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

This is probably a shock to most people, but since commercial photographers tend to be self-employed, skills related to business are THE most important skills.  I’ve known some really good commercial photographers that ended up going out of business because they couldn’t handle being self-employed.

Mastery of Photography Equipment

Of course, you need to master your cameras and equipment, that’s a given.  You can’t be fumbling around reading the camera’s manual, during a shoot.  You should really know what all the buttons and setting do, and how they affect your photos.  This sounds pretty obvious and simple, but it’s not.  The current technology in photography is amazing if you can make it work for you, but it’s a bitch when you can’t figure it out when you need to.

A Good Sense of Composition

The ability to compose inside the camera is a valuable skill.  It can be done, given enough time, but “composing a photo” is a difficult thing to teach and it’s best that a person has this ability right out of the box.  In my opinion, it’s what makes an artist an artist.  Anyone can learn to work a camera, but a true artist can take a photo that looks pleasing, even if the exposure is bad or the lighting suffers.  There’s no making up for bad composition.

The Ability to See and Understand Light

Similar to the ability to compose, the skill of “seeing light” takes time to develop.  It seems that some people can understand photographic lighting right away, while others never master the skill.  A skilled commercial photographer will be able to enhance a subject by creating shape and texture with the use of artificial or natural light.  It’s really one of the more important tools of commercial photography and must be mastered if the photographer is to be a success.

Imagination / Creativity

Imagination and creativity are what commercial photography is all about.  Anyone can take a picture, but the talented commercial photographer will be able to look at the subject and come up with a way to make an interesting or unusual photo.  They use the tools of their trade (camera angle, lighting, composition, exposure, focus, perspective) to create a photo that is worthy of being paid for…

Non-Photographic Skills


Marketing is probably the most important business skill of the commercial photographer.  When you’re a commercial photographer, if you’re not shooting, you should be marketing.  It’s that simple.  Nothing happens until you make a sale, and you don’t make a sale without marketing your services in some way.

The Ability to Get Along With People

For the same reason that you need to be good at marketing, you need to be somewhat good with people too.  People skills are important when it comes to dealing with clients and even vendors too.  You really don’t have to be a super-social people person, but it helps.  Clients tend to work with people that they enjoy spending time with.  You might think it’s your amazing photographic ability that sets you apart from your competition and gets you work, but in reality, most projects could be photographed by several competent shooters in your area.  So who does the job go to with projects like that?  It goes to the friend of the person handing out the job.  That’s reality.


Sometimes it’s hard to get off your butt and do what needs doing… It’s that simple,  When you’re self-employed, you need to figure out how best to spend your time and then be self-disciplined enough to do it.  This si especially true during the slow times.  It’s so easy to become distracted and lose focus.  If you’re not good at being self-motivated and self-disciplined, you’ll have a tough time being a successful Commercial Photographer.


A professional Commercial Photographer is paid to produce great photos EVERY time they do a job.  If they can’t produce every time, then the client will find someone who will.  The client’s butt is usually on the line too, so if a photographer can’t produce consistently, then for the sake of self-preservation, the client will gravitate to a photographer assure success for both of them.

Michael Ray Photography
2820 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA  15222