Believe it Or Not: The Life of a Stock Photographer and Videographer

Tips and stories about capturing images from every corner of the globe and turning them into a living.

Photo by Elana Ben Amir.

Few people can call the Dalai Lama a personal friend—but Rick Ray can. The award-winning filmmaker, editor, and cinematographer behind the documentary 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama was originally in India to shoot footage for an Air India promotional video. Although the airline covered his travel expenses for the duration of the six-month trip, Rick’s producer couldn’t offer to pay him for his time. Instead, he offered to arrange for Rick to spend a day with the Dalai Lama.

“I had bills and rent to pay, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime so I said ‘yes’ to the project,” says Rick. “When I arrived in India I asked the production team when we’d be going to the monastery, and I got blank stares in return. It turns out I had been duped.”

Enter the 30-year-old driver assigned to travel with Rick. He pulled a card out of his Rolodex with the Dalai Lama’s email address. Rick emailed him from an Internet cafe, and secured a meeting for four months down the road. But he had to submit 10 questions in advance, and was warned that although the meeting was scheduled for an hour, the Dalai Lama could end it in 20 minutes if he decided to.

Photo by Elana Ben Amir.

“The meeting went for more than an hour, and then he invited me to stay at the monastery for a few days to film him,” says Rick. “We hit it off, and that film became the documentary of his life.”

Rick is full of stories like these—being chased by Somali bandits, a stint in an Ethiopian jail, and having all his gear confiscated by corrupt border guards in Macedonia come to mind—collected through his years of traveling the world as a photographer and filmmaker. When he returns from a trip, he brings back beautiful imagery and videos of people, places, wildlife, natural phenomenon and even political events within those countries. He’s created two successful stock footage libraries, and is now also reselling his stock video and imagery on Adobe Stock.

Video Source: Rick Ray / Adobe Stock.

“Adobe Stock is a vital and important reseller for stock content creators,” says Rick. “The seamless integration of the Adobe Stock licensing platform into Adobe software like Premiere Pro and Photoshop means that your content is getting seen and licensed by more creatives every day than through a standard stock library. I’m optimistic that this and many other cutting edge innovations are making Adobe a world leader in content licensing and I’m happy to be a contributor to that effort.”

An unexpected path

After graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a degree in film, he arrived in Los Angeles with high expectations. “I assumed they would give me a very high ranking position on the next Hollywood feature film and found out much to my surprise, it doesn’t work that way,” he laughs.

Two years later, he received a call from his nephew, who worked on the show Ripley’s Believe It or Not. He offered to help land Rick a job as a production assistant. What he ended up with was a job chauffeuring the show’s host, Jack Palance, from his home to the studio. It was during these drives that Rick received some career-altering advice from the star.

“Jack told me to get a notebook and a camera, and to go see the world so that I would have some decent stories to tell, because being a copy of a copy of a copy wasn’t going to be good enough,” recalls Rick. “And lo and behold, a couple of years later, I left the show, bought myself a backpack, a 16 millimeter camera, and a round-the-world airline ticket. I had become the bum my parents had always feared.”

Video Source: Rick Ray / Adobe Stock.

Finding success traveling the world

Since then, he’s filmed several documentaries that have appeared on PBS, National Geographic, and Discovery Channel. 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama is currently running on Netflix. And somewhere in the process, he discovered how to make a living reselling his footage.

Rick’s approach to determining his next trip includes carefully studying existing stock image taken in that country to come up with new ideas, and keeping up with current events in an attempt to predict what kind of footage will be in demand. When travelling, he uses an app called Easy Release to get signed releases from people he’s documenting, which allows him to sell his footage on Adobe Stock. When he returns, he preps all of his footage using the Lumetri Color panel in Adobe Premiere Pro.

Once he’s done editing, the footage is submitted to Adobe Stock, often directly from within Premiere Pro. Productions ranging from 60 Minutes and VICE News to countless TV shows, music videos and feature films license his work.

“If you break down the imagery that you’ve shot and you look at those individual shots as having their own resale value, that becomes the world of stock footage,” he says. “For most people, if they’re talented enough, it’s far more lucrative than making full-length documentaries. And if you can do both, you really have it made.”

See more from Rick Ray on Adobe Stock and follow him on Instagram at @rickrayfilms.