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Design & Style

How to Become a Commercial Photographer

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 9, 2020 • 5 min read

There are many different types of photography for a variety of uses. Editorial photography and fashion photography are used to tell a story and set a mood, but commercial photography serves a more specific purpose: to promote and market products and services. Whether you’re taking photos to tell a story or sell a product, it takes a unique set of skills to forge a successful photography career.

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What Is Commercial Photography?

Commercial photography, or advertising photography, is used to promote and market products or services. Commercial photographers take pictures of products or subjects for a variety of commercial purposes. For commercial shoots, the photographer works within brand guidelines and an approved shot list. The client usually has the final say on creative decisions and retains ownership of the work, commissioning it as a work for hire.

6 Types of Commercial Photography

There are six different types of commercial photography:

  1. Fashion photography: Fashion photography is the genre of photography that intersects with the world of fashion. This includes shooting spreads for fashion magazines and photographing clothes on runways and in showrooms and on location for lookbooks. Fashion photography can be artful, or blandly commercial, but it’s almost always about capturing the relationship between a fashion model and the clothes on their body. The models become a walking advertisement for the newest and latest fashion.
  2. Portrait photography: Portrait photography is a style of photography that portrays human subjects. In the commercial world, portrait photography is sometimes used to depict people at work—sitting at a desk, making a salad, giving a speech—all of which can be used for stock images for business websites or other marketing purposes. Portrait photography is also used in advertising, which can help consumers associate a product with a person, even if it’s someone they don’t know or recognize. Find our guide to portrait photography here.
  3. Product photography: Companies use product photography to promote the specific features and benefits of a product, sometimes in high-definition and close-up angles. A product photographer captures images of products in the most photogenic way that can help brand and market the client’s product. Learn more about product photography in our guide here.
  4. Food photography: Food photography is a common type of photography that involves capturing the most desirable photos of food for product packaging or menus. Food stylists arrange food—most often using prop food or other inedible materials—to recreate the look of irresistible meals (that won’t lose their shape under the hot lights). “Food photoshoots” involve a lot of styling and positioning to make food look visually appealing. Read our 5 tips for styling food photographs here.
  5. Architectural photography: Commercial architectural photography is about taking pictures of buildings and other structures that tell a story. Companies commonly use these photos in brochures, web-marketing, print materials, and portfolios, often to sell offices or apartments in the building. Architectural photographers also photograph structures like bridges or tunnels, or any other kind of construction. Learn more about architectural photography in our complete guide here.
  6. Interior photography: Interior photography focuses on highlighting exceptional interior design to sell a client’s services, like for an interior designer or real estate agent. Real estate photography is a subset of this type of commercial work. By showcasing the inside of a home or space in the best possible light and orientation, potential buyers can see the scope of a designer’s talent, helping them attract more clients. Find our guide to interior photography here.
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4 Commercial Photography Examples

Photography can be used for commercial purposes to help promote or sell products, events, or experiences. Here are some examples of commercial photography:

  1. Entertainment promotion. Part of a television show or film budget’s marketing strategy is billboards. Every TV show and movie allot a budget for advertising, and part of that advertising includes promotional billboards that are placed all over a city to convince people to tune in to a new show or go to the theater to see a new movie.
  2. Travel brochures. Travel pamphlets can make a locale look like the ideal vacation spot, and when you’re considering taking a trip, these promotional photos can help sell you on a location.
  3. Product packaging. Product packaging photography involves taking pictures of a product in the best light from all angles to make it look the most appealing, and then using that image on the packaging to entice potential customers.
  4. Book covers. Another type of commercial photography appears on book covers. Publishers request specific types of book cover photographs to help sell their books. In some cases, publishers will even purchase pre-existing commercial photographs for book covers.

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How to Become a Commercial Photographer

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Along with the right gear for the specific photography job, commercial photography will likely require editing software and retouching. For some more helpful tips on how to become a commercial photographer, see below:

  1. Create a portfolio. To find work as a commercial photographer, you will need to compile a physical or digital portfolio with your most impressive shots. (A digital portfolio can be seen by more people to showcase your photography services). A photography portfolio is what will sell you to potential clients, so you should always have samples that showcase your best work. Once your portfolio is complete, consider getting business cards for your photography business that you can pass out to potential clients.
  2. Research. Research past advertising campaigns for the client—become familiar with the brand and its values so that you don’t pitch something inappropriate. Also, ask questions about how the campaign is being used (for example, is it for print? social media?) and who the audience is. All this research will inform the proposal, or pitch deck, that you submit.
  3. Create a pitch deck. In commercial photography, a pitch deck is a visual presentation that clearly communicates your ideas to the brand or client. A pitch deck contains an overview of a project and reference images to support the pitch. In addition to the pitch deck, you should send a bid for the project and a calendar listing the potential prep and shoot days.
  4. Draft a budget for the pitch. Make sure that the available resources align with the creative concept of your photoshoot. If there is a fixed budget for the project, be sure to outline how the money should be allocated to execute the job.
  5. Be passionate. You want to be passionate and show ad agencies or other commercial clients that you are fully engaged in the project.
  6. Know the legalities. If a commercial photograph contains branded products, recognizable people, or private property, legal permission to publish the images for commercial use must be secured. Model release and property release forms serve as agreements between the client, the photographer, and the subjects of the image. These forms outline where the images will be published and the terms of usage. These contractual agreements protect the photographer and allow the photographer to use the images for other purposes. Additional negotiations may need to be included if the photographer intends to resell images to a stock agency.

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