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Unlike wedding photography, corporate business photography tends to get unnoticed. While corporate spaces of fluorescent lights and around conference tables aren’t the most appealing, there are still lots of opportunities for photographers in this niche. From events to corporate headshots, corporate photography can still be challenging and versatile.
Whether you’re already doing photography or looking to start a photography business, here’s how you can get started in corporate business photography and an overview of the processes involved in approaching and formalizing your professional relationship with businesses, as well as advice on services to offer and how to price them.
Corporate photography can sometimes get confused with commercial photography, and while there may sometimes be an overlap in the types of images created it’s worth going over what makes corporate photography distinct.
Both corporate photography and commercial types of photography, such as advertising photography, ultimately involve working with brands and businesses to help them grow. However, commercial photography is more geared towards selling products, while corporate photography is intended to support a company’s overall image. A corporate photographer might also have some commercial photographs in their portfolio if it makes sense for their particular target market.
For example, IKEA may hire a photographer to take a corporate photograph of one of their furniture designers examining a prototype of her latest furniture piece. That image might be used in a story about how IKEA works with a wide range of designers, each with their own design ethos and area of specialization. Then, they may hire a commercial photographer to shoot the actual finished piece, and that image could be used on a billboard or in their catalog.
While the first image is used for marketing the business by giving viewers a peek into the inner workings of the brand and the process that results in them selling their products, the primary function of the second image is to sell a product. You can think of corporate photography as supporting a brand’s public relations efforts, while commercial or advertising photography supports its sales and marketing efforts.
Corporate photography can range from straightforward portraits and headshots of key people in a business to more highly produced, staged images that may require a whole team to execute. Between the broad range of potential clients and the many different types of images that can be created under the umbrella of corporate photography, this is a great, in-demand field of photography to pursue professionally.
While corporate photography might bring to mind an image of a CEO in a suit, there’s a lot more to it than that. Here are the different types of photography that fall under the corporate umbrella.
The traditional portrait will always be an important part of corporate photography. It’s used on everything from “About Us” pages on company websites to profiles of the business, so just about every business benefits from having some high quality portraits of the people who make up its organization.
It’s worth noting that traditional doesn’t necessarily have to mean formal or ultra-professional. It all depends on the business that the corporate photos are being taken for. If it’s an insurance brokerage, then portraits of the employees in professional suits may be appropriate. For a tech company, the look might be more casual and relaxed.
The “traditional” aspect of these portraits refers to the framing, composition, and setting. The portraits may be full-body or be more closely cropped, but they always include at least the subject’s head and shoulders. The background is usually unobstructive, such as a neutral or colored seamless or a wall.
Editorial portraiture, also sometimes called environmental portraiture, takes elements of the traditional portrait but also incorporates a meaningful setting. In these types of portraits, the subject is in a context that tells some kind of a story about who they are, their role within the business, or about the business itself.
Consider a portrait of a corporate chef. If they’re shot smiling against a black background, that would be a traditional portrait. If, instead, the photographer captures them in their kitchen or even in the act of cooking, that would be an editorial or environmental portrait. This type of image may be used on a company website or even in a magazine features about a business.
Editorial portraiture tends to involve a bit more creativity and planning than traditional portraiture, because both the photographer and the subject have to consider what story they want to tell with the portrait and choose an appropriate environment for the portrait based on that. These portraits are typically posed, but can also be candid.
Headshots are distinct from portraits in their composition. While portraits include the head and shoulders, and can include the full body, headshots only include the subject's face. While corporate portraits are more common than corporate headshots, there are some instances where a business may want you to shoot headshots.
Headshots are often used by people who work in entertainment, such as actors and singers. A professional theater company is an example of a type of business that would hire a corporate photographer to shoot headshots.
Corporate events include trade shows, conferences, and celebratory events such as galas. Shooting corporate events involves capturing details such as the decor and location, getting shots of any key moments such as speeches and presentation, and most importantly getting images of the attendees.
With this kind of event photography it’s important for the photographer to be able to shoot discreetly so that people aren’t distracted by being in front of a camera. The idea is to capture candid images of people enjoying the event, without disrupting the event itself. It’s often helpful to be able to mingle a bit with the guests, since this puts people more at ease and makes for better images.
From small startups to large multinational corporations, businesses have embraced the concept of the pop-up in recent years. This is a subset of corporate event photography, but it’s worth mentioning it on its own because the focus for the photographer can be a little bit different than standard event photography. With pop-ups or brand activations, the goal of the event is often to market a new product or introduce new customers to a brand. Your client may have invested in creating a photogenic, branded space, so it’s important to capture these elements, as well as any products being marketed.
If guests are gifted a product or encouraged to use it, your goal as a brand event photographer should be to capture them engaging with the product.
