Get your free photography lesson plan
Get Lesson Plan
Commercial Photography

What is Commercial Photography?

August 8, 2023 by

If you want to sell a product, service, or brand in this digital age, then you will need high-quality photos.

In order to obtain high-quality photos, you will need to engage in the service of a commercial photographer.

But as we’ll touch on later, commercial photography covers a broad-range of photography genres.

But fear not! Because in this guide, I’ll be diving into everything you need to know about commercial photography.

Whether you’re thinking about starting commercial photography or are a commercial photographer looking for ways to improve, this guide is for you.

Let’s dive in!

Learn commercial photography From Credible Creators
Scott Choucino
"Tin House Studio"
star rating
Keyword Match: 17%
Matching Content:
See More
Table of Contents

What is Commercial Photography?

Commercial photography is the practice of capturing images with the purpose of promoting or selling a product, service, or brand.

Commercial photography is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of different photography niches such as product photography, food photography, fashion photography, architectural photography, and more.

Commercial photographers often have clients ranging from businesses, personal brands, agencies, etc.

Regardless of the client, the goal of the commercial photographer will be to capture an image that effectively communicates the desired message to the client’s target audience.

For example, if the client is an eCommerce business, then the goal would be to showcase and capture the product’s features, functionality, and unique selling points in a way that will entice their potential customers.

Commercial Photography Tips

Now that we know the goal of commercial photography, let’s take a look at some tips you can use as a commercial photographer.

1. Know Your Lighting

The first commercial photography tip is knowing your lighting and its importance.

Lighting plays a crucial role in any photography niche, but even more so in the world of commercial photography, where the photos aim to promote a particular image.

Good lighting can make all the difference and can turn a lackluster image into a breathtaking work of art.

As mentioned earlier, commercial photography aims to showcase a product or convey a specific message.

Lighting will help you achieve your message by creating the right mood and highlighting specific elements.

For example, you can control the direction, intensity, and quality of light through strategic lighting placements. You can choose to emphasize certain textures, and shapes, and bring a sense of dimension to an image.

Furthermore, lighting can also evoke emotions and set the tone for your photographs.

Soft, diffused lighting can create a gentle, glowy ambiance, perfect for capturing intimate moments or delicate products such as jewelry.

jewelry commercial photography
jewelry commercial photography

On the other hand, harsh, directional lighting can convey a sense of drama and intensity, ideal for portraying bold and dynamic subjects such as cutlery.

By understanding the power of different lighting techniques, you can effectively communicate your client’s intended message and evoke specific emotional responses from viewers.

In addition to its artistic potential, lighting also has its practical function in commercial photography.

Correct lighting can help eliminate unwanted shadows, glare, or reflections that might obscure the subject.

With the correct lighting setup, photographers can achieve balanced exposure, ensuring that every element in the frame is adequately lit and visually appealing.

This enhances the overall aesthetic quality of the image and ensures the accuracy and clarity of product representation.

If you are a beginner and have no idea where to start with learning lighting, then I recommend you familiarize yourself with different types of lighting equipment, such as strobes, reflectors, and diffusers.

I recommend you experiment with various lighting setups to discover the effects they produce.

The most popular lighting setup I recommend you start with is 3-point lighting which consists of a backlight, fill light, and key light. From there, experiment with natural, ambient light.

three point lighting
three point lighting

Study the work of experienced photographers and analyze how they use lighting to enhance their images.

Engage in hands-on experience and never shy away from taking risks. Remember, practice makes perfect.

2. Learn Composition Techniques

The second commercial photography tip is to learn composition techniques.

Like a skilled composer carefully arranging notes, a talented commercial photographer will create their own visual masterpiece through composition.

Composition is a powerful tool for many photographers that will allow you to refine further the message and story you want to convey within your image.

Imagine yourself stepping into a bustling city street.

What catches your eye? Is it the grandeur of towering buildings, the vibrancy of colorful storefronts, or perhaps the intriguing details that lie within?

In commercial photography, it is essential to capture the essence of a subject and convey its message to potential customers.

By employing composition techniques such as the rule of thirds or symmetry, you can effortlessly guide the viewer’s gaze to the most impactful areas of an image.

I believe the first composition technique commercial photographers should learn and master is the rule of thirds.

The rule of thirds serves as a reliable compass, guiding you to divide the frame into nine equal parts with two horizontal and two vertical lines.

rule of thirds photography
rule of thirds

By placing your subject along these lines or at the points where they intersect, you create a harmonious balance that keeps the viewer engaged.

Just as a skilled chef uses the perfect blend of spices in a dish, positioning your subject using the rule of thirds adds intrigue and visual spice to your photographs.

