Ruggero Piccoli is one of the many contacts I met thanks to my blogs about microstock (this one, and another one in Italian I founded some years ago).
Most of these photographers and video makers are not professional, but just people who have a job and love to spend their spare time shooting. From the microstock business, they probably don't earn much (though a few hundred dollars per month can be a good income when you already have a salary) but I'm sure that without selling:
and, more than that, without having a great excuse to spend more time practicing their passion, the lives of these amateur producers would not be as good as they are today, thanks to microstock.
Interview with Ruggero Piccoli, founder of a YouTube channel that shows aircrafts flying and stock footage producer.
You are an engineer, an expert in energy saving for buildings, you have a consistently updated YouTube channel, and you're a microstock producer. In other words, you are an example for all those who don't start creating stock images and stock footage because they say they don't have time, right?
I graduated as a management engineer in 2001. I have always worked in the IT industry: first as an IT manager for a medium-sized company, before I was recruited by a bigger one.
Then, I turned from being one of those who buys the software to one of those who produces it. I co-founded – with five other people – a company that develops software, which is now part of a multinational company, for which I am used to talking in English, and which is helping me to spread my videos.
In 2008, I attended a course that helped me to learn how to save energy in buildings, because I had to renovate my grandfather's house. Today, I live in that house; in winter, it is warm, and I spend very little for heating.
The passion for photography
I have had a passion for photos since I was a child. I started taking pictures, when I was in primary school, with a 35mm compact camera that my grandfather gave to my mother for her 18th birthday.
I could choose between 4 or 5 diaphragms and shutter speeds.
It didn't have the exposure meter, so I guessed the exposition and found out if I had done well only after developing the film.
In 1981, my father bought a reflex; I think it was more or less like buying a small car today. He gave me the authorization to touch it after about a decade. With that camera, I took my first aeronautical shots in a couple of small touristic airports near where I lived.
In 1990, I finally had a camera with a light meter and a wider range of shutter speeds and aperture sizes.
In 2001, with my first salary, I bought a Canon SLR with two lenses, a wide angle and a zoom. In 2008, I bought a digital SLR: the Canon EOS 400D.
Specializing in aircraft videos
I started creating videos of aircraft years after because I loved photography the most; I took a MiniDV camera in 2007, but I began to use it later.
As a child, with my father, I went to a small touristic airport almost every Sunday. Since the 1990's, I’ve toured the airshows – first only in Italy, then also abroad. For example, I have just returned from Astana, in Kazakhstan, where I filmed the Kadex.
To shoot video of planes, I also attend:
other events reserved for the press
My YouTube project
Flight Video & Photo (my YouTube channel) was born by putting together my two passions:
It was 2011, and, on TV, there wasn't anything interesting. So, I tried to find something to make my evening less boring. I had the photos of the last performance of the Alpi Eagles – the Italian civil aerobatic team (to read their story, I recommend this page, which I helped to write) – which took place in Thiene on October 14th, 1990.
I thought that digitalizing them and posting the video online after 21 years would have been interesting for many enthusiasts. For my company, I had already created and published video tutorials and commercials of our software.
So, it was easy for me to:
buy a song on Audio Jungle
create a slideshow using the Ken Burns effect on iMovie.
I published it on my personal YouTube channel. I was amazed by the dozens, maybe hundreds, of views that it received in a short time. So, I created more airplane videos from old photos I had, using the same style.
Then, a guy commented:
This is the fuc***g YouTube, not slidetube.
I realized it was time to improve.
The first step was to use the camera I bought and start creating real-time footage. The second was to create international content to reach the public worldwide, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries, where aviation culture is more widespread. So, I created a new channel in English.
The third step was to create a brand with its own name and logo, not just a personal channel with my name. I chose this path to achieve a more professional image. A brand would have favored the creation of a team, or at least collaborations.
Flight Video & Photo released its first video in March 2012.
The creation of airplane videos, 80% of times, starts from the field shots that I take. Some videos have been donated to me by friends, like these ones:
But there's still a lot of work to do, so I have not yet managed to publish many videos.
