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 precisely 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?
As a commercial photographer, you will be taking photographs of products or individuals, that will be used to sell a product or a service. This could vary greatly: you could be shooting fashion models in designer gear for an advert, someone clicking away on a computer to sell a service, or anything else that might appear on a business website, literature, or advert.
It’s actually rather difficult to pin down a commercial photography definition. Some people would say that it only applies to advertising shots, but others would include catalog work and e-commerce shots.
So, how can you tell if you are doing commercial photography? Usually, a commercial photographer is employed by a brand or a company, to promote their product or services. Let’s take the example of Ansel Adams. Most would say that he is a landscape photographer, and this is true. But when he was working for the Department of the Interior to photograph national parks for advertising purposes, it would be more accurate to describe him as a commercial photographer.
The main thing that sets commercial photographs apart from other genres is the intention behind the shot. Adams would normally 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.
Types of Commercial Photography
Now that we know how broad the definition of what is commercial photography can be, it’s time to take a 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:
This genre of photography includes images promoting a product or service that are used in billboards, posters, magazine pages, online adverts, product catalogs, etc.
All images that are used to promote a new product launch, or included with a press release
Catalog 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 front and back of the garment as well as any pertinent details). Think also of restaurant menus, as well as non-conventional ‘catalogs’ like Etsy or Facebook Marketplace
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 is going to be the single, most important tool that would help you grow your business. Whatever the stage of your career, your website will always be the center of all 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 presence online will bring you to the forefront and help more customers discover you. Even 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. Pixpa is a portfolio website builder platform that is trusted by creative pros around the world. Here are some outstanding photography portfolio websites created on Pixpa to inspire you and check out our guide on how to create a portfolio.
If you are a business owner, commercial photography is essential to growing your business online. If you want to sell your products or services online, you need high value-added content and stunning imagery. Images help us to visualize what we will receive. Without that reassurance, most people won’t buy. So if you are looking at growing your brand online, do read our step-by-step guide to creating a successful small business website.
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. Poor images might actually sabotage the sale. 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 huge part of commercial photography, and you have to understand exactly 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 – this determines how your images are permitted to be used, for example in a print media campaign
- Copyright – this 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 for promotion of pornographic materials – a very real issue that some photographers and models have faced in well-publicized cases
- Period of time – how long can your client use the images for? 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 come up with your pricing. You might want to read our Comprehensive Guide on Photography Pricing that will assist you in determining a competitive and winning pricing for your photography services. 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 to make from the shoot. It’s that simple! There’s no set rule except for a price that you’re willing to work for, and the client is willing to pay. 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 own purposes. You may find that a time or usage-limited contract works best. This gives you the ability 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. Properly drafted contracts set the right expectations and clearly outline deliverables and terms of service so that the client knows what he is paying for. Here are a few critical Things that You Must Include in Your Photography Contracts.
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, you should never be tempted to work for free in exchange for exposure. This rarely helps you to put any money in your pocket at all. Any brand which is big enough 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 afterward.
Equipment for Commercial Photography
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 be able to 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 definitely essential for commercial shots. Everything should be polished and clean, and you will often need to smooth skin, change the shape or color of things, remove reflections, and so on. Basic-level Photoshopping skills won’t cut it.
Tips to Get Started
We can’t really go back in time and ask what was the first commercial photography process because it’s not as cut and dried as other photographic genres. In the same way, you might experience a lot of confusion about how to go about entering the industry.
The best way to get started is to build up your experience and portfolio in one specific area. For example, you can work on product photography. This is perhaps the easiest and cheapest type of portfolio to build. You can create your own home studio with a torch, sheets of white paper, and cosmetics items from your bathroom. This will help you to get your first paid clients, which might be more on the personal side (for example, photographing items for insurance purposes). To level up and get commercial jobs, there are two directions to go in. One is to look for mid-level and small businesses which are talking about upcoming launches or whose imagery at the moment is not great, and make them a pitch. Another is to search for photography job boards and photography sites for available opportunities.
Your online portfolio is the key to gaining new clients and growing your business. The guide on how to build an online portfolio is a step-by-step reference for creating a photography website that would be able to attract and impress potential employers, clients, or collaborators. You also need to think out of the box, uncover your creative genius, find your expression and figure out how to present your work in the best way possible. Photography websites need to go beyond just showcasing your talent and images. It needs to present your vision for the future, with respect to the work you want to do, reflect your personality and your style and approach to work.
Choose the right platform to create your photography website.
Make sure that the photography website builder you choose offers the flexibility, features, and ease of use you need to put together professional photography websites without requiring any coding knowledge. That's where a bit of inspiration comes in handy.
Pixpa is a website builder platform that is trusted by creative pros around the world. Have a look at these inspiring portfolios of Photographers. These photographers have made excellent use of Pixpa, an easy-to-use website builder to showcase their photos. You can draw inspiration from these creative professionals and study their portfolios, to get a clearer idea of how you want to showcase your repertoire of work.
Once you have built your portfolio up and worked with a range of clients, including some higher-end businesses, you can consider looking for an agent. Joining an agency will give you new opportunities in terms of getting bigger clients without having to do the pitching yourself, though of course, you will have to split your earnings with your agent. You might have to make a lot of pitches before you actually get a bite. When you are just starting out, rejection is normal. Keep going and persevering.
Commercial Photography Jobs
Most of the photography industry is freelance, but you may be able to get commercial photography jobs as an in-house photographer if you are very lucky. These tend to be few and far between, and are most often in genres such as catalog photography, for brands who put out new products on a very regular basis. These jobs can vary, but will usually be salaried. Be sure to check the industry average – which can fluctuate – before accepting a position so that you know you are being paid fairly.
Cons of the Commercial Photography Industry
One of the downsides of commercial photography jobs is that you are really there to fulfill someone else’s vision. You don’t get the chance to express yourself and come up with your own ideas very often, though it can happen. Instead, you are just there to get the shot that the brand has been dreaming of – even if they haven’t made the right conditions for you to get it. Your job is to make it happen, no matter what, putting your own creative dreams aside.
Another downside might be pricing. There will always be photographers who don’t understand the value of commercial photography jobs, and who end up pitching low. If they are getting all the work that should be yours, this can be frustrating. But you have to stick to your guns and your pricing – otherwise, you will be talking yourself out of being paid what you’re worth.
You might also come across problems with getting paid. While it’s usual to ask for payment within 30 days of the work being done, clients know they can often stretch those terms and pay late because it’s too expensive to take someone to court over a single invoice. Get around this by adding specific terms in your contract about adding on extra fees for late payments. They’ll be sure to pay on time if they know it would be costing them more.
Commercial photography is a viable career path for the majority of photographers who want to make a full-time living. Those who consider themselves to be artists might struggle to give up control, however, and so it might not be best for them. In general, it’s a great way to earn a lot of money across fewer jobs than you might normally.