Make money for your clients and yourself with high-quality commercial photography.
What do you think of when you hear the term commercial photography? Do you picture a photographer with clients like Nike, Disney or Armani? What about H&R Real Estate, Carson’s Discount Tire or Olson Orthodontics? Just about every business, from national brands to my local shops here in rural Wyoming, have commercial photography needs. Follow along with me as we define commercial photography and what it entails. We will also explore potential clients and discuss ideas on pricing your work.
What is commercial photography?
Commercial photography is shooting images for a client that will help make the client money. The images could be used for a website, brochures, flyers, magazine advertisements, billboards, product packaging or incorporated into the product itself. You take an image and the client uses that image to somehow sell more goods and services.
Commercial photography is a broad term for a lot of different photography niches, including:
- Product photography – See our introductory tutorial!
- Personal branding sessions
- Environmental images
- Real estate photography
- Food photography
- Fashion photography
- Event photography
Think about all the businesses in your area, big and small, and why they might need images of their goods and services. That’s commercial photography.
How can commercial photography benefit your photography business?
Commercial photography work can be your sole source of income or another income stream. It offers a number of potential advantages as a specialty area.
Large potential client pool
If you have businesses in your area, you have commercial photography clients. Restaurants, real estate agencies, hospitals, clothing stores, attorneys, sporting goods stores, spas, salons…all of them are potential clients. It takes a great deal of experience and skill to land national accounts and those jobs are highly competitive. But there is a lot of opportunity at a local or even regional level.
Year round work
Family and photographers earn most of their income in the summer and fall. Wedding photographers also work mainly in the summer. But businesses need imagery year-round. If you own a studio or can shoot indoors on location, you can arrange commercial photoshoots any time of year.
Less competition at some levels
Each year, thousands of new photographers enter the market. Most of those new photographers, however, focus on portraits and weddings. Fewer entry-level photographers take the time to learn the lighting, staging and production techniques required for commercial photography work. You might find less competition for commercial work.
What camera and lens do I need for commercial photography?
The equipment needed for commercial photography depends on what niche you want to pursue. Corporate headshots require a different lens and style of shooting than real estate photography. Most headshot photographers prefer a portrait length lens like an 85mm or 100 mm. Buildings and bedrooms require something with a wider angle, like a 24 mm or 18-35mm zoom lens. High-end brands or large billboard images might require you to ditch the full frame and invest in a medium format camera.
Your best bet, then, is to research the niche of commercial photography you are interested in. Find out what camera and lenses that niche requires. If you’re presented with an opportunity to explore a new niche, consider renting gear. See if that area of commercial photography suits your skill and personality first. If it’s an area you’d like to pursue will be sustainable, then you can invest in cameras, lenses and other equipment.
How do you price commercial photography?
Commercial photography prices are a function of:
- Your skill and experience
- The market
- Your client and his/her budget
- The work involved in the shoot like lighting, staging, props, travel, assistants, etc. (production costs)
- How and where the images will be used
It also depends on how you want to structure your pricing. Do you want to quote by the total job, by image, by the hour or some combination of those three? Most photographers provide a quote that includes the creative and production fee plus a usage fee per image.
I wish there was a magic formula for setting commercial photography rates. But there are simply too many variables. For example, my rates for a startup business in rural Wyoming for 10 images for a website with a local reach will be vastly different than 10 images shot for a national travel company.
I like to start by asking what the budget is, what other photographers they are looking at and where the images will be used. The rest is a bit of an art form. My best advice? Watch a few videos like the one below where they give you different strategies for building a quote and negotiating a rate. Find a method that works for you and meets your needs. Just remember commercial photography is different than a family or newborn session and should be priced with that in mind.
How do I build a commercial photography portfolio?
How do you get commercial photography clients if you don’t have any portfolio images from commercial photography shoots? The answer is something along the lines of fake it until you make it.
Begin by practicing with your own products and props. Use clothes, hardware, pottery or pet products. Or shoot the exterior of a restaurant or store or ask a friend to model for you as if you are on a commercial shoot. Once you feel like you have a good grasp on the process and how to produce images clients will pay for, it’s time to find clients. Next, approach businesses you know or with which you have some sort of relationship and see if they have some commercial photography needs you can solve. You may have to do some free or deeply discounted shoots at first. But always work as if each client is your dream client and provide them with great service and images.
One additional technique to consider is shooting on speculation. Approach a business and ask if you could shoot some images for that business. Then, if the client likes the images, he or she can purchase the licensing rights from you at a pre-determined price. It’s low risk for the business with lots of upside for you as the photographer.
Don’t forget to continue to build your skills along the way. Read books, watch videos, practice. Assist established and experienced photographers. Learn how to use off-camera flash and edit images in Photoshop to achieve the client’s desired look. Soon you’ll have a portfolio of work done for clients AND a network of satisfied customers singing your praises. With a solid portfolio and practical experience, you’re ready to start marketing your services as a commercial photographer.
A future in commercial photography
Commercial photography can be your life’s calling or a small part of a more diversified photography business. If you enjoy working on diverse projects, helping others achieve their goals and build their brands, it just might be the photography genre for you.