In March 2018, the project upgraded, because we started being a team. Christian participated in an exercise in Greece, working on field shots, while I was in charge of the publication of the video. The results were excellent, especially considering that he tried, for the first time, to shoot (those “things” run fast out of the frame).
It had been a long time since I’d first wanted to organize the work by dividing the tasks between several people. Finally, we succeeded.
Your channel has 7 thousand subscribers and 3 and a half million views. A few years ago, with mine, with a million views, I made only 500 dollars from advertising. Is that better for you?
In 2017, I got about 800,000 views, earning $380 (to which I had to leave 35% to the MCN network, thanks to which I had become a partner on Youtube).
I would say that the YouTube revenue was not what pushed me to continue.
Now, I am a direct YouTube partner and, for me, the advantage of the partnership lies more in the additional features – such as custom thumbnails – than in earnings.
The low earnings on YouTube are what that pushed me to decrease my social commitment and invest the time in the production of stock footage and images. At the moment, I have around 2,000-2,500 views a day, mainly from:
There are 7,400 subscribers, and the income is about $30 a month.
Do you think it is worth monetizing with advertising on YouTube?
If you want to create a YouTube channel to make money with advertising revenue, you had better do something else. Perhaps YouTube monetization is worthwhile for producers of content such as jokes or video games.
Personally, I have never invested in creating products that YouTube allows to be sold by hooking them onto the channel.
What strategies have been most effective for bringing your channel to a higher level of popularity?
For me, the only top-secret strategy to grow a YouTube channel is very simple: you have to do things well, paying attention to all the details, following the best practices that Google spreads and periodically updates; they are widely documented and available to everyone for free. The advice is to follow them and avoid things like:
using copyrighted music
downloading video clips of others and then uploading them without asking for permission
Starting from the practices suggested by Google, I created a lineup of actions to be implemented for each individual publication. It includes:
sharing the video on social groups
I have also set up co-operations with websites about aeronautics, with which I collaborate to publish content in order to mutually benefit. This happens, for example, with Valerio of From the Skies, an italian magazine:
he writes the articles
I provide him with videos of planes to embed
This is because, in my experience, I get much more traffic from videos embedded in third-party websites (even the most extravagant Serbian Pravda embedded one of my videos on this page) than from YouTube searches.
To do this, I constantly pay attention to the SEO on the single video and improve it even after uploading it. However, I am aware that keyword searches on YouTube are only in fourth position as a source of traffic.
Sometimes, I also work with a professional director for the editing. But this person wants to be paid more than what I earn with advertising on YouTube, so I am forced to limit this kind of collaboration.
You understand that you are doing a good job when you start finding your videos downloaded and uploaded on other channels, or on Facebook, or used, without permission, in other videos. For this reason, I always recommend using a watermark.
Making money with videos
As a YouTube strategist, do you think that a YouTube channel is necessary to create a business today?
Yes. YouTube is the most powerful tool for marketing your products. I’ve used it for a long time to promote the software I sell with my company and I can guarantee you that it gives great results. Of course, producing quality videos that are useful to those who watch them:
If you think you might delegate the production of those videos to someone who has never edited horizontal footage, you're making a big mistake.
Youtube is still underused by companies in many countries – not just YouTube, but videos in general – and the biggest barrier is the cost of producing professional videos. Many stop because they do not know if the investment will pay for itself. From what I know, it pays for itself only if:
it is done professionally
it is part of a digital marketing strategy
it changes day by day, based on tests
The video as a method to develop a network of contacts
Regarding the contacts you acquired through YouTube: did you manage to work with those people at a professional level?
In September 2014, my friend calls me:
“I'm going to Sofia next month. Are you interested in coming?”
That same day, in Torrejon near Madrid, the AIRE75, one of the biggest European airshows of the year, was planned.
In Sofia, on the contrary, was just a minor show with only Bulgarian air force vehicles due to budget constraints, but I chose to go there.
