Commercial Photography

What Is Commercial Photography?

Commercial photography is a genre you may have seen used often as a term, but you might not know precisely what it means or how to get into it. 

Commercial usually means relating to sales or the process of running a business, and this is exactly what you will expect from this photography genre as well. 

Let's dive into exploring what is commercial photography and what isn't, as well as what you can expect if you start working in this area.

What Is Commercial Photography?

Let's expand now on the concept of commercial photography. As the name of this specific discipline suggests, it is all about business. 

The pictures created in commercial photography are utilized to benefit an individual or company from a business standpoint.

By its very nature, commercial photography can be pretty broad. Technically speaking, just about any picture was taken to sell or promote something can qualify as a commercial photography product.

Still, given that commercial photographs are intended to showcase something, businesses can't hand over the responsibility of taking those pictures to anyone. 

It takes real skill to produce those pictures, and only the pros who have spent years honing their craft can do that.

The main thing that sets commercial photographs apart from other genres is the intention behind the shot. 

Take images to capture and preserve the beauty of nature in untouched areas. For those national park shots, however, the intention was to sell access tickets to tourists.

What Are The Specific Purposes Of Commercial Photography?

Commercial Photography

There are two primary purposes of commercial photography, and let's get into those now.

Commercial Photography Is For Selling A Product

The first primary purpose of commercial photography is to sell a product. 

When businesses put something up for sale, they want to showcase its best features while giving potential buyers a good idea of what they're getting. 

That's why you need the professionals to take on this job.

You want the best angle of that coffee table captured. In your head, you may have an idea of what that best angle is, but only professional commercial photographers can realize it.

There's a chance that you also have some experience with the amateur version of commercial photography. 

If you've looked through eBay, Amazon, or perhaps Facebook's Marketplace, then you've probably seen people selling their used goods by utilizing pictures.

That is a good representation of why it's essential to invest in professional commercial photography. 

You can spot the difference between the photos accompanying those used products and those featured in professional ads.

Remember that these images often have to be featured in newspapers, brochures, and other similar items. 

That means you need high-quality photos that can look just as good viewed through a phone or computer screen as it is when printed on a page of the paper.

Commercial photographs designed to promote products also have to be incredibly detailed. 

Since the goal is to show off the product entirely, no detail, however small, can be overlooked. 

Presenting a more detailed picture will help people become more interested in whatever you are offering.

Commercial Photography Is For Promoting A Business Or Person

Products are not the only thing you need to promote to boost your business. The goal can also be to grow your brand or business.

For that reason, commercial photography can still help you even if you are not selling something. So, what encompasses promotional commercial photography?

Companies may want to show off their new office, so they may opt to have pictures taken. 

As the business owner, you can also take photos of yourself and promote your business and personal brand. 

Promotional photographs are usually placed on billboards, tarpaulins, and other large canvases to attract the most attention.

Types Of Commercial Photography

Now that we know how broad the definition of commercial photography can be, it's time to look at some of the types of assignments you might pick up.

Commercial photography is one of the fastest-growing genres of photography. 

The multiple categories of Commercial Photography include, but are not limited to:

  • Advertising – anywhere that advertising can be seen, including billboards, posters, magazine pages, online adverts, and so on
  • Website images – such as those used to promote a new product launch or included with a press release
  • Catalogue and sales images – these will be images of a product in use and are often formulaic (for example, a clothing brand will usually want models wearing the clothes against a white background, showing both the garment's front and back any pertinent details). Think also of restaurant menus, as well as non-conventional 'catalogues' like Etsy or Facebook Marketplace
  • Product packaging – any images which go on the packaging, including products you may not think of at first: CD and DVD covers, tags, instructional guides, and so on

How Can Commercial Photography Grow Your Business?

As a photographer, commercial photography can seriously boost your photography business. 

Potential clients will be all around you, wherever you have a local or national company that you can contact. 

The work is available all year round, and the profits can be very lucrative. For a photographer, getting into commercial work is an opportunity for great success. 

