David Altizer Makes His Living Creating Thumbnails for YouTube

UPDATED: March 24, 2024
PUBLISHED: March 24, 2024
Man sitting at computer editing video

The YouTube thumbnail is a reduced-size version of the preview image for videos on the site and gives the viewer some insight into the content. David Altizer is a YouTube thumbnail creator for YouTubers like Max Fosh, Kurtis Connor and Jeff Wittek, and he is working on a website where people can go to learn how to do what he does. Why?

A good thumbnail is what makes an audience decide whether they are going to click on the content. An even better thumbnail attracts audiences who will watch the entire video. 

YouTube thumbnail creator tools

Altizer uses Photoshop to make most of his thumbnails, but he also uses several AI tools to create them faster and more efficiently. 

“I’m using Midjourney [and] ChatGPT to do my mockups. I’ll open ChatGPT and start typing,” Altizer says. “Then it’ll just start to spit up and generate stuff using Dali. That’s my way into storyboarding.”

After that, Altizer collaborates with the creator to choose a mockup storyboard before getting to work on the thumbnails. He also uses a tool called Magnific AI that upscales his images. 

“I’m actually spending $80 a month on AI tools,” Altizer admits. 

From magic tricks to YouTube

Altizer’s first passion was magic and illusions. At 14 years old, he became a professional illusionist, working at different restaurants around Nashville, Tennessee, where he grew up. He even met his wife at a restaurant where he performed. 

“As I was doing magic, I was also learning and crafting in the filmmaking world,” he recalls. “Doing weddings, documentaries, commercial projects—all sorts of things.”

Professional illusionist and stuntman Brock Gill eventually took Altizer under his wing. “I started going on the road with him,” Altizer says. “He sat me down and said, ‘It’s really rough making a living being a magician, and you’re really talented at video as well.’”

That was all it took for Altizer to go all in on video. 

David Altizer was noticed by Google

“When I was only 21 or 20 years old, I had a video that got a staff pick on Vimeo, which then led to Google reaching out and asking if I could direct a commercial—a half-a-million dollar commercial, which I had no experience in [making] whatsoever,” Altizer says, adding, “I was just a kid. I didn’t have any experience. So that was like a powerful moment for me. I should take myself seriously if Google thinks I’m legit.”  

He started directing music videos and projects around Nashville but grew tired of working with different clients and continually having brands shoot down his ideas in favor of boring alternatives. So he decided to start a YouTube channel and was invited to host for channels including the now-renamed Kinotika and Indy Mogul.

It was eventually during a 40-day fast for his church that Altizer felt he received a message to walk away from his career in video. He listened.

The accidental YouTube thumbnail maker

Thumbnailing came to Altizer as an inspiration soon after. 

A couple months later, Altizer offered to workshop a thumbnail for his friend John Owen, who runs the film commentary channel Frame Voyager. Owen hired him on, and one of the videos—with a thumbnail Altizer designed featuring Christopher Nolan—has gone on to hit more than one million views. 

After sharing his work on X, Altizer found himself getting more thumbnail requests. 

“The first thumbnail that I made for Max [Fosh] was titled, ‘I Cooked a Frozen Meal in an Active Volcano,’” Altizer says. “It went great, and obviously, that just continued to snowball.”

Indeed, Altizer says 40 million people have viewed the thumbnails he’s made in just the last five months.

David Altizer’s passion? Education and community 

Altizer says there is a thumbmaker community on X, and he’s started a space on the platform titled “Thumbnail Thursday,” where thumbnail artists talk shop. He is also developing a website for people to learn how to make thumbnails. 

Altizer’s advice to would-be YouTube thumbnail makers?

“Composition is the No. 1 thing that I tell people to learn. If you just do a search on rule of thirds, you can learn that,” he explains. “Composition is key, and simplicity is also key. You want to boil down the concept to the most minimal and simple idea possible, and that takes a lot of skill.” 

Photo by Frame Stock Footage/Shutterstock.com