Continuing on with the Stock-Wizards interview series, today I’m happy to welcome to the blog, Peter Chigmaroff, Director at Overflightstock, a premium stock agency specializing in aerial photography and footage. The insight provided below is particularly close to heart as I’m considering investing in a drone and obtaining a pilot’s license soon. Let’s get started!
Peter, thanks for this opportunity and welcome to the Brutally Honest blog! First of all, please tell me about yourself, how you got into stock footage and how long you’ve been submitting to stock agencies?
Hi Alex and thank you for letting me participate in your interview. My first career was as a Senior Electronics Engineering Technologist. I worked for a national physics research facility at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. It was a good career that paid well, was highly secure with pension, good holidays, benefits etc. I totally loved the technical work at first, but after 12 years, I was having a hard time convincing myself I made a good choice.
A few years before I moved off into photography I met my wife. I wanted to start a photo career and she wanted to travel. It didn’t take long to figure out that a non traditional lifestyle was the thing to do. This was the mid 1980s and we didn’t know exactly what that meant, or how we would accomplish it. The short story is we quit our jobs, took the money we had, bought a Volkswagen Westfalia, Coleman cooler full of film and went travelling and shooting for a year. That was the first of many long trips we took.
As a fledgling stock photographer I didn’t make every mistake I could have in that first year, but pretty close. At the time, everything was done with analogue images. The transparencies were shipped by the agency to editors and then to colour separators for use. Distribution involved making duplicates of the transparencies and shipping those to sub-agents. Larger agencies had their own in-house labs to produce the dupes. Most sub-agents were independent businesses. It’s not like film-less cameras and the internet came by and disrupted a static and quiescent stock industry. Digital accelerated an already quickly growing and robust business.
Footage is just a natural progression in stock media licensing. Analogue stock footage existed but is was a complex, expensive endeavor. Independent of where we are on the technological timeline someone has always needed a shot or a clip of something.
About Overflightstock, footage is the majority of our business and everything I make reference to will be with respect to footage licensing. I made my first photo sale in the early 90s and have been an active shooter and now agency owner since then.
Thanks for that intro. So please tell us, what’s the ethos behind Overflightstock?
I would like to introduce you to Overflightstock, a stock agency specializing in aerial photography and footage. Harnessing the power behind a collection of worldwide talent and high quality images, we aim to provide you with the absolute best aerial photos and clips available. Meticulously vetting our photographer and videographers, we only represent that which we fully stand behind.
Coming into its own the past few years, aerial photography is an increasingly sought after format. Useful in a number of ways, such images and film, previously difficult to come by, are now prevalent through many online platforms. The key, however, is quality. With 25 years experience in aerial work under my belt, I ensure that OverflightStock offers only the finest photos and videos. Our mission is simple: to build a globally significant collection of media captured from aerial platforms. We provide a wide range of aerial subjects, from cityscapes, to lifestyle, to natural scenes and wildlife. Understanding also that the way to build value in such a collection is to promote exclusivity, we consistently work with our contributors and offer incentives for exclusive work. Our goal is to develop a vast collection of art worthy, one-of-a-kind pieces to satisfy a diverse array of needs. OverflightStock’s drive to stay competitive and become a premier supplier of fine aerial images extends not just to the caliber and quality of the photographers and the photos themselves, but also to our pricing and licensing plans. Offering both Royalty Free and Rights Managed content, we provide you flexibility. Additionally, all Rights Managed licenses come with worldwide distribution of content for your project with no time restrictions imposed. So while our pricing is relatively similar to that of other distributors, it’s our versatility and willingness to work with you that sets OverflightStock apart.
Overflightstock was something I needed to do for myself. Like my career in electronics, the shooting phase of my life hit its expiration date. In no way am I trying to say I made bad choices. Only that it was time to move on. I think it would be very difficult for me to make a go of an agency in our current environment if I didn’t have both of those experiences behind me. Plus the electronics engineering has helped tremendously with the technical end of handling all the data I need to and for a new project I’ve started.
I like working with exclusive footage but we do license a lot of what I refer to as broadly distributed content. This is under a single price, single use license. It’s more of a highly simplified Rights Managed license than a true RF license. eg. if a show needs to use the same clip for 2 episodes, they purchase 2 licenses. One license doesn’t automatically allow for downstream use. There are season and series options but each require incremental increases in price. I explored different sales models early on in Overflightstock and the buy once and get it all is not in our philosophy. Of all the requests I’ve seen to date only one, literally one, was specified as RF only.
