What is commercial photography: How to break into the industry

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Curious about what it takes to become a professional photographer serving businesses and high-profile clients? Then read is for you. We put together the basics of commercial photography and how you start a career in the industry even if you don’t have prior experience. 

What is Commercial Photography?

Commercial photography is the type of photography used in business settings to sell or promote products and services. The use of commercial photography is not only in advertising and marketing but it also includes capturing a visual representation for other purposes such as personal branding or architecture.

Numerous industries use commercial photography to increase their bottom line. Commercial photographs range from attractive photos for brochures or catalogs to lifestyle shots of people promoting products. 

The industry’s growth rate has been exponential in recent years as cameras are cheaper and more available than ever before. Also, anyone who has the skills has the potential to get a break. Usually, there is no need for a degree to get a job as a professional photographer.  

There are different types of commercial photographers. The best way to get started is to identify which among these niches suit best your interest. 

Types of commercial photography

All types of commercial photography are equally profitable if you’re capable of the job. 

Food photography

In the good old days, food photographers’ works were used for menus, cookbooks, and advertising in prints. These days, food photography plays a huge role for food bloggers, online influencers and chefs who are looking to expand their portfolios via online visual platforms like Instagram and Youtube. 

Product photography 

Product photography is commonly used in e-commerce, product labels, and brochures. It is often used to show the features of the product or to demonstrate how it works. The continuous growth of the e-commerce industry offers vast opportunities for product photographers. 

Fashion photography

Runways don’t limit where you can do fashion photography. The fashion industry is so huge and it continues to grow through the years. And there’s no stopping it, hence, there’s always demand for fashion photographers. Fashion photographers take pictures of models wearing clothes or accessories that are being sold by a fashion store or designer labels. This can simply be done in a location or a studio. 

Architecture photography

Architecture photography is one of the most difficult types of photography to master. It requires a lot of patience and creativity to get the perfect shot of architecture, the way a client would like to represent it to their target market. Detail, texture, and mood have to be set and perfected.  If you love buildings and architecture, this could be the niche for you. 

Headshots, portrait, and lifestyle photography

Headshot photos are often used for a person’s resume or curriculum vitae. It is also used by CEOs for their personal branding or by actors for their portfolios. Portrait and lifestyle shots are often used by brands to present their products or services. Lifestyle photoshoots are where people are used as the main subjects for the shoot. 

Personal brand photography

With the growing number of people who are offering services of so many sorts, there’s also the demand for personal brand photography. Personal brand photography’s most common clients are professionals who sell services and want to expand their business using digital mediums and platforms. Pictures from personal brand photoshoots are often used in bio pages, social media, websites, and portfolios. 

How to Shoot Commercial Photography

Robin Sharma once said, “Every pro was once an amateur. Every expert was once a beginner.” If you’re starting out in commercial photography, you might not have developed your own process just yet. Here are some key processes that master photographers religiously follow. 

1. Choose an ideal location

An ideal location or setting depends on what you’re shooting. For example, if you’re doing personal brand photography, the ideal location might be somewhere where you and the client agree. If you’re doing food photography for a restaurant, the best settings could be in the restaurant itself or in their kitchen. Factors such as natural light, your lighting equipment, and the weather itself affect the quality of your photograph. Before the session, consider the space of the shoot’s location and how much freedom you can have with that set-up. 

2. Plan your shot list

A shot list is a list of shots that you need to take for a particular project. If you want to achieve your ideal outputs, then a shortlist is an essential part of any commercial photography shoot. Work with your clients to learn what types of images they want and incorporate this with their overall objectives. Create a shot list according to these details.

3. Communicate everything with your client

To provide the best output and pictures, it is crucial to identify your client’s needs and expectations. Remember that these pictures are going to be used for a commercial setting, so these have to be the best. If you have questions and suggestions, don’t hesitate to discuss this with your client. If you need props and materials from your client, relay this message as well.  Also, make sure your client is aware of the time it takes to do post-production or editing work. This way, they’ll know when to expect their professional photos. 

4. Navigate compensation and legal documents

The part that we photographers have a love-and-hate relationship because paperwork is involved. Make sure you have contracts, invoices, and proposals ready. These are very important to ensure your relationship and workflow with the clients go as smoothly as possible.

How to break into the commercial photography industry

The industry is big. There’s a space for anybody who’s willing to earn their spot. Matter of fact, with the growing opportunities presented by the Internet, the demand for commercial photography keeps expanding. Small businesses and start-ups are also hiring commercial photographers for advertising, marketing, and branding. 

Build your commercial photography portfolio

So it all starts with a portfolio. Something to showcase to your potential client and to the world that you’re actually capable of doing the job. If you’re a beginner, don’t worry, there are actually ways to do photoshoots and build a portfolio from scratch:

  • Offer your services to Non-Profit organizations in your area in exchange for free testimonials and recommendations.
  • Do photo shoots for local businesses in your area at rates they can afford.
  • Free photoshoot for your friends/family.
  • Participate in photography contests and competitions, which will help you develop a portfolio of work that’s been recognized by others in the industry.
  • Try to get as much experience as possible with professional photographers. Collaborate and learn the ropes of the trade with them. Apply as a photo assistant in a studio or for a professional commercial photographer.
 

Just so you know, photo assistants are in high demand and low supply, which means you’ll have more opportunities to get hired. You can work for individual photographers or agencies, or even freelance for other commercial photography businesses. 

Now that you have a portfolio set, don’t forget to keep a business card with you all the time. An opportunity might pop at any moment. 

Find your niche 

There are many ways to break into the commercial photography industry. One way is to focus on a specific niche. Consider a niche as a field of expertise. Ideally, choose a niche that you’re interested or love. For example, if you’re interested in photographing children’s clothing, you can specialize in shooting kids’ clothing catalogs and look for jobs where children’s clothes are the main focus. Build your portfolio around a niche that you like. 

Is Commercial Photography Right For You?

Just as with any other career, the path to establishing your career as a commercial photographer will have its learning curves and challenges. When it comes to developing your own technique, you will eventually create your own. As a beginner, try to learn as much about lifestyle photography as possible. Lifestyle photography helps you hone your skills when it comes to storytelling, scene set-ups, commercial shoots, and product photography. 

Commercial Photography Frequently Asked Questions

Commercial photography is a type of photography where the goal is to advertise a product or service. Unlike wedding and family photographs where the goal is to freeze the moment, commercial photography, from its very name, is done for commercial use. Commercial photographers specialize in tasks like creating portraits for advertising, taking pictures of products as they are being used, or creating scenes of happy customers using the product. Oftentimes, commercial photographers will charge more because it takes more time and effort.

Commercial photography can be used for a variety of purposes for advertising, marketing, and branding. Examples of photographs used for commercial purposes are billboards, signages, flyers, catalogs, menus, and brochures.

Commercial photography is mainly focused on all sorts of photography for use of advertising, branding, and marketing whereas retail photography focuses on products. Retail photography captures images of products that are for sale or on promo. This can be retail items, clothes, furniture, or food.

Wedding photography, graduation, and class pictures are not commercial photography. Editorial photography and fine art photography are not commercial photography.

Putting it all together

So where do you go from here? First, find which type of commercial photography you are interested in the most and choose a niche. Begin building your portfolio from scratch. Luck does happen and you might get hired for a big job in a matter of days or weeks after setting up your portfolio. But, the first few months will be a learning curve to hone, practice, and master the trade.

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