Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business

Author: Anete Lusina
Date Created: 2022-10-26

It may seem commercial photography is for large companies with substantial marketing budgets. But that’s not the case anymore. In the era of ecommerce, even small businesses can and should use high-quality commercial photography for marketing their brand and selling their products. 

Get a deeper understanding of commercial photography and how to use it to your benefit, no matter the size of your business.

What is commercial photography?

Commercial photography refers to images businesses use to sell a product or service, idea, lifestyle, or brand. These photos may appear digitally as well as in print and other in-person channels. There are many different types of commercial photography, including product photography, lifestyle shots, and social media or content, among others.

What is a commercial photographer?

A commercial photographer is someone who shoots these commercial photos. Photographers may work independently as freelancers, in-house for brands themselves or agencies, or at a professional photography studio

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of each option for hiring a professional photographer to shoot for your brand: 

In-house commercial photographers

  • Can work well for larger businesses who need regular access to a photographer, but is generally too expensive for smaller to medium-sized brands
  • Even if content needs dry up during certain periods, you still have to pay the photographer’s salary
  • You may need an upfront cost for setting up a studio space and buying gear and photography or editing software

Freelance commercial photographers

  • Established talents can be expensive for smaller brands
  • More affordable photographers may not have the specialty needed for your industry, and they may not have access to equipment, or other talents crucial for some types of commercial work
  • Project timelines may be inconsistent because you are just one of the clients the photographer serves and certain projects or personal events may take priority
  • Setting up expectations and shoot requirements can be a lengthy process unless you work with the same photographer for a longer period of time

Ship-and-shoot commercial product photography studios like POW 

  • Generally, studios specializing in high-volume production have straight-forward pricing and consistent processes for ordering and receiving your files
  • You get access to a variety of talents experienced in photographing products for different industries
  • Some studios may offer add-ons, like 360-degree spin product photography to boost your product listings

Each photographer has a unique set of skills and style, so it’s worth looking around to find someone who can match your brand’s visual aesthetic and marketing needs.

When you hire a professional photographer, you pay for their ability to take compelling photos and their expertise in creating images with a visual impact–to sell, raise awareness, inform, and connect with the target audience. 

Regardless of each photographer's specialty, there are some skills that most successful commercial photographers have in common. Besides good image takers, they’re also:

  • Technically-minded professionals who master using a variety of equipment and software
  • Proficient in lighting different subjects and scenes
  • Skilled in post-processing imagery for the appropriate channels of media, for example, websites, social, apps, print, and outdoor billboards
  • Experienced in creative direction 
  • Good at sourcing other talent and managing teams
  • Strong communicators who make sure they’re on the same page as the client
  • Experienced business leaders who learn to balance profit and value they bring to the client

There’s a reason some established commercial photographers charge a high fee. They’ve spent years learning the trade and understanding how photos positively impact marketing efforts. By using their services, businesses can grow and leave a lasting impression on consumers, whether they are new to the brand or already familiar with it.

Types of commercial photography

Commercial photography can be classified into many types. In this list, you'll find that virtually every business can benefit from one or more of these photography types in their marketing efforts. 

Commercial Product photography

Product photography is essential to any business selling online, particularly brands with no physical stores. That’s because high-quality, sharp product photos will inform customers about what they’re buying when they have no other way of seeing and interacting with your wares.

A vitamin bottle for apple cider vinger gummies on a pink background with the apple shaped gummies and apples sprinkled the bottle in a random formation to depict an example of commercial product photography.
Photographed by POW for ioLoLife Nutrition.

Traditional ecommerce product photography features white backgrounds so shoppers can inspect the products, see the texture, features, and colors, and view the products from different angles distraction-free. More advanced methods for product photography include 360-degree spin product photography, virtual reality product experiences, and even augmented reality (AR). According to one study, some shoppers may even entirely replace shopping at physical stores with AR. 

White background complements the shopping experience for most ecommerce products. The simplicity of it also allows photographers to add subtle product shadow for extra dimension.

Commercial photography 2 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Commercial photography 3 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business

Commercial Product Photography of Watch by POW

Product shots aren’t limited to white backgrounds, though. Some brands get creative with colors, patterns, or textures, especially if they’re shooting for their own websites instead of Amazon. 

Commercial photography 5 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Shot by POW
Commercial photography 6 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Shot by POW

Other creative product shots will feature the brand’s color schemes, graphics, and typography. This example of a beauty accessory set by skincare brand Dermasuri has vibrant graphic elements, all keeping in line with the product’s color scheme. 