Overstock boasts some truly impressive content. How many were shot yourself/your team and how many were from contributors. In addition, how challenging was it to obtain the necessary licenses/permits?
I have a fixed wing pilot’s license and am a member of a local flying club here in Vancouver. I developed a C172 strut mount system for a GH4 (wish there were GH5s at that time) and used it to shoot content for Overflightstock. This provided the seed I needed to start bringing in content from others. I never planned for Overflightstock to be an outlet for my work. It is all about building a large worldwide collection. I don’t tell many people but except far a small helicopter drone I flew around our living-room with my daughter, I’ve never owned or flown a camera drone. I did buy a DJI Mavic once to give away as a prize. That’s the only time I’ve touched one. WRT to permits, there weren’t really any rules in the beginning and it worried me that the whole industry would get shut down before it had a chance. A lot of mis-information was being spewed out on social media and not from traditional aviation. Thankfully most of that is behind us now.
I talk first-hand with a lot of the pilots and they tell me about permits and the hassle or impossibility of getting shots. This is fairly common. I get requests that I don’t realize are impossible but someone in the local area soon tells me what it takes to achieve the impossible in reality. Nothing beats local knowledge as there are often ways to get a shot legally even when it doesn’t look like it’s possible at first glance. We have started to do assignment work for content not easily acquired through requests and in some cases I offer work for hire jobs.
I see you’re currently accepting contributors, could you please expand on how to apply and what kind of content you’re seeking?
The establishing shot is the number one requirement, which is anything that shows a location well. These have seasonal and time of day sub-categories. They can be broad wide angle views of entire downtowns or much more specific buildings or neighbourhoods.
Our contributor agreements have evolved and will most likely change again in the future. I don’t use blanket agreements. Each one is individual to the contributor. Right now I don’t sign many non-exclusive contributors. If they have an amazing collection of high quality footage then I’ll definitely look at it but a lot of the newer shooters learn to fly well but handling the footage is another story. Too often the quality of the shot isn’t what it could be to achieve excellence.
As you probably know, Alex, preparing footage properly for stock is tedious, time consuming work that requires a lot of background knowledge and skill. Besides the time, there is a financial hit for a decent computer with a powerful graphics card, a NLE and additional hard drive space. A lot of people enjoy the editing side of the business and a lot of people don’t or they lack the necessary time. They acquire TeraByte after TeraByte of great footage and it never gets put out to stock. This program is relatively new.
The following is an excerpt from this blog entry: Overflightstock has always made it a priority to maintain the value of footage. Thanks to many dedicated and talented contributors, our collection of exclusive footage continues to grow. This will always be the core of our business. Being able to offer high quality and unique content allows us to make sales at amounts far above the market average. However, we are also well aware of the sales volumes that happen at budget prices at other agencies. We believe we have a solution to maintaining the value of our exclusive collection while leveraging the same footage by placing HD versions with these agencies. Our clients mostly want 4K or even higher content while sales at micro agencies tends to be HD footage. There will always be some overlap but by delineating footage by size we can simultaneously license the full resolution footage for high prices at Overflightstock while an HD version of the same clip is generating income within the broader single price market. The best of both worlds.
Not all footage will be distributed to 3rd party resellers. Footage gathered for custom requests will be excluded until the request is closed and unique high value clips will stay on Overflightstock only. Many of you are busy with assignments and production work and for you we’ve introduced Option 2. Simply shoot and submit. All the tedious work involved in getting the footage ready for submissions will be taken care of for you. Clip evaluation, segmenting, colour grading, stabilization, captioning and keywording as well as customizing the footage and metadata for submission to the various 3rd party agencies are all included. With 30 years of experience in stock photo/footage sales we understand how to caption and keyword stock content to maximize SEO. The footage will be expertly prepared and keyworded while you’re building your production business. We also get preferential percentages for being an aggregator. If your current agreement is exclusive and allows for 3rd party distribution then there is nothing you need to do. We’ll be working through our collection and making decisions on how to best redistribute your work. If you don’t allow for 3rd party distributors or are a non-exclusive contributor and you want to take advantage of 3rd party redistribution then let us know and we can send out a fresh agreement.
