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Here's Where to Find Archival Footage for Your Videos

The art of storytelling is a key component of filmmaking. But this doesn’t always mean modern, cinematic stories with panoramic settings and sharp imagery.

Sometimes the best stories are the ones that take us somewhere. For you, that trip could be a window into a vacation in Fiji, or a safari through Kenya. It could also be a jump through time back to 1920s Manhattan, or post-World War II Berlin.

You can have an easy time filming a travel film or even a vlog. But when it comes to collecting footage from a bygone era, there’s no physical wayback machine to take you there.

To deal with this problem, you’ll need to know where to find archival footage for video. Let’s define archival footage, then explore where you get it and how you can use it. 

Defining "Archived Video"

It doesn’t matter if you are a vlogger or director of photography or a marketing video editor: Working in video presents unique problems for creators.

One particular obstacle is figuring out how to find older or historical footage. Yes, it’s a niche area — not every project will require you to find black and white footage, then combine that into a large piece.

But the use of archival footage isn’t just for historical documentaries. “Archival footage” is really a specific segment of stock video. It’s material you’d find in a library or archive, and you shouldn’t have to pay any licensing fees to get access to it. (Hence the name.)

 

 

Think of archival footage like a collection of old photos. (No, not the ones in the plastic storage bin you keep under your bed.) If you’ve ever been to that stuffy, dust-covered room in the back of a library, you’ve spent time in an archive. The only difference here is that those are black and white photos, maps from antiquity, and faded records.

Archive video is basically that, but in a digital form. Most organizations that maintain video archives dedicate time to moving footage from film reels or photo slides into electronic versions, and that is what filmmakers are interested in getting their hands on.

And, like the library in our example, all of this old footage is free to the public. Videos that are collected or commissioned by the U.S. government (NASA, the Army, Department of Transportation, etc.) are available for use as stock footage.

Of course, understanding all of that doesn’t help you know where to find archival footage for video. Assuming you don’t want to spend hours skimming government agency pages — which might be the worst way to spend an afternoon — let’s jump right to covering that.

Using Archival Footage for Video Projects

If you are looking for footage that will help you build a historical setting, the common assumption is that you’ve got two options. You can either use an enormous budget to build a Hollywood scale set, like what you’d think of in 1917 or Downton Abbey.

Or you can look for older footage to establish a location, year, or emotion. And that’s where archival footage for video comes into play as an invaluable resource on this particular kind of project. 

 

 

Sure, archival footage is a technique used by documentary filmmakers. But it’s also a core part of journalism as well. Major news outlets and broadcast companies have enormous “content vaults” where they keep backups of video. The same thing is true for film studios.

These companies also use their archival footage for other projects. Sports documentaries often use older clips to build a narrative tone. And in the days before Foley artists, people would pull audio from archived videos and drop them into films and radio broadcasts. Recycling content is often part of any creative endeavor, and that keeps archival footage relevant.

But locating archival footage for video projects isn’t the easiest task. You won’t have access to the New York Times’ video archive. You might not be able to track down videos on NASA’s website, and I’m sure you don’t want to spend the time wading through the Department of the Interior’s media pages to get video footage of national parks and monuments.

The rise of stock video has made it easier than ever to locate archival footage, either by collecting it on a public site or by including modern video that looks historical as part of a larger stock video library.

If your goal is to find historical footage that you can afford to use in your project, both of these options might work for you. Let’s look a little closer at the process of tracking down the right clip you need for whatever video you’re working on.

Where to Get Historical Video Clips

When we talk about archival footage for video, it’s easy to think about footage of early 20th century cars or people walking the empty streets of Victorian London. But the truth is that “archival footage” has grown to include a wider range of content.

Stock video used to be a resource limited to advertising agencies. But the growth of YouTube and indie filmmaking has turned stock video into a go-to resource for a lot of content creators.

 

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Sites like the Internet Archive have seen a surge in popularity. They’re hubs for public domain content, which includes a lot of archival footage that people have submitted and shared on these platforms. But the stock footage collections are limited and — like most free sites — is hit-or-miss in terms of quality and overall usefulness.

You don’t have to settle for that, however. You can actually find similar clips on stock video sites. 

Sure, you won’t find a 100-year-old clip (because most of those are either privately owned or available via public domain). But what you will find are high-quality videos that are either shared or edited to recreate that old-fashioned look.

These videos can help you recreate the same nostalgic vibes in a project without being restricted to old archival footage that’s readily available but might not relate to the topic of your project.

For example, Soundstripe’s stock video library gives you access to 70,000 clips, including more than a few vintage stock videos that we’ve grouped together for people who want archival material.

And with a Soundstripe subscription, you’ll have unlimited access to a wide variety of professionally created stock footage for all of your projects. Getting access to historical-look footage is just one more benefit that you can add to the list of using our stock video library.

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