The first rule of selling video online: there are no magic formulas

Making money by publishing videos online is not easy. I know the internet is full of videos of:

  • kittens
  • idiots doing idiot things

They get millions of views and they seem to be only content that can have success on the web. What normal people don't know is that you can't make money with that kind of content.

So, unless you are the owner, or at least a shareholder, of:

  • Google
  • Facebook

or other businesses that have become billionaire companies due to user-generated content, if you want for online video to become your full-time job, you have to find another way.

First of all, you need to understand how to monetize your video content (YouTube partnership? Selling products with your videos? Producing stock footage?).

Once you understand what you need, you have to professionalize the production. Otherwise, if you don't believe me, I'm sorry to say that I think the best you can do with online business is becoming the next:

  • Foodora rider
  • Uber driver

With that job you will earn more than you would publishing the videos that typically have millions of views on YouTube.

Why the stock footage business can be an option

I know I sometimes sound arrogant, but that’s because, by publishing videos online, I earned enough to change my life. I didn't use any tricks to do it; I studied and then worked hard. That was my magic formula.

Since 2006, I have been a producer of stock footage. With that business, I have brought home more than 100 thousand euros, first by producing in my spare time and then, for a period of my life, as my main job.

The stock footage is a video clip, generally 5 to 10 seconds long, that content producers like:

  • television executives
  • webmasters
  • advertisers

buy for their projects. Once, those videos were produced by companies that invested a lot of money in the equipment they need to shoot. Now, technology has helped freelancers to become 99% of the contributors uploading footage on agencies.

As a video maker, you can record footage with your reflex or mirrorless camera, or even with your smartphone, and then sell it on websites like:

Everyone who loves to make videos can enter this business. The problem, both for beginners and for professionals who previously worked offline (especially for those who are great photographers but have never worked on the web), is that the micrsotock market has his own rules, and it's a completely different business than others related to photography and video making.

Adapting to the new scenario is difficult. That's why so many people say that making money with stock footage is impossible.

As happens with any other job, if you want to get good results, you need someone to explain what to do. Even if you started taking pictures in the 1970s, you need to be humble and start again from scratch to learn how to make money, and sometimes you have to watch beginners who make more than you do because microstock is not just photography – it is online business.

The story of a beginner who started making money with stock footage

My personal story as a stock producer is not helpful to understand how things work as I started contributing in 2006 and the microstock business is completely different today. To understand what happens nowadays, the story of a producer who started selling videos online recently is far more interesting.

Domenico Fornas is an amateur computer expert I met both because he wrote a very detailed page about computers for editing videos in 4K for my Italian blog and because he is one of the students of my course.

Below you will find a diary of his first results.

Daniele Carrer

Who am I (the guy who wrote the introduction)?

My name is Daniele Carrer, and I have been selling my images and videos online since 2006.

By doing this, I have made thousands of dollars, and, 10 years after I started doing it, I opened this site and its Italian version to teach other photographers and video makers how to digitally monetize their passion (or profession).

Who is the guy of the story below

Domenico Fornas is one of the 500 students who has purchased my course.

As a non-professional enthusiast of photography and video shooting, with patience and hard work, Domenico has become a good microstock contributor by studying the most requested subjects on the market and learning how to describe them to make them appear more frequently in customer searches.

Microstock Diaries: the first video that I sold

I am Domenico Fornas and I am 25 years old.

Besides being a computer enthusiast (read my guide to creating the perfect computer to edit 4K movies) I've always been in love with:

  • photography
  • video making

So much so that, after I came across this site, I started monetizing my hobby by selling content in microstocks.

After six months of uploads, just today I sold my first video on Shutterstock.

Even though it's a minor achievement, it gave me the enthusiasm I really needed. I see it as a sign that I am on the right track.

This sale came because I believed in this business and because I didn't start improvising, instead studying with the course (learn more) created by Daniele Carrer.

The video I sold cost me 2 minutes of effort. The time I needed to:

  • position lights and tripod
  • point the camera at the subject (an ice cream machine);
  • edit on my computer to create a slow-motion effect.

Now, all I have to do is work hard and continue to believe in this business.

Microstock diaries: my 10th month of production (570 euros earned)

I'm still producing new content. It's getting better and better every day, and I'm very happy about it.

I believe in the business of making videos online and I reached almost 800 clips published. My earnings are a net 570 euros in less than a year.

Two sales I made were of 4K videos published on Pond5: $199 each!