Mo773WGl6chSfgd8ks2ll7yeISIryH19FcNbR s3GsL4EHxZ2H 9 PGUx4arDrp3Eb4PDV8X6jHMCg1 LsrSKJljv3u9flVFSPM0nBeLwMP6yTb6wYNIwWUPnKYc0Hs Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Shot by POW!

Brands can use product shots like these not just for ecommerce but also for other marketing channels—on social media, your website, newsletters, and more. If you have a few shots of your products in varying angles, you can also repurpose them in the future by adding different backgrounds and text.

Lifestyle photography

While product photography shows shoppers what the product looks like or is made of, lifestyle photography helps buyers picture it as part of their lives. Using relatable scenarios of products in-use shot by an experienced lifestyle photographer and their team, these photos tell a story to connect with the consumer. Lifestyle photography can be found on and offline—on websites, blogs, social channels, marketplaces, and in magazines or brochures. 

Get $50 off your first test shoot with POW!

Commercial photography 8 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Shot by POW

When it comes to using models for lifestyle photos, however, be aware, it can quickly become costly. Sourcing the right location, hiring a photographer, and getting a team of experienced talent in addition to the models—like makeup artists, stylists, and assistants—can quickly add up. 

For some products, you can use the same method of a lifestyle photography composite, saving you the expense of hiring multiple professionals for the shoot.

Commercial photography 7 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business

Regardless of what types of products you sell, it’s important to keep your brand’s personality, values, and target audience in mind for props, scenes, and models. You’ll find lifestyle photos range from polished and traditional to creative and unconventional—and everything in between. Once you pinpoint where your brand lands on this scale, it becomes easier to brainstorm lifestyle photo ideas.

Fashion photography

Fashion photography allows apparel, accessory, and similar brands to showcase clothing, jewelry, footwear, hats, bags, or even interior design. This photography used to be more aspirational, though it is increasingly becoming relatable to the average consumer.

Commercial photography 11 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Commercial photography 10 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Commercial photography 9 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; shot by Jeff Delacruz

Photography for fashion is often a team effort that involves the photographer, set designer, assistant, stylist, makeup artist, and hairstylist, similar to lifestyle photos.

Some fashion photos may include apparel sold in ecommerce as part of fashion photography. Still, high-volume sellers will likely focus more on product photography with white backgrounds and mannequins or models in a studio setting than aspirational fashion imagery.

Architecture

Commercial photos for architecture show exterior and/or interior photography of a building or structure. This is also where real estate photography falls. 

Some architects, interior designers, and other construction industry businesses hire photographers to shoot their latest projects. Other times, brands will commission photographers to shoot their company headquarters or other facilities for use in advertising. 

Photographers in this field are highly technical and generally experienced in compositing images to capture different light sources inside and outside the building. This photo-blending method helps photographers create a balanced image and avoids lost detail, for example, in the sky or through the glass.

Photographer Brett Bulthuis shows careful compositional and lighting skills in his architectural photos. His capture of a glass-covered city cafe retains sharp detail throughout the image. You can fully see the inside of the venue, lit by warm indoor lights, and the sunlight reflects on the skyrise buildings in the background. Neither the foreground nor the background has lost any detail.

Commercial photography 13 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; shot by Brett Bulthuis

Interior photography requires similar attention to detail and lighting. Below is a vibrant interior photo of modern living space. It has a mix of natural and artificial light, and the most prominent features of the image–the desk and the sofa–have perfectly straight lines. Small but crucial details like these show the skill of the photographer who can showcase the interior at its best.

Commercial photography 12 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; shot by Brett Bulthuis

Aerial photography is a recent addition to the genre. Using a drone, people experienced and licensed in aerial photography can add another dimension to architectural projects by capturing them through a bird’s eye view.

Commercial photography 14 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; shot by Brett Bulthuis

Aerial photography doesn’t work for every project. But if you need more contextual photos, an elevated view can show how the project fits into its environment. Images like these can also shed an interesting perspective on what may traditionally be seen as less visually exciting, like projects in heavy industries—factories, equipment facilities, and others.

Social media and content

Some commercial photography is shot specifically for social marketing. And for good reason—what was once an engagement platform is now also a marketplace. In fact, sales from social commerce will hit $992 billion in 2022

Social media requires content, though. And that’s a challenge for many businesses. A type of photography has emerged to answer this need, a large part of it including lifestyle shots, flat lay photos, and other creative visual expressions.