Corporate product or service photography aims to capture a company’s product or them offering their services, but typically in a more editorial style than commercial photographs that are meant to sell the product. This is a subtle distinction, and the line between corporate and commercial photography can be a bit blurry.Let’s go back to the example of a head chef of a high end restaurant. A corporate product and service photography might show him plating one of his creations. In this case, the product is being showcased, but it’s also serving the function of a corporate portrait. This type of image would likely be used to tell a story about the restaurant or to promote the image that they want to project to their customers. A commercial food photograph might be a more heavily styled image of the dish, made to look as mouth watering as possible, and used in social media ads to drive more visitors to the restaurant.
Businesses often share their workplace with the public through images that may be used online, in brochures, or in magazines. Corporate photographers can put their architectural photography skills to use by capturing the workplace. If a business wants to share something unique about it’s facilities, such as new equipment or an impressive production line, a corporate photographer might also be asked to shoot that.
The most important tool for getting paid gigs as a corporate photographer is your online portfolio. Your corporate photography portfolio website is a place for potential clients to see what kind of work you do, what specific style you tend to have, and what other clients have trusted you to shoot corporate photographs for them.
A strong portfolio not only shows what you’re capable of as a photographer, it also shows that you’re professional and serious enough about your business to have a beautiful, easy to navigate online home for it. Often, your portfolio will also be how potential clients find out how to get in touch with you and other details they may want to know before hiring you, such as where you’re located.
The importance of your portfolio suggests one thing: to get started in corporate photography, it’s key to build up a portfolio you can be proud of. Sure, there is a lot of work to be done even after you have your portfolio ready to go. You still need to cold-call potential clients and market your business. However, without a portfolio, you’re not likely to get those gigs.
So, how can you go about creating that portfolio? You can study photography in school, or go the DIY route and build up your skills and catalog of images yourself. Both options have their benefits and drawbacks, and the right choice will depend on the particulars of your situation.
While there isn’t such a thing as a dedicated corporate photography degree, the skills you learn in any photography degree at an art school are sure to help you become a better corporate photographer.
One of the unique aspects of corporate photography is the fact that it involves a little bit of everything. As you can tell from the different types of corporate photography we discussed, it helps to have portrait photography skills, product photography skills, and event photography skills. You’ll sometimes be shooting in a controlled studio environment, indoors in all kinds of lighting, or outdoors. This means that having as much experience as possible shooting different subjects in these different scenarios will make you a better corporate photographer.
By formally studying photography, you’ll have the chance to get this much needed practice. You’ll be challenged to create all different kinds of compositions and to get familiar with different shooting scenarios. Plus, the school environment creates some pressure that many people find beneficial. It can be difficult to motivate yourself to keep shooting consistently without the encouragement of peers and the motivation from wanting to do well in your courses.
However, photography programs can be expensive, and not everyone wants to spend four years studying before entering the professional world. You may also have a lot of experience shooting, and some courses may be redundant for you. If that’s the case, you can always consider taking one-off courses to strengthen skills in particular areas where you feel you could improve.
If going to school for photography doesn’t appeal to you or is out of your price range, you can absolutely still become a professional corporate photographer. Remember, your most important asset is your portfolio, so if you want to establish yourself in your field without going to school, your main goal should be to create portfolio-worthy images.
As any photographer will tell you, even if you are formally studying photography you won’t improve without practice. Whether you’re in school or going the DIY route, challenging yourself to keep shooting and to challenge yourself with new image styles and concepts is how you will become the best corporate photographer you can be.
To create images for your portfolio, a good way to start out before you have established yourself is to offer your services for free to some local businesses that are similar to the types of clients you’d like to book some day. Most businesses will be happy to accept the offer and get some fresh images for free, and you’ll have the chance to create real corporate photos for your portfolio.
Whether you’re building your portfolio while at school or as a self-taught photographer, it’s a good idea to focus on developing a style or look that can be associated with you. Portfolios that have a wide range of image styles can be confusing for potential clients.
For example, if a client wants a moody, cinematic corporate portrait, they’re more likely to hire you if your whole portfolio leans in that direction than if you have one or two images that have this style while the rest look completely different. In the first case, they’ll know you can reliably create that look, rather than dabbling in it.
Your portfolio will also be more memorable if it can be succinctly described with a few adjectives. While it may be tempting to have a bunch of different styles in your portfolio, it’s more beneficial for your career to develop a signature style and curate your portfolio to showcase it.
With your portfolio website created, it’s time to start marketing your business. Staying active on social media is a good way to potentially land on your target customers feed without having to spend money, and sometimes contacting clients directly on Instagram can be a good way to book gigs. With social media its good to build up a bit of a relationship with the brands you want to work with before hitting them with the “so do you want to work together?” question. Engage with their content and let them see you’re interested in their work. Brands like to know that you can be an advocate for their brand.
