It’s an honour to interview expert videographer, Theocharis Charitonidis of BestravelVideo on his experience and insight as a stock footage contributor! Let’s get this show on the road!
[Start of Interview]
Alex: Please tell me a bit about yourself and how you first got involved in creating footage?
Theo: For the past 25 years, I have been working as a professional video-editor within the Greek Broadcasting TV industry. My main duties include creating TV-show and film trailers [example below of one of his projects – Spartacus series], as well as editing a variety of advertising projects.
Alex: When and why did you get first involved in stock footage?
I first heard about stock licensing in 2016, when I was editing an advertising project about old-age retirement homes when the client requested & paid extra for licensed stock images. Those were usually model-released commercial photos describing a particular occupation. This client also sometimes requested video clips and graphic backgrounds.
The market need, in the case of videos since I am mainly a videographer, from buyers simply made me consider whether I could make some extra cash from this prospect. Then, I proceeded to research about different stock agencies out there.
In early 2016, I had just purchased a new Canon G7X (which was quite handy since I wanted to travel light) and having returned from a trip to Brussels & Luxembourg, I started uploading my first stock videos. In a few months, I had sold my first stock clips! The rest is history as they say…
Alex: Which agencies would you recommend and why?
Theo: I would recommend to upload your clips to the following three agencies, in order of the ones that have given me the most earnings (with links to my portfolios):
I have just recently started contributing both mainly stock footage, but also some images to Robert Harding (exclusive boutique travel agency), but it is still too early to comment on results there. [If you’re interested in applying to be a Robert Harding exclusive contributor, please click on this link for information]
Alex: Lots of excitement about BlackBox at the moment, especially on YouTube. What’s your opinion on uploading to them?
Theo: I have not registered to BlackBox, so I cannot comment on actually using it. In any case, I have no intentions to register at present time.
I don’t think BlackBox is a waste of time like some agencies, I just prefer to have full control of my work. The ease of upload [which is BlackBox’s USP] is not an issue to me because I upload all my clips to a web-cloud once and then using a paid FTP, I transfer with really fast speeds to any agency I want.
I would upload some exclusive clips only if prices were more interesting. Since I get some single sales from smaller agencies which I can track earnings, I prefer to upload on a non-exclusive basis. I also find it difficult to collaborate with an agency and spend time trying to explain how I would like my clips post-processed. For instance, I may just want to enhance “red or blue” colours, so I may mask a part to de-noise it, or I may crop and export 4K to HD. So it can be really personal and the way I want it and I do not want to spend time explaining these to someone per single clip when I rather do myself.
I realise that I am potentially losing revenue because since I work alone I can only process a few quality clips at a time. Of course we all care about earnings, so if someone is more interested in the mass-production of clips, he/she may earn extra revenue by uploading to BlackBox.
Alex: How have your financial results been far in stock footage?
Theo: I still have a relatively small portfolio of only about 500 clips spread around a handful of agencies. I am not earning enough to consider this a day-job income.
I admit that probably the attention to detail I give in post-production ultimately works against me in terms of the number of uploaded videos. As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to focus more on producing quality than quantity!
It’s also worth mentioning that video is very different to photos since it usually takes much longer for them to sell, but of course prices can be much higher especially in the case of 4K.
The following are my key performance indicators during the past 12 months:
- I have sold about 55 clips;
- Sold more than 50% of them to Shutterstock and Pond5;
- License breakdown is about 75% editorial vs 25% commercial;
- Despite the vast majority being for sale as 4K, in 75% of the time, the buyer selected the less expensive HD version.
With these 55 videos sales, I have so far purchased two new professional cameras, a new professional lens and accessories [Theo preferred not to go into too much details about his earnings].
Alex: Please briefly outline your current workflow from capturing to final submission (please include which software you use)?
Theo: I travel mainly to Western Europe several times a year. If there is a city I have already visited (such as Florence, Barcelona, Milan, Munich) then planning is easier because I already know my way around and remember what I already captured as to not repeat. I usually record between 60 – 90 minutes of video in every city I visit generally focusing on the following themes:
- Transportation and transport links;
- Local markets.
Although I search at stock agencies’ search engine on what the competition offers, I try to keep my own style and approach. Since I always use my mobile data-plan abroad, I’m freely able to use Google Maps to save “colour stars” of places that I want to shoot during my trip. This helps since I don’t have to always keep connecting to wifi hot-stops.
The sun-calculation apps on my smartphone assist me when deciding what time (best at golden hour) to venture to an elevated place with the intention to capture an urban panorama and at which angles would produce the best results.