Your photography portfolio website will be the single, most important tool that would help you grow your business. 

Whatever your career stage, your website will always be the centre of your marketing strategies to grow your creative business. It is a great way to build your presence in the market. 

With clients continually looking for creatives who provide specific services, having a company online will bring you to the forefront and help more customers discover you. 

While engaging and interacting on social media sites, having a dedicated professional portfolio website has more chances and benefits of visibility and growing your business' online.

The difference between good and great commercial photography can also make a big difference to your sales. 

Great images make people want to finalize that sale right away. But, on the other hand, poor photos might sabotage the deal. 

That's why it's always worth shelling out for the right photographer who knows what they are doing.

Licenses And Their Pricing

Licenses are a massive part of commercial photography, and you have to understand precisely what you are giving away when you sign a contract. 

If you aren't aware of the different types of photography licenses out there, you might end up losing out on a lot of money.

The kinds of licenses you will see are:

  • Usage determines how your images are permitted to be used, for example, in a print media campaign.
  • Copyright determines who will own the rights to the images after the photoshoot – you or the client. You may grant a usage license without giving away your copyright. If your client has a usage license for print media but uses the images for an online campaign, you would be within your rights to demand further payment. Many clients will ask for copyright, and you should charge them more for this.
  • Approved uses – this can differ slightly from the usage license. You might sell the images under the stipulation that they are NOT used in a certain way. For example, you might stipulate that your portraits are not used to promote pornographic materials – a genuine issue that some photographers and models have faced in well-publicized cases.
  • Period – how long can your client use the images? Six months? A year? More?
  • The number of uses – how many times will the image be reproduced?

Based on the license that you eventually agree on, you will be able to develop your pricing. This isn't always easy to do, so it's a good idea to do some research. 

Start with the amount of money you would be comfortable making from the shoot. It's that simple! 

There's no set rule except for a price you're willing to work for and the client is willing to pay. As a result, variance can be massive between bids for the same project. 

You need confidence in yourself and what you are worth before you can demand it.

You will want to massively increase your fee to give away the copyright, as this limits your ability to make future earnings from the images, and you won't even be able to use them for your purposes. 

You may find that a time or usage-limited contract works best. 

This allows you to re-charge the client for further uses beyond what you have agreed, meaning that you get paid multiple times from the same shoot.

It is a good idea to read in detail about Photography Contracts. 

Adequately drafted contracts set the right expectations and clearly outline deliverables and terms of service so that the client knows what he is paying for. 

There may even be circumstances in which you lower your fees. For example, if a brand allows you to retain copyright and even includes your name alongside the images everywhere they are produced, you might consider this enough exposure to charge them less.

However, it would help if you never were tempted to work for free in exchange for exposure. 

This rarely allows you to put any money in your pocket at all. 

Any big brand to get your name out there in a helpful way will be big enough to have a budget set aside for photography. 

Know your worth, and don't be persuaded into working for free – especially if they want to own the photographs afterwards.

Equipment For Commercial Photography

Studio Lighting

There's no easy list to churn out for the equipment used in commercial photography because it can differ from job to job. 

You might be shooting in a studio with all of the necessary lights and backdrops one week, then working out of a luxury hotel resort by the pool the next.

One thing is for sure: you need a good-quality, professional-level camera and lenses to get the job done. 

The higher the quality sensor, the better. It should capture pin-sharp images across a large frame size, suitable for printing to a potentially huge canvas.

You also need either good retouching skills or a good retoucher on your team. This might not be 'equipment per se, but it is essential for commercial shots. 

Everything should be polished and clean, and you will often need to smooth skin, change the shape or colour of things, remove reflections, and so on. 

Basic-level Photoshopping skills won't cut it.

Tips To Get Started

Commercial photography is an exciting yet competitive industry. Some of the world's best-known photographers are commercial photographers. 

Here are six commercial photography tips to help you get a leg up in the commercial world.

