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.
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Corporate photography, also known as business photography, is what businesses use to capture images of their brand, products, services, and employees. While most people think that this type of photography is limited to staged-looking, artificially-lit mugshots, it is much more exciting than its preconceptions.
Business photography breaks into three main areas depending on the subject matter. As a photographer, it’s a good idea to feature a range of work in all three in your online portfolio. The areas are products/services, people, and events.
This branch of photography focuses on capturing the products or services that the business offers. The resulting shots are often used for the businesses’ e-commerce site and on social media.
Employee business photography focuses on capturing a company’s staff through portraiture. Employee photos may be taken for identification purposes as part of a directory, or in real-life interactions in the business environment. Businesses large and small may opt for candid group-style employee photos to appear more approachable.
While product and service photography can happen outdoors, corporate photoshoots almost always occur in an indoor environment. Companies will most often ask the business photographer to bring their camera and lighting equipment into the work environment and work within these constraints. This is what makes corporate portrait photography unique — it's not uncommon for the workplace to become the studio for your photo subjects. Because most businesses prefer to stick to regular working hours, this makes business photography a great day job that allows for more creative outlets in your downtime.
Another subset of professional photography is event photography. Professional photographers get hired to capture events like staff parties, galas, and conferences. Many businesses promote their activities through internal and external marketing communications using photo assets from these types of events and hire professionals to take pictures.
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.
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