Date-specific events and political protests
I also search for date-specific events. There might be a big city celebration or a carnival to cover, but most of the times these will sell a short time before the next years’ celebration of the same festival.
I even try to use strikes and political protests to my advantage. We live in turbulent times and these types of content may be interesting for buyers. Just make sure to keep a safe distance when at protests!
Always looking for a high perspective
I must say that I love the hills surrounding the historical centre of Rome, as well as shooting from the Vittorio Emmanuelle Monument, that offer a panoramic city view of Rome. If, for example, you are in a pedestrian way in Barcelona’s center, a bench is not high enough to provide a wide view. You’d then have to find a better view with a higher perspective to achieve your goals to obtain a clean shot.
During my latest trip to Porto, Portugal I purposely upgraded to a hotel-room with a high perspective riverside view of the beautiful Douro River. Although it cost a bit more than another similar hotel in the city-centre, I was able to record time lapses without a distracting crowd directly in front. I’m pleased with the results!
Shoot famous landmarks
It is no secret, that famous places, despite often being saturated, have a higher demand, so I insist also adding these landmarks because they do sell. As mentioned before, always good try to to find different angles and I also like to add my own style!
I prefer Adobe Premiere Pro CC that also integrates with Adobe After Effects, but the latest free version of DaVinci Resolve 15 is more than enough for those wanting to do basic cuts and single clip exports.
Have in mind that if you do switch from Adobe Premiere to DaVinci Resolve 15, it would be a long curve before you learn how to add effects and colour corrections. In any case, you would need the latest CPU processor with a significant amount of RAM with at least one SSD drive and an expensive GPU graphics card. Otherwise, your layered video won’t even play from the timeline and you’ll get frustrated with the crashes!
Alex: Do you shoot mainly in 4K or Full HD…and why?
Theo: I only shoot in 4K for many reasons. Well, for starters, clips are priced higher than HD!
Then, in my Sony, that over-samples 6K video to deliver 4K, during recordings I obtain sharper results without software and less noise in high ISO situations, compared to other cameras.
A buyer might prefer a 4K clip because he/she can either crop a part or add motion key frames if his/her project is in HD. Finally, if I am not satisfied with 4K result, such as in cases of handheld videos and wide lenses, I get a better chance of smoother result If I stabilise in post-production, and then simply export as HD.
Alex: Which 5 tips would you offer for beginners looking to go into stock footage and earn some royalties?
- Purchase a 4K mirrorless, not Full-Frame, and record in Super 35mm format to get the cinematic look.
- Research at agencies for what has not been recorded. For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some famous New York landmarks were either never done from a particular angle and/or were never recorded in the interiors, at least in places that commercial recording is permitted. [Theo prefers not go into detail here to affect his sales, which is more than fair enough]
- Be the first to record a new place. Such as, a museum, a building, a renovated park…these should sell and then hopefully these dreadful search algorithms will favor you for another sale!
- Do creative work, using your house as a studio. Think hard about a concept that buyers may be searching. Unfortunately, I do not do that much for the time it takes to setup lights or backgrounds, but if I would do, I would use a studio soft-box with two more side lights and a rotating display turntable or a photo light-box with infinite background and LED lights for video a product.
- Colour correct my videos. It takes time but, as in photos, you can present your own personal style. In contrast to photos, leave “space” for the customer to do his own correction. Always think that you do not know to which project your video may be used, for instance it may be used by itself or as part of a much larger video.
6. Do at least three different takes of the same event, with close up and different angles. A customer may need to build a story and decide to buy more relevant videos. It often happens for me that they buy two videos at the same time of a place they search, which means more money in my pocket! For instance, a building façade and then an internal view, a city port and then a city landmark, etc.
Alex: Loads of new gear are coming out, such as mirrorless, and it’s an exciting time for stock producers…which gear would you recommend for shooting stock footage and why?
Theo: Although all the big camera Players have just come out with their new mirrorless cameras, we will have to wait and see what they are capable to do. Here is what I would do:
There are some nice guys that at the end of their product review provide an original camera recorded sample, not on YouTube. If this sample is ungraded, even better. I download these and import them to my editing program, doing tests with color grading etc.
Therefore, if we leave photos out of the equation, these are for me the two best options:
- APS-C Sony A6500 which I think has the sharpest image and in body stabilization but suffers from rolling shutter in fast panning; or
- Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5S which offers DCI 4K60p with internal 10-bit 4:2:2 with higher bitrate but uses a Micro Four Thirds sensor that does not give such good results in low light.