As a corporate photographer, LinkedIn is an important social network that you should definitely be using to market your business. Your corporate clients are more likely to be active there than on any other social network.
Cold-emailing can also be effective, but make sure you’re including something memorable and worthwhile in your emails. Rather than just linking to your portfolio website, including something like a limited time offer can encourage potential clients to follow up with you.
Businesses want to make it easy for themselves to promote their efforts, so when it comes to working with vendors, they favor structure and process. Structure adds an element of predictability to the working relationship and its outcome. As a result, a corporate photographer can use the following approach to make sure the project is successful and help build credibility in dealing with the business owner or potential client.
While every photographer’s process looks different, here are some basic steps to the process:
Create a relationship
Align on needs
Sign a contract
Scout the location
Establishing your own process and communicating it to the client early on helps establish your credibility as a corporate photographer and protects you in case the client decides to change direction.
The first phase of securing a job is to establish a relationship with your prospective client. Your prospective client will expect to see a photography portfolio they can evaluate against the type of corporate photography they have in mind. As a result, having an online portfolio that represents your creative style accurately is important. Online portfolio platforms like Format allow a high degree of customization without the need for coding so you can focus more on your craft.
Your clients will likely reach out to you through your online portfolio website based on your work, or through a referral. Keeping email communication professional with your clients is crucial to earning trust and progressing on communicating about the client’s needs. In addition, consider creating business cards for interacting with potential clients for the first time.
In this next stage of the process, professional communication is still crucial, but this is where clarity of communication begins to matter more than before. Your job as a corporate photographer is to understand exactly what the client needs. In order to get there, you will need to make sure to ask them about the specifics of the project they have in mind. Consider asking them questions such as:
What or who are you looking to photograph?
How many photos are you looking to capture?
Can you share examples of the type of photographs you're looking to get out of this project?
When are you looking to have the project completed by?
How will the photos be used - in digital and/or print formats?
While asking the client questions may feel awkward at the early stages of your professional relationship, it’s important to your long-term success. After all, how else can you be sure that the type of work you are able to deliver within their timeline matches client expectations?
At this stage in the process, you should feel confident about the type of project the client has in mind, in addition to the specifications of the project (for instance, if you need to supply RGB and CMYK versions of the files for digital and print extensions of the project). At this point, it’s important to capture the project parameters in a single document, also called a contract, and to make sure both parties sign it before proceeding.
You can learn more about writing your freelance contract in this guide, but generally, contracts need to include at a minimum:
A detailed description of the work to be done
A timeline for completion with milestones at certain points along the way
Payment details that include: how much you’ll be paid, the method of payment, and when payment is due
It may feel intimidating to send formal contact, keep in mind that accountability is mutually beneficial for both parties in this exchange. As the project progresses, the contact gives you a reference to what you set out to do, associated timelines, and output.
In a legal sense, the contact is also one document that's essential for the photographer in case it comes to needing to pursue delinquent clients in the case of non-payment.
Between signing the contract and before the date you are assigned to conduct the shoot, one important to do is to visit the location where you will be shooting. Scouting the location gives you greater control over variables on the day of the shoot. Like other genres including food photography and wedding photography, business photography calls for prep work to ensure its ultimate success.
The one most valuable piece of information that scouting the location provides the photographer with is the lighting conditions of the environment. Make sure to visit the space in the timeframe you are expected to shoot. Multiple trips may be needed if you expect to shoot over different times over a number of days. While this may seem laborious, the effort is ultimately worth it because what you don't want is to be caught without the proper lighting tools on the day of your shoot.
Understanding and having control of your lighting conditions are extremely important. This is because clients often expect individual photographs to look cohesive in circulation as they are used for promotional purposes after the project’s completion.
Many clients begin the conversation around fees by inquiring about a ‘day rate,’ as a means to gauge your price range without getting into the details of the shoot requirements. It's easy to get into the habit of using this outdated term that misrepresents the work that goes into corporate photography, but learning alternatives is key to successfully communicating with clients.
The term ‘day rate’ is an outdated relic from the times corporate photographers worked with physical film they would send off to developers. While people may use this term out of familiarity, it’s important to communicate to them that the amount of work quired is much broader; before, during, and even after the shoot.
For this reason, some photographers include a “pre-production” fee in their estimates that includes communication with the client, location scouting, travel, and other factors. They may also include a “post-production fee” that includes editing, time spent communicating with the client, and final product packaging and delivery.
No matter what language you choose, it is important to communicate the breadth of the work required for the project in your pricing breakdown.
There are two other terms you can include in your estimates that cover a range of activities the day of the shoot - and in the days and weeks following. They are creative fees and photography fees.
