March 7, 2023

Robin Gillham

Commercial Photography: The Basics


You may have spent some time building an online portfolio and considering the different types of photography you can specialize in if you’re serious about a career as a photographer. As a photographer, you can explore so many different fields depending on your skills, interests, and personality. The nature-loving introvert might gravitate toward landscape and nature photography, while the crowd-loving extrovert might gravitate towards wedding and event photography.

You can pursue commercial photography as a well-compensated and popular career option. This article will answer all your most burning questions about how to build a commercial photography portfolio if you’re not sure if this is the right specialty for you.

In What Ways Does Commercial Photography Differ From Other Forms Of Photography?

Photo by مهدی کردی

Commercial photography may seem a bit confusing to you at first, but you’re not alone. The term can refer to a wide variety of images. Commercial photography refers to photography that is used to sell or promote a product or service or to assist a business or organization in increasing revenue.

Photographs of products, lifestyles, and fashion are often included in this category. In addition to architectural photography, food photography, and event photography, it can also include other types of photography depending on the client and the product or service being sold.

Due to the fact that so many products are sold and promoted online nowadays, it is common for commercial photographs to be shot on Instagram. The images can also be used on websites, in marketing materials, in print or digital ads, on billboards, or anywhere else your client wishes to communicate visually with their customers.

A career in commercial photography can be particularly varied and offer a wide range of portfolios since the definition is more concerned with the end use of the images than the actual content of them.

Commercial Photography: What Are the Different Types?

Brand photography, lifestyle photography for brands, images for brochures, images for social media by brands and organizations, fashion photography, portrait photography for commercial use, architectural and real estate photography, and more are some types of commercial photography.

How Do Commercial Photographs and Advertising Photographs Differ?

Photo by Mojtaba Fahiminia

Advertising photography and commercial photography have some overlap, but they also have subtle differences. Commercial photography emphasizes showcasing a product to its best advantage, while advertising shots tell a brand’s story and create a sense of emotion.

How Do Commercial Photographers Work?

Photo by Mahbod Akhzami

A commercial photographer creates images that promote the products or services of their clients. It is possible for them to work alone or as part of a team. The concept that helps bring their clients’ vision to life is often their responsibility if they are working alone. Photographers working as part of a team may be directed by someone like an art director who has already conceptualized a photoshoot based on the client’s branding strategy and target audience, and their job is to create images accordingly.

What Is The Average Salary Of A Commercial Photographer?

Photo by Tyler Casey

Commercial photographers can charge a variety of rates depending on the niches they specialize in. Creating content for marketing, sales, and advertising is typically a budgeted activity for commercial clients. As a result, commercial photography is a great choice if you want to work regularly with high-paying clients, which isn’t always possible in other fields of photography.

The potential salary for a commercial photographer also varies by region. The average income for a commercial photographer in the United States is $52,000, but a photographer in a major city with a lot of commercial clients is likely to earn more than a photographer in a smaller city.

A good commercial photographer can also travel to different destinations to capture images for their clients, so it is important to research the realistic range of commercial photography salaries in your region.

You may even be able to work with clients who are far away if the images they need don’t necessarily have to be taken locally if you specialize in commercial photography. Products can be sent directly to a product photographer’s studio instead of traveling.

How Does Commercial Use of a Photo Work?

The commercial use of an image involves advertising or otherwise promoting and selling a product or service. Using a usage license, you can specify the limitations of each image you deliver. Licensing your photos typically involves a fee. Often, clients are able to extend their license for longer periods of time or for different uses by paying a higher fee.

In A Nutshell, What Is A Commercial Photographer Responsible For?


While a commercial photographer’s day-to-day schedule will vary depending on their niche and the industry they serve, there are a number of things you can expect to do regularly no matter what kind of clients you serve. Among them are:

Client Pitching

As a commercial photographer, you’ll likely be building a client list regularly. We’ll discuss how to do this in more detail later. When you’re pitching to RFPs or cold-calling businesses you’d like to work with, you should expect to spend some time pitching regularly.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions

As a commercial photographer, you will be more successful if you understand your client, their products, and their goals. Take the time to understand what the client’s goals are for their commercial images once you’ve landed the client. Create a questionnaire that you send to your clients at the beginning of every project. It should include things like where the photos will be used, some reference or inspiration photos the client likes, what the client’s goal is for the campaign or project the images will be used for, how viewers are supposed to react to the photos, and other clarifying questions.