Also, Sony has 1.5x Crop Factor whereas Panasonic has 2x Crop Factor. I wish I could find the best of these two worlds in a single camera, but for now this is not going to happen!
Alex: How do you see the stock footage industry going forward in the next 3-5 years?
Theo: Demand for stock video is going to increase. With new cameras recording 4K, more photographers will be trying their luck in video, like you have yourself Alex, thinking they will earn more, not knowing video takes time to sell.
As a result, prices should keep on dropping, unfortunately. Unless you are exclusive with one of the Midstock agencies (such as Robert Harding), your only option for now is to set a higher price for your clips in Pond5, if you want to avoid those annoying $1.50 downloads from Shutterstock in selected cases, as well as very low sales amounts at Getty and Dreamstime.
I’m confident that new boutique exclusive-agencies will emerge to fill a gap in the market for high-quality clips. Vimeo Stock just came out, even as invite-only for now. In addition, Pond5 is about to announce its new exclusive premium video service.
More agencies will adopt this premium model to recruit cinematographers that can offer high quality to buyers that have a larger marketing budget at their disposal. Even if clients would be willing to pay a premium price for clips, it would still cost them significantly less than to rent a dedicated video crew. I also predict that video briefs will appear for the same reason, as we have seen with Shutterstock Custom and now Getty custom.
The real game-changer will be the introduction of 8K video at an affordable price. Before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at least two cameras will appear, capable of at least 25 FPS 8K video. However, their sensor would need to be able to record at more than 32 Megapixels.
True, many contributors will think that is a lot to spend on equipment to produce stock content, but RED cameras are able to do it and before RED cameras, there were Panavision cinema cameras with lenses that would have cost 10 times more. My thinking is that with 8K, a contributor may revisit landmarks at first and offer 32 Megapixels of video for much higher prices than 4K and especially HD. These would also be future-proof for the next 10 years, at least.
Sony vs Panasonic
Sony has just recently officially announced a 31.49MP Global Shutter APS-C sensor. Panasonic has already unveiled a Global Shutter CMOS sensor capable of 8K 60FPS. If these come out soon at future cameras, it would be such a strong game-changer for the video industry that I might dare to say even the way we shoot and move with cameras will change!
Alex: Finally, which are your top selling videos and why do you think they are best selling?
Theo: The market is so unpredictable! My clips that have sold more than two times were all editorial and I believe that the buyer chose them simply because there was less competition.
For instance, if there is only one page available in search results and they see that your clip is in 4K appearing in vivid colour (as well as other good technicals), there’s a strong chance they will choose yours! For me, probably because of pricing considerations, more returning sales for the same clip occurred in Pond5.
Brutally Honest Microstock
Before we close our conversation, please allow me to comment that being one of the people that purchased your book [Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography], it really helped me because it answered many questions I had about travel stock photography. I found it practical as if someone had written a Q&A / FAQ list with all the answers to questions that personally puzzled me since I started being a contributor also on the photography side, plus letting me become aware of new agencies I have never heard of, such as Robert Harding. Thank-you, Alex!
[End of Interview]
No, thank YOU, Theo! Your knowledge & insight on creating useful stock footage has really opened my eyes. Not only the advice offered in private chats (thank-you for being brutally honest, as I wouldn’t expect anything less), but also what has been published above. I’ll certainly use this info towards my own business and I trust others will also find it useful!
From a business perspective, this can be a lonely business. Meeting fellow contributors to bounce ideas around, not only makes it more profitable for everybody but much more enjoyable. I consider the majority of contributors as co-workers / colleagues, rather than competitors. One of my goals from writing my book and publishing a blog was to meet like-minded people where we can all benefit. Win/win.
I look forward to soon inviting you for a drink at the Casino Thessaloniki! Otherwise, please come visit me at Casino Estoril.
More About Theocharis Charitonidis’s Work
Theo has recently had the privilege to be an Associate Producer to award-wining documentary “Mykonos, the Soul of an Island” directed by legendary Greek Director ,Nico Mastorakis.
Theo loves Mykonos and has been going there since childhood and now, after all these years, he explains that “it is so rewarding seeing your work on the big screen being awarded in so many festivals around the world!”. See the trailer below:
I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’m determined not to waste my life away as a corporate drone and have devoted five years to making it as a travel photographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others before it’s too late.
I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography
Check out my new photo review service, where I’ll help take your images to the next level and get them sold regularly!