How to Make Money from Commercial Photography

August 01, 2015 at 2:59 PM

It’s often said that if you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. If you want to start making money from your photography then commercial work is a great way to go. Paul Bayfield is here to get you started.

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First steps

So things are going well and you’re starting to get noticed. You’ve had an enquiry from a brand or business looking to get some fresh images, and they like your style, but you’ve not shot commercially before.

Bit nervous about it? Well of course!

At some point this will happen, and you’ve just got to jump right in. A guy named Branson once said: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity, but you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” I hear he’s doing okay, so I’d say that’s pretty good advice right there.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie taking your first steps in to the world of professional photography, bagging a new client can make you feel a bit nervous. How do you impress them, and more importantly how do you keep them? This short guide will give you a little help with it all.

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The advantages of being a generalist over a specialist

 Photographically we all have our areas where we shine. For me it’s high fashion and music photography. While anyone who knows me and my work knows I love shooting these two fields, I can’t shoot them every day of the week, nor would I want to. The rest of my time is taken up with automotive, editorial and other commercial photography.

To be a mid-ranking professional photographer nowadays, I believe it’s important to be a good generalist. To be able to turn your hand to pretty much anything a client throws at you will not only keep the bills paid but will also open doors to new and exciting projects, and give you the advantage of learning new skills in the field. It’s great being able to say to a client “I can do that for you” and then send them the invoice afterwards, no matter what they ask.

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How to fit to a client brief: flexing your style to meet brand image

So you know the client likes your photographic style – that’s part of the reason they approached you. However, at the same time they have a strong brand image that needs continuity, which they will want you to uphold. Time to adapt. Don’t be that photographer, you know the one, all uncompromising with the ego thing going on.

Getting used to leaving dead-space in images for copy and branding may seem unnatural at first but listen to your client, pay attention to what THEY need from the image.

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Often your images will need space where words or logos can be placed without disrupting the composition

One of my clients is Harley Davidson, a brand with very strong global recognition and I’ve got to make sure that I not only fit their brief but also their style. You must compromise your own style and taste now and then to satisfy your client.

When I’m working on a cover campaign, I will be shooting tethered to a Macbook Pro, and the client will sometimes be there feeding back to me what they like or dislike. This is a great way of keeping them happy. Not only do they go away with exactly what they want but they also find it exciting and enjoyable to be part of the creative process.

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Insurance

We should all know well enough by now to always use protection. It’s actually scary how many photographers are operating in the field right now without insurance. Even the enthusiast who is shooting a few weddings here and there should think about how dark the world would get if they were to accidentally swing their camera in to a child’s face while shooting an event.

MAKE SURE you have proper cover – not only do you need liability but also indemnity. It’s worth the few hundred pounds a year to get properly covered. I always make sure to add to my policy for such possibilities as my gear being stolen from vehicles or lost in transit with airlines, etc.

Whilst on assignment for Harley Davidson recently in southern France, I was shooting from an open-sided helicopter. Without my own personal cover I wouldn’t have been allowed to undertake this task, as it wouldn’t have been covered by the company’s insurance. Protect yourself, and in turn protect your clients.

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When opportunities like this come along, you need to be insured if you’re going to be able to take them

Improvising in the field

Whether it’s a big brand client or a small assignment, treat it with equal respect and enthusiasm. While fitting to the brief I will always have a think about how I can add a little something of my own in there to mix it up a little.

Harley Group had an idea of what they wanted for a cover involving a vintage motorcycle on a beach in Saint-Tropez. I provided them with that, but ahead of time I had an idea to light-paint their own branding against the night sky with the bike in the foreground. I took along a product called Pixelstick, essentially a stick with LED diodes along its front edge. It allows you to upload images to the device and during long exposures you can walk through frame while it displays the image line by line (see top of page for the end result).

Not only is it a bit of fun for the client to watch but when they can instantly see the final result on the screen in front of them it gives them that “Wow” factor. They’ll remember you for things like that and keep coming back to you.

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About the Author

Paul Bayfield is a professional photographer, specialising in music and editorial photography. You can view more of his work on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.