Keep Your Network Active

As a commercial photographer, having a network of good professional relationships is very helpful. Not only is it suitable for referrals, but it also serves as a pool of resources.

Don't own a studio but need one for a shoot? Maybe you know a commercial photographer who has his studio and can rent it to you by the day. Have a fashion shoot coming up and need help? 

Maybe you know a stylist or a make-up artist that can come in and create the look the client needs. 

Even knowing people with connections to different locations can be helpful. When a particular spot works as the perfect backdrop for your client's vision, you can ask them.

Having a healthy and active network is essential. You won't be calling on strangers from an online listing to help in your shoots. 

You'll be calling on trusted professional colleagues who you know can do a great job.

Be Professional

Professionalism will get you further in life than you can imagine. So as a photographer, bring your A-game to every photo shoot. 

Build a positive reputation, encourage trust, and help you with your efficiency. You may be a great photographer, but work ethic, motivation, and ambition will differentiate you from others.

Being professional includes being reliable. Always be punctual (try to be ten minutes early), be well-prepared, and meet deadlines. 

It is also essential to be polite and respectful to everyone and to have a good attitude.

Being reliable will ensure that you are hired again and again! A good way of ensuring that you meet all expected demands is to keep a daily planner and take lots of notes. 

Consolidate your work schedule so that everything that you do is timely and happens according to your plan. 

Keep notes on important information that you may otherwise forget. The key to success as a commercial photographer is organization.

Keep Your Gear Up To Date

It is true that, in general, good photography depends on the photographer and not the gear. However, commercial photography is a little different.

To compete with the intense and demanding market, you have to make sure your gear is up-to-date. 

Commercial photography adapts to the latest technological advances. As a result, what was once industry-standard a year ago is no longer applicable.

Commercial photography likely involves printing. Therefore, having a camera with the highest number of megapixels you can afford is an absolute must. 

Sharpness is also essential, so make sure your lenses are equipped with top-notch glass.

Many commercial photography job postings and castings will require a gear list from you. So be ready to send them what you work with. 

This isn't exclusive to camera gear. Clients will also probably ask you what editing software and computer you use.

Bonus Tip:

If you can't afford to brand new gear, don't worry! Instead, develop a relationship with a rental shop and rent what you need.

Stay In Tune With Trends

Like being updated with technology, it is aware of current photography trends is equally important.


Every year, every season even brings new aesthetic trends in the photography world. With the social media climate, these trends are even more critical than ever. 

It is your responsibility to research and be informed about what kind of visual images are prevalent.

Find Your Distinct Voice

To stand out from your competitors, you need to offer something different. This can be in the form of your style, unique concepts, and methodology.

Allow your artistic voice to shine through your work. If you do this, you will attract jobs that complement your work style. In addition, you will get projects that you enjoy and excel in, resulting in a mutually beneficial outcome.

Creativity Is Important

When working with your distinct style, remember to be creative. No client wants a copy of some other image. 

So, try something different and create something fresh. Think of how you can depict the product in a completely new way.

It is essential to be aware of your client's needs and vision. A client usually has a specific purpose in mind when requiring photography for commercial use. 

Keep these in mind, and experiment in moderation so that your work still fits your client's needs.

No Rookie Mistakes

Commercial photographers can not be amateurs. When a client hires a commercial photographer, they have certain expectations about quality. 

There is no mercy for hobbyist behaviour in commercial photography. 

Rookie mistakes will not be forgiven at a certain level. So, make sure you work out all of those kinks.

Education is essential. Keep developing your skills. Take seminars, classes, read books, experiment on your own time, and you'll soon make sense of those photography basics.


Commercial photography can seem out of reach. That's only if you think of it as oversized, complicated shoots for international corporations. 

When taking a closer look, there are many needs, big and small, that fall under the umbrella of commercial photography. 

One way to get started is, to begin with, small jobs. Then, as you grow more comfortable with the process, you can build on them and accept larger requests.

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