My goal for the next year is to reach at least 2000 euros net earnings. I know it's hard to get there, but I'm confident.

I feel like I'm improving at everything, but above all I have clearer ideas about the possibility of selling a video even before shooting it.

Microstock Diaries: my 13th month of production (500 euros earned in the last 2 months)

My sales continue to increase. These last 2 months I earned 500 euros net, reaching 1000 euros total in these first 13 months.

It is a great source of satisfaction, but also a reason for motivating myself.

This is my portfolio on Pond5.

It is almost all 4K stock footage (3840 × 2160 resolution).

I also professionalized myself in my technique. Particularly in this video:

I made it with a Feiyu gimbal costing only 300 euros which I find great, regardless of the cheap price. It weighs little and stabilizes well. The shot I took shows how well it works.

Obviously, the DJI Ronin M gimbal works better, but it also costs a lot more.

Microstock Diaries: my 20th month after signing up (5 thousand euros earned)

I am pleased to share my results; in the end, much of this is due to the Italian blog of Daniele Carrer, without which, perhaps, I could not have started making money in this business. The website is a landmark for the microstock world, even now, almost two years since I subscribed to the first agencies.

I made more than 5,000 euros net earnings in about 20 months. In this second year of stock footage production I am earning an average of 400 euros net per month; there are still 4 months to the end of my second year and my average earnings are constantly rising.

Overall, I am very satisfied, but this is just an achievement on the way to reach my goal of earning at least 1000 euros monthly.

I am confident that I can do it because I have more experience than when I started. Now I can:

  1. produce many more videos than before
  2. achieve a higher quality for my content

meaning I have far greater sales potential.

Investing in equipment and courses

I bought a drone that has given me:

  1. more opportunities while shooting
  2. the first sales in a short period

I also recently bought an economic slider, which cost only 50 euros on Amazon. With it, I've done some test videos, and I've already published some:

In my opinion, if:

  • you have a slow hand
  • you practice

that a slider is enough to start producing footage (even with macro shootings), especially considering:

  • the price
  • the modest weight

I also bought a course to learn how to do advanced editing with Adobe Premiere Pro.

In a few words, I do not stop trying to improve my production in terms of both quantity and quality. I really hope to reach the figure I want, before investing that money to further improve.

Microstock Diaries: my 25th month after signing up (the trip to California and reaching 1100 euros a month)

In the last three months – the beginning of my third year as a producer – I made 2,500 euros, 1100 of which I made in the last month.

These are the screenshots of my earnings:

The trip to California

I have just returned from a trip to the USA that I made thanks to microstock. Last June, I decided to use all the savings I earned by selling stock footage for a trip that was both for pleasure and work. I spent two months organizing it and left in September.

The journey took place mainly in California and allowed me, for the first time, to visit the most advanced and contradictory country in the world. The idea was to follow an intense (but not stressful) itinerary that would allow me to film as much as possible while giving priority to the pleasure of traveling.

I visited:

  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
  • Lake Tahoe
  • Death Valley
  • Las Vegas
  • The Mojave Desert

Stock footage producer Domenico Fornas

In 15 days, I travelled 3000 kilometers by car. (Traveling by car in the USA is cheaper than in Europe: free highways, cheap petrol and cheap rental.) I brought home 400 videos, already uploaded and approved by the agencies, both editorials and commercials (the latter thanks to my traveling companion), shot with the gimbal, a tripod and a drone.

I obviously can't know yet if they will sell. What I do already know (like Daniele Carrer suggested in his course) is that filming friends and relatives is more profitable than filming venues, and doing so in California, where the light is always spectacular, is easy.

See my video on Pond5:

Pond5 thumbnail

To succeed, you need good equipment, technique and an actor.

$1500 earned by shooting an arm

My earnings, today, come mostly from Shutterstock.

My best sellers are videos sold under commercial license. That of the arm with hairs that rise – which Daniele mentions in one of the videos that he sends to those who subscribe to his newsletter (to watch it, enter your email address in the box at the bottom of the page) – has reached 1500 dollars in sales (1800 with its variant).

I decided to shoot a second one, improving it, and in a short time it made me another 459 dollars. It is on the front page of Shutterstock with the query "emotion", thanks to which it sells a lot.

It's my arm, so I didn't even have to leave my house to shoot it. The idea is not mine; I copied it from an advertisement. I watch television, find new ideas and try to improve them. That best-selling footage took me 15 minutes to produce.

Advertising gives me a lot of inspiration. I am always ready to copy, and I think this strategy pays.

