Commercial photography is a lot of fun, and it is a lot of work. Hard work. Some of it mind-numbing boring work, but more important than most anything else you do. Understanding what we do, who we do it for, and what its value is can be a crucial part of getting work in a crowded industry.

Here are 10 questions you can answer that may let you know if you are ready to be in this business. If you are faltering on any of them, at least you will have a place to start when it is time to fix your shortcomings.

  1. What kind of photography do you do?
    (Possible answers: consumer photography, commercial photography, editorial photography, documentary photography, photojournalism, fine art, illustrative… and so many more)
    1B. Can you describe each of the genres mentioned above?)

  2. Who (types of businesses) hires photographers to make images like you make in your county/region?
    You must have 15 answers to be in the running.

  3. What types of national clients hire photographers to make images similar to the ones you are making?
    You must have 20 answers to be in the running.

  4. Is your portfolio a good representation of what you do – or want to do as a professional photographer?
    4B. Does it address the companies needs you identified above in number 2 and 3?

  5. How many graphic design companies, ad agencies, PR firms, and media content creators (magazines consumer and trade) are within your immediate vicinity? How many in your county? How many in your state?

  6. How significant is your marketing effort? Are you calling on client leads and clients 20 times per week? 15 per week? Less than 15 per week? This can be email, direct mail, phone, carrier pigeon… anything?

  7. Who are your main direct competitors in your town or city? Who are their clients? What do they charge? Who are their vendors (hair, MU, set building, etc…)? How often do they update their website and reach out to clients?

  8. Who are the top modeling agencies in your town? Do you have a working relationship with them? If there is no agency in your town, where are the models being hired by your competition coming from? Same with vendors, suppliers, and artisans.

  9. Can you handle an RFP with credibility (Request for Proposal)? Do you know how to bid a job, what the implications of rights managed may be? Do you know what questions to ask to let the agency or client know that you know what you are doing?

  10. How would you define your style? And what does your style bring to the table for clients wanting to use you? What value do you offer clients in a world where there are a crapton of photographers – some willing to shoot it for a fraction of its value.

    How do you calculate the value of an image you are shooting for a client? Is it a commodity industry (cost + markup)? Or are there intrinsic values based on the usage of the image? Are the rights of ownership a value proposition that can be leveraged? How much are you worth… and why?

There are no right and wrong answers, but there sure as hell ARE answers. Score yourself this way:

Score yourself this way: If you cannot answer the question without research, you are simply not going to fare very well in the competitive and highly skilled arena of commercial photography. If you realize you must do a crapton of research, you have just learned a vital and oh so important part of this mysterious business.

Good luck.

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Cover Photo by Bethany Legg
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