Commercial Photographer Job Description

Commercial photographers are creative professionals with an artistic eye who know how to use lights and other photographic equipment to capture high-quality images used for commercial advertisements of all types. They take photographs of retail products, food, buildings, landscapes, animals, events, and people to be displayed online and in print for promotional purposes. Commercial photographers work flexible hours that include days, nights, and weekends, and work independently with little to no supervision. People in this profession travel frequently to the photography studio and to on-site photo shoot locations, working in both indoor and outdoor environments in all weather conditions. Commercial photographers find full-time and part-time employment and may also work for themselves as independent contractors.


Commercial Photographer Duties and Responsibilities

The subject matter and working conditions vary widely depending on the pictures a commercial photographer is taking. However, common core job duties include:

Capture Images with Photographic Equipment

Commercial photographers take photographs of a variety of subjects, including people, places, and things, using both film and digital camera equipment.

Work with Digital Photography

Commercial photographers work with digital imaging equipment, which includes uploading photographs to digital and online databases and posting photographs on the internet.

Process Photographs

Commercial photographers edit and retouch digital photographs, adding filters and other effects after images have been captured. They also process photo negatives in darkrooms.

Maintain Studio and Shoot Environments

Commercial photographers keep photo studios and on-site environments clean and organized, arranging props and people as needed to capture the desired images.

Return Props and Products

When photo shoots are over, commercial photographers return all props and products to their proper locations and clean up all equipment and materials used.


Commercial Photographer Skills and Qualifications

Employers prefer commercial photographers who have a firm grasp of the following skills:

  • Photography – commercial photographers expertly operate cameras and associated accessories, such as lenses, tripods, and external flashes
  • Creativity – commercial photographers have strong creative skills and artistic abilities to capture images and compose still photographic shoots
  • Attention to detail – commercial photographers have a keen eye for detail and notice even the smallest imperfections that may compromise images
  • Time management – commercial photographers use good time management skills to meet tight deadlines
  • Multitasking – because commercial photographers work on multiple projects at once and manage many people and tasks simultaneously, they are strong multitaskers
  • Communication skills – commercial photographers give instructions and explanations to human photographic subjects, which requires strong verbal communication skills
  • Physical stamina – commercial photographers carry heavy equipment, stand, walk, squat, and crouch to get into position to take photos, all of which requires physical strength and ability
  • Interpersonal skills – commercial photographers know how to put people at ease and help them feel comfortable in front of a camera


Tools of the Trade

Commercial photographers frequently work with these tools to capture images:

  • Lighting equipment (spotlights, handheld lights, reflectors)
  • Digital photography software (Photoshop, Capture One)
  • Photographic equipment (cameras, tripods, lenses, filters, flashbulbs, film, shutters)
  • Staging tools (backdrops, props)
  • Digital databases


Commercial Photographer Education and Training

There are no special education or training requirements to become a commercial photographer, though many employers seek candidates who have a high school diploma or GED. Commercial photographers must have a professional portfolio that showcases a wide body of work. Employers also look for commercial photographers who have previous experience working in a professional photography studio.

No on-the-job training is typically provided to commercial photographers; they must acquire the skills to compose photos and learn to use photographic equipment on their own.


Commercial Photographer Salary and Outlook

Photographers in all fields earn a median annual salary of $34,070, or $16.38 an hour. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that photography jobs will decline by 6 percent through 2026.

Commercial photographers do not typically receive benefits, though some full-time employees may be provided with basic health insurance coverage. Many employers provide commercial photographers with travel reimbursement, and some companies supply photographic equipment, lighting equipment, and film. Commercial photographers who work on an independent contractor basis receive no benefits and must manage their own healthcare, vacation, retirement, and life insurance needs.


Helpful Resources

Learn the skills and strategies needed to become a commercial photographer using the following resources:

American Society of Media Photographers – stay up-to-date on photography news, find webinars, look for upcoming photography events, and discover career opportunities at the ASMP website

Commercial Photographer’s Master Lighting Guide: Food, Architectural Interiors, Clothing, Jewelry, More – use this photography handbook to learn strategies for lighting subjects in outdoor and indoor environments, find information for using various types of lighting equipment, and get tips for working with a variety of photographic subjects

American Photographic Artists – this website is full of inspiring images and content for professional photographers in all fields. APA also provides information about upcoming events, news updates, and space for photographers to display their online portfolios

Business Basics for the Successful Commercial Photographer – learn the business basics of being a commercial photographer, including information about copyrights and other important business concerns

Photographic Society of America – find upcoming photo exhibitions, learn about photography events and professional competitions, view online portfolios and photo galleries, and discover education resources for photographers of all kinds at the PSA website


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