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How to Get Started in Stock Video: Licensing, Shooting, and Editing

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Today, most stock video is licensed through an online marketplace like Pond5. There are many different stock media companies out there, each with different contributor and license agreements, upload specifications, and pricing structures. It’s essential that you review and understand all the terms and agreements before choosing where to place your work. Here are some of the most important things to know and do.
 

Licensing Basics

Non-Exclusive and Exclusive Agreements: A non-exclusive agreement means that you will always retain the rights to your content, allowing you to continue to use that content for other projects or sell it on other sites. Exclusive agreements, on the other hand, mean that you are exclusively selling your content with that company and that company only.

Keep in mind that exclusive agreements may look more attractive at a glance by offering higher royalties to artists, but non-exclusivity, which we always offer at Pond5, allows you to sell your content wherever you want.

Businessman Reviewing Contract
Businessman looking at a contract by pixinoo

Royalty-Free vs. Rights-Managed: A royalty-free contract means that the buyer pays one price to the artist/marketplace, regardless of how many times or where the buyer uses the content. The buyer gets no exclusivity to the content either, so the artist can continue to license that content to other buyers. All of the media available on Pond5 is royalty-free.

Rights-managed contracts are much different. The buyer will pay a license based on the usage, location/medium, and length of time. They buyer can also request to pay extra for exclusive rights, meaning that the artist will no longer have the option to license that content to another buyer.

Artist Royalty: This is the percentage you get when your content is sold. Some companies offer higher royalty rates than others, typically ranging from 20%-50%, so make sure you know what your cut is going to be before you sign on. If you become a Pond5 artist, you can set your own prices for your media, and you’ll receive 50% of every sale.

Upload Specifications: Each marketplace has different upload specifications and requirements, like files sizes, clip durations, and resolutions. Review these specifications to make sure your content meets the requirements. Lastly, read the agency’s contributor and license agreements to make sure you understand the royalty percentages, exclusivity, and usage terms.
 

Picking a Concept

Once you’ve chosen a marketplace (or two), it’s time to think about what type of content you want to shoot and upload. You can start by researching the marketplace’s collection to see what’s selling and at what prices. Here are some other things to consider when deciding what to upload.

Go Through Your Archives: Unless you’re new to video, you’ve probably acquired a large collection of content that’s sitting on some dusty hard drive in your closet. It’s worth checking to see if any of that b-roll can be repurposed for stock. That said, I would only go back so far. Standard-definition video, unless it’s rare footage from WWII, will most likely not sell. Make sure you stick to 1920×1080 or higher.

Man Looking Over Fence At Barbecue by blendimages
Man Looking Over Fence by blendimages

Look in Your Backyard: You don’t have to fly halfway across the world to get great footage. Instead, first look around your own stomping grounds to see what opportunities there are. Over three million people visit the Taj Mahal each year, which means hundreds of thousands of photographers are capturing that same exact timelapse you paid so much to get. Save yourself the time and money by keeping it local.

Find a Niche: Some artists find success in covering a wide range of topics and concepts. However, for those who are just getting started in stock, it’s less overwhelming and more effective to find your specific niche. What subjects or topics do you have the most experience shooting? What do you you enjoy shooting the most? These are questions you can ask yourself when choosing a topic. Find whatever is unique to your personality or passion and go with it.

Follow Trends: Recognizing trending topics is a great skill to have and can really help boost your sales. Think about what’s current in the news, like environmental or social issues. Or look toward what’s trending in social media. Some hot topics right now include the economy, healthy living, alternative farming, climate change, and real estate. The idea is to always keep your content fresh by choosing concepts that fit in our current world.

Avoid Critical Mass: Avoid uploading content that’s oversaturated, like cloud timelapses, beach sunsets, and ducks. Instead, look at what subjects or concepts are lacking on the website. If there are more than 20,000 clips of a specific subject, then it’s probably best to shoot something else.

Wildlife Photographers, Hokkaido, Japan
Wildlife Photographers, Hokkaido, Japan by RadiusImages

Double Down: Try doubling up your revenue stream by combining your contracted video work with your stock work. You may be surprised to find that most video you shoot for a commercial, feature film, or documentary can be repurposed as stock footage. When you’re contracted to produce a video for a client, try to negotiate a deal where you retain the rights to the footage, so you can sell it as stock. At the very least, you can ask for permission to use the extra b-roll or outtakes that weren’t used in the final production for your stock portfolio. Capitalize on those opportunities when you can.

