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6 Tips for Becoming a Successful Commercial Photographer

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This guest post was written by Aminah Syed.

The difference between a part-time and a professional photographer is more than technical skill. As a professional wedding, family, or portrait photographer you’ll know that it’s your job to take control and allow your clients to enjoy their big day relaxed in the knowledge they’re in safe hands.

The world of corporate and commercial photography is an entirely different beast. If you’re considering expanding your clientele to include corporate or professional clients there’s a few things you should know. In this article I’ll pass on some of the knowledge I’ve accrued during the past four years shooting professionally for commercial and non-profit organizations.

1. Make yourself bookable by being easy to find

At a minimum you should have a website or online portfolio that presents your corporate and commercial experience along with a clear definition of where you are located and available to shoot. Your contact information should be easy to find and you should put your email address and (optionally) phone number online.

It sounds obvious but your website should be easy to find. It’s worth optimizing your site for search engines, and in particular local SEO so your site ranks higher for searches in your geographic area. Being active on social media like Twitter & Facebook, commenting on articles and writing a blog will also increase people’s awareness of you, resulting in more leads.

If have a diverse body of work, separate your other genres of photography out from your corporate portfolio. Make it easy for potential clients to find exactly what they’re looking for. FotoJournal’s new portfolio feature lets you easily create separate galleries for exactly this purpose.

2. Get the information and get it in writing

Ask lots of questions — or better yet — ask for a creative brief and/or shot list before the shoot. The more information you can gather from the clients about the project and where your work will fit in, the easier you make it for yourself. You’ll find that understanding where your clients are coming from, and why will help you knock it out of the park when it comes to the shoot!

By getting everything in writing you give yourself something to fall back on if your client begins to expect more from you than what they originally asked for. That’s called ‘scope creep’ and no one ever wants scope creep.

Always ask what the client’s budget is. Depending on the organization, project, or even department within a company, budgets can vary wildly. Know that if you are producing work for online versus print, the requirements will be different. Always ask what the final output will be.

3. Realize that it’s about control, or lack there of

As a portrait or wedding photographer your clients hand over control to you in order to produce great photographs. You are the boss and your clients will trust you to direct them and be in control of the session. For the most part, you decide when the shoot takes place, how many images they’ll receive, in what form they’ll display their photos, and so on…

This is not the case in commercial or corporate photography!

Frequently your photography will be part of a larger campaign or project with many moving parts. Your corporate “client” will often include far more than one person — it’s a team effort.

Usually there is a communications/marketing person, an account manager, an art director, a graphic designer, and probably a senior executive all tasked with seeing the project to completion. Depending on the scope of the project there will be a different deadline for each element of the campaign. Therefore, you will be working within your client’s deadlines and project needs to meet a collective goal, often one tied to a specific business objective.

4. The deadline was yesterday

Deadlines in the corporate and commercial photography world are always much tighter and more concrete than wedding and portrait photography. No money is lost if you’re a couple of days late delivering your maternity proofs. You can use your healthy client relationship to explain the delay and keep everyone happy. This is rarely the case with commercial photography.

Depending on the scope of the project there are many different milestones that need to be finished to hit a campaign launch date — often in a specific sequence. For example, a graphic designer might require your work before they can begin theirs. If other people depend on your work, your delays will delay everyone else and make the entire project late. Not good!

As a general rule, I ask what the deadline is for photography in my first corresponsence and then do my best to provide the images well before that date — sometimes providing proofs as fast as 24 hours after the shoot. The faster you can get your part finished, the faster the client can get to work on the rest of the campaign or project. To speed up this process, use an online proofing gallery (like FotoJournal’s) to get proofs in your client’s hands ASAP.

5. Take direction and criticism well

You must have the ability to take direction. Unlike weddings and portraits, your corporate clients will have a clear idea of what they are looking for. Therefore the ability to listen to what they are asking and deliver the goods becomes your single most important task. (Remember tip #3!)

Don’t be offended if you are asked to reshoot or try again on retouching an image. Remember, your work is part of an overall goal. Chances are you will have an art director and the client present at your shoot watching you and critiquing your work on the spot. Shoot tethered, if possible, so that your client can see the images as they happen and offer suggestions.

6. Know your limits and stick to them

If you are a natural light photographer with no studio experience then now is probably not the time to learn complicated studio lighting scenarios. Make sure you are upfront regarding your skill level. A sure-fire way to losing your client is inappropriately pair your skills with a job and not deliver on a final product. This will do more harm to your career than help.

Be sure to keep an open dialogue with your corporate clients regarding their expectations throughout the entire process. Managing expectations is key for the happiness of all parties and your chances of further work.

Conclusion

Corporate photography requires a different approach than other types of photography. It’s not for everyone but an understanding of how things work can help you to diversify your portfolio and take on new challenges.

Do you shoot corporate photography? Anything to add? Let us know!


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Aminah Syed

This post was written by Aminah Syed, a freelance photographer from Edmonton, Canada. She’s been blogging with FotoJournal for nearly 4 years. You should also check out Aminah’s website!

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