How to Set up a Commercial Photography Business

You call the shots with so many options in commercial photography!

How to set up a commercial photography business has the same challenges as starting any new business. Fortunately, there are many options available in this category including,

  • Business headshots
  • Product photography
  • Event photography
  • Stock photography
  • Fine art photography



Head-shots are not only an easy way to diversify your commercial photography business, they can also be very profitable. First of all, there is little cost of sales, because the delivery of the product is usually electronic. For models and actors, there can be the expense of comp cards or 8 x 10 portfolio photos.Second, most head-shots, are quick and easy; one backdrop and 8-12 shots is usually adequate. Lastly, it is a business expense for the client, so you are not tapping into their personal,discretionary income. Head-shots are a requirement for many professional people;realtors, lawyers, actors, models (as shown on left) and anyone who wants to have their face on their website or promotional pieces.I highly recommend that you consider branching out into this type of commercial photography if your are a portrait photographer.

Head-shots can be done at your studio, or on location at a company’s site. You can volumize your service by offering discounts for large groups over 20 people. I have earned up to $1000 for as little as three hours of work. YES THAT IS OVER $300 PER HOUR WITH NO EXPENSES INVOLVED! You can tap in on this market with a very low budget and with no studio at all.

Rates can vary depending on whether you are photographing one person or a group of individuals from the same company. For one person,I charge $125 for the session fee with one electronic image. For additional images I charge $50. Retouching is extra, which is how I up-sell. My average fee for a head-shot including retouching and one image is $200. For groups, I discount the fee to $45 per person. The fee always includes sizing the image for the web, print and business cards. I deliver the images electronically to both the client and their webmaster, along with a letter giving full reproduction rights. Then it’s done; quick and easy.

If you are interested in this area of photography you can start by developing some samples (as well as before and after images with retouching) and mail them to brokers, realtors and some small companies in your area. If you are a member of your Chamber of Commerce, you can purchase a mailing list from them and send a flyer to the corporations. By getting your name out there, you could also be contacted for events as well.

Product Photography

productPhotographyMost commercial photography involves photographing products or food for catalogs and websites. It is standard to charge an hourly rate or a daily rate for this type of work. As a novice, it is better to charge an hourly rate, until you become accustomed to how long your shoots will take. You will need to invest in lighting equipment, paper backgrounds and a professional DSLR. A light tent is a great piece of equipment for photographing small products. Images for magazines need to be a very high resolution. Knowledge of Photoshop (CS5 is the latest version) is the norm these days, as well as other imaging software programs, such as Illustrator and In Design. The more graphic elements you can apply to the image (as a graphic artist), the more work you will be able to bring in.Photographing an inanimate subject may not seem to be creative, but on the contrary, creativity is a key component of this skill. Look inside magazines and see how products are being displayed for advertising. Develop your own style and then put together a portfolio of work samples, both electronic and in hard copy.

You will need to learn how to license your images to the client. Some clients will require you to turn over the copyright while others may just ask for reproduction rights. Whichever option you choose, use contracts, so it is clear. I recommend you work with an attorney who specializes in copyright and intellectual property laws.


Event Photography

Event photography can help fill in the gaps of for a commercial photographer, and you might gain some new clients along the way. It is a good idea to partner with an event planner for referrals and leads. Events are usually held in the evenings and on weekends, so be prepared to work non-traditional hours. Events can range from birthday parties to bridal showers to more formal corporate and black-tie events. You should have a contract prepared in advance of the event. Typically an hourly fee applies to these types of events. If you are including a CD with the event, price your fees accordingly and have the copyright or reproduction release clearly written out. The PPA (Professional Photographers of America) is a good resource for copyright information

      Stock Photography


Stock photography is probably the most common type of commercial photography. Almost all stock photography is done electronically. There are many successful stock photographers, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. You will need to start with at least 300 excellent images. By excellent I mean sharp, exposed perfectly, and unique. Start by researching stock houses on the internet. Some specialize in certain types of photography while others are more generalized. If you have a niche(travel, pets, cities etc) you should seek those out first.

Establish a rapport with the agency so you can stay a step ahead of the competition. You will need to submit thousands of images annually and have some of them accepted to earn an income from this profession.Most photographers use this as supplemental income and do not quit the day job. Check out I-stock for getting started in stock photography. They have very broad classifications so it is easy to get set-up with them. You should also check out Stock Photography at Can Stock Photo They offer affordable royalty free stock photography. Downloads for just $1.00, with thousands of images added weekly.


Fine Art Photography


Wouldn’t all photographers love to sell their images in galleries and museums? Ever hear the expression: “the starving artist?” It couldn’t fit the role of the fine art photographer any better. Very few photographers sell their photographs as fine art and make money at it, but some do and do it very well.

First of all, partner with a decorator who loves your work. You should have a identifiable look, whether it is flowers, landscapes, black and whites or city-scapes. What ever you choose, there will be someone out there who will like your work. Stroll through galleries and art shops and ask what the best sellers are. You can also look at furniture stores to see what they are displaying over the sofas.

In order to be considered fine art, your images should be printed on the finest archival papers, matted with acid free mats and framed with UV glass. Lexjet is a good source for fine art papers. They can recommend a paper or send you a sample pack. Purchasing your own large format printer, mat and glass cutter can be a huge start-up expense, but in the long run you can cut down on your cost of sales and turn your product into a more profitable one.

If your work is good enough,you should be able to enter a juried art show. This is a starting point to see how the public (art-lovers) view your work. I have found photography has a limited appeal, even at art shows, so don’t be disappointed. Sell smaller, less expensive versions of your work in the form of notecards and small prints. I do not recommend craft shows for selling your fine art photography.

Another avenue for selling fine art is to medical and dental offices. Landscape photographs can be marketed by their healing effects. Soft images of waterfalls, meadows, mountains, flowers, etc. all have been proven to help soothe patients who are suffering from illnesses. Look for new offices going in or older ones who are in need of redecorating. You can go door to door or use the services of a sales rep.

Commercial photography is a very broad business category with a huge playing field. If you love photography there will be something out there for you to do to capture your market share. Follow your business plan and don’t give up.

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