Using that same analogy, in commercial photography, composition acts as the chef’s plating brush, ensuring that every element is arranged to entice and captivate.

Explore different angles and perspectives, seeking the most effective way to highlight the features of your subject.

While the rule of thirds assists in the initial capture of an image, the journey towards visual perfection continues in the post-processing stage.

Editing apps such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop Express, Snapseed, VSCO, and Camera+ become your trusted companions, allowing you to refine your images and enhance their impact.

Embrace the power of minimal editing, for it is in restraint that we often find the true beauty of a photograph.

As you embark on your own photographic journey, remember that mastery of composition is not achieved overnight.

Just as a musician practices their scales or an athlete trains their body, repetition, and practice are the keys to unlocking your full potential as a commercial photographer.

Embrace every opportunity as a chance to grow and learn, continually seeking inspiration from mentors and masters of the craft.

3. Bring the Proper Equipment and Gear

The third tip for commercial photography is to ensure you bring the proper equipment and gear.

When it comes to commercial photography, having the right tools at your disposal can make all the difference.

The first item on your list should be the camera itself.

Now, you might be wondering, “Which camera should I choose?”

Well, the answer is highly subjective and depends on your personal preferences, budget, and the genres of commercial photography you specialize in.

Whether it’s a powerful DSLR or a mirrorless camera, find one that feels like an extension of your creative vision.

I think both types of cameras will get the job done and it’s more of a personal preference which one you choose.

Next up, lenses!

These babies come in a wide variety of focal lengths, each offering unique advantages for different types of commercial photography.

For instance, a wide-angle lens can beautifully showcase architectural wonders, while a telephoto lens will allow you to capture breathtaking details from a distance.

Don’t forget to consider prime lenses for their exceptional image quality or zoom lenses for their flexibility.

With an arsenal of lenses, you’ll be ready to tackle any photographic challenge that comes your way.

For example, I primarily photograph with a 50mm lens which is considered a standard lens, and I also always bring a 35mm lens which is more of a wide-angle lens.

I recommend always bringing at least two types of lenses so you can get different shots.

Now let’s look at accessories.

Accessories such as tripods and filters are essential tools that can drastically improve the quality of your images.

Tripods provide stability and allow for precise composition, particularly in product photography, where you want every angle to be picture-perfect.

Filters, on the other hand, let you explore the wonders of the world through different lenses, from polarizers that reduce glare to neutral density filters that create stunning long-exposure effects.

These accessories are like icing on the cake, taking your photography to the next level.

In summary, familiarize yourself with all the equipment out there, see which cameras and lenses you prefer and which work better with the type of commercial photography you are shooting.

4. Creative and Unique Posing

The fourth tip for commercial photography is to use creative and unique posing.

This tip mainly applies to photographing living subjects but can also be applied to still-life objects and how you position them.

Imagine a world where traditional, uninspired poses are the norm.

A world where every advertisement displays the same static and lifeless images.

Would you be captivated? Would you be inspired? I dare say no.

Just like a sculptor molds clay into a beautiful masterpiece, we must mold our subjects into captivating poses that evoke emotion and intrigue.

We must guide them, inspire them, and empower them to express their authentic selves. Through this collaboration, we can uncover depths of creativity we never knew existed.

Just like how lighting and composition can influence the story and message of the product you are trying to photograph, posing plays a significant role in the overall mood of the image.

Picture this: a model gracefully stretching her body, embodying elegance and strength.

Or a group of friends captured mid-laughter, radiating joy and camaraderie.

friends posing laughing
friends posing laughing

These are the poses that make us stop in our tracks, that make us feel connected to the images before us.

They tell stories, evoke emotions, and leave a lasting impression.

And while creativity is a driving force, it is not the sole ingredient for success.

We must also consider the purpose and message of the photoshoot.

Are we aiming for sophistication? Or perhaps a sense of adventure?

Understanding the desired outcome allows us to tailor our poses to fit the intended narrative.

There are many different types of poses for sitting, female poses, and headshot poses.

I recommend becoming familiar with the different poses so you can have an arsenal of them under your toolbelt and use one that aligns with the lighting and composition in your image.

5. Capturing Authentic Expressions

The fifth tip for commercial photography is to capture authentic expressions.

The ability to capture authentic expressions is an invaluable skill that separates the master commercial photographers from the amateurs.

As a photographer, specializing in this craft opens up a plethora of possibilities for collaborating with various clients and industries.

But how do we truly bring out the essence of a person or product? How can we infuse life into our images?

Imagine a photograph where the subject’s eyes twinkle with genuine joy or where a product appears so enticingly real that you can almost smell it.

