Explained: Commercial use in photography

Explained: Commercial use in photography

Want to know what "commercial use" means in photography? We've got everything you need here, along with reasons why you should consider commercial photography as part of your offering

Simply put, "commercial use" in photography is where images are used for advertising, marketing, and promotional materials. And this type of photography offers image-makers fantastic opportunities to showcase their talent and reach a wider audience.

In this guide, we explore the different types of commercial image use, discuss their importance, and explain why photographers should consider shooting commercial subjects. We also share tips on how to create exceptional imagery. So let's get started:

Editor's note:

Picfair provides a commercial image licence for photographs uploaded to Picfair Stores, you can read what the commercial licence includes. And for a general overview of image licensing, see our guide.

The different types of commercial use in photography

Photo by Liam Moore

As explained above, commercial use in photography involves using images under the broad spectrum of advertising, marketing, and promotional purposes. Here are some common ways images are used commercially within this umbrella of use:

Advertising campaigns

Images are used in print and online ads to promote products, services, or brands, attracting potential customers with their visual impact.

Marketing materials

Commercial images are included in brochures, catalogues, websites, and social media posts to enhance the visual appeal and effectively communicate their products or services to the target audience.

Product packaging

Images on product packaging help attract consumers and convey product features, style, benefits, or branding.

Billboards and outdoor displays

Large-scale images are used on billboards, signage, and outdoor displays to grab attention and promote brands or products.

Online advertisements

Images play a crucial role in digital marketing, such as banner ads, social media ads, and sponsored content, engaging online users and driving traffic to websites or stores.

Some real-life examples of commercial use in photography

Food photography used for restaurant menus, packaging, or food product promotional material is a prime example of commercial use. Photo by Anete Lusina

Below are some examples of how you may commonly see images used for commercial purposes. By no means is this list exhaustive - the reach of commercial photography use is huge - but hopefully, they provide a good understanding of the concept.

1 Advertisement for a clothing brand

A photograph featuring a model wearing the latest clothing brand collection used in print or online advertisements. The image showcases the brand's clothing line and aims to attract potential customers to purchase.

2 Hotel brochure

A photograph of a beautifully decorated hotel room is used in a brochure to promote the hotel's accommodations. The image highlights the luxurious amenities, inviting atmosphere, and comfort, enticing potential guests to book a stay.

3 Food menu photography

Photographs of appetising dishes used in menus for restaurants or cafes. These images showcase the delicious presentation of food items, enticing customers to order and try the featured dishes.

4 Billboard for a travel destination

A captivating photograph of a picturesque beach or iconic landmark used on a billboard to promote a travel destination. The image aims to create wanderlust and encourage viewers to plan a trip to the advertised location.

5 Product packaging

A high-quality photograph of a product used on its packaging. For example, a photo of a beautifully arranged bouquet might be featured on the packaging of a floral delivery service, showcasing the product on offer.

6 Social media advertisements

Eye-catching images are commonly used in social media advertisements. For instance, a photograph of a person using a fitness product can be used in an ad to promote its effectiveness and encourage potential customers to purchase the item.

The significance of commercial photography

Photo by Erik Mclean

Commercial photography is an essential part of the modern business landscape. Good photography helps businesses communicate effectively, attract customers, and establish a strong brand identity.

Here are some reasons why commercial photography is essential for companies and why brands use images:

Brand recognition

Well-crafted commercial images build brand recognition and leave a long-lasting impression on potential customers; they evoke emotions and capture attention.

Increased sales and revenue

Compelling commercial images can influence consumer behaviour, leading to increased sales and revenue. High-quality visuals enhance the perceived value of products or services and help drive purchase decisions.

Effective marketing communication

Commercial images quickly and effectively convey complex messages, helping businesses connect with their target audience and communicate their USPs.

Competitive advantage

In a crowded marketplace, well-executed commercial photography sets a brand apart, attracts attention and creates a competitive advantage by showcasing products or services in visually appealing ways.

Building trust and credibility

Professional commercial images inspire trust and credibility. High-quality visuals demonstrate attention to detail and professionalism, positioning businesses as reliable and trustworthy.

Why photographers should create commercial images

For photographers, venturing into commercial photography, or offering images for commercial use, can provide many rewarding opportunities to advance your business and build on your offering. Here are eight of them:

1 Increased exposure and reach

Commercial images can reach a broad audience through the various marketing channels they may be seen, including print media, online platforms, and social media.

2 Showcase talent and creativity

Commercial photography can be more creative than other types of photography, so it's an ideal opportunity to showcase artistic skills and unique vision in impactful ways.

3 Collaboration with brands and businesses

Commercial photography opens doors to collaboration with brands, businesses, and advertising agencies, which leads to exciting projects and long-lasting valuable connections.

4 Financial rewards

Commercial photography can be financially lucrative. The rates involved with this type of photography are much higher than, say, editorial photography. Photographers can also earn more considerable royalties and fees for image usage - which can provide stability to invest in their craft in other ways.

For example, many documentary photographers also take on commercial projects or sell images for commercial use to fund their other projects.

5 Creative challenges and exploration

Commercial photography presents creative challenges, pushing photographers to explore new techniques and styles and adapt to clients' requirements, promoting artistic growth.

6 Diversification of portfolio

Adding commercial images diversifies a photographer's body of work, making them versatile and appealing to potential clients, which can help attract a broader range of job opportunities.

7 Long-term income potential

Commercial images adaptable to many clients can generate ongoing income through licensing and usage fees, which may help develop a steady revenue stream.

8 Recognition and exposure in the industry

Successful commercial projects not only have the power to generate income but also bring recognition and exposure within the photography industry. When your commercial images resonate with viewers and effectively convey the desired message, they can create a buzz and draw attention from industry professionals and peers.

Commercial photography and the law

Photo by Harrison Haines

It's essential to understand that legal considerations are involved when photographing for commercial purposes and how a client might use them. One essential aspect is around obtaining model releases and property releases.

A model release is a legal document signed by individuals appearing in the photographs, granting permission for their likeness to be used commercially. This ensures that the individuals portrayed in the images have consented and know how their images will be used. It protects the photographer and the individuals by establishing clear rights and responsibilities.

Similarly, a property release is necessary when photographing private property, including buildings, landmarks, or distinctive locations. It grants permission from the property owner to use images of their property for commercial purposes. This release is particularly important when the property is recognisable and is a significant element of the photograph.

Photographers should obtain model and property releases to ensure legal permission to use the images commercially. It protects against potential legal issues arising from unauthorised use of someone's likeness or property. Remember that specific requirements may vary based on jurisdiction, so familiarising yourself with the laws and regulations relevant to your location and the intended use of the images is essential. By adhering to these legal obligations, photographers can maintain ethical practices, avoid infringing on anyone’s rights, and minimise potential legal risks in their commercial photography ventures.

Final thoughts

Commercial use in photography provides photographers an exciting avenue to showcase their talent, reach a broader audience, collaborate with brands, and generate income. And it offers numerous benefits, including increased exposure, the opportunity to showcase creativity, financial rewards, and professional growth.

By understanding the significance of commercial photography and following the tips provided, along with the law, photographers can create exceptional imagery that leaves a lasting impact in the business world.

So, whether you're just getting started on your photography journey or an experienced professional, considering taking images for commercial use can open doors to a whole new league of opportunities. Embrace the possibilities, unleash your creativity, and embark on a journey towards success.

Editor's note:

Picfair provides a commercial image licence for photographs uploaded to Picfair Stores, you can read what the commercial licence includes. And for a general overview of image licensing, see our guide.
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