Stock Footage – What is It and How to Use It to Your Benefit

Stock footage is a great resource for video and film creators to save time and money in realizing their vision.

If you are in the video production, filmmaking, or other related fields, you probably heard about it before. And truth is, even if you never heard of stock footage before, you have been seeing it hundreds of times a day every day, as most of the audiovisual productions in TV, film, and the Internet are using it.

But what is stock footage? And how can you use it to improve your video creations? Well, you're about to find out.

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What is Stock Footage?

Stock footage, also called stock video or b-roll, is a piece of video content, a clip or shot (normally shorter than 1 minute, but there are exceptions) inserted in a larger video production and that was not shot specifically for said production.

These clips can be outtakes from other projects or archive shots. But lately, more and more people are creating shots with the sole purpose of selling the rights for other creators to use them in larger productions.

These videographers shoot clips with a more generic perspective, shots that could fit in a wide range of concepts and styles, and then offer licenses to use the clips in larger projects. And that is stock footage.

This exclusive coupon gives you 15% off on your next stock footage purchase: video packs, credit packs, or video subscriptions!

What's the Use in Stock Footage?

Some filmmakers call these shots the “b-roll”, referring to all the shots and takes that are secondary, but still necessary for the project's storytelling flow.

For example, your story might be centered in a house's living room, but if you are placing the whole action in Venice, you will need a clip of an iconic Venice location in the final edit, to contextualize the whole storyline. Instead of commissioning a crew to shoot this b-roll scene, which would be very expensive, you can buy a stock footage clip of Venice outdoor scenes and include it in your edit. Simpler, cheaper, and faster.

And this is how film and video makers are using stock footage. You see it many times throughout the day, every day. In films, TV, documentaries, adverts, and much more. The views of a city's skyline that precedes the next scene in the movie you watched? Stock footage.

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The perspective shot of a building that introduces the next segment of your favorite TV show? Stock footage. The wide-angle takes of the African Savanna in the latest documentary? Yes, stock footage too.

Now, you must be thinking, that you couldn't tell that scene from last night's movie was stock video. And that's a good thing. The purpose of stock video clips is to run with the visual flow of the final production. They are meant to fit in larger creations in a seamless way.

Like this, stock footage turns out a great way to save time, money, and resources in getting secondary or “filling” shots for a larger production. Interested in start using stock footage? Learn how!

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Buying Stock Footage

You can buy stock footage clips easily at a stock imagery agency. Some stock and microstock agencies include stock videos in their offer, in addition to stills and other media types. And some agencies specialize in the footage.

In any of them, you can search, find, and buy a license to use a stock video clip. You don't buy the clip itself, but the rights to use it in your project. There are different license types that grant different rights for usage. Most cheap stock footage agencies work with Royalty Free and Rights Managed licenses for video.

To become a real expert in buying stock footage, check out our Definitive Guide to Buy Stock Video!

A new option to get the video content you need on the cheap is to use an AI video generator to create it from scratch. Interested? Read our guide to AI video generation!

Choosing the Best License Type

Royalty Free videos are likely the most popular choice. The Royalty Free license grants you non-exclusive rights to use the shot in multiple ways and perpetually, for a one-time, flat fee. This means you only have to pay for the license fee once, and you get to use the clip in a wide range of ways, forever.

But that any other person can buy and use the same clip in their own ways too. Royalty Free license prices are flat, and usually very affordable.

This license is pre-set, and can't be personalized. If you want rights that exceed the ones included in the terms, you need to buy an Extended license, for a higher price.

The Shutterstock license is a great industry-standard reference for Royalty Free, both Standard and Extended licensing. Check our Shutterstock Video License guide to understand it fully!

Rights Managed footage, however, offers great advantages for big, highly-visible productions. The main benefit is exclusivity: Rights Managed license gives you the option (when available) to acquire the exclusive usage rights to a stock video, for a determinate period of time.

In other words, you can assure that for the time you use the clip, no one else will be allowed to use it. This is a great added value for big TV and film projects or any other creation that benefits from having “unique” scenes that can't be seen elsewhere.

This license is customized to the exact use you will make of the shot, and you can include all the rights you need in it. It comes with time and geographical limits, and it's valid for one-time use. Of course, the price depends on the rights you ask for, so it can be much more expensive than Royalty Free.

Where Can you Buy It

As motion imagery becomes more and more popular in the consumer section, more suppliers add this content to their offer. As a result, there are a plethora of stock agencies where you can buy stock footage for your projects.

Most of them sell Royalty Free stock footage, others offer Rights Managed licenses. Check out our huge guide to the Best Stock Footage Sites in the market. Here's a quick list of some of the top stock footage agencies:

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Shutterstock: One of the most popular microstock agencies in still imagery, they also have Shutterstock Video service, offering millions of HD and 4K Royalty Free stock videos, that you can buy à la carte or with video packs that reduce individual clip prices, as well as with the new Shutterstock video subscriptions.

This Shutterstock Video Coupon gives you 15% off in your stock footage purchase!

This exclusive coupon gives you 15% off on your next stock footage purchase: video packs, credit packs, or video subscriptions!

iStock: Also among the most popular microstock companies, iStock by Getty Images provides Royalty Free videos divided into non-exclusive and exclusive clips, where both categories include HD and 4K content. You can buy iStock stock videos on demand with agency credits.

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Pond5: This stock company offers all kinds of media types for content production, and they are a very popular choice for stock footage buying. They have a huge collection of high quality stock video shots, including HD and 4K resolutions. You can buy Royalty Free licenses for their videos on demand, or with a monthly membership plan that gives you access to a large selection of their library as well as discounts on à la carte purchases.

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Adobe Stock: This stock imagery service integrating Fotolia's collections into Adobe's Creative Cloud offers both stills and video. They have a large collection of HD stock footage shots and around 100,000 4K clips. You can buy stock videos on an à la carte model, and best of all is you can buy and use them in Adobe's video editing software, all in one place.


Getty Images: The renowned stock photography agency also has a huge selection of stock video clips. They offer Royalty Free and Rights Managed footage shots, up to 4K in resolution that you can buy on demand on their website. They have a very large collection of Editorial and Historic stock footage.

Other great sources to find high quality stock footage is stock video specialist companies Storyblocks and Dissolve, which center their offer on stock footage clips.

With these and many more options in the market, you are certain to find the best stock footage to fit in your project.

Using Stock Footage

From the examples mentioned above, you now know the purpose of stock footage, green screen video, and how filmmakers and video creatives are using it.

And you can use it too! Think of all the secondary, transition or contextualizing scenes your project has – and all the ones you could add now that you know you don't have to exceed your budget to have them. Some of them are using stock ungraded footage and grade them within their project.

As you read above, one of the key features in stock footage is that they're very versatile clips. The content has a generic feeling, that helps to merge them in different concepts and styles without losing coherence. Some higher-value productions are a bit more creative and have a more defined style, but even then the content is multi-purpose.

In the above recommended agencies, and in many others, the offer in stock videos is so broad and varied that you are most certain to find the clips that fit in your creation and enhance its visual power. You can search, find, and license stock footage shots that represent your vision, and then insert them in your final edit. You can have a very rich and professional final product while staying in budget and saving time and resources.

What are you waiting for? Start seizing the benefits of stock footage now!

Amos Struck
Amos Struck

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus in providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography, like the PixelRockstar WordPress Plugin. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

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