What is Commercial Photography?

People absolutely love taking pictures. Every day, social media feeds end up filled with countless pictures. You don’t even have to wait for more than a few minutes to see a new photo taken by one of your friends or family members.

It’s easy to understand why people are so fond of photography. This particular art form is inherently accessible, especially now that just about everyone has a smartphone equipped with high-powered cameras in their pocket.

Plus, taking pictures is fun and people love reminiscing about the good times they had.

However, not everyone with a camera is capable of properly executing photography in all its forms. There’s a difference between taking a selfie and having to capture a scene in such a specific way to meet a specific objective.

For instance, in commercial photography, professionals need to take the types of pictures that can benefit a business or individual and not everyone has the skills to pull that off.

What is Commercial Photography - Shootfactory

What Is Commercial Photography?

Let’s expand now on the concept of commercial photography. As the name of this specific discipline suggests, it is all about business.

The pictures created in commercial photography are utilised for the purposes of benefiting an individual or company from a business standpoint.

By its very nature, commercial photography can be quite broad. Technically speaking, just about any picture taken for the purposes of selling or promoting something can qualify as a product of commercial photography.

Still, given that commercial photographs are intended to showcase something, businesses just can’t hand over the responsibility of taking those pictures to anyone. It takes real skill to produce those pictures and only the pros who have spent years honing their craft can do that.

What Are the Specific Purposes of Commercial Photography?

There are two basic purposes of commercial photography and let’s get into those now.

Commercial Photography Is for Selling a Product

The first main purpose of commercial photography is to sell a product. When businesses put something up for sale, they want to showcase its best features while also giving potential buyers a good idea of what they’re getting.

That’s why you need the professionals to take on this job.

You want the best angle of that coffee table captured. In your head, you may have an idea of what that best angle is, but only the professional commercial photographers can realise it.

There’s a chance that you also have some experience with the amateur version of commercial photography. If you’ve looked through eBay, Amazon, or perhaps Facebook’s Marketplace, then you’ve probably seen people selling their used goods by utilising pictures.

That is actually a good representation of why it’s important to invest in professional commercial photography. You can clearly spot the difference between the photos that accompany those used products and those that are featured in professional ads.

Remember that these images often have to be featured in newspapers, brochures, and other similar items. That means you need high quality images that can look just as good viewed through a phone or computer screen as it is when printed on a page of paper.

Commercial photographs designed to promote products also have to be incredibly detailed. Since the goal is to show off the product in its entirety, no detail, however small, can be overlooked. Presenting a more detailed picture will help people become more interested in whatever you are offering.

Commercial Photography Is for Promoting a Business or Person

Products are not the only thing you need to promote in order to boost your business. The goal can also be to simply grow your brand or business.

For that reason, commercial photography can still prove useful to you even if you are not selling something.

So, what actually encompasses promotional commercial photography?

Companies may want to show off their new office and so they may opt to have pictures taken of it. As the owner of the business, you can also have pictures taken of yourself and use them to promote your business and personal brand.

Promotional photographs are also usually placed on billboards, tarpaulins, and other large canvases in order to attract the most attention.

What Are the Different Types of Commercial Photography?

After determining the two main reasons for why commercial photographs are taken, it’s time to focus on the different types of it.

Fashion Photography

Fashion photography is one of the more complex variants of commercial photography, according to Oily Stabler. Photographers often have to take into account numerous factors whenever they have to snap one of these pictures.

First off, the photographers have to focus on the model. They have to figure out the ideal pose for the model to strike and how they can best capture the model’s physical features. Since fashion models often use these pictures to promote themselves, they also have a vested interest in the photos turning out as well as they possibly can.

On top of that, fashion photographers also need to showcase the clothes the model is wearing. This can be a tricky endeavour unto itself, but that’s why the best fashion photographers are compensated quite well.

Fashion photography is a shining example of how even pictures taken for the purposes of promoting or selling something can still be highly artistic.

Food Photography

Similar to fashion photography, food photography can also be quite complicated itself, which may seem somewhat counter-intuitive. After all, we all love and need food, so why should it be a tough sell?

The thing about selling food though is that you have a near endless amount of competitors. The challenge is trying to show that the type of food you’re offering is delicious and different enough from the other offerings that it is worth purchasing.

Styling the food for the photo shoot can also be a trying process. You simply cannot command a carrot or a piece of meat to stay still. The photographer will have to be the person who works out a way to get the best pictures even while working with often difficult subjects.

For that very reason, some creative individuals have come up with different ways to make food photography easier.

Examples of tricks used include using cardboard to give dishes greater height, substituting motor oil in for maple syrup to create more delicious-looking pancakes, and relying on dish soap to produce fizzier drinks.

Location Photography

Pictures of places can also be used for commercial purposes. As mentioned earlier, a prime example of this is when companies opt to have pictures taken of their new offices.

Beyond pictures of offices, location-based commercial photography can also account for pictures taken of the city a specific company is based in.

When companies expand their operations, that typically involves opening up locations in new cities. From that perspective, pictures of the new community that the company will participate in can also boost the business’ profile.

Portrait Photography

In portrait photography, the focus is squarely on people.

More often than not, portrait photographs used for commercial reasons are very professional and subdued. They will usually feature a single person in the middle of doing something at work.

These pictures are very reminiscent of what you’ll see when you go browsing through those stock photo sites.

Crucially, portrait photography can be used for both commercial and personal reasons. Later in this article, we’ll break down how those differ from one another.

Product Photography

The last type of commercial photography is all about snapping great pictures of products. This is commercial photography distilled into its purest form. It’s just the photographer focusing on a particular product and attempting to capture its essence.

