Commercial Photographer banner

Commercial Photographer F.A.Q.

This section on my website is going to be devoted to answering questions related to Commercial Photography and Commercial Photographers.  As I see it, there are two types of people interested in commercial photography, potential clients, and student photographers.  I plan on addressing the questions of both types and eventually separating them into two sections for easy access.  For now, they will all be in one long list that will later be put into categories.

Work in Progress

This will be work in progress and in time, as I think of more and more questions related to Commercial Photography, this page will grow.   It may seem unorganized at times, but will eventually fall into a well-organized resource for both students and clients.  On occasion, you might want to check back to see if there is more info available.  And if you can think of questions that are not addressed here and would like to have them answered, please email me and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.  Last update 5/18/17

One Photographer’s Opinions

As you read this, please keep in mind that this is one person’s opinion, albeit someone that has been a commercial photographer for quite some time.  Things may not be the same in different parts of the world and what I’m writing here may not apply everywhere.  I live in Pittsburgh PA, a medium sized city in the United Sates, but I also have commercial photographer friends in both larger and smaller markets, But still, my perspective is limited and you’ll want to take what I write here with a grain of salt.  I’m just attempting to convey information the best I can from what I know.  This info may not apply universally.

What is a Commercial Photographer?

As I see it, there are two basic client types for Photography services, families and businesses.  For the sake of clarity here on this web page, I will refer to these two types as “family photographers” and “commercial photographers”.  Family photographers work for individuals and families, while Commercial photographers work for companies or other business concerns.

What are the Essential Skills and Characteristics needed by Commercial Photographers?

What are the Specialities within Commercial Photography?

What are the departments and the titles of the people that usually hire commercial photographers?

The titles of the people in businesses that hire commercial photographers can vary.  In smaller companies, it is usually the owner and with larger business, it’s someone in Marketing or Public Relations, usually with the title of “Director of Marketing”.  If the business has a graphics department, it can be a “Designer” or “Art Director”.  If the company hiring the commercial photographer is an Ad Agency, the person’s title may be “Creative Director”.  If the client is a Magazine, the “Art Director”, “Publisher”, or even “Director of Photography” may be the person in charge of purchasing commercial photography.

Can a photographer be both a Commercial Photographer and a Family Photographer?

Sure…. This is especially common in smaller markets, but in larger ones, there is usually little overlap.  Most photographers find it more efficient to market to one type of audience rather than both, but there are exceptions.  Commercial portrait, lifestyle, corporate shooters, will often find their skill set applicable to wedding photography and might put up a web page to attract weekend work shooting weddings.   Until recently, some commercial photography clients looked down upon photographers that shot weddings, thinking them to be inferior in some way, but that seems to be changing.

Do all Commercial Photographers Specialize?

No, especially in smaller markets, commercial photographers tend to generalize.  Even in larger markets may prefer to be a generalist.  I’m a generalist.  While I’m best known for shooting food and portraits, I like the variety of photographing all types of subjects.  I think it keeps life interesting.  Yes, I could probably make more money if I specialized in just one thing, but I’m afraid that my amazing exciting job would soon become a bore.

Even if commercial photographers don’t specialize, they will all have their strengths and weaknesses.  Some may be better with people and others may be better with inanimate objects.  Some may have a great eye for composition and not be able to light a shot worth a dang.  If you’re going to hire a commercial shooter, check out their web pages to figure out which vendor will best suit your needs.

Sooner or later, each commercial photographer will end up gravitating to one subject matter over another.  He may not become a specialist in that subject, but word will get around that he excels in that, or there will be a greater need for that kind of photography in his area, and he will end up doing more of that than other types of photography. This is only natural.

How do commercial photographers charge for their services?

I’m sure there are many different ways that commercial photographers come up with their pricing, so I’ll just tell you the ones I know about.

Time + Expenses

You’ve probably heard the term “day rate”.  That’s what most photographers use to come up with a price for a particular project.  Commercial photographers usually charge by the whole day or maybe the half day, but usually not hourly.

In addition to the time, they usually charge additionally for any out of pocket expenses involved in completing that project.  Additional expenses may include any needed crew needed, like a photo assistant, makeup artist, food stylist, prop stylist, location scout, and possible others. It all depends on the specific job.

Other expenses that may be incurred and will need to be passed along might include equipment rental, craft services (snacks and meals for the crew) props, backgrounds, and other items or services necessary to complete the shoot and deliver the final files.

