…making money from your photographic skills
If you are to make a living as a photographer, commercial photography is almost certainly where that living will lie. So what exactly is it, how are the images used and are there areas of specialisation? You’ll find the answers to these and other questions in our concise guide to commercial photography – hopefully along with some insight into your future career as a photographer.
Commercial Photography Defined
Commercial photography really encompasses any pictures that are taken for commercial purposes. That could be for use in advertisements and sales literature, on websites, in magazines, for book jackets or photography stock libraries – in fact, for an infinite number of different uses. There is a vast market for high quality images that meet the technical requirements of the picture libraries, as well as plentiful opportunities for bespoke shooting for commercial and corporate clients.
Furthermore, it’s a market that’s actually growing rapidly. You might think that with everyone owning a digital camera and their own computer, people would originate their own pictures – but the actuality is that people want professional quality images for their wallpaper, social media and other electronic uses. For the aspiring professional photographer this opens the door to a world of opportunity. Just think how many images you see on your computer, your television, on billboards, in magazines every single day; each of those pictures has been taken by a commercial photographer.
But where do you start?
Your Specialist Subject
With all of these millions of photos, it’s easy to see that there are different areas of specialist skills and subject categories. It’s not hard to guest that the photographer that takes the delicious, grainy looking images of Jamie Oliver’s cooking is not the same photographer that captures bright, colour-saturated destinations for holiday brochures. They’ve each found their specialist niche and have probably built up their portfolios accordingly. Some commercial photographers do all their work in the studio, while others travel the world taking pictures of places, people, landmarks or wildlife.
Think about the sort of photo shoots you’ve most enjoyed and when you’ve achieved your best results. Some distinct areas worthy of consideration include:
1. Product photography – every company that produces a product needs imagery for the promotion of that product, be it a car, a book or a piece of industrial machinery. You may find yourself doing a straight forward ‘packshot’ of the product in the studio or you might need to show the product being used in an appropriate environment. Sometimes the focus will be simply on the aesthetic style, other times on the functionality or implied status of the product.
2. Food photography – magazines, cook books, menus and adverts are filled with mouth-watering pictures designed to tempt our appetites. Food styling and photography are big business, from simple packshots to the sort of aspirational lifestyle spreads that accompany the recipes in upmarket magazines. Much of the work will be done within the studio but there are opportunities for location shoots, especially within the area of food production.
· Fashion photography – fashion magazines and clothing catalogues need hundreds of images of all the latest styles. Once again, it can range from the simple to the aspirational: plain catalogue shots on simple studio backdrops or elaborate magazine spreads in exotic locations and extraordinary interiors. Your aim as the photographer may be simply to show the clothes in detail or to conjure up a surreal image of extraordinary beauty, depending upon who the client is.
· Portrait photography – from corporate number crunchers to hot young actors, thousands of people need professional portraits for work purposes. Capturing someone’s character in a simple head and shoulders shot against a generic studio background can be a real skill and for those photographers with a talent for it, this can be an area of steady, lucrative work.
· Travel photography – if you love to travel, this might be the area for you. There is an insatiable appetite for pictures of well-loved landmarks and far-flung destinations, not to mention the mundane hotel and villa shots of a thousand travel brochures. The art is to be able to take a fresh picture of a landmark that has been photographed a million times before, in a way that makes people want to be there too.
· Interior Photography – if you are into design, shapes and beautiful spaces then try out interior photography.
If your dream is to be a celebrated art photographer then you may think that commercial photography is not for you. But think again. Some of the world’s most celebrated photographers have been commercial photographers – look at the work of Diane Arbus (advertising and fashion), Eve Arnold (photo journalism), Annie Leibovitz (portraiture), Helmut Newton (fashion) or Rankin (portraiture). Just because they are being paid for what they do, doesn’t make them any less brilliant. So take a look at your existing portfolio and see how you could make it work in commercial terms – after all, it’s a huge market.
(c) Headshot London – Photography Studio