There were less than 20 photographers. I was the only one who made videos. On the evening of the rehearsal day, the official photographer of the Bulgarian air force asked if I could give him my SD card to copy the videos of pilots' debriefing aircraft. I thought to myself that cooperating would be the best choice.
A few days after returning home, Dessy, the Bulgarian air force public relations manager, wrote me an email asking if I could prepare a “The best of” video for the annual symposium of their military pilots. Editing it was difficult, because it was one of my first 4K movies, and the MacBook Pro I used couldn't do it.
It was then that I discovered the use of proxies.
However, I delivered this video:
which was screened. Some clips were also broadcasted on state TV.
In October 2015, Dessy wrote to me again:
“We are organizing a photo flight. We enjoyed working with you. Are you interested in participating?”
I managed to get the holidays approved 3 days before, and I embarked on a flight for a second collaboration with them:
Then, the commander of the Bulgarian air force at the time, Gen. Rumen Radev:
was elected President of the Republic in 2017, after marrying Dessy. Today, I am honored to have a recommendation on my Linkedin profile from the First Lady of Bulgaria, Desislava Radeva.
Thanks to YouTube, you can create good professional contacts.
This is just one of the extraordinary people that I have met thanks to my YouTube channel and my passion for creating videos.
Producing stock footage and stock images
As for the microstock business, how did you find out that you could sell photos and videos online?
I knew about Pond5 because I had bought some tracks for my YouTube videos from there, but I hadn't considered producing content to sell there as I was focused on YouTube.
Unfortunately, by working on my YouTube channel, I wasn't able to find alternative businesses. My effort increased the popularity of the channel but delayed my entry into the world of stock footage.
Then 500px was created, and it promised to be a revolution for photographers. Since I didn't like Flickr, I created a profile there and started uploading photos. When 500px launched itself in the microstock market, I enabled all my photos to be for sale.
I realized that there were buyers who were looking for photos they didn't find, and they posted requests for them. There was a woman who was looking for photos of some specific place in Malmo. I had some, so I uploaded them and sent the links, and I immediately sold a photo that I had shot with my mobile phone!
It made me think that I could sell others, but I made the mistake of starting with the photos.
From there, I started studying the list of agencies where I could sell my content. I created a profile on Videoblocks (today's Storyblocks) and started moving towards stock footage.
Finally, I found Daniele Carrer's Italian blog (www.stockfootage.it) and started following him. I bought his course and immediately dedicated myself to stock footage, working on content for my archive.
This is my workflow today:
I create the video for YouTube
I export stock footage for the agencies
In the description of the video on YouTube, I insert the links to my portfolio on the agencies.
I also updated the metadata of all the airplane videos I had.
I no longer take photos; I just produce videos (including hyper-lapse and time-lapse sequences).
The equipment I use to shoot
What equipment do you use?
My first camera created footage at low-resolution and recorded on tape. It was the one with which I shot my first videos and without which the channel would never have been born.
I say this to show you that you don't have to buy expensive equipment to produce your first videos. Spending thousands of euros is useless if you don't test your idea first and then understand if it can work based on the results.
You have to:
Don't ever wait for the ideal situation, because it will never come!
To increase the quality of my videos, years ago, I borrowed a Canon EOS 7D that shot real-time footage in Full HD.
Now, I use a Panasonic Lumix GH5 with two lenses:
Leica 12-60 (24-120mm equivalent to 35 mm)
75-300 Olympus (150-600 mm equivalent)
The zoom is essential for me, given the type of subjects I shoot.
I use the Leica wide angle for videos of:
and just rarely for planes.
I have a Manfrotto aluminum tripod, which is a good compromise between weight, stability and price. I match it with a fluid video head – again Manfrotto.
For the flight in Bulgaria, I was one of the first to buy the:
Beholder DS1 gimbals
I use it for air to air shootings and for all other moving shots. Recently, more advanced gimbals have come out, but mine still does its job very well.
