What Is Commercial Photography?

Posted on July 9, 2019 | Updated on October 31, 2023

Commercial photography is professional quality photos used for marketing purposes. The types of photographs range from portraits to landscapes to close-up shots but always tie into a product, brand or service in some way. A commercial photograph can tell a story, capture an emotion or highlight a product. For business owners, they should look for consistency in the photos they use. If the attitude is youthful and whimsical on their website, that is the same tone any additional photos used in specific campaigns should have.

There are approximately 147,300 photographers in the United States, but not all of them are commercial photographers. Even those who are commercial photographers take on other types of photography work to fill the gap. One of the best ways to add commercial photography to your lineup of skills is by studying the work of other photographers and how brands use the images to market their products.

There is a slight differentiation between commercial and advertising photography. However, for this article, we’ll look at the commercial uses of photography. We’re going to look at what sets photography for businesses apart from other types of photography.

How Commercial Photography Is Used

Anytime you see an image in a magazine, on a billboard or on a brand’s social media page, it was taken with a specific commercial purpose in mind. These images help promote a business, sell a product or possibly capture a high-end fashion look memory for individuals. Fashion brands often use commercial photographs of runway models displaying their beautiful clothes. Luxury brands use crisp photos to show off sports cars or luxury yachts. However, you don’t have to be a luxury brand to benefit from commercial photography.

Commercial photographers are often commissioned by a business to take a specific photo for an advertising campaign, or they take images and sell them on stock photography sites such as iStockPhoto or Dreamstime. Photos are sorted into categories and also searchable by keywords. So, if you need a commercial photograph of a young girl in a field of flowers, you search for that phrase and a selection of images pops up. Dreamstime boasts around 106 million stock images and 25 million users, so you can see the popularity of selling photos on the site.

However, commercial photography doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot. One example might be a small food manufacturer with a limited budget and a recipe blog on their site. They would take some high-quality photographs of the completed dishes, but they might do the work in-house or hire a photographer with a small business to help them out. Even beginning photographers can learn the basics of commercial photographs.

Insider Tips and Tricks

Users encounter slick photos from big name brands. They use high-quality images and have a certain expectation about what professional photos look like. Fortunately, figuring out how to create your own commercial photography comes down to a few tips and tricks of the commercial photography trade.

Create a Mood Board

Create a mood board before you start the photo session. A mood board explains the mood you’re trying to create. It can be used as a storyboard that lays out the different images you’ll need to take to complete the shoot. Plus it helps you come up with the photos you need for a specific marketing campaign.

Figure Out Lighting

Learn how to use lighting appropriately. You may need to invest in a meter that tells you what settings to use on your camera. Invest in some filtered light sources so you can do away with harsh shadows or low light conditions. In a pinch, you can photograph in natural light from a window or outdoors. Again, you’ll need to watch placement and shadows to get your shot just right.

Reserve Equipment

Rent or buy equipment. Today’s smartphones have amazing capabilities, but you may need a more powerful camera, backdrops, professional lighting, as well as tables and tents. Of course, it all depends on the scope of your shoot. Think through the different things you might need and rent them well before the day of the photo shoot.

Invest in Editing Software

Learn how to edit photos. You might take a dozen photos that aren’t all great, and only one or two meet your expectations. Adding some saturation to your colors or slightly adjusting the lighting can mean the difference between an okay photo and one of commercial quality. You can also add elements for online use, such as text or frames.

Practice Like Crazy

There are many elements to any type of photography which are only learned through study and practice, such as finding the right angle and knowing how to adjust camera settings. In the beginning, take far more photos than you need, under different conditions and from different angles. You can always delete the ones you don’t want.

Where to Use Commercial Photography

Unless you have a huge marketing budget, you likely can’t afford to make every photo for your business a commercial-grade photo. What you can do is figure out where to strategically use the higher quality photos for maximum impact. Consider the return on investment (ROI) and if you should also invest a lot into a higher end photo.

One-off social media posts may only need a quick snapshot of your product. Perhaps you reuse the same photo multiple times. However, if you roll out a new product line or highlighting the founder on the company’s 10th anniversary, invest a bit more and go with commercial photos.

Also, study what your competitors have out there. If your closest competitor constantly uses interesting and high definition photos and videos, step up your game a bit. Yes, commercial photography adds to the cost of marketing, but it also brings a new level of interest to your campaigns.

Learn Good Communication Skills

Whether you’re a photographer who wants to work on commercial projects or a business owner who wants to understand the types of photos you need, good communications skills are necessary. Photographers must understand a client’s vision for the photo shoot and businesses need to communicate their vision for a project. Finding success with commercial photography requires perseverance and learning to listen carefully.



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About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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