Stock footage, how much does one charge for stock footage, especially when it relates to time-lapse imaging? This is often a question I get from friends when discussing the genre. Time-lapse in itself is a unique beast insofar that it merges the two camps of still and motion imaging. As a 20yr+ video camera operator, I still shoot stock video, albeit rarely, as time-lapse is now my core focus. I have to look at the formulas of both genres and their related pricing structures to find a happy medium. I was quite shocked to recently see stock 4K Time-lapse clips of some 40sec in length being licensed at just US$33 a clip. Whilst the clip was well shot, composed and edited I couldn’t help but feel that the shooter in question was simply supplying a stock agent with clips that were so generically conceived that it would be difficult to expect large numbers of sales. So I got to thinking about what the real cost of time-lapse shooting works out at. This is the conclusion I came to.
OK so lets say for example that people want to shoot and deliver time-lapse in the 4K Video format. There are a number of components one should base a stock clip license value on and these are:
- Cost of the DSLR Body
- Cost of the Lens
- Cost of the Accessories
- Cost of Editing
- Cost of Shooting
To start with let’s look at the DSLR body. For arguments sake let’s say we’re shooting with a full frame DSLR, sorry for the ‘Nikonians’ but I’m a Canon guy, always have been. So let’s say we’re shooting with an EOS5D MkIII, new price for the body alone, US$3,499 at launch. That camera in itself had a shutter expectancy of some 150,000 actuations which seemed quite low but as that is the reported number that is what I work with. So we now have our sparkly new DSLR, the next parameter I need to look at is the sequence itself. Firstly we need to look at our quality delivery. If we’re delivering 1080P, although who is these days? then we will probably base our shoot on a 30fps baseline. If we are to deliver 4K then, IMHO, to match that added resolution we need to up the fps, in my case to 48fps. This has a dramatic effect on the value of the base commodity. Our last remaining core element is the lens. Again for arguments sake I’m going to suggest that the lens, and all accessories used in this formula, will serve the exact same lifespan as the camera. For an awesome third party lens let’s say we’re adopting the Irix rectilinear 15mm f2.4 lens, market price at launch, US$783.
Once we have the three main commodity values we can start to work out the absolute base value of physically shooting our sequences. Our DSLR / Lens Combo working out at US$4,282, we’re looking at shooting, again for ease, a 20sec sequence at 48fps which will require a total of 960 frames. Let’s round that out to a cool 1000 exposures given we will probably take some test shots, some still images of the location for prosperity and maybe one or two shots of other aspects of the location. You can see where I’m starting to go with this. If we stick with this model we have the following formula to work with.
A shutter with a life expectancy of 150,000 actuations divided by time-lapse sequences that require 1000 exposures per sequence gives us the option to plan for 150 sequences on that shutter. We then look at the base commodity price of the DSLR / Lens combo and divide that by the 150 planned sequences to get an equipment amortisation cost of US$28,52per sequence, this is the toll it takes on the gear to shoot that sequence. And that photographer was selling a 40sec clip which if shot at 30fps would have worked out at even more, in fact using the same formula it works out at US$34,25. Straight off of the bat the photographer is losing money. Then factor in the advertised 37% agent fee IF the shooter was exclusive to that agent (55% if non exclusive) and you start to get the idea.
To continue. We don’t shoot time-lapse hand held, so we need to factor in Tripods and support, we need to add a Slider / Rail track and Motion Control units. Again for arguments sake as this is purely a model, let’s say we’re using a Kessler Crane Second Shooter Plus with a TLS 6ft Rail from the same company. This system is fitted with a 3 Axis Pan and Tilt head and an array of accessories for quick release and deployment. All told for this motion control package we are looking at adding an additional US$2,564.65 to the cost of the Camera / Lens Combo, thus far with this factored in reflects a spending of US$6,846.65. OK nearly there. Tripods and heads. For the rail we need to support each end so that means adding a couple of good tripods and sturdy heads to the mix. I’m a Manfrotto guy so let’s place two of their 055 Carbon Fibre sets of sticks fitted with their 057 Magnesium Ball Heads with a quick release connector plate. We are only as good as the quality of our gear, you want to make a living at this? Don’t scrimp at the outset. OK, so all in, our tripod and head requirements set us back a further US$819,98ea, and we have two so that is a grip tally of US$1,639.96.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Almost all in and our gear requires we part ways with 8,486.61 of our hard earned beer tokens. Almost finally we’ll add a couple of memory cards, let’s say 1 x Lexar 64GB 1066x Professional CF card at US$82,99 and 1 x Lexar 64GB 1000x Professional SD Card at US$47,99 which gives us a grand and almost final total expenditure of US$8,617.59.
Additional factors to be added to this spread sheet are relative to the editing process. You use Adobe Creative Cloud on the basic monthly Photographer Plan? add another US$9,99 a month, US$199,88 a year to the expense sheet. Additionally to edit your masterpiece you will need access to a third party time-lapse plugin editor. The industry standard in this regard is undoubtedly the Adobe Lightroom plugin LRTimelapse Pro. To get the Pro License add a further US$280. As a photographer we’ll say you want to ‘keep up with the Jones’ and replace your camera every year to the latest model so we’ll apply a shelf life of 1yr for the complete system. Needless to say the Tripods, MoCo rig and other accessories will, should, last longer but again this is a theoretical situation to get you the best bang for your buck. I believe this to be a realistic outline that you can employ to validate your base costs to any entity who may baulk at your initial quotes. So add the Creative Cloud and LRTimelapse annual fees and you will have the total expenditure on your part as the shooter standing at US$9,017.47.
With this in mind it means that your basic equipment amortisation costs per sequence work out at US$60.11.
Lastly you then need to factor in other variables. The cost of the journey to get to where you were shooting. Needless to say you can’t add the full price to the clip value as that is unreasonable. In a perfect World let’s assume we can licence a clip say ten times. Simply divide the trip cost by ten and add that to the value of the clip. It costs me a base transport cost of some US$100 to get to Mount Fuji from my house in Yokohama so let’s say I add US$10 to the base clip price. For my final overall pricing I then apply a video formula for the final clip which is to all extents and purposes a video clip. Depending on the content of the clip, if it is a locked off and generic view of a basic city scape I would license that at a rate of US$20sec. On a sliding scale depending on the activity depicted on the screen, how long it took to shoot, there’s a vast difference between a quick cityscape sequence and the work and time that goes into a day to night ‘Holy Grail’ transition for example, I would adjust accordingly hitting up to a max of US$35sec for the absolute creme de la creme of sequences.
Finally you have to add your worth, what you consider your creative input value was for the clip relative to it’s creation. Did it tax your abilities? Was it relatively straightforward a sequence to realise? It may not have been a simple US$100 train ticket to get to the shoot as in my scenario but an International flight with Hotel accommodation etc. Unless you’ve been commissioned to a retainer on a custom gig by a client by which this formula becomes moot, a price of US$700 per stock broadcast intended sequence, more depending on extenuating characteristics of the sequence, is reasonable. That is, if you truly value your craft, your equipment and your reputation.