The new trend in the video world, given the consumer cameras that are coming, will be slow motion. I saw on your Twitter profile that you shared a video of a MiG-29 taking off shot at 96fps (which is much less than what some cameras, like the Sony RX100 IV, allow) – a subject which is perfect for being filmed with that technique.
Can you give some advice on equipment that can record in slow motion?
What you are talking about is a video recorded 2 years ago with the Panasonic GH4. Today, the Panasonic GH5 shoots at 180fps, and here you can watch an example:
I am increasing the production of slow-motion videos since they are appreciated by those who visit my channel. The MiG-29 video is available on the agencies but has not yet sold.
At the time, I only tested the two Panasonics:
and I was impressed by the quality of the 180fps slow motion video on the GH5. I don't recommend cheaper alternative cameras. Personally, I will continue using the GH5 as it has proved to be a very flexible machine that suffers only in poorly lit situations, though it suffers less than the GH4.
Pond5 and Shutterstock
What is your performance on microstock agencies?
The agency that sells best is Shutterstock, which is also the only one on which I can sell photos. Surely, it is the most selective in the acceptance of new content I submit. This is my portfolio.
Pond5, for me, is in second place for sales.
On both agencies, while I upload 4K videos, I sell mainly Full HD content, but I will continue to upload 4K to make my portfolio last longer.
I get an average of $150 a month. At the moment, I only have 1300 videos published, so there are fluctuations from one month to another, and I'm working to increase the quantity of videos by uploading stock footage of:
For the cities, I'm following Daniele Carrer's advice and I'm concentrating on hyper-lapses. If you are looking for a hyper-lapse of Petra or Bled in Slovenia, for example, you will see that, at the moment, there are only mine.
My first video sales came very fast – in a couple of months. It was a combination of luck and scarce aeronautical content filmed well on the agencies’ collections.
Do airplane videos sell?
On my podcast, I talked about when you shot North Korean soldiers in the Red Square in Moscow. Can you give us an updated sales report?
The famous North Korean soldiers! Now that Trump and Kim have become friends, they sell much less. At the moment, there have been:
The shot that sold the most totaled 38 downloads. The typical buyers are the news websites (no, I could not resist the temptation to search where they were used).
The single-plane video that has sold the most came from the air-to-air shooting I mentioned and totals 5 sales. It is a spectacular video and there aren't many producers who can jump into a C-27J to take pictures with the door open.
The group of videos of the same subject that have sold the most is related to a Swiss F-18, filmed in Meiringen.
The amazing thing is that it was a day with bad weather, with such a gray sky that I almost didn't want to publish those videos. And, instead, buyers like them!
As for the videos of animals, I have an oasis equipped with photographic huts near where I live, so I don't waste too much time and always shoot something interesting. I’ve sold some videos but, at the moment, none have gone beyond the single sale.
I had uploaded a Full HD video of a cat on Pond5, setting the price by mistake at $60 instead of $29. There was someone who bought it at that price! I never expected it, given the ease that it took me to shoot it.
As for videos of cities or tourist places, I follow the advice of Daniele's course, even though, at the moment, I am not satisfied with the quality of my hyper-lapses. However, I have had sales, for example, of:
Advice for those who want to make money with photos and videos
Let's pretend that I'm a beginner who wants to make money selling photos and videos online. If I (Daniele) returned for a moment, in the my shoes, the first piece of advice I would give to the newbie Daniele would be to leave the photos and create only videos.
What would be your first advice to a beginner to make as much money as possible?
Nikola Tesla, speaking of Edison, said:
“If Edison has to look for a needle in a haystack – sift all the flakes one by one – by knowing a bit of theory, he could avoid 90% of the work.”
So, my first tip is: start by studying.
It is not necessary to know every single detail of the business; knowing the basics means starting off on the right foot and saving a lot of time.
From this point of view, Daniele Carrer's course is very useful because it immediately teaches what to do when you're a beginner, and it's integrated with the content he publishes continuously.
Interview by Daniele Carrer. Answers by Ruggero Piccoli.