For the pilots out there who are interested in becoming contributors, click here for more information and how to apply.
I see you have a category on Covid-related content. How else do you stay on top of trends and what buyers are looking for?
Over time we have gotten preferred vendor status and master agreements in place from large and small studios and production houses. We worked really hard to get these and consider ourselves fortunate. Once on those lists, we receive emails for content requests that the different productions are working on. Thanks to our awesome contributors, we can fill a lot of the general requests immediately. There is nothing more satisfying for a stock agency than to be able to send a gallery of highly relevant content to a top end client within 10 minutes of receiving a request. There are also contact forms clients use that are available on overflightstock.com and of course past clients and referrals. From these requests we can see what we are missing and any trends that are happening. We also track the keywords used our site and through Google Analytics etc.
Here’s a fantastic clip highlighting the trend of sustainability in the energy sector.
6. Staying on the topic of buyers, what kinds of content are they generally looking for and what is the usual end-usage?
Most of the content we license is obviously aerials but we have taken other footage as well. Time-lapse content tends to fit as do “plates”, footage shot out of train, bus of airplane windows or from West Vancouver overlooking the Burrard Inlet and the iconic Lion’s Gate Bridge as seen below.
There are a lot of shows on streaming services and it’s no surprise that that is where most of the sales are, then feature films and advertising. That’s not the whole market but where we do most of our business.
How do you price drone clips. I imagine some are very unique and need to be priced highly, especially as Rights Managed, could you please shed some light?
The market is mature and most of the pricing is well established. It’s unfortunate that so many good pricing opportunities are passed by for the sake of expediency. That aside, our pricing is fairly uniform across all clients for similar uses. For broadly distributed content we charge a flat rate of $299 for any use in episodic streaming shows. More for feature films and advertising. For content in our Premium collection, the price is $399 for documentary shows and $850 for fictional entertainment. Advertising can get sales of several thousand. There are of course many sub categories.
Could you please describe how licensing was like before Microstock became mainstream, pre-2004 or so? How much have royalties fallen?
I can only speak for photography at that time. Pricing has fallen shockingly. But it is a very different way that business is conducted. First off there were considerably more agencies and most of them took on contributors only with full artist exclusivity. And most only took on a contributor if their work was going to be highly salable. There were fewer contributors, clients, and potential usage spots. An agency needed to know you would produce material they could sell and many would have minimum contribution limits. Unless you were a real world photographic superstar, getting in was difficult. I flew to NY from Vancouver so I could personally show my portfolio to the artistic director at The Stock Market agency. It cost the agencies a lot to maintain a contributor and a lot to show their work and they didn’t want to deal with anything but the best material. Nice photography is not salable photography. Same goes for footage.
Anyone who was taking it seriously at that time would have a personal editor they worked with at their agency. You would get genuine feedback on everything you shot with recommendations on what to shoot. It was someone you could call anytime and talk over a shoot with. They would create elaborate shoot lists for you and if the idea looked particularly worthwhile they would co-sponsor the expensive shoots: quite literally cutting you a cheque to cover all or a portion of the model and location fees.
Some guys would threaten to quit if they got a sale for less than $500. Some had minimum sales amounts in their contracts. Really basic shots of puffy white clouds would sell for $5000-$10,000 for a single years use and then get renewed for $2500 the following year. A good friend of mine was making a decent living off of a few shots. Some of the highest paid stock photographers in the industry had portfolios of less than 250 images. Great images did $100,000 and more in a couple of years. I’ve had some in the $250,000 range and heard of several that clicked over into 7 digits. Lifestyle shooters quite literally raked it in.
I think Microsoft paid about $270,000 for the green fields and blue sky shot for the desktop image for Windows 97. I could be wrong about the version but anyone old enough knows the shot I’m talking about. RF, the precursor to micro was highly lucrative. A standard full resolution shot would sell for $500. They couldn’t print CDs fast enough. Some agencies started paying buyouts of $250+ per image for a guaranteed 100 same shoot/themed images. You could do 2 shoots a day. It seemed ridiculous to sell a shot for $250 at that time until you did the simple multiplication. Bring in 6 models between 8 and noon, shoot 100+ images, have some lunch and bring in another 6 for a different theme.