My second-best seller is this:

a hand that simulates a touch screen on a green background. (First page on Shutterstock with the "green screen" query.)


is my third best seller: a joint. And this:

the fourth; it is the footage of a running dog.

Both videos are on the front page of Shutterstock, with the queries:

  • cannabis,
  • dog running.

A part of my earnings also comes from editorial videos created with special effects, like this:

I sell so many videos made using this technique – from the Basilica of Turin to the New York skyline – on Shutterstock, Pond5 and Adobe Stock – especially those at night, with lightning or with the moon.

I must say that some of the editorial stock footage I shot with the drone also sells well and quickly, like this:

I brought my drone to Milan, which is one hour on the train from where I live, and shot. I sold a dozen times in two months the footage I created from that single shooting session.

The drone I use is the DJI Mavic Air and, in my opinion, it is the best for creating stock footage. The only problem it has is the sensor, which is small, so videos can only be made with a lot of light (a bit like with smartphones) though the quality is very high in the daytime for:

  • stability
  • definition
  • colors

I think it's perfect for this business, because it's light (it weighs less than 500g) and takes up the space of a big smartphone, just a little thicker. A new model is out now – the DJI Mavic Mini – but it doesn't shoot in 4K, so it doesn't make sense for microstock.

I think, from now on, I won't do any other editorial videos, except with the drone. There is too much stock footage of cities filmed with camera and tripod; even the time-lapses are now too common. I will also invest (as Daniele had repeatedly suggested to me) in lifestyle content made with:

  • people
  • animals
  • things

aiming to reach the first page in their category and, therefore, dozens of frequent sales over time.

It is always a pleasure to share my results on this fantastic website, knowing that I am a good example for those who (like I used to do) wonder whether or not to start producing stock footage.

Thinking that microstock is over means not understanding the modern business. I think it's the opposite.

I read a blog that talked about how 4K resolution will be used more and more (new TV monitors are now only 4K). When the resolution is 4K, Full HD videos will become for buyers what, today, standard definition videos are, so footage on the collection will be almost completely replaced.

(to be continued)

Domenico Fornas

This story was originally published on the Italian microstock blog of Daniele Carrer

Microstock Diaries: my 32nd month of production (780 euros per month)

After Shutterstock's last two decisions (lowering subscription prices and the new royalties structure), I decided to upload my videos to Dreamstime too.

I read a lot about that agency and it seems a very reliable microstock (during the lockdown for covid-19 it temporarily increased the royalties to all producers by 10%: a commercial move, but we photographers and video makers appreciate it).

Prices are a little lower than Shutterstock's single downloads and Adobe Stock, but higher than Shutterstock's subscription plans.

I think regular buyers of stock images and stock footage do not search for the content at the lowest price, but use the best service looking at the user experience. Very often this is Shutterstock, so Dreamstime is just extra money that will come to me.

I've reached a steady average of €780 monthly gross (most of it comes from Shutterstock). Growth has decreased, but it continues to be there.

What is still growing is my shooting ability. Additionally, my skills has been enhanced due to my recent investment in equipment:

which allow me to shoot almost anywhere, even:

  • at night
  • indoors

and give my clips a cinematic look, thanks to the shallow depth of field.

Let me say it one more time:

Without this site I don't know if I would have been able to find what has become a job I love.

I wish to thank Daniele Carrer for the work he does, because he gives many people the chance to build their professional future and get an additional source of income.

Domenico Fornas

How Did It End?

I (Daniele Carrer) want to thank Domenico Fornas for telling his story made of joys and hard work. I do this knowing that his experience will inspire others to start their own path.

For an enthusiast of photography and video shooting, microstock is the gateway to digital business, because you begin to learn what you need to know to make money with the internet, which is much more complicated than magic-formula hunters think.

By producing stock images and stock footage, you can also do it while having fun photographing and filming, thus relieving the fatigue of study and the commitment that is needed to obtain good results.

How does Domenico's story continue?

I explain it at the beginning of this video, reading a message he sent me:

Today, Domenico continues to produce content for microstocks, especially stock footage, and he has exploited what he has learned:

  • search engine optimization,
  • the creation of efficient working procedures, and
  • the difference that exists between carrying out a digital business compared to a traditional business

to do even more.

In particular, he hosts a podcast and mines Bitcoin. At the same time, he uses the microstock revenue to carry out his projects.

To him, all my respect and admiration.

Daniele Carrer

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