Using stock video footage is one of the easiest ways to save a production time and money. Certainly the main plot points and story will come from everything you shoot and edit, but stock footage is perfect for transitions and establishing shots. Let’s dive into using stock footage for establishing shots.

What is an establishing shot?

An establishing shot can be one clip, or a series of clips, introducing the audience to a film’s location. The shot establishes the context and space of a scene.

The establishing shot is often an extreme wide shot of a city or building. This not only gives the audience a sense of location, but they also realize what time the scene takes place.

Establishing shots do not rely on the narrative. The shot must tell the audience everything they need to know without explanation.

Check out this compilation of establishing shots from editor Alexander Friedrich. It is full of aerial shots, because they are great at establishing the scene while simultaneously adding camera movement.

How to Use Stock Footage to Establish Scenes

There is a tried and true technique of mixing aerial footage with city landscapes to create establishing shots. Sure, it may be considered cliché, but it absolutely works. There is a reason you see this technique in hundreds of movies and thousands of television shows every year.

If you need to move your character from one city to another, there are a few shots you will always see. Shots of cars driving, often panning from the left to right, which will be mixed with footage of landmarks, street signs, and overhead aerials. These shots will also feature a trendy pop song or upbeat music to keep the audience intrigued.


Use major landmarks to help establish a locations. Does the scene take place in San Francisco? Show the Golden Gate Bridge. New York City? The Empire State Building. London? Big Ben. By using these major landmarks, you help any audience member know where the story is taking place.

License ‘Golden Gate Bridge‘ from VideoFort on Shutterstock.

License ‘New York City, Empire State Building‘ by VIA Films on Shutterstock.

License ‘Westminster Bridge, London‘ by Pawel Libera on Shutterstock.

Street Signs

Using street signs adds direction to your footage. Are they characters heading to a stadium or arena? Show the exit ramps or physical street signs. Going to a luxurious home? Show off the famous Beverly Hills sign.

License ‘Wall Street, New York City‘ by Spotmatik on Shutterstock.

License ‘Beverly Hills Sign‘ by Sevart on Shutterstock.

License ‘Tokyo Japan Crowd‘ by Pixeleen Pictures on Shutterstock.


One of the biggest benefits of using stock footage aerials is not having to file for permits or rent flight time with a helicopter. There are tons of filmmakers out there shooting stock footage with high end production cameras, and we have tons of talented artists contributing incredible footage to the Shutterstock Footage archive.

Unlike the landmarks, overhead aerials of almost any city can be used to represent a large city. Just because the film is set in one city doesn’t mean you can’t pull shots from other places. As long as no major landmarks are visible and the shot fits, most of the time the audience will never notice.

License ‘Aerial Night…‘ by Spotmatik on Shutterstock.

License ‘Piccadilly Circus‘ by Blue Tuna on Shutterstock.

License ‘Timelapse Tokyo‘ by SevArt on Shutterstock.

License ‘New York City Buildings‘ by VIA Films on Shutterstock.

License ‘Hakozaki Interchange‘ by Spotmatik on Shutterstock.

If you are looking for relevant stock video for your project, check out Shutterstock Footage. If you need that upbeat background music track, check out the thousands of new songs we’ve added to Shutterstock Music.