Somewhere in all this the transition from film to digital occurred. I had just bought about $4000 in film. This was typical for me at the time. The Canon 1Ds, the first real digital camera had been out for while and had dropped from $15k to $10k so I bought one thinking I could easily use up that film while I transitioned to digital. I didn’t shoot a single roll of that film. I ended up selling it a few years later for a few hundred dollars.
How do you create some of the concepts while staying on top of visual trends? Briefly tell us about how you research such concepts.
Aerials are much more literal than mainstream stock. Most requests are Iocation-specific. Some will accept cheats but it’s not like lifestyle or still life images which contain high level of conceptual themes.
If possible could you please disclose which have been some of the top-selling clips and why do you think they have been so successful.
As boring as it sounds, all good selling content serves a purpose for something. I go back to one of my statements about making mistakes early on in my career and that was shooting what I wanted to shoot. Not thinking about what it could be used for. My first editor, James Ong, was the owner of the Superstock agency. He wrote a book called 100 Best Selling Stock Photos or something like that. He always thought it was one of his life’s big mistakes publishing that book as it showed too many of his competitors exactly what to shoot. He was brutal but honest, like yourself, when editing your images and would often ask the questions, who would use this… And for what…
I’ve tried shooting Christmas and birthday themed still life images and quickly found I hated it and it showed. I like doing still life images but there is a limit to subjects I can tolerate. The things that interest me the most look the best on film. Everyone usually has quite a wide range of interests and they need to find out how to exploit those for stock.
I’m seriously considering obtaining a drone in the near future and have zero experience. Which type of drone would you recommend, also what tips can you provide to stay on the right side of the law? Which type of content should I focus on in the first few months?
Thanks to evolving technology, there are a lot of good reasonably priced drones on the market. Mid market drones do well in daylight but you need to spend more if you want good low light performance. The Phantom 4 and similars are good with low light while the Inspire is much better. Learn the limitations of the equipment and use it within that performance window. Set the drone to shoot 23.98 fps UHD or C4k or maximum for the drone and leave it. I’ve heard numerous times that 60 fps gives the client more choice.
The choice is usually that it’s the last clip they consider. Faster frame rates look smoother but they have fewer clients. Your choice. How you fly is important. Don’t go out sightseeing. Learn to fly smoothly. It’s my opinion that most pilots can’t fly and evaluate the shot at the same time. There is a reason why higher end systems have two operators. Most of you will fly solo so concentrate on flying. Bad flying will mess the shot up no matter how good the subject. Don’t worry too much about exact subject placement. Most movements, except panning are fine. Don’t overdo a subject.
Always count off to 20 seconds before changing flight patterns. I repeat, DO NOT judge the shot while flying; no matter how much you dislike what you see, finish the shot. Get in, shoot it and find something else. A lot of people get fixated on one thing. I’ll see this giant beautiful city in the foreground and background with thousands of possible shots. I get 30 clips of the same tourist square or statue or some other feature. There are other sequences in there. Fly 90 or 180 to your location, lower, higher etc. The mundane is often needed for stock. Learn to be maximally diverse when it comes to getting shots. Don’t use Likes from social media as a metric of what to shoot. Get the training and license for the country you are in. There are good apps that let you know if you are in the wrong place and that let you get waivers etc. All the rules are now well documented. This part of the business is well established and it’s easy to stay legal.
Do you envision a bright future for drone stock footage contributors or do you believe that royalties may drop as is currently occurring with photos and increasingly videos (25cent clips sold on Shutterstock)?
I’m an eternal optimist. There have always been low ball sales. They are indeed a lot lower now than they used to be but I don’t remember a time when someone, including me, wasn’t grumbling about it. I can think of many moves and policy changes that served absolutely no one well. But until images and footage are no longer needed, the business will continue to evolve and move ahead. How we fit in and how others fit in is the question. Full time stock photography was absolutely something you could do if you wanted to, I’m not sure how many people are actually doing this now.
Thank you very much for your time and insight, Peter. You’ve provided loads of food for thought for myself and I’m sure for contributors reading. Perhaps one day I’ll apply to Overflightstock!
I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Madrid, Spain, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to normal (Late-2021??). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet). I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.
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