6 Tips to a successful Commercial Photography Session

The biggest thing you can do to work in the Commercial niche is answer the phone.  You answered the phone and got the job, what are the next steps?  Commercial work is in some ways similar to Weddings – You need to have a planning meeting with the client, sign contracts that clearly spell out your role, the image license and how the final images will be delivered.  If possible scout the location, obtain a shot list and just have a good understanding of what the Clients end usage will be.

Pre-Shoot Meeting

It’s important to remember that commercial services differ from traditional portrait sessions in that these sessions are held during business hours.  Many offices will clear their schedules for a couple of hours.  For a Doctor, dentist, lawyer, Auto Shop, etc… that means no billable income.  It is important that you are as prepared as possible going into the shoot to minimize the time the business is affected.

This starts with the initial phone call when the clients calls (and you answer the phone) to see what services you offer.  Ask questions about what “story” they are looking to capture for their business.  Use this to figure out how many hours to quote and to set the expectation of how much time you will need for the shoot.

Ideally you would get a chance to visit the location and scout it out but again this is a place of business so getting access is not always possible.  If offered, then take them up on it as knowing the environment you must work in will make sure you bring the right equipment.

Lastly, part of the pre-shoot discussions should include getting a shot list.  You may not get this right away but ask the client to send you their shot list and take the time to review it as soon as you get it in your inbox.  That way if you find any unrealistic expectations you can address them as soon as possible.


When dealing with any other business, you absolutely NEED to have a good contract in place.  It will prevent lawsuits and misunderstandings better than anything else.  You can pick up a really good set of inexpensive photography contracts on the cheap and it will be invaluable to your business.

Always make sure you consult an attorney in your area as the laws are different from country to country, state to state and city to city.  Going into the commercial business requires a contract.  Portrait work can sometimes be a bit informal so a contract is not always used.  In commercial work it is a must that you have some kind of document in place that spells out things like how many hours, how many images, licensing of the images, how and when the final product will be delivered.

I like to keep things simple, as an Electronics Engineer I have been lucky where most of my employers would be considered small (less than 50 people), so I know how many of these types of businesses work.  My business model is to approach this as a service type job whereas the client is paying me to provide the service of photography.  In other words I am taking pictures under the direction of the client to tell their story and I am just there to make sure the images are captured correctly.  Therefore I charge by the hour and I make sure that hourly rate covers my physical time on site and my estimated time for post processing.  During the Pre-Shoot meeting I also get an idea of how many images the client needs at a minimum and I make sure this minimum number is part of the contract as well.

Licensing of the images is probably one of the most important aspects of the contract you need to make sure the client understands.  There is no right or wrong way to license an image for commercial usage as this all depends on your business model.  Is your business setup so that you can track each individual image and charge the client an annual license fee?  Are you really going to force the client to take down an image they have paid you to capture if they don't “renew” the license after 12 months?  If you have the administrative capabilities for such a business model then great that model will work for your business.  However most of us are a 1 or 2 person business and the administrative work that goes into chasing down clients on an annual basis to renew their imaging license is not feasible.

My recommendation is keep it simple as I mentioned above and make sure the hourly fee you are charging will be enough to cover the cost of that image for a couple of years.  Then in 18-24 months contact the client and say “It's been awhile do you need to update your marketing images?”  Now you are approaching the client i a more friendly and helpful manner rather than asking for a licensing renewal fee.

Finally the contract should spell out what type of files will be delivered.  More than likely they will be all digital and mostly hi-resolution JPG's.  Sometimes you will need to supply some printed images or a proof's before the final images are delivered.  Make sure this is clearly spelled out so that way there are no surprises for you or the client.

Equipment to Bring

There is the obvious your camera and any lighting gear you need but there are a few other items you should consider.  Lenses should include a 24-70 f2.8 (I actually like the Sigma 24-105 F4 Art) and possibly a 70-200 f2.8 as well.  When shooting in an office the 24-70 should be adequate.  Have you ever been in a Doctor or Dentist office that was bigger than 10'x10′?  Try taking a picture of a couple of Doctors and a piece of equipment with anything less than 35mm in that small of a room.

