Commercial photography is a genre where art mixes with business to create images that are visually compelling, but also following a strict brief or branding.
In this article, I’m going to take you behind the scenes commercial photography (some of its sub-genres too). I’ll talk about different techniques, ideas and why it’s a great way for you to make money from your camera.
Commercial photography means taking photos with the primary purpose of promoting or selling a product, service, or brand. Unlike fine art photography (which looks to evoke emotions or convey personal stories), commercial photography is all about getting consumers to buy something, elevate brands, and drive sales.
In the age of digital media, visual communication has become more important than ever.
The rise of social media means businesses and brands all want to get their faces seen by as many customers as possible – and to do that they need amazing photos. This is where commercial photography shines, as it can convey messages, styles, emotions and context to a brand’s market.
While taking photos following a business’s brief is quite different as to how most photographers work, it doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. In fact, because of the need for businesses to stand out online, creativity is highly encouraged.
If you’re already a photographer with a unique style this could be very appealing to the right brand.
If you want to take amazing commercial photographs you’ll need a combination of technical skill, creativity, and the ability to follow a brief. Here are some tips that can raise your commercial photography game:
Learn to master lighting techniques suitable for a range of products of different sizes. Photographing a car is different to photographing a bottle of perfume. But good commercial photographers rarely do both, they tend to stick to small or large products.
Invest in some good quality studio lights and softboxes to diffuse the light. This means you’ll have fewer reflections shining off reflective items such as glass, metal and plastic.
Pay attention to how you arrange the items in your photos too. Consider flat lays and product photography if you’re shooting smaller items for a shop. You can still follow the rule of thirds and leading lines to arrange your shot.
If your brief focuses more on people then take a portrait photography course to understand how to light people and pose them flatteringly.
Product photography is a specialised genre within commercial photography that focuses on capturing the essence of a product, highlighting its features, and enticing customers to make a purchase. It requires careful diligence and an understanding of the target audience’s preferences and desires.
To create compelling product images, photographers often use techniques such as macro photography to display intricate details, creative lighting setups to enhance textures, and styling to create a visually appealing composition. Each element is carefully considered to bring out the best in the product and create an emotional connection with potential buyers.
Fashion photography is another exciting segment of commercial photography that blends artistry and style to create visually stunning images for the fashion industry. It involves capturing clothing, accessories, or beauty products in a way that displays their unique qualities and appeals to the target market.
From thinking of a theme or story to selecting the right models, wardrobe, and locations, fashion photographers dive into a world of creativity to bring their vision to life. These ideas may come from the brand you’re working with, which can save you time, but it’s good to have your own ideas to suggest as well.
Fashion photography is all about selling the clothing and making it appealing to the audience. They need to ‘see’ themselves wearing the outfits and relate to the model. Lots of fashion photos, therefore, are taken in candid settings and don’t look commercialised.
But they are cleverly set up using ambient lighting, familiar settings and models that look like you and your friends.
Architectural photography is another sub-genre of the commercial world. Businesses are always looking for photographers to capture great shots of their buildings, offices and sites. This may be for customers to know where they’re located, to celebrate their growth or other reasons.
To create impactful architectural images, photographers need a keen eye for composition, an understanding of perspective, and an ability to work with different lighting conditions.
Professional photographers often use techniques like bracketing to capture a wide dynamic range, and post-processing to enhance colours, straighten lines, and emphasise architectural elements.
Lifestyle photography is an umbrella term that covers many of the sub-genres I’ve already mentioned. Lifestyle photos aren’t designed to look like an advert selling something specific. They are called ‘aspirational photos’ where the audience could see themselves in the same situation.
The image itself may just be a visual representation of the text on an advert. It’s still important to make sure the photo conveys a message that is echoed with the text but without showing an actual product.
Photographers in this genre focus on portraying authentic moments, genuine expressions, and real-life situations. They often collaborate with models or ordinary people to create narratives that resonate with the target audience. By blending candid moments with artistic direction, lifestyle photography brings brands to life and helps forge emotional connections.
Image: See the difference between photographing a car (product photography) and crafting a story & emotion around the same subject (lifestyle photography).
This approach is also used in branding photography. Branding photography has become more important with online businesses. It helps give their audience an insight as to who is behind the brand and what type of company they are.
Businesses need to stay ahead of the curve to stand out in a crowded digital landscape. As a photographer you’ll need to think ahead about how these images will be seen. If they’re mostly online, then shooting vertical shots in a 9:16 ratio is useful to social media platforms.
It’s not uncommon for photographers to crop the same photo in 3-4 different ways to suit the brands use. This means you need to less specific in-camera when cropping and leave room for adjustments.
To keep yourself busy, I’d recommend also staying up to date with emerging technologies, such as virtual reality and augmented reality. These are ways that photographers can make money from their camera and skills in a busy commercial world. New technologies are increasingly being used to enhance commercial photography experiences.
Commercial photography is a dynamic field that combines artistic vision with strategic goals. From product photography to fashion, architecture, and lifestyle, the diverse genres within commercial photography offer endless opportunities for photographers to highlight their creativity while helping businesses thrive.
By mastering the techniques and understanding the power of visual communication, photographers can craft captivating images that leave an impression on viewers and drive business success.