Fstoppers Answers - What is Commercial Photography?

Fstoppers Answers - What is Commercial Photography?

In our newest series, we're inviting you the viewer to ask a weekly question for the writers of Fstoppers. Each of our writers are also professional photographers, in a broad range of categories and styles. Many of them are among the best in their respected fields and have been working full time as a professional in their industry for years. So who better to ask photography questions to?

To kick off the series, we're asking each of our writers 'What is Commercial Photography?'.

Mike KelleyAssociate Editor | Architecture Photographer Commercial photography is photography created with the intent of making the end user money; essentially, photography for commerce and business. Most commercial photography ends up being used as advertising for the purchaser, and oftentimes continues to make money for the photographer and client long after the initial payment. I don't consider 'photographs that just put money in your pocket' as commercial photography - as there is often times a bit more planning, professionalism, paperwork, and headache involved. Thankfully, that results in more money in the photographer's pocket. But I definitely think that there is a distinction between for-profit photography as far as commercial and non-commercial go.


Sarah WilliamsStaff Writer | Wedding Photographer Commercial photography is anything that has the ability to sell something. It varies from brand to brand and client to client. PacSun will clearly want a lifestyle commercial approach where as Fendi will want more of a clean controlled studio or set environment.


Andrew LinkStaff Writer | Automotive Photographer I define Commercial Photography as shooting images for commercial use, whether it be for advertising, product packaging, or some other use you're creating images to sell something. Commercial Photography and Professional Photography often get interchanged by people, but Commercial Photography is a branch of Professional Photography and they're not the same. There are plenty of Pros who aren't Commercial Photographers.


Dave GeffinStaff Writer | Professional Photographer Commercial photography is the creation of images to help sell a product (usually) or a service (sometimes).
Commercial photographers are employed to create compelling visual images that speak to the target audience of that product. The images produced and style of production should align very closely to both the overall branding strategy that exists for that product or service and play to the target demographic that the company is going after.
Successful commercial photographers are not only great photographers. They understand how things sell, and are able to articulate the qualities that drive people to purchase a given product or service..


Aaron LindbergStaff Writer | Professional Photographer A commercial photographer would be someone who makes a living creating images for clients who use the photographs to market and sell a product or service. Commercial photographers are going to produce work (mostly with a team of people, creative director or art director) who have a common vision that will be created and executed with the sole purpose of being marketed and sold. Most jobs a commercial photographer will land will come from agencies or agents who are needing images for some type of campaign across any or all print/web/digital platforms.
To put it simply, we shoot the stuff that our clients go and sell.


Rich MeadeStaff Writer | Fashion Photographer Commercial Photography is work produced for other businesses.
It's really a simple as that. It's such a broad area than encompasses many disciplines. Like editorial work which is for magazines. Catalog shooting for an apparel company. Product photography for a jewelry company.
At this point, it might be easier to just describe non-commercial work...like weddings, senior photos, sports (but even sports can fall into commercial), and landscapes. But even then, Ansel Adams was a commercial photographer because he worked for the Department of the Interior photographing the national parks.


David BickleyStaff Writer | Fitness Photographer Commercial Photography is a genre of photography aimed specifically at selling. Wholesale, retail and professional uses would all fall under that category as they are b2b situations. Technically portrait and wedding photographers fall into this category as well but in my mind they are not truly "commercial" shooters as the images are only intended for the end-user.


Peter HouseStaff Writer | Commercial Photographer Commercial photography is the creation of images to be used by businesses for selling or promoting their brand. This usually falls into the category of product or lifestyle imagery. A commercial photographer has the goal of positioning the brand in the minds of the viewers through a single, or series of photographs. A great commercial image is something memorable, with mass appeal, and a clear message.


Rebecca BrittStaff Writer | Commercial Photographer Commercial Photography is a category that is best describes as follows: A photograph that is used to help sell, advertise or market a product, service, person or persons. All those photographs that you see in magazines, online publications, billboards, CD covers or posters all fall under commercial photography.
Commercial photographers help people promote their business. They help sell their products. They help market businesses. Commercial photographers take photographs that will help people reach whatever goal that it is that businesses and companies envision.


