How do I get Started in Commercial Photography?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2019
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Commercial photography is typically used to sell a service or a product. Generally, work for people interested in starting a commercial photography business comes from advertising agencies and graphic design firms. It can be a profitable and thrilling field of work.

To get started in commercial photography, it is important to start a portfolio. Prospective clients will usually want to see signs of creativity – more so than simply showing samples of advertising work. For example, the kind of portfolio that a commercial photographer would show to a curator at an art museum is the same creative portfolio that he would show to a high end company. In addition, a good portfolio will show that the photographer is proficient with the technical aspects of his field.

It is often recommended that those people starting a commercial photography business begin close to home. That way, it is simpler to show the portfolio to prospective clients and directors. In fact, a face-to-face meeting with a prospective client can put them at ease and can indicate the level of interpersonal skills that the photographer possesses.

Beginners in the field of commercial photography may want to start by contacting ad agencies that have smaller yearly billings and fewer employees. They are often quicker to accept the work of a newcomer. In the alternative, once a commercial photographer has built-up a list of advertising credits, then the larger and higher paying ad firms should be targeted.


People new to commercial photography should peruse through trade magazines, such as Graphis, Adweek, and Communication Arts. They will give additional insight into the nature of design and advertising firms. They will disclose a few details about the top firms, as well. Also, the Advertising Photographers of America will give plenty of information on various business practices for advertising or commercial photographers.

When making contact with advertising, design, or other commercial markets, many agencies require complete contact information, rates, a business card, and self-promotion pieces such as a brochure, flier, digital sample, or tear sheets. A website linked to work samples is also recommended. Many agencies use freelance commercial photographers on assignment basis only. Oftentimes, they require a model release or property release for photographs that are taken.

The types of images that will be used in commercial photography vary. Sometimes photographs are used for annual reports, direct mail, consumer or trade magazines, catalogs, and sales brochures. Other times, photographs are needed for billboards, news releases, calendars, theatrical stills, and magazines or newspaper ads. The subjects can be quite wide ranging: environmental, architectural, rural, spiritual, adventure, science, automobiles, animals, travel, celebrities, teens, and food or drink – just to name a few. The important thing is to find an area that works for the photographer and then grow from there.


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