Investing in Stock Footage
We all know that stock footage can be a saving grace for creatives when a shot is missed on set, a file gets corrupted, or maybe there’s simply a need for a generic cutaway of a cute dog.
But what about when an entire video must be created from nothing but stock? Is that even possible to do without compromising the result? The short answer is yes, so let’s see how, by employing a few tips and tricks, it can be used without clouding our creative vision.
The perception of stock footage
If you ask videographers what they think about stock footage, most will say that their primary concern is that it can look staged or less-than authentic. That’s not too surprising considering it takes talent and time to make a quality stock clip.
So what happens when budget both prevents you from being able to shoot your own footage and limits the amount you can spend on stock? There’s no doubt that you can find yourself facing a bit of a dilemma, especially when looking at the highest-priced stock suppliers, who contract well-known directors and cinematographers to create beautifully cinematic shots (I’m looking at you FilmSupply).
That’s when it’s time to get clever about where (and how) you source stock footage to get quality you feel good about at a price you can afford.
Story comes first
But first, let’s take a step back to see what makes a good video. Visuals are key, sound is paramount, and graphics provide pizzazz, but all of these individual components must be set on a foundation of good storytelling. Writing trumps all.
When writing, it’s helpful to move forward without initially limiting yourself by what you’ve seen during initial stock searches. Sure, it’s good to get a feel for what’s out there, like a mood board. But then it’s time to close all those tabs and take a hard look at the video’s intended purpose. That’s what you should focus on to construct the narrative.
It’s fine to dream big, be bold, and imagine what the best end result could be. Then, with that ideal in mind, open your browser up again and start curating.
Remember that you don’t always have to rely on pictures that depict exactly what you’ve written in a see-and-say kind of way. In many cases, symbolism can work in your favor. Lean into finding visuals that support an overall idea, and let the narrative drive the impact home. Below is an example of a promotional video I cut entirely with stock footage, sourced with this logic.
Spread the love
As we’ve discussed, budget is almost always a factor, which can lead to relying on packs or subscriptions from a single site to source your footage. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a huge fan of using them to save a buck and maximize my profit margin, but money-saving methods like these can work against us by limiting our inclination to explore what else might be out there.
In my opinion, the best way to navigate what can seem like a finite pool of possibilities is to add variety by pulling from multiple sites. They all provide watermarked versions of their footage, so there’s no reason why you can’t build a diverse footage library for your project, edit your story, and then—once your story is locked—purchase and conform only the shots you need.
Cohesion is key
Some sites may offer entire scenes of footage, or at least collections from the same creator. These can make your video seem more cohesive and purposeful when used together. Or, you can try combining scenes from multiple sources by switching between close-up detail shots and medium to wide angles. The key to success? Smoothing everything out with an even color grade.
Quick shot matching
Grading is critical when you’re working with clips from different creators, as it’s unlikely that they’ll be a good match straight out of the box. This is particularly true if you’re creating sequences using different assets from different providers.
The good news is that both Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve have tools specifically designed for this, which can save you heaps of time if you want a quick match on comping assets before you get sign-off on the locked story.
In Premiere Pro, open the Color workspace and place your playhead over the clip you want to change. In the Lumetri Color panel, expand the Color Wheels and Match controls and click on Comparison view. You can then use the time selection slider beneath the Reference preview to pick any frame in the timeline that you want to match it to. Hit Apply Match in the Lumetri Color panel when you’re ready. You can fine tune the settings afterwards.
In DaVinci Resolve, open the Color workspace and select your target clip, then right-click on the clip you want to match it to. Choose Shot Match to this Clip, and let the software do the rest. (It’ll add a node that you can fine-tune afterwards.)
Or, if you’re using stock footage created by a specific filmmaker to give your video a more unified vibe, none of that may be necessary. The brand video for Sylvamo Paper below is an example of using mostly stock footage to craft a story from various sources.
Similar to my thoughts on writing, you can exploit sound design to help craft the story and drive the narrative. (This, of course, applies to any video, regardless of whether you’re using stock footage, and you’ve probably heard it before.) Good audio and sound design will always elevate a video beyond what the visuals alone can carry.
It could be that elevating the music budget a touch and pulling in a killer track will drive the impact your video needs. Another option is to really hammer home the sound effects to make the overall sound design an integral part of the video. Music will enhance the visuals you’re watching and the feeling of the video, while the sound effects bring it to life by drawing the viewer into a richer sonic environment. Daniel Schiffer clearly illustrates that point in this video.
While he goes through the process of creating sound effects himself, you can easily level up your sound design game by pulling tracks and sound effects from stock providers free resources like sound effects sampler packs and freesound.org.
More for your money
It’s no secret that stock footage prices can make your piggy bank quiver in fear, but most sites offer ways to help you stretch the bottom line. The story should always be your guide, so try your best not to get tied down to one purveyor of footage just because you’re saving a few bucks.
Some footage vendors, like Adobe Stock or Pond5 offer packs as a way to buy multiple clips in a single transaction, all at a reduced price point. The variety of pack options and specifics will vary by site, but having a fixed price can make it easier to add to your budget as a line item.
Subscription models are another great way to save money on stock footage, and most stock sites these days offer some type of subscription service. Artgrid.io offers unlimited downloads. Similarly, FilmPac offers unlimited downloads, but at a higher price point and more curation, while RawFilm only allows a certain number of downloads per month/year, but often sends discount opportunities to its email list members. Each site has annual and monthly subscription options available.
The bottom line
If money and time were unlimited, who wouldn’t rather shoot exactly what we need in the most cinematic or raw style possible? But, of course, then there’s reality.
Stock footage fixes a problem we all eventually run into, whether that’s a one-clip pickup shot or fleshing out an entire brand film. What’s truly great though, is we now live in a time where the quality and prolific amount of stock footage available to our discerning eyeballs is unparalleled. So get out there and start building your selection!