Many jobs require a photographer’s time before and after the actual shoot day, and that needs to be charged for too.  This is referred to as pre-production and post-production.  Other fees might include travel time to and from a location, retouching services, and location scouting, to name just a few.

Time + Expenses + Usage

Besides Time and expenses, many Commercial Photographers also charge for “usage”.  They will license the rights for the client to use the photos for a prescribed use and for a determined amount of time. For example, they might give you the rights to use the photo for magazine advertising use, for a period of one year.  If you want to use it for other things, like a billboard or the web, or for another year, the photographer would want additional money.

The idea behind usage is that the photographer is creating art and is licensing you the use of that photo.  I have a hard time with this idea, but in some areas, especially in Advertising Photography, in larger markets, it’s a common practice.  To me, it;’s like having the plumber charge me everytime I flush the toilet.

Things the client may not consider

If you’re a potential client of commercial photography and don’t have much experience, it’s easy to overlook some potential expenses involved with a commercial shoot.  For example, as a client, you may assume that the photographer will supply things like the background for a shoot, but in reality, the background might be perishable and cost a hundred dollars.  That’s not something that a commercial usually builds into his price.  That expenses will need to be recovered.

Raising your rates

Not that long ago, I virtually attended a webinar on commercial photography where one of the subjects discussed was how a photographer can raise their rate.  The person giving the seminar said that the easiest way was to start billing for things that he normally included in his price.  For example, if you normally do a little retouching before you deliver the job, you should charge fo rit./.  If you deliver the files on a flash drive and usually just eat the cost of the drive, you should charge for it.  You should even mark it up!  That what business do, they spend money to make money.  If you’re looking for for a way to make a little more money, you might want to look for things that you normally don’t charge for and start billing them as a line item. That way, your rate doesn’t change, but the bottom line and your profit goes up a little.

What are the different Types of Portrait Photography and Photographers in Pittsburgh?

Why should I hire a commercial photographer?

If you’re looking to hire a photographer to shoot a project for your company, you probably want to hire a commercial photographer and not a family or wedding photographer.  The only exception I can think of is if your project is either shooting an event or maybe some simple portraits of employees.  Of course that’s just my opinion, but here is my reasoning.

Wedding photographers usually have little experience with shooting anything but weddings a maybe a few portraits.  There are skills that commercial photographers deal with on a day-to-day basis that Wedding shooters never face.  For example, matching the color of photographic lights to the ambient lighting is a skill very few wedding portrait photographers have time to deal with and develop.  It’s a technique that helps the photo to look more natural and is important.

Another reason to hire a commercial photographer for a commercial job is that they tend to have the needed equipment for most assignments that you can throw at them.  Wedding photographers may have only a couple lenses whereas commercial shooters have a much larger selection and range to choose from.  The same goes with lighting.  Few wedding shooters have studio strobe lights, relying on “on-camera” flash units.  Most commercial shooters have both, and rarely use the less sophisticated on-camera lights.

Wedding Photography is more about “capturing” and commercial photographer is more about “creating” the image.  That’s it in a nutshell.

Are you happy being a Commercial Photographer?

I love being a Commercial Photographer.  I can’t believe how fortunate I am to have stumbled into this field.  The skills needed for commercial photography dovetail perfectly with mine and even the skills needed in being a successful self-employed individual are ones I have.  The money is great and the freedom I have is something most people only dream of.  The biggest thing though is the creativity.  Creating a portfolio piece far outweighs the money in this business.  The satisfaction from creating a beautiful photo and then getting to see that photo in print, really gives me a sense of worth and accomplishment.

Unanswered Questions

These are the questions about Commercial Photography I’ve yet to answer.  They function as my brainstorming area for me and I plan on answering them all eventually.   If you have a specific question that you don’t see listed here, chances are that other people would be interested in that information too.  Please email me with your question and I’d be glad to give it my best shot!

Why Should I hire a specialist commercial photographer?

What’s it take to be a good Commercial Photographer?

What’s the typical career path of a Commercial Photographer?

What Equipment does a typical commercial photographer need?

Who makes more money, the commercial or family photographer?

What do you see as the future of commercial photography?

Do you need to be self-employed or do companies hire you on full time?

Do Commercial Photographers deal with copyright?

Are business skills important to a commercial photographer?

What makes one Commercial Photographer better than another?

What kind of income can I expect being a Commercial Photographer?

Print Photography vs Video

Print Photography vs Photography for web use

What’s the best way for photographers to market themselves.

Michael Ray Photography
2820 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA  15222