Here are few interesting examples:
- Drones & aerial footage. This kind of footage starts to be very popular on stock footage platforms, especially thanks to very reasonable prices for drones that offer great quality HD and 4K footage. More and more people travel with drones, allowing them to shoot beautiful aerial shots from remote places all over the world. DJI is the king and set standards on this market. Every year they are pushing the limits and putting amazing technology for a super affordable price into their products. Their newest DJI Spark is a perfect example of their unbeatable position. While shooting aerial footage you have to remember about two things. First, be creative. Piloting drones is super easy, anyone can do that:) Find interesting places, inspiring landscapes and experiment with framing. You can use drone not only to shoot nature and buildings, you can use it as stabilized dolly, fly over moving cars or use it as camera crane. Second, be careful! Drones are not toys. Stay focused every time you fly. Avoid filming in crowded location, check if you’re not in no-flight zone. Don’t be stupid!
- 360 footage. That’s another growing market. We’re still not sure how we will be consuming 360 videos in the future, but currently there is a huge hype around this format. It works best for nature, landscapes and any kind of wide shots. Many companies and startups are releasing new entry-level and professional 360 cameras & rigs. One use case of 360 videos that looks interesting for me is using them as backgrounds for green screen and blue screen productions. It’s gives you total freedom with camera movement and character movement.
Many people ask me if it’s still worth to upload Full HD footage, instead 4K. In my opinion Full HD will still survive few next years. Good HD quality is enough for most web and TV productions. If you have 4K quality camera, shoot 4K, your library will live longer.
What kind of equipment I’m using to shoot good footage and land a steady income? Here is my equipment list:
- Panasonic GH5
- Lenses: Panasonic 14–140, MetaBones + Canon 50mm, Rokinon 35mm, Sigma 18–35, Tokina 11–16
- Drones: DJI Phantom 4, DJI Mavic
For Time Lapses:
- Canon 6D (perfect for night sky & milky way)
- Canon 70D
- Lenses: Rokinon 14mm, Rokinon 8mm, Canon 18–135
- Panasonic GX85
Additional Gear & Software:
Remember, that equipment is not as import as your creativity and your talent. I was able to shoot great stuff with my iPhone 5 and got the footage approved:)
Sounds like making sense? Happy stock footage shooting!
P.S. For more tips and tricks, join my Badass Stock Footage Shooters FB Group that it just starting. I’ll be sharing awesome ideas and showing how to increase value of your stock portfolio. A perfect place for learning more about filming, camera gear and having great conversations with other passionate guys like you!