A creative fee is a combination of your photography fee (the lump sum you charge for your time in a day - your ‘day rate,’ for all intents and purposes) and the licensing fee into one. Your licensing fee, also known as the commercial usage fee, is the royalty you as a photographer receives for the company using your images. While some companies don't want to have to worry about contacting you and paying you every time they use your photos in a new context, it’s up to you to negotiate a happy medium that gets you compensated for your work without putting a strain on your professional relationship with the business.
On the other hand, a photography fee refers to only the time it takes to have the photographer onsite and capturing the images. It is often an hourly rate multiplied by 4 or 8 hours depending on whether the client expects you to be onsite for the entirety of the day, or a fraction of it.
When communicating with people about pricing, you may want to consider asking what budget they have in mind. Businesses often have annually approved marketing budgets that may or may not have wiggle room, and gaining an understanding of the number you are working with can help you reverse-engineer how many hours you can put toward the project that work within your profit margins.
This type of photography is arguably one of the most underappreciated specializations there are. It is a unique branch of portraiture that captures people and objects in a business environment. Communicating with people with clarity as a professional photographer is a key ingredient in ensuring success. Now that you have familiarized yourself with this guide, you are ready to get started.
Browsing through real corporate photography online portfolios from photographers working in the field is one of the best ways to get a better understanding of what corporate photography actually looks like. It’s also an effective way to get inspired, because each corporate photographer develops their own style or approach over time. Here are some of our favorites.
Alabama-based Kricket Kirkpatrick’s portfolio should quickly dispel any idea you may have about corporate photography having to be stuffy and boring. This portfolio is all about bringing the stories of businesses and entrepreneurs to life. From super creative compositions to artful, almost cinematic lighting, the images here would appear to any contemporary business wanting to get noticed.
Format theme used: Mica
A major subset of corporate photography is corporate portraiture. Showcasing the people behind the brand is something most businesses like to do, because it makes them more approachable. Swedish photographer Euan Anderson shows that the corporate portrait can definitely be a place to show some personality and self expression. While some industries may still favor standard professional portraits, many have now opened up to the benefits of showing that the people at their company are not just stuffed shirts. This portfolio includes portraits that range from brooding to playful, with lots of variation in between.
Format theme used: Peak
Josh Fee of Toronto-based, Portmanteau Media focuses on events, and this portfolio showcases the value of high-quality corporate event photography. These photos give businesses an opportunity to get ongoing benefit from an event long after it’s over, by repurposing the images and content it generated. With the increased popularity of brand activations and pop up events in recent years, there’s no shortage of opportunities for corporate photographers who want to focus on shooting events.
If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in corporate photography, you’ll be glad to know it has one of the highest average annual salaries for photographers at just over $75,000 in the US.
This may be because corporate photography really is a valuable investment for businesses of all kinds. In a world where the ability to start a business has been democratized, there is also more competition for existing businesses.
This means that having high quality corporate images can help a business stand out, establish themselves as trustworthy, and create a personal connection with their customers. These are things that are worth investing in for any business. By forfeiting high quality corporate images, a business can do themselves a disservice in the long run by projecting a less professional image to their customers.
When it comes to how exactly you go about pricing your corporate photography, the amount you charge per gig will vary based on a few important factors:
Your location. If you are primarily taking on clients in your geographic location, this will have an impact on how much you can charge. A corporate photographer in Paris will be able to charge more than a corporate photographer in a small town. If you’re open to traveling for work, it may be worthwhile if the clients you can book are significantly higher paying in a different area.
The type of clients you work with. A large corporate client like Boeing will be able to pay far more for new corporate photos than your local bakery. If you can book those large corporate clients, you can likely charge many thousands of dollars per gig, depending on the specifics of the job. For a smaller client, you may be charging $500, but the shoot may also be much less involved. You can still earn a good salary with those small clients, but you’ll have to book many more gigs throughout the year.
Image licensing. It’s typical for corporate photographers to charge more to license an image to a large client because the image will be viewed many more times. Licensing for something like magazine publishing rights will also cost more than if they were to just use the image on their website. Understanding how your client plans to use the corporate images you take can help you charge accordingly.
Your skills and experience. You may not command top dollar when you’re just starting out (but if you can, we’re all for it!), but once you have more experience and more paying clients to your name, you should be able to justify higher rates.
The scope of the job. Taking a few photos of a company’s CEO at their desk is fairly quick; taking photos of their complete facility along with all of their key employees is a much bigger job. If a gig involves multiple locations and multiple subjects, you can charge more than you would for something like a standard portrait session.
However you decide to structure your corporate photography rates, it’s important to communicate to your customers that the images are an investment in their business. High quality images are a must in today’s image-forward online world, and portraying an unprofessional image can really hurt a business’s bottom line in the long run.
As a corporate photographer, you play a key role in helping a business communicate their value and their story to the world. Your images are an asset to your corporate clients, and it’s okay to let them know that and to stick to your expectations around pricing, as long as they are fair and realistic.
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