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3 Unique Challenges for Commercial Photographers

By Topher Kelly on October 30th 2013

RobGarySometimes, I think the glass of whiskey is a pretty decent representation of the commercial photography industry as a whole. It’s smooth, sexy, professional and provokes an emotion — desire.

Not every client is looking for smooth and sexy, but they are looking for professionalism and expect the talent needed to evoke such emotions. The responsibility associated with working with clients who know what they want — and are willing to ride you to get it — challenges even the most experienced veterans in the field.

What that glass of whiskey can’t tell you about the commercial photography industry is that it’s anything but relaxing or tame. Here’s why.

Time: Delivering Under Pressure

Time is money might be an overused idiom, but it’s a staple of commercial photography. “When you are working on a portfolio piece or shooting art images, you can do so on your own time — the clock is not critical and you can always come back the next day and continue the work. But with commercial photography, you have to create art for someone else by the end of the day,” says veteran commercial photographer Rob Grimm. “You have a crew and clients around you who are there to assist, approve and watch you make art by the end of the day so everyone can go home on time.” If you can’t work under time constraints, you will fail as a commercial photographer.


All Eyes on You

If you are a portrait photographer, your subjects will look to you for direction — where to stand, what expression to make. There is pressure associated with that responsibility, but it weighs much more heavily on the commercial photographer who is responsible for a crew and has his a client rep there to watch over his or her every move. “Clients aren’t only hiring you for your ability to create awesome images, they are hiring your experience in creative problem solving on set…Your ability to come up with a practical solutions in a calm way will keep clients coming back and the tone of the shoot moving in a positive direction, “says Gary Martin of RGG Photo.

[SLRLounge Rewind: Our Commercial Photography Camera Guide]

It’s Not Your Vision

Most photographers, from boudoir to wedding, get to tell the story they want to tell from behind the lens. A commercial photographer has to learn how to correlate his or her vision with that of the client. “In a short period of time, you have to make art, not from your point of view, but your clients point of view and each client is different.”

So before you try your hand at commercial photography or pass-judgement on someone who has, consider the challenges above.


For more tips from commercial photographers Rob and Gary, check out How To Become A Commercial Photographer Nov.7-9 on CreativeLive.

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Topher Kelly is a San Francisco based freelance writer and editor at CreativeLive – an online education platform dedicated to providing free interactive photography, business and design courses taught by some of the world’s best instructors.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Suzi

    I faced all 3 of these challenges when switching from editorial photography to commercial photography. I think it makes a good case for starting out with assisting other commercial photographers to learn these lessons under less pressure.

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  2. The Rules

    Well at least it’s blatantly obvious who was unable to complete that guys challenge. I say write an article on that one.

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