What is a Commercial Photographer?

photographer behind camera shooting water containers in a still life

A commercial photographer is someone who works for commercial enterprises.

Sounds obvious but what exactly do commercial enterprises do?


Commerce is business and anything that generates income could be a business and all businesses require marketing and communication to reach their potential clients and therefore most shall require images to use for that purpose.

In medieval times if someone wanted to sell something such as Ale, they would put a sign outside their house that would show that it sold ale, they probably started as wooden boards shaped as a

Jug or barrel and progressed to the signage that you see today.

Advertising and marketing have evolved and the way a commercial enterprise communicates its products or service has changed but it remains as basic as show the potential customer what you do and they know where to go for what that business does.

Commercial photography is simply that, working for commerce, but as businesses have become so complicated in the 21st century, commercial photographers have had to specialise and deliver to specialist sectors.

Architectural photographers will not necessarily have the right equipment or. Knowledge to photograph food for a restaurant in the building they are photographing. A photographer who works with clients that have an industrial manufacturing facility will not be equipped to photograph a family at home using the product that the manufacturer has produced.

However all these disciplines are commercial photographers, some shall have many skills and with experience a commercial photographer should be able to tackle most photography briefs.

It should be reasonable to expect a studio based photographer shall have the knowledge and appropriate lighting and camera equipment to photograph most things that are sold to the public, Amazon has thousands of items and all require photography, some commercial photographer will have photographed many and often the better quality of image the better the customers will understand what it is and does and shall purchase.

A simple  old fashioned picnic basket, will look pretty on a website catalogue as a cut out image on a page, but if it is photographed on a seaside beach with a happy group enjoying the picnic and sunshine, that shall be even more attractive and emotional so there is a need for both types of commercial photography.

A studio still life product photographer would produce the product shot, but as a commercial photographer they should have all the skills to also produce the lifestyle images.

I reality commercial photographers do tend to specialise, some as product photographers, some as people or lifestyle photographers, as their folios evolve the types of clients they attract tend to be the same as the ones they are already working for, so a specialisation evolves often without planning.

If you are interested in commissioning a photographer for your business first search for photographers that do state they are commercial photographers, otherwise you shall find wedding and social photographers that seem to be the most plentiful, but maybe search for the specialist skills you are after, a headshot photographer can be someone who is OK to produce a passport photograph but not necessarily a portrait that has substance and has the gravitas that you require as a serious professional for your marketing and communications.

A commercial photographer should have the skills to produce anything that their website has posted, check out the reviews, ensure that the work is consistent and it is commissioned, many can replicate an image with time and the use of Ai, but can they deliver on the day, on time, on budget and to the quality that you require?

A photography studio is often required for a commercial photography it may not be used for all jobs if the photographer is a still life specialist. The space that can be controlled and has the specialist equipment that helps deliver images to a high standard, the photographer uses the space that has neutral surfaces, it has backgrounds and tables that provide surfaces for the subjects, often having many types of materials from rustic wood, natural rock to high tech manufactured material.

Many photographers hire studios for projects, unless the studio is used often it can be an expensive overhead especially in high cost city centres, something that has to be charged on to a client making the fees very high.

This is why many photographers have moved from city central locations to cheaper industrial business parks or mixed use properties out in the sticks.

It is normal practice that a commercial studio photographer will charge a fee for the service he delivers and will include the studio as part of that fee, however if the studio is a drive-in facility  or offers specialist facilities the studio cost is then added to the photography fee as a production cost.

You want to become a commercial photographer?

This is a very competitive profession and if you are a skilled photographer it may not be quite what you imagine, as it is so competitive the rewards are not what they were, the market is full of photography graduates who want a foot in the door and see commercial photography as an attractive vocation, the more realistic option to becoming a fashion photographer, however photography is ‘easy’ with digital technology and the need to produce massive amounts of content for social media, but not requiring high resolution quality images. Images are required but also moving images and infographics. The future commercial photographers shall probably be using Ai technology and certainly providing moving and still images for clients. The skills required still will include the understanding of lighting and the mastering of many software apps. Studio space maybe required to capture some images, but the commercial photography world is evolving rapidly and a commercial photographer maybe referred to by another name, such as content producer or visual communicator?

It is a very exciting time and as changes happen job titles shall change, a business of any type will require some communication to reach its potential clients and images are possibly part of that communication, in the future they could be holograms or something we are unaware of, but someone like a commercial photographer shall be producing them, what they shall be called is yet to be decided.