The following material is an excerpt from the No Film School How to Make Money as a Cinematographer course.
When starting out in film and video, there are a lot of avenues to explore, and not just creatively speaking. If you want to make a living as a filmmaker — or, more specifically, as a cinematographer — then you’ll need to be open to all different types of work and revenue streams.
One avenue, which is still surprisingly underutilized by many cinematographers, yet quite lucrative when done right, is stock footage and stock photography.
Let’s give an overview of the stock footage platforms, how to see, and how they can benefit creatives who buy. Plus, we’ll cover some of the perks and pitfalls to go after and avoid.
Learn how to shoot stock footageCredit: Jakob Owens
What Is Stock Footage?
Before we begin, let’s refresh a bit before we dive in deeper.
Stock footage is film, video, or photo material that a cinematographer or photographer creates, then uploads to a special platform for sale to other productions. There are a wide variety of production needs out there, and you literally can never guess why footage might be used.
This can be filler for narrative films, news stations, documentaries building out a scene purely from stock, or corporations and educational institutions in need of material to expand their video deliverables.
The needs and uses for stock footage are truly endless.
What Are The Different Stock Platforms?
But what platforms are out there? Here are some of the biggest (and newest) stock footage platforms to give you a rough idea of who the players are in this space, and which ones might be right for you, your skill level, and specific needs.
First, it’s important to note that most platforms for stock video are non-exclusive, meaning that you can, and should, upload your shots to as many different platforms as possible. While there are exclusive platforms out there, you’ll need to experiment to see if your footage generates traffic for you. If it does, great. If not, keep uploading to the widest variety of platforms possible.
Stock Footage Platforms
Here is our list of platforms that you should target!
Shutterstock and Pond5 have been around forever (and by that, we mean going back to the early 2000s). Shutterstock was founded in 2003 and the Pond5 in 2006, making them somewhat tried-and-true platforms that offer photography and video, and now music, VFX, and templates too.
iStock is also a veteran and offers much of the same. It was acquired by Getty Images in 2006 so you should feel comfortable knowing your footage is in safe hands. Adobe Stock was released in 2005, initially offering only photography, but has expanded to include pretty much everything that can be used in Adobe Creative Cloud.
Finally, Storyblocks has been around since 2009, and while it's gone through a lot of changes since then, it’s a solid platform for stock footage. All of these places are a great way to start, as they don’t have any exclusivity agreements, but Pond5 does offer an Exclusive Video Program.
The Artsy Fartsy Ones
Artgrid.io, Filmpac, Filmsupply, and RAWFILM are all platforms that focus on providing cinematic stock footage. While other platforms on this list might have some artsy stuff, the above four all heavily focus on material that belongs in a movie. If you plan to be a contributor for these platforms, then make sure you channel your inner Roger Deakins, and really hone your cinematography chops.
The “New” Kids On The Block
We say new kids, but both Nimia and Dissolve were founded around 2014, with the former being UK-based and the latter coming out of Canada.
While you can license your footage using Nimia, it also functions as a cloud storage platform for your footage. On the other hand, Dissolve is all about making sure its stock footage is of high technical quality, aesthetic style, and cultural relevance. Both are great options, but a bit light in terms of library and reputation.
As of writing this list, KIN is a newcomer to the scene. So much so that it’s a platform still in beta and hasn’t launched yet. But what made us put this platform on our list is KIN’s dedication to providing inclusive stock footage. While we don’t know much about the platform just yet, its focus on inclusivity shouldn’t be ignored, and it’s one to keep an eye on.
Music and SFX
There's also a whole category of stock that isn't footage or photos at all. Music, and more specifically royalty-free music, has become a huge industry since creators need licensed music for everything from YouTube videos to any array of commercial or corporate projects. While you obviously can't submit your footage to these platforms, you can use them for your music needs. (Or hey, if you really want to start that band, maybe you could call them up too.)
The Perks and Pitfalls
This is by no means a complete list, but it should get you started in the world of stock footage and videography. And, speaking from some collective experience here, stock can actually be quite lucrative and worthwhile if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.
While it might not always be the most glamorous, there are plenty of opportunities to create lots of submittable assets and videos with little to no crew. You can set your own hours and work from virtually anywhere.
In fact, many stock videographers (and photographers even) use stock as a quick and easy way to add to their own cinematography endeavors. If you’re already renting equipment, space, and talent for a commercial shoot or a personal project, it never hurts to shoot a bit more specifically for stock needs (as long as you’re not violating any contractual agreements).
On the other side of the coin, while stock videography can be indeed easy to get into, it can also turn into a time suck if you’re not sure what you’re doing. If you’re just shooting completely random footage without insights into the right formats or recommendations based on needs from the various sites you want to submit to, then you might end up shooting worthless footage. Be sure to check each platform's requirements before you hit record, and be wary of putting all of your eggs into one basket without doing your research first.
Which One is Right for You?
While we’d love to give you some concrete numbers on which stock footage site is the best and pays the most, there are just too many variables that come into play. Some of the key metrics at the heart of this question are how many videos are you creating? Are they high-quality? Are they broad, or do they fill a certain niche?
From what we discovered, creatives may only be making around $50 per month in the beginning. But this can grow to a few hundred to several thousand dollars a month after you build a comprehensive portfolio of quality content. Unfortunately, there’s also a bit of luck involved. A mundane video you shoot in some distant country could turn out to be a go-to for news organizations that are covering the area. Think of it as going viral.
But what else can we learn about stock footage and building your career as a cinematographer?
A Course To Make You Money
Some of the most important things cinematographers must learn aren't taught in film school. This is why No Film School has created our very first course.
How to Make Money as a Cinematographer is a compendium of knowledge that teaches cinematographers some of the most important techniques, methods, and systems to succeed in their careers.
It's not about the craft, but the business. A total of 75 chapters, 8 hours of video lessons, and 50+ written resources cover everything from doing your taxes, climbing the crew ladder, and building a portfolio of stock footage. We even cover proper techniques for lighting, backing up footage, and invoicing, so you can get paid on time.
If this week isn't the time to start for leveling up your career on budget, then that means you're already there. For everyone else, we have the tools and lessons to get you focused on building the career you've always dreamed of.
Hopefully, these stock platform options above will get you on the right track to making some more money with your footage. And while you can take our advice as a guide, it’s really up to you to explore these sites and find the one that meshes the best with your own skill, needs, and overall aesthetic.
For everything else, join How to Make Money as a Cinematographer course and learn how to be the best shooter you can possibly be.