New to Commercial Photography? You Should Try Up-Selling.

New to Commercial Photography? You Should Try Up-Selling.

Up-selling is part and parcel of the wedding and portrait photography business. Many photographers depend on these selling techniques to generate a decent income. But similar opportunities can be found in the commercial genre — you just need to know how to target them. 

This is a tough one if you're starting out in the professional world, but it can be done. The old adage "confidence is key" is never truer than when talking to a prospective client who is also a business owner. As long as they don't expect commercial grade imagery for $20/hour you've got some wiggle room (I'll come back to this type of client later). If a client is asking for imagery that is outside of your skill-set, never tell them that you "can't" do what they're asking. Either say "no problem" and learn how to make it work before the shoot, or subtly steer them in a direction that's within your ability. It helps to keep in mind, though, that taking on projects that are outside of your skill-set is the quickest way to improve as a creative — after all, nothing beats a challenge when there's a little pressure on you. If you're focused enough, and are willing to put in the extra work, then you will more than likely succeed. 

Taking on more challenging work is the key to progression in almost any industry, and as creative professionals — I assume, mostly self-employed — knowing how to apply recently gained skills from bigger jobs to regular day to day work is an effective way to start up-selling with confidence.

So How Do I Start Up-Selling?

Know Your Customer

This should always be one of your first steps, no matter what type of photography you practice. To keep things simple, I'm going to boil it down to two types.

The Vampire

Like I mention above, if a prospective client is expecting high-end photography for peanuts, they most likely don't know what they're talking about or they're extremely tight with money, or both. In any case, very politely tell them where they can stick their exposure, and move on. If you're desperate for work this can be a very hard thing to do, I've been there myself, but people like that can smell it off you. Please ask yourself one thing: "Why did they contact me for high-end work when I don't have any examples of it online?" If, however, you feel that they're genuine and you see potential in the relationship, try to keep in touch in some way, but never drop your price. Once you drop your price while offering the same amount of work, you've devalued yourself straight away. That not only affects your self-esteem, but it also affects how they see you.

The Kindred 

Say you get an enquiry from a genuine client who wants, we'll say, photos for social media. They could be a sole trader that sells fresh flowers, or they've just opened a tiny coffee kiosk, selling their own blend. With these two examples, there's scope for so much more than just a few Instagram photos. If you're unsure of how you can up-sell, the first thing you should do is to make sure you know exactly what they want. As in, why do they want the photos. If they say that they just want some nice photos for their FB page or website, then you might be on to a winner because you can then explain to them that they don't actually just want nice photos — they want to increase sales. This is the crux of the whole commercial industry and you've just provided them with valuable insight. The sooner you, as a creative professional, understand this, the sooner you realize that you can offer a whole lot more than just some nice photos.

Your whole professional life is taken up with looking at imagery and video. You should, at this stage, understand the differences in tonality and message between advertising campaigns depending on the product being sold. Your job is to capture the personality of your client and their business, and present it in an appropriate manner. Sometimes your client won't recognize these concepts until you reveal it to them. This is when they start to realize that they may have bitten of more than they can chew, and they need help — your help. 

Up-Selling Strategies 


Much in the same vein as wedding and portrait photographers, designing packages with a variety of price ranges makes it easier for your client to see where they can get the most value for their needs. They want images for social media? Fine, but social media marketing needs to be consistent in timing and tone. They will need a constant supply of good imagery. You can set up the packages to suit your weekly or monthly schedule. For example: $200/month for six months for 20 social media images per month. You go to the business for a half hour, get your shots, use a preset to bulk edit everything, done. $200 isn't a lot, especially if you've to travel, but it's a guaranteed income over six months and the client gets good quality content. Remember, this is just a jumping off point. Once they see the effectiveness of good content, you can up-sell again. Offer SEO optimized images where you fill in the metadata according to their specifications. Maybe they can't afford any of that for the time being. If so, and you feel they're genuine and have a good product, tell them you can save them money by leaving your watermark at the bottom of the image. Keep your business in front of them. When it takes off, they'll come to you. 


Once they realize the value of quality content, offer them a 30 second video. Video is an extremely effective marketing tool — Google's and Facebook's crawlers love video content. Then offer a version with text for Facebook because a Facebook video is automatically muted and if viewers don't know what they're looking at within the first few seconds, they keep scrolling. Again, those who are less business savvy haven't figured this out, yet. By suggesting these things, you're not only offering value as a photographer/videographer but your also sharing your valuable marketing knowledge as a self-employed creative professional. Once you treat the relationship as mutually beneficial — which it should be, if your content is good enough — both businesses can grow together.


Get to know other creatives in different fields so that you can offer each other referrals for a small commission. For example, a friend of mine is a web developer; he has various packages, one of which includes professional photography. I get hired for a new commercial gig without doing any marketing and my friend takes a small commission. The client now has an amazing website with professional photography that is tailored to their brand instead of what is obviously stock imagery. It's a win-win-win.

This of course works the other way as well. When trying to figure out exactly what the client wants/needs, simply ask them a series of questions which are designed to enlighten them e.g. "what's your email marketing strategy?", "can you embed video into your blog posts?", or "what's you main funnel source?". Not only will the answers give you a better understanding of what the client needs, but if they seem overwhelmed buy what you just said, tell them you know a really good web developer or marketing strategist that can help them with all that. Either include it in a custom package or refer them directly and take a commission from the other creative.

But Wait, There's More! 

Lee Morris, co-founder of Fstoppers/Don of Money, holding a pack of incense sticks with an image of a younger Lee holding a stack of bills because everything needs to be meta and this made my day.

If all of this sounds rather sales-y to you, then I'm inclined to agree. But, like it or not, if you're a self-employed creative professional like me, then you are a sales person. You're also a marketing person and a secretary. Being good at taking photos is only 10% of the work, maybe less. What I'm not advocating, though, is trying to trick a client into overpaying for something. Not only is that unethical, but it will come back to bite you in the ass. As far as I'm concerned, if I tell my client that my imagery will help them to make more sales, then I truly believe that. If I charge a premium for a short promo video, then I will make sure that that video is of a high standard. Fostering trusting relationships with your clients and your peers is by far the best marketing strategy you can adopt.

Do any of our readers have effective up-sell strategies? We would love to hear about them in the comments.       

Mike O'Leary's picture

Mike is a landscape and commercial photographer from, Co. Kerry, Ireland. In his photographic work, Mike tries to avoid conveying his sense of existential dread, while at the same time writing about his sense of existential dread. The last time he was in New York he was mugged, and he insists on telling that to every person he meets.

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