Enter “how to become a commercial photographer” into Google, and most of the results are subpar at best. Most commercial photographers say they just fell into it, while others are much more secretive. As a photographer who’s worked alongside some amazing advertising agencies and brands, I’m going to tell you how to start and why it’s not as glamorous as you might think.
Commercial photographers capture images that will be used to make their client money. If Procter & Gamble hires a photographer to produce images for its latest Tide campaign about how its product gets whites whiter, then the photographer must create images that convey that message. This is usually the highest-paid type of commercial work. The finished works are tear sheets. You find the images in magazines and on signs and websites. Commercial photographers are paid each time their images are used for an agreed amount of time.
This month we dive into running and producing a commercial shoot for one of our clients: Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas. Photographers have more access to this type of work than you might expect. Any client walking in the door for a headshot is a commercial client. Think of headshots as the gateway drug for a more in-depth relationship and project delivery.
When you think about creating a black-and-white photo, ask yourself, why black and white? Some clients simply want it for a particular marketing look or just for the love of black and white. Either way, you should know why you’re shooting in this style. In this article, I focus on a recent black-and-white project I did for a commercial client.
Nothing beats window light. It’s broad, diffuse, indirect, soft light that’s flattering to anyone in its path. But what do you do when the sun has set, there is no window or Mother Nature isn’t cooperating? With the right tools and techniques, you can re-create it. I’ve seen this sun-drenched looks-like-daylight-but-isn’t look used often in Gap ads. The light created for these images has the open, airy quality you get from daylight streaming in through a large window. It’s perfect for Gap’s brand. I’ve always loved this quality of light and wanted to use it in my own work. How they did it was the big question mark.
My first paying gig as a photographer was shooting headshots of doctors at a medical convention, packed into a tiny corner of a trade show booth. Back then I didn’t quite understand the impact that type of situation would have on my methods of lighting. Every technique I developed over the next decade was based around learning to shoot a great, professional portrait quickly and in just about any location. I’ve since refined the process, and have found that most of my lighting for high-volume headshots can be categorized into three main techniques.
A big misconception about portrait and headshot photographers is that they’re always shooting in a studio. They actually shoot on location pretty frequently. Shooting on location is fun for me. It is a bit more challenging, but it gives me the chance to be more creative.
When I first picked up a camera, I had no idea I was going to use it to photograph powerful CEOs, fly on their private jets to where they wanted me to photograph huge business deals and find myself almost too busy in my studio. If you’re starting off in weddings, it can seem like a pretty big leap to jump into a new genre of photography. A lot of people think it requires a completely different method of marketing, but it doesn’t.
As a wedding photographer, I envy portrait shooters who work inside a studio and not on location. They get as much time as they need to set up the perfect lighting and settings, and do everything else that goes into a studio photograph.
When I moved from photographing mostly weddings to doing what I do now—mainly headshots, portraits and fashion—I hit a learning curve. Trying to figure out on my own how to control light in a studio was very different from shooting on location.