June 17, 2022

What makes me a commercial photographer?

There are two overarching approaches to photography that can be summed up in words such as 'commercial' and 'artistic'. You could use words like 'functional' and 'aesthetic', but I'll stick to the original terms. If you're someone that owns a camera and just likes using it to take nice photos, to show friends and family, or just for your personal memories, or you're just setting yourself a challenge to take a great photo of something, you fall into the artistic category.

However, if like me, you use your camera largely to take photos that are going to be used in combination with some sort of advertising, branding or to generally sell something, you become a commercial photographer. It could be easy to assume that both styles end up with the same result. After all, we're all trying to get the best picture we can, right?

The difference though, comes in the consideration of the photo's use moving forward. For artistic photography, the photo is what it is, a great capture of something that you thought was photogenic. That's the end of its journey. For commercial photography though, the mindset has to be different. Where will this be primarily used? Will it be combined with graphics? Does it showcase the product clearly?

As someone with a background in graphic design, I think some of these considerations come naturally, and it might be what makes me best suited for commercial photography. I instinctively leave space on many images, to allow for graphics. I consider a 9:16 crop ratio very often too, given that Instagram is heading more and more this direction. The photos sent across to the client aren't the end of their journey, they're just a part of the final communication.

An image I took for Mettricks in Southampton, with space for their advert text

I follow many food and drink photographers on Instagram, that post absolutely stunning images, with huge spreads of food covering the whole frame, stylish cloths and cutlery filling in the gaps on the table, and honestly the images would be perfect for a cookery book, and they look great in a portfolio. Once you start to wonder how promotional messaging will be combined with these images though, given the lack of leftover space, or how much of the important detail will be cut off in a 9:16 or 4:5 crop, you start to realise that many of these images verge more towards artistic than commercial. Equally as talented, but a different approach.

I guess the other way I fall into the commercial category is the fact that most of my shoots are on-location. I often head to restaurants, bars, venues, events to capture images for them, as usually the owners simply don't have the time or the capability to bring things to me. Obviously the biggest brands shoot their images in a studio environment a lot of the time, but when it comes to smaller businesses, or independent sellers, it rarely works. This means that I've refined the set up that I have, to make it easy to travel around, and set up in various environments, where clients have access to their products, ingredients and staff easily.

I actually work in more of an overall creative way with some of my clients, including photography, design and social media management as a package. This means I'm taking photos with exactly the final result in mind, such as the TV menu design below. It's what I tend to have in my mind when I'm shooting with any client. So if you're on a search for someone to put this kind of thought into the photography assets you need, I'd love to hear from you.

A TV menu design for Kwackers in Southampton, using a combination of photography work and design work.