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Commercial Photography Tips and Advice

Commercial photography needn't be as daunting as it sounds

Commercial Photography Main

Commercial photography work can be quite well paid so you really need to know what you are doing. Couple that with the ability to deliver on time.

You need to be able to think on your feet and have an instant solution for any problems that arise. It is normally an area in which a photographer will specialise or only enter into after a few years experience under his/her belt.

Commercial photography could include anything such as:

  • Travel
  • Product
  • Fashion
  • Advertising

Each needs its own set of skills and experience as well as top notch equipment.

More often than not, your work will be spread across the pages of a quality glossy magazine. Perhaps even displayed larger than life on billboards all over town. It may be used for a special, one-off promotion so it needs to be the best it can.

Commercial Photography - Travel

As glamorous as it sounds, travel photography can also be hard work. A client may need a very specific kind of shot that is critical to their campaign. You may be under a strict deadline and also entirely dependent on the weather at the same time.

If you see travel photography as the be all and end all of your photographic life, you would do well to start creating a huge library of stock images everywhere you go. There may just come a time when you need to pull on your resources.

You may need to leave home at the drop of a hat to capture an event or occasion. It's important to be able to think on your feet and make sure you get the shots required as you will normally be working at the clients' expense.

Travel as light as you can but at the same time have the correct equipment with you. Also, be prepared to leave your creature comforts at home! Some 3rd world countries see your shiny, expensive camera gear as either insulting to their poverty or as a "quick buck" to be made. Be aware of your surroundings and get insurance.

Spanish commercial shoot

Not so long ago, I was asked at short notice, to drive 400km up the coast of Spain. This was to shoot about 3 or 4 different locations

  • 2 golf courses
  • 2 ports
  • One new development
  • A local town
  • Some landscape shots thrown in

I had less than 2 days to do it in.

The company only needed around 30 shots in total for a huge billboard and glossy promotional brochures. They were constantly checking the weather reports to ensure we had a bright sunny day. The day in question was in doubt but we decided to risk it.

Arriving at midday I set to work only finishing when the sun had well and truly set. I was up again at 6.30am the next morning just in case there was a decent sunrise. There was, and by 4pm that day I had finished.

Job done

The client ended up with over 150 high-resolution beautiful, bright sunny images which included everything they needed. A bit of Photoshop work was needed on some here and there but generally it was a success. Click images for larger version.

Commercial Photography
Commercial Photography
Commercial Photography

The point is to always make the best effort you can. A client will use you time and time again if you not only deliver but over-deliver. Travel photography can be tiring but also very rewarding. What better way to see the world than get paid for photographing it?

Commercial Photography - Product

There is usually little room for error with product commercial photography. The product is normally taken close up or isolated against its background to show it off. Lighting has to be spot on with limited reflections with care as to what is actually reflected.

Note: On occasion I have had to enlarge a picture 200% to see my own reflection in a wine bottle for example. Nothing a little maneuvering or Photoshop couldn't cure!

The client will normally have an idea of what he wants but is usually open to creative suggestions. As long as they stay within the theme. You may well be asked to start from scratch with a product and come up with your own ideas. It all depends on the client and how big the job is.

If this is something you would like to get into, get practising with your studio photography with particular emphasis on your lighting techniques.

Commercial Photography - Fashion

Fashion photography is a truly sought after and glamorous area of photography that could take you to the dizzy heights of fame and fortune. Although it doesn't necessarily have to be that difficult to break into.

Many magazine editors look to personal recommendations from existing employees for new photographers. One way to "fast-track" your career is to build a stunning portfolio of images that shows your unique, exciting and personal style of fashion photography.

A good web presence is also highly recommended and is generally seen as just a "calling card". However, people in the industry still like to see large colourful transparencies or prints although a good selection (20-30) of beautifully printed, high quality 10" x 8" images could suffice.

Your commercial photography portfolio should tell a story of how you work. Showing a range of themed images that relate to the job or contract that you are applying for but try to include one or two "off-the-thread" images that show you have some versatility.

Get your work seen

Once your portfolio is ready, you need to get it in front of picture editors. To do this you need to do some research.

Do you know the editors' name? What does their magazine do? How big is the circulation? Does your portfolio match their style/theme? If you have previously published work, send it in along with your prints (not originals), and be persistent!

Some editors receive dozens of portfolios every month from aspiring photographers wanting to break into the scene. Don't give up or get disheartened if it takes a while!

TIP: It may be an idea to sign up with an agency that will take care of everything for you. Sometimes the cost is well worth it as they are in constant contact with clients and publications.

If you really want to be seen and are confident in your work and approach, have a gallery take your work on and display your finest work.

Commercial Photography - Advertising

The advertising world is ever-changing and you need to keep up with it. In fact you need to be ahead of the game in order to excel in this field. For example, you are given a new Apple iPad Pro to photograph for its launch...where do you start?

Well, first of all, think of its size and how it could benefit Joe Public. Secondly, who is likely to buy it, who exactly is Joe Public? What are the current trends? Lastly, how could you reach that audience whilst showing off the benefits of owning an iPad Pro?

You need to illustrate its size but at the same time giving the impression of style, verve, panache and power. People love trendy gadgets and this is no exception.

I'll tell you what, go to Apple's website and check it out for yourself - iPad. All kept very simple.

The point is that everything a potential shopper is likely to want to know is there. Each photographer just needs to show it as it is with good lighting and composition.

Listen to the client and give your input

As in other commercial photography jobs, the company paying you may already have an idea of what they want. You just need to bring that idea out in images. On the other hand, you may be required (depending in your experience/past record) to put your own ideas into practice.

Composition in Photography

I was asked once to take some models to a building site in Spain. They asked me to think of a way to promote the "boom" of young families buying a second home in the sun. I took the shot here whilst lying on a dusty road of a building site and asked the "family" to point to, and pretend to hold an imaginary set of property plans.

Then I added some plans of a new development in Photoshop and faded the layer back to show the family behind.

It wasn't something the company had asked for and I thought of it only when we arrived at the site. However, the idea worked well and the company were more than happy with the shot.

Final word

If you have a creative flair and enjoy working with products and people on location or in the studio, advertising photography can be a real buzz. There is nothing better than building a portfolio of your work displayed in glossy magazines!

TIP: Brush up on or learn excellent studio/lighting skills. Flick through the more illustrious "glossies" to get some ideas. Try and work out how the photographer got the shot and why he shot it in that particular way. Even try to imitate the images you see, it is all good practice.

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