These moments are not mere coincidences but rather the result of understanding the significance of authenticity in photography.

It is about going beyond the surface and digging deep into the emotions and stories that lie within.

But this is easier said than done.

To accomplish this, we must first develop a strong sense of empathy and connection with our subjects.

Whether it’s a human model or an inanimate object, finding common ground and building rapport is vital.

By establishing trust and creating a comfortable environment, we allow the subject to open up, revealing their true selves.

You must always remember the core message and story behind the photoshoot.

For example, if you are photographing food, then the message behind that is to make it look delicious.

food commercial photography
food commercial photography

If you are photographing jewelry, then the message behind that is to make it look glamorous and beautiful.

Keep this in the back of your mind, and make sure the expression you are receiving from the subject in the image matches this.

The tips covered earlier also play a major role in capturing an authentic expression of your subject.

Lighting also plays a crucial role in capturing authentic expressions.

Harsh, artificial lighting can create unnatural effects, while soft, natural lighting can accentuate the subject’s features and bring out their genuine emotions.

Experimenting with different lighting techniques, such as using diffusers or reflectors, can further enhance the authenticity of the image.

Composition and framing are equally essential.

By carefully considering how the subject is positioned within the frame, we can emphasize their unique features and express their personality.

Exploring different angles and perspectives allows us to uncover unexpected facets of the subject that truly captivate the viewer.

In post-processing, it is crucial to remember that less is often more.

Over-editing can obscure the authenticity we worked so hard to capture.

Instead, use editing tools sparingly, focusing on enhancing the natural qualities of the image rather than altering it beyond recognition.

So, whether you’re capturing a genuine smile, highlighting the details of a product, or documenting a story that needs to be told, remember that the essence lies in those authentic expressions.

6. Using Props and Backgrounds

The sixth tip for commercial photography is to use props and backgrounds that enhance your commercial photos.

Imagine a clothing brand hires you to showcase their latest collection.

How could you bring that collection to life and make it enticing to the viewer?

The answer lies in the careful selection of props and backgrounds that complement the style and essence of the brand.

As you immerse yourself in the photographs, the props and backgrounds serve as the supporting cast, setting the stage for the garments to shine.

For example, think about how a rustic barn door adorned with aged wood and chipped paint can enhance the charm and authenticity of a country-inspired clothing line.

Alternatively, picture a contemporary urban setting with sleek, modern furniture and minimalistic decor, accentuating the sophistication and elegance of a high-end fashion brand.

The props and backgrounds not only create a visually pleasing environment but also evoke certain emotions and help tell a story.

But how do photographers find the perfect props and backgrounds to match their clients’ visions?

It requires a keen eye for detail, creativity, and the ability to think outside the box.

Sometimes, the most unexpected items can capture the essence of a brand or add a unique touch to an image.

It’s all about finding the right balance between the subject and its surroundings, creating a harmonious visual narrative.

Additionally, the choice of props and backgrounds should align with the target audience.

Are you capturing images for a children’s product? A colorful playroom filled with toys and bright, vibrant backgrounds would be perfect to capture the attention and imagination of young viewers.

children product commercial photography
children’s product commercial photography

On the other hand, a sleek and professional office environment would speak directly to an audience of corporate professionals.

And let’s not forget about the importance of color coordination and how analogous colors and complementary colors affect the mood of an image.

A skilled photographer knows how to select props and backgrounds that harmonize with the colors present in the subject.

For example, if you’re photographing a vibrant red lipstick, a contrasting background in soft neutral tones could make the color pop, creating a striking visual impact.

Now that we understand the significance of props and backgrounds, it’s essential to consider one final crucial factor: the photographer’s personal touch and style.

Each photographer has a unique perspective and artistic vision, and the choice of props and backgrounds should reflect that.

Once you figure out your own style, it’s an opportunity for you to bring your personality and creativity into the photographs, creating a signature style that sets you apart in the industry.

7. Retouching and Editing Commercial Photos

The seventh tip for commercial photography lies in the retouching and editing of the images after they are taken.

The process of retouching and editing holds immense significance. It is the final step that polishes and refines the raw images, bringing them to life and captivating the viewer’s attention.

Imagine you are working on a project for a high-end fashion brand, where every detail matters.

The way the fabric drapes, the colors pop, and the overall mood exudes elegance and sophistication.

How can you make sure that your images reflect the essence of the brand and capture the viewer’s imagination?

First and foremost, it is essential to have a strong foundation in capturing high-quality images and remember all the tips I’ve listed earlier, such as lighting, composition, posing, etc.

This will minimize the need for extensive editing and allow you to focus on refining the details that matter most.