Related Post How to Shoot High-Quality Video: 7 Basic Tips

Editorial vs. Commercial

Commercial Content: Commercial content is imagery that’s used to sell or promote a product, service, or idea. Most stock footage is produced for commercial use. This includes categories like lifestyle, business, architecture, and technology. If your video includes recognizable people or places of business, you must get a model or property release to make it available for commercial use. Pond5 model and property releases are available on our legal page.

In addition, there are some famous landmarks and places that have image restrictions. Some can only be used for editorial use while others are off-limits for both commercial and editorial usage, so do some basic searching and see if your work contains anything that is copyrighted.

Construction worker being photographed
Construction Workers by georgerudy

Editorial Content: Editorial content is video that you typically see in news-related stories, feature-length documentaries, or educational videos. This footage is mostly captured in public places and might include recognizable people without model releases.

Both editorial and commercial video can be equally valuable. Commercial footage has a broader range of use, making it desirable to all types of buyers. Editorial footage, on the other hand, can either be hard-to-access or it could be a major news event that only happens once. This makes the footage rare and hard to reproduce. One thing to keep in mind is that editorial content can be time-sensitive, so make sure you get that footage uploaded quickly, and notify the marketplace that it should try to expedite approval.

Film Crew Work in Studio Medium Shot by TNW
 

Editing

After you’ve shot all that amazing footage, it’s time to get those clips ready to upload. Every marketplace has different requirements for duration and file sizes, so make sure you familiarize yourself with those specs before you start editing.

Clipping: Start by pulling down your best clips to the timeline. If necessary, trim any extra footage off at the beginning or end of the clip — never make cuts in the middle. Your final clip should be one take. In general, the average length of a stock video clip is 10 to 20 seconds. There are exceptions to this, of course.

Color Correction: Enhance the look of your footage with color correction or effects, but only if it improves the clip. It’s best not to get too stylized with color correction or effects because it could make the footage less usable to buyers.

Video Editing Interface Elements by ODesigns

Exporting: When exporting, aim for the highest quality without making the files sizes too large. As mentioned, each marketplace has different requirements for file sizes; Pond5’s specifications for files sizes are 3GB max for 1080p clips, and 5GB for 4k files. As for codecs and containers, most common ones, like Apple ProRes, H264, and PhotoJPEG in a .mov or .mp4 container are accepted. Again, check the specs before your export.
 

Quality Over Quantity

Stock footage is an art form that needs creative direction, preparation and practice. The more time and thought you spend developing and executing your concept, the better your work will be. Approach each shoot like you would a feature film or commercial. All the same rules, like lighting, composition, and camera movements, apply when it comes to shooting stock video.

Consider using a few accessories at your next shoot to add value to your video. A slider or gimbal will make your footage look more dynamic and professional. And future-proof your work by shooting 4k video. Many, if not all, of the stock marketplaces now accept 4k resolutions and higher. If you have the budget to invest in a 4k camera, do it. It won’t be long until 4k completely replaces HD. It would be devastating to invest all that time developing, shooting, and uploading your 1080 content just to have it be sent to the “archival footage” category.

Video wall of TV screen

Video wall of TV screens by smuki

There’s something to be said about having a smaller collection of high-quality clips versus having a huge collection of mediocre ones. Just because you flood the marketplace with hundreds or thousands of files, it doesn’t guarantee you a higher number of sales. The good thing is that the curators will help you whittle down to your best footage, but ultimately you’re the first person to figure out what you want to sell. Make harsh decisions and don’t be afraid to omit clips from being uploaded if you don’t think they’re not your best work.

The beauty of selling your footage through a marketplace is that it can create passive income to help you fund everything from your morning coffee to your next big video project. It will take some work and dedication to get started, and you may not actually see any sales for six months or longer, but don’t let this discourage you, because even top sellers went through this phase. Once you’re in the groove with your workflow and reach a few hundred high-quality clips online, you’ll start to really see the benefits of all of your hard work pay off. And who knows, maybe you’ll even stumble across your own footage on TV or in a big Hollywood movie!

Top image: Nature Videography by j0yce