Most of us hear the term “commercial photography” and think of large teams creating images in a studio for big ad campaigns. But commercial photography can actually include a wide range of photography niches.
We can define commercial photography as the creation of photos that will be used for commercial purposes, typically selling or promoting a product or service.
This can mean those glamorous large campaigns, but also the headshot photography session you do for a local business owner.
Let’s break down the common types of commercial photography and what sort of unique skills may be required for each.
Common Types of Commercial Photography Shoots
This is probably what most people think of when you say “commercial photographer”. This type of work can be in studio or outdoors, and typically will involve paid models who are modelling a product or experience to be sold.
While each shoot is unique, knowing how to pose people and give direction is a huge skill that will come in handy for this type of work.
This is another large category, and can be done in studio or outdoors. Most often, though, these are shot in a studio space so they can have a solid backdrop for online use.
Doing this type of work will require that you get familiar with working in a studio and controlling studio lights to get the desired effects on your products.
Yes, this category may bring up images of people snapping photos of their meals to later post on Instagram, but it can be a great niche to do professionally!
Essentially a product shoot, you’ll want to work with a food stylist to get the food looking its best for the camera.
This type of work also tends to involve being able to set up easily and quickly in a restaurant during a set time frame. And at the same time creating lighting that makes the food look enticing yet natural.
This simply means that you’re taking photos of people in their work environment while doing the action that they are promoting.
For example, you may go to a plant nursery and take photos of some of the employees tending to the plants to show how the nursery maintains a high level of care for their products.
This type of work requires the ability to work quickly and on-the-go. And you may need special permissions for some sites.
Probably the most common type of commercial photography out there is a headshot. What sets this apart as a commercial shoot is that the photos are intended to be used in promoting the person’s products or services.
Headshot sessions are quick and fun, but do require creating a connection with your subject quickly and giving some direction on posing.
This category involves photographing a space for commercial purposes, whether it’s to showcase the architect’s design or to show the appeal of a retail store.
As with food photography, you’re often working with tight time frames for shooting around the flow of customers. With spaces, including a few well-placed people in the shot often helps to give the photo life and context.
Things to Know About Commercial Photography
Doing commercial work can be very satisfying, but there are some things to keep in mind while in talks with potential clients.
1. Be Extremely Clear on Your Client’s Needs
Full transparent communication is vital in setting up honest expectations. Here are some questions you should ask your clients.
- Does your client need a set number of photos?
- Do they have a hard limit on their budget that may affect how much you can do for them?
- Are they working with a tight deadline?
- What sort of specific shots do they already have in mind and absolutely must accomplish?
- Do their requests require any special props, locations, wardrobe, consultants, etc?
2. Double Check Your Quote to Include All Possible Costs
With commercial photography, it’s common to require arrangements, items, or assistance that add cost. Be sure to think through your quote and make clear to your client that if additional costs arise, the final rate may change.
This is where having clear and open communication becomes vital for avoiding any unmet expectations. When creating your initial quote, you may want to include a base rate that assumes certain items. Then show them line items for possible additional costs, depending on their needs or requests.
Things to think about include props, shooting locations and permits needed, studio rental, photo gear rental, shoot assistants needed, outside contractors like hair or make-up artists…
3. Discuss Intended Photo Use and Give Rights Accordingly
With commercial photography, the use that the photos will get is very different from, say, family portraits. Rather than going on someone’s wall or being sent to Grandma in a card, these photos will be used to generate more income for a company.
Therefore, your rates will need to be quite different. Be sure to have a discussion with your client about what type of use their photos will get, as this will affect the rate and possibly also the shoot process.
For example, a headshot may be used for social media profiles and a postcard flyer. However, an environmental portrait shoot may be used to promote a new luxury resort in national print magazine, online ads, and the resort’s website.
In this case, the headshot client may need lower resolution files and will create less profit from the photos. But the resort will require high resolution images that they’ll use across the country to generate a significant amount of income.
Once understand your client’s needs, get specific with what rights are granted in the contract. Adjust rates accordingly depending on these needs.
4. Keep Your Network Active
Having a network of good professional relationships is good for referrals, but also serves as a pool of resources.
Don’t own a studio but need one for a shoot? Perhaps you know a photographer who has his own studio and can rent it to you by the day.
Have a fashion shoot coming up and need help? Perhaps 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 throughout your town can be helpful when a certain spot works as the perfect backdrop for your client’s vision.
Having a healthy and active network means that 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.
Commercial photography can seem out of reach when you think of it as only large complicated shoots for international corporations launching ad campaigns.
When taking a closer look, though, there are lots of needs, big and small, that fall under the umbrella of commercial photography.
One way to get started is to begin with small jobs. As you grow more comfortable with the process, you can then build on them and do larger requests.
Whether big or small, though, let your imagination run wild with possibilities for your commercial clients!
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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