When it comes to retouching, precision and subtlety are key.

Think of your editing process as the delicate work of a master sculptor, chiseling away imperfections while preserving the natural beauty.

Be mindful of not going overboard with editing tools, as it can easily lead to unnatural and off-putting results.

Aim for a balance between enhancing the subject’s features and maintaining their authenticity.

One effective technique is to use adjustment layers in photo editing software.

This allows you to make targeted edits to specific areas of the image without affecting the rest.

For example, you can use a “dodge and burn” technique to selectively brighten or darken areas, highlighting key elements and creating depth.

Furthermore, don’t underestimate the power of color correction.

Adjusting the tones and hues can completely transform the mood of an image. Experiment with different color grading techniques to evoke specific emotions and enhance the overall visual impact.

As an aspiring commercial photographer, it is crucial to keep up with current trends and techniques in retouching and editing.

Stay curious and open-minded, always pushing the boundaries of your creativity.

Explore new editing tools and software updates that can help streamline your workflow and elevate your final results.

Remember, retouching and editing is an art form in itself.

It requires a deep understanding of the subject, an eye for detail, and a relentless pursuit of perfection.

Embrace the challenge and let your passion shine through every pixel.

8. Build a Strong Portfolio

The eighth tip for commercial photography is to build a strong portfolio.

Building a strong portfolio for commercial photography is a crucial step toward establishing oneself in the industry.

Once you’ve had a few commercial photography opportunities, it is essential to create a portfolio that showcases your skills and style as a commercial photographer.

This portfolio is not just a collection of images; rather, it is a reflection of your dedication and passion for the craft.

Your portfolio should be a testament to your ability to capture emotions, evoke desires, and satisfy clients’ needs.

But let’s say you are brand new and don’t have a portfolio yet? How do you build one?

As you embark on this path, I know many disagree with this but consider offering your services for free initially to gain experience and establish yourself as a professional.

You can’t build a portfolio without having a photoshoot. And you can’t really get new client photoshoots without having a portfolio.

So I recommend doing a couple shoots for free or at least collaborating with existing photographers.

Imagine yourself collaborating with seasoned photographers, assisting them in their shoots, and learning from their expertise.

Picture yourself as a sponge, absorbing their knowledge and honing your skills in real-world scenarios.

A key aspect of building a strong portfolio is finding a balance between showcasing a variety of work and appealing to different clients.

9. Marketing and Promoting Your Skills

The ninth and final commercial photography tip is to market and promote your skills.

Marketing and promoting your commercial photography business is essential for success in the competitive industry.

It involves creating awareness about your services and establishing a strong brand image that resonates with potential clients.

But how do you navigate the vast landscape of marketing strategies and stand out from the crowd?

Imagine already having a captivating portfolio that showcases your unique style and expertise, attracting clients and boosting your credibility.

As you develop your portfolio, strive for balance. Showcasing a variety of work that appeals to different clients demonstrates your versatility and range as a photographer.

Remember, each project is an opportunity for growth and learning.

Embrace them with enthusiasm and an open mind, and watch your skills evolve.

But how do you form strong relationships with clients? Excellent communication and an understanding of their needs are key.

Remember that existing connections and repeat business is a crucial aspect of any photography business.

Listening attentively, asking the right questions, and putting yourself in their shoes are paramount to building these connections and having the client trust and like you as their commercial photographer.

Establishing a personal connection and delivering exceptional results will ensure that clients keep coming back for more.

But marketing doesn’t stop at the photoshoot.

Remember, in the digital age, the power of social media cannot be underestimated.

Promote your work on platforms like Instagram and create a captivating portfolio website to attract potential clients.

Embrace the online world and utilize it as a powerful tool in your marketing arsenal.

As you navigate the world of marketing and promoting your commercial photography business, remember that repetition and practice are essential.

So, are you ready to embark on this exhilarating journey?

Embrace the challenges, learn from the experts, and let your creativity shine through your lens. The possibilities are endless.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between media photography and commercial photography?

Media photography primarily focuses on capturing images for news outlets, publications, or journalistic purposes, while commercial photography is centered around creating visually compelling images for advertising, marketing, or promotional purposes.

What is the difference between fine art photography and commercial photography?

Fine art photography is primarily driven by artistic expression and often created for the purpose of personal or gallery exhibition, whereas commercial photography is commissioned for commercial use, with the primary objective of promoting or selling products, services, or brands.

What makes someone a commercial photographer?

Someone is considered a commercial photographer if they specialize in capturing images for commercial purposes, working closely with clients to create visually compelling and effective photographs that promote or sell products, services, or brands.