The commercial variant of product photography is remarkably straightforward. Photographers usually don’t worry about what kind of backdrop to use or which graphics to include. As long as the product stands out, the photographer has done his/her job.

If you want to see examples of commercial product photography, check out the images that accompany many of the brand new products being sold on online retail websites such as Amazon.

What Kind of Education/Training Do You Need to Become a Commercial Photographer?

Photography is certainly a popular hobby, but others want to be more involved in the field and thus pursue opportunities that could eventually lead to them being a professional. One possible career path to follow is that of the commercial photographer.

So, do you need to have any kind of specific education or training before you can be regarded as a professional commercial photographer?

According to Study.com, a specific type of formal education is not required if you wish to make your living as a commercial photographer. However, commercial photographers are expected to have earned a bachelor’s degree.

Having a degree related to photography would obviously help, so it would be best if you started pursuing this career path earlier on.

Your best bet if you want to make a strong impression on potential clients right away is to have both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in commercial photography.

It takes a minimum of four years to complete a bachelor’s degree in commercial photography and over that time, you will learn about how this art form is utilised for business, catalogue and web photography as well as editing. You will also be able to better understand copyrights and licensing.

After earning your bachelor’s degree, you can continue to study and work on getting your master’s degree in commercial photography. This program takes at least two years to complete and it teaches students how to better express themselves even within the at times confining world of commercial photography.

Another option for aspiring photographers is to study for an associate’s degree in commercial photography. This kind of course will teach students more about the basics of photography to start. The more business-centric topics will be discussed in greater depth during the second year.

Students will need to spend at least two years in school to complete an associate’s degree in commercial photography.

Photography courses are offered in numerous educational institutions in the UK Some courses can also be taken online.

Are There Additional Certifications/Qualifications for Commercial Photographers to Pursue?

Photographers based in the UK can continue to bolster their credentials by seeking a professional qualification with the British Institute of Professional Photography (BIPP).

The BIPP has six criteria that photographers must meet in order to become qualified. The criteria are:

  • Photographer must be a member of the BIPP
  • Photographer must be making a living in the creative and media market by personally produced pictures and videos
  • Photographer must have the creative and technical skills needed to meet the standards of the BIPP
  • Photographer must meet the requirements “for sound and professional business practice”
  • Photographer must follow the BIPP’s Code of Professional Conduct
  • Photographer must be insured with Public Liability and Professional Indemnity

The different qualification levels available via the BIPP include Licentiateship, Associateship, and Fellowship.

A Licentiateship indicates that the holder is capable of showing a “consistent professional level of skill and competence in all aspects of photography.”

An Associateship is awarded to photographers who adhere to a “high standard of craftsmanship.” They must also show that they can expertly handle the task of preparing files for print.

The Fellowship qualification is bestowed on those who showcase “technical ability at the highest level.” These photographers are also capable of providing prints that display their unique style.

Students who have taken up a photography course of NVQ Level 3 or higher can also apply to become members of the BIPP.

How Does Commercial Photography Differ from Advertising Photography?

Now that we know more about the basics of commercial photography and even what it takes to become a professional in the field, we can discuss how that particular type of photography differs from the others.

Let’s first highlight how commercial and advertising photography differ.

You’ve probably heard plenty of people use those terms in conversation as if they mean the same thing, and it’s not hard to see why they made that mistake. Both types of photography are primarily focused on promoting something, so many assume that they are the same thing.

Commercial photography is all about demonstrating that something has great value. The photographer wants to show how great the subject is while not necessarily pushing it or urging someone to buy it, even though that is the unstated goal.

For advertising photography, subtlety is not quite as important. Photographers can be more direct with how they show the product in question and making it clear that it is something people should get.

Those differences also play into how commercial and advertising photographs are taken and eventually presented.

Commercial photographs don’t feature a lot of bells and whistles. The focus is on the product or the person and nothing else. Photographers will even make it a point to ensure that no other elements in the picture will take any attention away from the subject by using plain backgrounds.

The commercial photographs that feature people also often have them doing some kind of task within an office setting. The aim is to create a professional image that can appeal to potential consumers, so that type of picture works.

In stark contrast, advertising photography can be significantly more adventurous. Don’t be surprised if advertising photographers make use of bright backgrounds and unusual lighting to make an image stand out.

As part of the finishing process of creating a picture for advertising purposes, photographers may also include bold lettering and other graphics to garner even more attention.

Basically, commercial photographs are all about letting the subject shine on its own while advertising photographs may involve more elements to produce something that can attract people more effectively.

How Does Commercial Portrait Photography Differ from Personal Portrait Photography?

Earlier in this article, I talked about how portrait photography can be used for both commercial and personal reasons. Let’s dive into that topic in this section.

Some of the main differences can be observed in how the person is pictured.

People in commercial photos are often captured doing something like writing on a piece of paper, typing on a keyboard, or perhaps standing while gesturing next to a whiteboard. The people in those photos are also often not looking right at the camera, as if they’re not even acknowledging it.

You are seeing someone at work when you look at a commercial portrait.

For personal portraits, the subjects will often be looking at the camera as they strike a simple pose.

Commercial portraits also tend to feature a lot of negative space. That is done on purpose so that additional text can be included if desired. In personal portraits, only the subject matters and negative space is eliminated.

To put it simply, commercial portraits are more about conveying a sense of professionalism while the personal portraits want to formally introduce you to the subject of the photograph.

The next time you go shopping online, looking through stock photo sites, or even just vising the About Us pages of companies online, you will be able to better appreciate the pictures found there knowing the kind of work a commercial photographer put in to produce them.

Conveying simplicity and professionalism in a photograph is not easy, but commercial photographers can do that consistently.


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