Concept Generation

Your client may sometimes provide you with clear and detailed creative directions, but you will often be the creative force behind your commercial work. Your specialty might be food photography, for example, and you might be asked to create the mood and visual concepts for a photo shoot for a new restaurant’s upcoming campaign.


Remember that your goal is to sell a product or service when creating the best possible photos for your commercial clients. How you approach your shoot will be guided by the goals of your client. You might spend some time setting up the perfect lighting in your studio if your client wants a very polished, high-end look for their product photos. For example, if they want natural-looking lifestyle images for their outdoor apparel brand, you’ll probably be outside trying to catch that perfect golden hour light.

The Post-Production Process

Depending on the look your client is going for and the final destination of your images, the amount of time you spend in Photoshop, Lightroom, or your preferred photo editor will vary. A commercial photo intended for Instagram might not need quite as much editing as one intended for print. Commercial photographers must still ensure the final product is polished since the goal is to make more money for their clients. By using presets, or even making your own, you can speed up this step and easily reproduce your signature look.

Client Follow-Up

Following up with clients after the shoot is a nice touch if you want to improve your client relations and hopefully land future gigs with them. Let them know you’re available for future gigs, thank them for working with you, and ask how the rollout of your commercial images is going.

What Is The Best Way To Get Started In Commercial Photography?


Getting your commercial photography business off the ground is possible even if you’ve never done it before. As long as you can find commercial clients who like the look of your images, you can find work in this field no matter what your style is.

Choosing a specialization is the first step.

By now, you have probably figured out that commercial photography encompasses a huge range of images. It is generally better for any photography business to have a clear stylistic and thematic focus. Commercial photography does not necessarily mean you have to shoot the same thing every time. It does mean, however, that you would be better off focusing on a particular area of commercial photography. If you want to work with a motorcycle company, you don’t necessarily have to shoot only motorcycles. It might make sense, however, to specialize in vehicle photography, which includes car, boat, and bicycle photography. If you narrow your commercial photography scope, you’ll be seen as an expert rather than a jack-of-all-trades.

Get your gear together.

Although it’s always best to start with what you have and gradually add equipment as you figure out what you need, you might need some specific pieces of equipment to create portfolio images you’ll be proud of. After you have a camera and some lenses you love, you might want to consider some home studio equipment. A studio strobe might be very helpful if you plan to shoot products. Your portfolio might benefit from investing in a beauty dish and soft box lights if you’re more likely to shoot people.

Make sure you are proficient in editing.

When it comes to creating images that your commercial clients will like, you will need to know your way around editing software. There will be a lot of learning along the way, of course. There are always new tips and tricks to learn, and the software itself is evolving and becoming more sophisticated. Even seasoned pros are constantly learning new tips and tricks. To create those portfolio images that help you land clients, you’ll need to gain some basic knowledge from Photoshop tutorials and other learning tools.

The fourth step is to create portfolio images.

If you don’t already have a portfolio of commercial photography, you need to create one now that you know what type of commercial photography you want to specialize in. It depends on what kind of commercial photography you intend to specialize in and what kinds of images you should include in your portfolio. In your home studio, you can probably create an image portfolio by experimenting with different lighting setups and sets if you want to specialize in product photography.

You can build your portfolio website before you actually have paying clients if you want to specialize in lifestyle photography or any kind of commercial photography that involves shooting people. Perhaps can ask friends and family members who are comfortable in front of the camera if they would be willing to model for you, or ask local businesses and organizations that are similar to the types of clients you’d ideally land if they’d be open to you shooting some free commercial images for them.

Then, for example, offer to create some free commercial photographs of a local agency if you plan to specialize in real estate photography. Ideally, you won’t want to offer free shoots later in your career, but at the beginning, offering them can be a good way to show your target client that you are worth hiring.

Robin Gillham

Robin is a resident case manager at Pixsy, working directly with our creators and photographers to help them enforce their rights. Robin is a hobby photographer with a keen interest in time-lapse.

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