Zach SuttonAssociate Editor | Headshot Photographer Commercial has become a term that most photographers define themselves as, along with Lifestyle Photographer. The fact remains however, that in order to be a commercial photographer, you need to be working to create the image for a brand or product. Under the confines of the word commercial, one could argue that all images you take for money is used to create the brand of something. Photos for a models comp card are used to create the image and stylings of that model. Headshots for actors are used to build the brand of their career. However in order for it to be considered commercial photography, I think the photo taken must still be used in the field of advertising.
I tend to use commercial photography and advertising photography interchangeably. However, I think that commercial can also be used to describe a style of photography.

If you have a question you'd like us to answer in this weekly series, feel free to post it below in the comments. They're welcomed to be as broad or as focused as you'd like. One question from the comments will be used for a question in next week's installment of Fstoppers Answers.

Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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great post! would it be possible to do the same with lifestyle photography? it's so hard to explain that notion.

Hi, Im Maarten and an amateur photographer for a few years now.
I was wondering how a professional photographer handles his/her own creative vieuw on a project when working an assignement.
When you work an assignement for someone who demands a certain style/subject, how do you keep that from interfering with your own take on things? Or do you just set aside your own views and follow the AD's lead in things?

When on an assignment UNLESS the creative/art director asks for our opinion, we're there to execute their vision for the shoot. We can photograph whatever vision we have for ourselves, (for portfolio), and then create pages on our websites dedicated to that, explaining our vision, so that others (potential clients) get to see our vision. It really depends on the company we work for, or are on assignment with, some are more lenient and interested in what we have to say than others.

I guess it would be like a camera operator in Hollywood...when on their own, they can do whatever they want but while on set or contact, the director tells them what to do.

Zach, this is an excellent post. The common factor between each person's answer is that commercial photography is essentially "function" over "form."

Traditionally, the aesthetic disposition in the arts requires disinterest in any kind of use or function for the work. This means that "art" must be autonomous in the sense that it can't have a purpose other than itself. Commercial photography challenges the aesthetic disposition because it must always have a purpose (like selling a product, service, or promoting a brand.) This is also why most commercial photography never really qualifies as art.

Of course, the lines between function and form are often blurred. There are many commercial photographers employing elements of form in their work. The main point to understand is that commercial photography MUST have a purpose while it doesn't necessarily have to maintain any kind of form. This means that function always trumps form in commercial photography.

The main difference between professional photographers and amateurs is that the latter always create work that that is subservient to their own personal interests. For this reason, their work rarely has any kind of function other than itself and that's why it's often difficult for amateurs to ever make the switch to pro. Professionals must always be able to demonstrate that their work has a function, otherwise they will never get work.

Unfortunately, the entire profession of photography is at risk right now because of the "ease" with which digital is capable of producing images. It's really simple for a naive and untrained photographer to create a digital image that will function for purposes of selling products or services etc. This means that making a living in photography during the digital era will actually be the opposite of what it was during the film era. In other words, the only photographers that will be able to make a living with a camera are those that put "form" over function." This means that they won't actually be professional or commercial photographers at all. Instead, they will be artists. In the future, the only photographers that will get paid to produce work will be artists.

Well it depends on if you are doing product/corporate photography or lifestyle shoots.

I always thought there was a difference between commercial and advertising.

Would be awesome if you guys did the same with editorial and fashion photography (separate posts) as well!

Rich. You need help organizing your ideas before you write. No offense, but seriously.

BTW: Catalog photography is technically product photography.

Hello there!!I am currently a student at Hallmark Institute of Photography. We have an assignment where we have to teach a class on a given topic and I got commercial photography. So I was hoping you would have a few minutes to answer some questions about commercial photography! The the questions I have about commercial photography are as follows: how does one get into commercial work? what are the most important skills you need to have as a commercial photography? what are the day to day duties? what sets a commercial photographer apart from others? and generally what is the expected salary range? also an general insight into commercial photography as a whole would be awesome! Thank you!

Excellent post, interesting to read the different perspectives