5 Steps to a Successful Commercial Photography Business

One of my favorite images because I was going for the clock to be sharp as well as the person.
One of my favorite images because I was going for the clock to be sharp as well as the person.

It’s December and for many photographers whose business is based on portrait or weddings the next couple of months could be what is known as “The slow season.”  With the right kind of marketing you could turn the slow season into steady income if you consider Commercial Photography.  Commercial photography covers a few sub categories such as Headshots, Food (Restaurants) and Marketing Materials/Website usage.

Headshots are a subject in and of itself which will be covered at a later time.  Food Photography is not my specialty so I won’t pretend I can teach you about this type of session.  However, Marketing/Website images are one of my favorite types of sessions (next to anything sports related) and this also has a few of its own special needs when attempting to land this type of client.

Many businesses look to rebrand or “refresh” their look at the beginning of the new year.  Having a plan in place will allow you to take advantage of these opportunities.


If you are a portrait or wedding photographer your site is probably full of these beautiful images of families, children, or brides.  That is great and this is what sells you as a portrait photographer but for commercial work you will need to show commercial images.  “Wait a second, won’t commercial images clash with my beautiful portraits?”  Yes, they will so I highly recommend a second website that is dedicated to your Commercial/Headshot services.  This could be a whole new domain name or simply a subdomain (commercial.yourcurrent.com).  This is very common practice for some of the more successful photographers who shoot portrait and commercial.

It is amazing how many people call me and say “everyone else that showed up in my search only said they were Wedding or Family photographers.”  I was the only one who said anything about headshots or commercial work.  After a couple of minutes on the phone I am booking their business.


Answer the Phone

It sounds simple but probably the most important thing you can do is answer the phone or respond as quick as you can.  One of the most significant differences in commercial work and portrait/wedding work is the way you book the business.  Portrait and wedding photography is all about emotions when selling to a client. In commercial work, we are just a check on someone’s to do list.  Typically, it is an administrative assistant who was told to order office supplies and find someone to take pictures for the website.

Not responding in a timely manner will cost you the project.  In commercial work the person looking will simply go on to the next one in line and when someone answers the phone they will more than likely get the job.

Know your Cost of Doing Business

Commercial work is more about providing digital images and is billed on an hourly rate than it is about providing prints and canvases.  In order to be successful from a business standpoint you have to know how much you need to make in a day to pay the bills.  From that number, you can calculate an hourly rate.  That hourly rate should make sure your time editing images is included as most clients see your hourly time as time on site.  Don’t worry I will discuss how to bill for other services in a minute.

Example of Extraction as an extra Service

Services/Price List

Once you have your hourly rates you will need to have a price list ready in a format to send out to the client right away.  The price list should have your hourly rate including the minimum number of hours you charge.  Some other services you can have on your price list:

Extraction – Some images will be shot with extraction in mind so having a fee for this service is important.

Extra Editing – Some shots will need some extra work so having a fee for XX number of shots to be extensively edited is a good item.

On Site Photo Selection – This is mostly for volume headshots and allows each person to choose which shot they like right after a shoot.

Special props – If you must buy anything (yes sometimes we must provide props) then make sure it is listed out for the client.

Travel – If the client is far enough away that requires any kind of extensive travel make sure you include these expenses as well.  The definition of extensive is going to need to be defined on your business model.  For some an hour drive is extensive for others it could be 3 or more hours before it gets to much and for others it could only be when an airplane trip is involved.


Product Delivery

As I mentioned most of your final product will be digital images so be prepared to deliver in any of the different methods the clients requires.  You should have One Drive, Google Drive, Dropbox accounts already created and ready to use.  You could also be asked to deliver via a USB drive or even a DVD.  Any of these methods could be asked by your client and any hesitation on delivering using these could cost you the job.

I must confess, I didn't learn all this on my own.  One of my recent articles I discussed a book and some Creative Live videos from Gary Hughes.  These have been very educational and without them I would not have been as successful in my commercial work.  I highly recommend checking them out if you want to dig deeper into this genre.  In the mean time if you are looking to fill the slow season Commercial Photography just may be the solution.

2 thoughts on “5 Steps to a Successful Commercial Photography Business”

  1. Every photographer needs an online marketing strategy. Here are some great tips to market your photography business online.

    1. Showcase your Best Photos Online
    2. Launch Koken website in Minutes
    3. Importance of a blog
    4. Join competitions

  2. Every photographer needs an online marketing strategy. Here are some great tips to market your photography business online.
    Showcase your Best Photos Online,Launch Koken website in Minutes,Importance of a blog and Join competitions

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