Backup camera body, is very important to have with you on these types of jobs.  Actually if you are going to be paid you should always have a backup body.  Remember these Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers, small business owner, any working person is taking time away from their daily job for these pictures.  If your camera stopped working and you didn't have a backup you not only lost the client but you also cost the client money in lost business.

Other items should include extra memory cards, sandbags for lightstands (you are in a small office environment so this is important to keep them from falling over), and a monopod that can be used as a portable lightstand.  Remember that 10'x10′ room I mentioned above?  You won't be able to fit any lightstands in there so having a monopod with a speedlight and some kind of modifier (small shoot through umbrella) is much easier to have someone hold than to set up a light stand.

Day of Shoot

On the Day of the Shoot arrive at the scheduled time.  Arriving too early is almost as much of an inconvenience to the client as arriving late. Remember these are people who also still have to get their daily tasks completed despite taking a couple of hours to be part of the photo shoot.  That means you need to make sure you build into the schedule for the day any setup time needed.  If it is going to take you 30 min to setup your lights then make sure the scheduled arrival time takes that into account.

Delivery of Finished Images

When all the edits are done and it is time to deliver the final images make sure you have the right service.  This could be anything from DVD, USB Thumb drive, Google Drive, OneDrive, FTP, Email and a host of many other similar services.  Some of these are paid services so be sure to keep that in mind when pricing your services.

The only images you should be delivering are the images you agreed upon in the contract.  Typically these are JPG’s and not Raw files but they could also be PNG files if you are providing any extraction services.  These should only be the images that are technically good (exposure, white balance, sharp) and meet the clients requests.  Do not include any RAW files or “outtakes” (under/over exposed, out of focus, test shots) even if the client asks for these.  Your contract should have the correct verbage in it to cover this issue should it arise.

Additional Services

Just because you charge an hourly fee for your services that doesn't mean there are not other ways to monetize extra services.  When you send over your quote you should make sure you include a price list for any additional services.

Extraction – this is a popular service where you are removing a cluttered background and providing a PNG file with a transparent background.  Usually simple extractions only take a few minutes but sometimes we are busy or extraction is not something you have mastered yet.  Don't worry there are plenty of services out there and one I have mentioned many times is https://www.rebooku.com they charge $1.50 – $2.50 per image for extraction.  Simply build that into your costs for this line item.

Extensive Photoshop Work – At a minimum you should already be planning to provide basic edits to your files but sometimes the client needs a little more extensive work such as power cords or outlets removed in the background.  Make sure you have this listed as an additional fee for each additional image.

On Site Proofing – This is typically for Headhsot clients where you are doing a whole office in volume.  Basically you need to know how much it will cost you to have an assistant and a laptop setup for the client to pick/proof their images as soon as they are taken.

Resizing Images – Again mostly for volume Headshot clients where they will want an additional copy of the image already sized for Social Media.

Prints and other items – Sometimes a client will want posters made or recently I had a Doctors Office that wanted greeting cards for the holidays.  They wanted 250 of them and they didn't want to sign them all by hand. So I had everyone in the office use the same pen and sign a white piece of paper.  I extracted the signatures and placed them inside the card that had a group photo on the front I took.  Now greeting cards are part of my Additional Services price list when I send over my quote.

I thoroughly enjoy commercial shoots as they are more technical in nature and being an Engineer by day this just fits my personality.  What is great is this type of work is year around.  There is no Commercial Season like there is Wedding or Senior/Family seasons.  Businesses are constantly looking to update their marketing materials at a time that fits their schedule.  However with a little bit of marketing you can add a few of these sessions in the traditionally slower months of December and January by stressing how the New Year should have new marketing materials.  


4 thoughts on “6 Tips to a successful Commercial Photography Session”

  1. It makes sense that commercial photography would be something that you don’t want to mess up with. It’s definitely a good idea to have a meeting with both the photographers and the people who will be in the photographs before the pictures are taken! That way you can discuss what you are expecting in the photographs.

  2. If you’re looking to hire a commercial photographer then it can help to take the article’s advice and look for extra services. You can never tell when you might need something like Photoshop work on your product or photos. After all, even if it is something as simple as color correction it is something that you’ll want to consider.

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