When To Use Stock Footage

Tuesday February 13, 2024

What is stock footage? 

Stock footage is images or video footage that has already been produced and made available for use in other projects; you might be most familiar with its use in films as shots of cities or landmarks to establish location, or in documentaries as archive footage. 

It’s an incredibly versatile tool, but it’s not an excuse not to put the work in! Stock footage must serve a purpose in your projects and be used to convey the video’s story or message, it shouldn’t be there because you weren’t sure what else to use.  

When is it good to use? 


In some cases, your perfect scene may be very expensive to film due to travel, kit hire, contributor and production crew costs, or difficulty in arranging filming permission for.  


If you’re planning on adding graphics or animations to your film, you can download watermarked versions for use in storyboarding and for seeing how your own materials will look over them. Some stock footage also comes with a green background you can key out, which means you can more easily combine them or place them over other footage to avoid them looking awkward  

In a recent production for Fellow Studio, and their client Travel Sentry, , we were able to combine multiple pre-existing videos and images seamlessly with animation to make complete scenes. It’s not easy making a shot entirely from separate elements, but if you can do it right then it might never occur to your audience that you’ve used stock footage at all. And all for a fraction of the cost it might otherwise be to stage and shoot it  to the same standard yourself. 

When should you film instead? 

Stock footage is, well, stock. It’s extremely good at general-purpose storytelling but not as effective if you’re looking to convey a very specific message or have a very specific idea in mind for a scene. It’s also not original.  


For example, if your video is intended to advertise your new product, you’re going to want it to appear on screen; stock footage can’t help you here, and superimposing clips or images over it runs the risk of looking cheap and unprofessional.   


If your video also relies on a dialogue between two live-action characters, filming new footage is always the way to go. 

Deja vu? 

If there’s no graphics or extra elements to distract from the background, then it may be more recognisable as stock footage and therefore be visually uninteresting. You may even have seen the same piece of stock footage used in two separate videos but wouldn’t have noticed because it wasn’t the only element on screen! 


There will be times when you want to make sure footage featured in your production is not seen in anyone else’s. Although you can pay (significantly more) for exclusive rights to stock, the one way to be sure your production is original, is to shoot it yourselves. 

Price and Time 

It’s important to remember that stock footage isn’t a get-out-of-work free card either, there’s a lot of research and time that goes into finding the perfect clips to use, not to mention the costs involved for the higher quality options, which fortunately decrease the chance that they’ve been used already (and may still be more convenient and cheap than filming the footage yourself!). 

One of our favourite projects, made for Trich Analytics / Theio Vitality, required some very specific animation effects and footage from all over British Colombia to go alongside interview segments, so the best solution was to find and purchase 4K library footage of nature shots. The production costs and time involved in filming all those shots ourselves overseas would have been substantially higher, even after considering the cost and time involved in finding the right stock footage! 

If you want help deciding whether stock footage is right for your next project, get in touch today! 

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