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Dos and Don’ts of Commercial Photography

Commercial Photography Copyright Environment Guest Post Lightroom Portfolio Sleeklens


Guest post by: Jane Grates the Cofounder of Sleeklens.

Commercial photography can be defined as photography for the explicit purpose of merchandising, advertising and product propaganda. It covers anything from brochures distributed in the streets to that new product being sold at the supermarket. Despite being quite the lucrative market, it has some hidden rules, especially for new photographers starting in this field. We at Sleeklens intend to help photographers reach the highest level possible, so let’s go through some facts that we can label the “dos and don’ts” of the commercial photography field. 01_commercial_photography


We can’t talk about commercial photography without mentioning the whole copyright issue. Pictures are affected by copyright laws that are even stricter than those for written material. For example, photographs taken at restaurants - like when you take a picture of your dish - are affected by copyright, because they are considered a work of art made by the chef. Therefore, they can’t be shared, as other chefs might copy the design of the dish. 02_commercial_photography When you work with commercial photography, DON’T ever use someone else’s work as if it were your own. Not only because doing this is not ethical, but also because the tools available today, such as image search, will allow the pictures to be tracked back to the original location from where you stole them. Always work with your own pictures, and if for some reason you feel like you don’t fit the criteria for the job you are supposed to do, don’t accept it. A copyright legal issue would likely ruin your reputation, regardless of the work you have previously done.

Photographic environment

This is a key element, mostly because it is part of your presentation skills. If you don’t work with care during the shooting process, this could be interpreted as a lack of knowledge on your part, especially in the area of product photography. 03_commercial_photography DO consider your working area, the lighting conditions of the image, the position of the camera in relationship to the subject, etc. Every step you take, every consideration you make, is another step toward becoming a better photographer.

Your portfolio, your passport

Many articles throughout the web cover the essential elements of developing a digital/printed portfolio. How does this affect our performance as commercial photographers, however? Like every business, the more catchy the offer, the more likely you are going to sell your product/service. In the world of commercial photography, having a good knowledge of graphic design is not a recommendation but something you must DO. A good portfolio with plenty of material for different situations can be your entry ticket to certain companies, rather than just some loose photos you’ve taken a while ago, handed over without any proper presentation. 04_commercial_photography The effort you put into building a portfolio not only shows your skills, but also the fact that you care about the job you are doing, instead of just shooting pictures because it brings you “easy money”.

Overconfidence can be your worst enemy

Me, myself and I. Some photographers, especially experienced ones, tend to believe they already know everything regarding the commercial photography business. Besides being neglectful, such an approach is an absolute DON’T, as we have to update our skills constantly in order to succeed as photographers. Don’t think you know everything in this field. There is always room to learn new things. Join a community group, and access local courses or video tutorials. Every step you take toward becoming a better photographer is a step toward impressing your clients with good up-to-date skill sets. 05_commercial_photography

Using your client’s product without asking first

One of the most common issues that may worry potential clients is the fact that their pictures of intimate moments such as weddings, celebrations, or even portraits may be sold afterwards as stock photos. We all know that stock photos are widely used by designers worldwide, and therefore some people fear having their pictures somewhere out on the net without their consent. Always be respectful of your client and DON’T use the images you took as stock photos, unless your client has given permission or if the original intent of the picture was for stock photos. At worst, you may face legal problems by sharing content without the consent of the people involved at the scene, and at best you will lose your credibility as a good photographer. 06_commercial_photography Manage different portfolios for different needs, and if you must use people for stock images, try to ask your friends or hire people to pose for them instead of using samples of your previous work. This can also affect the way people see your work, as they might think those pictures are not your work, and that you downloaded them for use in your portfolio.

Value the job done

A long while ago, I read the quote, “The fact that I am an artist doesn’t mean I am going to work for free”, and it is perhaps the most accurate thought for the photographer community. Some people tend to think that because of digital cameras the job of a professional photographer is practically a hobby, an outdated profession, or even worse, something that is obsolete these days. Despite the fact that they are wrong, there will be times in our careers, where we face situations, where the client thinks we are asking for a fee that is way out of line. DO always value your job, your time, and the effort made. If you are just starting in this business, feel free to join a photography community or seek the advice of seasoned professional photographers about what they charge their clients for a job similar to what you are going to do. 07_commercial_photography You have to consider the time expended in completing the task, which includes transportation, the shooting process, post-production and any complications in the process that are caused by the client. Never charge a low fee because you don’t feel competent enough for the task or because you are in a comfortable economical position. This is your job, and if you don’t value it don’t expect other people to do so either.

More about Jane

Jane is the Cofounder of Sleeklens and she specializes in Portrait photography. During her career, she has traveled all over the world and has now decided to settle down in San Diego, California. You can find Sleeklens on Twitter and Facebook.

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