In a previous life, I was a full-time designer. I’ve heard all the reasons not to use stock content in my work—usually from concerned clients or coworkers. “Stock is cheesy.” “Stock is generic.” And of course, there’s the especially painful, “Don’t pay for it. I’ll get the intern to take a photo on their phone.”
There seems to be this perception that all stock media is hokey. That it’s bad for brands. That it’s super expensive and the headache of licensing isn’t worth it. And let’s face it, for a long time, “Photo Screaming Business Woman Covered In an Impossibly White Room” was the face of stock media.
Yes, this is stock…
…and so is this.
I’m here to tell you that the notion that stock is inauthentic is completely wrong. Stock media isn’t unprofessional. It’s not amateur. In fact, it’s an essential part of any creative’s toolkit, regardless of whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned pro.
I know I use stock, and I others do too. I talked to creators across the spectrum, from budding filmmakers to seasoned pros about how stock is valuable for them. Here are the top reasons we all sing the praises of stock media.
We’re all on a budget
From my background in television and how I use stock now, I think stock is incredibly valuable. Everything would be so much more expensive if we had had to go out and shoot everything.”
– Russell Hawkins, Senior Creative Producer, Weber Shandwick
Regardless of whether you’re in charge of social media at your company or you’re a big-time producer, your creative projects (probably to your chagrin) will always be constrained by a budget.
Using stock footage, images, and audio is one way to make sure you can stay true to your artistic vision without breaking the bank. Even at companies that typically have larger creative budgets, stock is essential.
“Stock footage is definitely valuable because there isn’t always the budget to travel around & capture footage,” says Joe Childress, an executive producer with 10 years of experience at companies like 20th Century Fox and agencies like Weber Shandwick. “When you’re in an edit, and you think of a shot that would fit perfectly that you didn’t capture, or help connect scenes or set up scenes–these shots can be invaluable.”
We’re busy and running out of time
Every once in a blue moon, you will work on a project where the budget is no object. In those rare cases, chances are that your client needed the project yesterday and can’t wait for you to schedule and organize a shoot.
Russell Hawkins, a video producer with 8 years of experience at companies like the Discovery Channel and Weber Shandwick, says stock is a huge time saver, especially on smaller projects. “Do we have enough time to set something up, hire a crew, and find a location? Because that can be extremely expensive and add weeks to the production—even if you’re making something extremely small. If we can find that perfect clip that aligns with the messaging, stock helps us out so much.”
Speaking from experience, I can say that freelancers and those of us working alone feel the time crunch just as acutely as those in the agency and production house world. “My main enemy is time. It’s hard work being a one-man crew. By using stock audio, I can focus on story and characters rather than being distracted by the technical stuff.” Says Mikey Hardesty, a student filmmaker.
In a world that’s constantly expecting fresh, new content, stock media helps you spend less time collecting the assets you need to finish your projects.
We’re usually looking for something specific
The business of everyday people going out and shooting and then selling it back to stock footage companies has been a huge boon to storytelling in general. Now there’s so much footage and coverage of almost every topic that people can tell any story they want.”
– Russell Hawkins, Senior Creative Producer, Weber Shandwick
“There are always going to be those projects where you don’t have all the assets to get it done,” says Gina Fuchs, a community coordinator at Code with Klossy, a non-profit program that teaches girls to code. “I mean, just recently it was the 4th of July, and we don’t always have holiday specific assets. Usually when we have a situation like that where we need something hyper-specific, having a stock library is super useful.”
Joe Childress shares similar feelings. “There are a lot of circumstances such as needing specific shots that only occur at certain times throughout the year or shots from other countries where we don’t have the budget to travel.”
Even big media companies don’t always have the content they need on hand and will turn to stock to fill the gaps. “While working in television at National Geographic, I became really intimately knowledgeable about stock footage. The documentary industry couldn’t exist without large reservoirs of stock,” admits Russel Hawkins.
Stock is a way to get access to relevant content any time you may need it.
We want to look professional
You want videos to have texture and show more than just, say, an interview we were able to capture or a quick video someone was able to take. Something to give it dimension.”
– Gina Fuchs, Community Coordinator, Code with Klossy
“Most of the stock media I use is of a lot higher quality than what I could’ve recorded for that specific shot or sound,” says Chris Petow, a freelance filmmaker, and recent graduate.
“There’s a false stigma surrounding stock media that it’s generic and unoriginal, but that is simply untrue. If you find the right stock and make it your own–by color correcting it, blending it, mixing it–then it can really enhance the look and feel of your projects.”
There are so many ways to make stock footage and imagery your own.
We want to focus on the things that really matter to us
The term “creative professional” is so broad it can be essentially meaningless. I’ve always wondered: who are these mysterious content creators who draw all their own illustrations, shoot all their own photos, write all their own copy, edit their own videos, and write their own musical compositions for those videos? Hint: They don’t exist. They’re a team of multiple professionals, so don’t feel overwhelmed if you aren’t a pro at everything.
As a designer, I have extensive experience in print, but video isn’t my jam–and the idea of me writing my own music is laughable. That’s why I’m more than happy to license an image, a video clip, or a song from one of my fellow artists–and that’s where stock comes in.
If there was a common thread that connected all my interviews, it was the passion creatives put into their work. Everyone agreed: Stock media lets you focus on the things you love by taking the some of the stress, time, and cost of production out of the equation.
The three things that lead me to use stock media over creating my own work are strict deadlines, budget restraints, and quality.”
– Chris Petow, Freelance Filmmaker