Examples might include motivational content, behind-the-scenes pictures of your office or events, or user-generated content featuring your customers and products. Megababe Beauty, for example, frequently posts detailed close-up commercial shots of its products to boost engagement on its Facebook page, prompting followers to guess the product.

Commercial photography 31 1 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image from Megababe Beauty Facebook page; not shot by POW

Social media also requires a strategic balance between engaging and promotional content. 

Social content photos may not directly sell the company’s products but keep potential and existing customers engaged with the brand. 

Advertising

Advertising photography raises brand awareness and connects with consumers emotionally. These photos may not always feature the products sold. Or the photographer may heavily edit and composite the image to look more like an intricate design than a photograph. 

An example of the latter is Glen Glysser’s advertising photo for Goodwill. The photo includes product shots, graphic design, and typography. Together they all illustrate how people can find their unique style by shopping for clothes at Goodwill non-profit stores.

In contrast, Glysser’s photo for KitchenAid shows a single mixer on a table. The metal mixing bowl’s reflections show different kitchen utensils and grocery items. It’s a simple idea, but it works: making a great meal or baking a delicious cake can take countless ingredients and effort. And KitchenAid appliances make it all possible by bringing them all together.

Commercial photography 20 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image by Glenn Gyssler

Overall, businesses use ad photos for various promotional materials online and in print. The images tell a story about the brand, its voice, and its values, for example, the company’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions or promoting a healthy lifestyle for all.

Commercial photography examples

Let’s look at some real-world brands with stellar imagery for inspiration.

The Honey Pot

Plant-derived feminine care brand, The Honey Pot, uses simple product photography for its online store, but each product listing photo has a soft, pastel background variation. Together, they create a cohesive-looking online storefront and complement the product packaging colors.

Commercial photography 22 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; shot by POW

The below lifestyle photograph on the brand’s website shows one of the products in use. You can see the model teaching for the wipes on the slightly messy bedside table. All props are different tints of pink or red, and even the model’s nail polish is deep red, relating back to the brand’s essence—good-quality feminine care.

Commercial photography 23 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; not shot by POW

At the same time, the flower in the vase reflects another essential part of the company’s branding: plant-derived products. You can also see this theme in the brand’s advertising photo below, with a model holding the same pale pink tropical flower in front of her eye.

Commercial photography 24 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; not shot by POW

Seattle Chocolate

For a confectionary brand like Seattle Chocolate, it helps to show the packaging of the product and what’s inside. The company’s product photos show the quality and texture of its chocolate up-close. Paired with a colorful background, the eye-catching photos reflect the brand’s mission to be bold, bright, and delicious.

Commercial photography 25 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; not shot by POW

The lifestyle photos on the company’s website show its candy as part of a customer’s wedding day. The sweets inside a favor box are next to a newly married couple’s wedding rings, with romantic props in the background. Using lifestyle photos like these can help consumers visualize the product in real, relatable situations.

Commercial photography 26 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; not shot by POW

As for the advertisement visuals, the brand not only tells about its commitment to supporting its workers but shows it using photos of a couple of smiling employees working in its factory. Anyone visiting the company’s website will first notice the positive photo before reading the description.

Commercial photography 27 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; not shot by POW

Monica + Andy

Started by a mom looking for clothes soft enough for a newborn’s skin, Monica + Andy sells apparel and various nursery, play, and health products for children. All of the brand’s apparel product photos are consistent in composition and show each item on a light gray background, like the example below shot by POW. Light gray for product photo backgrounds helps the listings not get lost on the store’s white webpages.

Commercial photography 28 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; shot by POW

The same sweatshirt listing also shows a handful of lifestyle photos of two kids, each reading an oversized book. The colors of the sweatshirt detail, the red and yellow pizza embroidered patch, are mirrored in props and other items from the brand’s clothing line. The background and the sofa are neutral shades of gray, giving way for the bright colors to pop.

Commercial photography 29 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; not shot by POW

On the company’s baby concierge service page, you can see a touching advertisement photo that embodies the brand’s message—to help new mothers. Whether through soft, organic fabric outfits available for newborns or virtual parenting classes to prepare for motherhood. 

Commercial photography 30 Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business
Image source; not shot by POW

In this photo, the brand’s products aren’t the main focus, but rather the mother’s connection with her child. This image further emphasizes these pure feelings and love through its use of light colors.

Commercial photography pricing

There’s no no standardization for commercial photography prices. How much money you need will vary depending on factors such as the photographer’s location, scope of work, additional expenses, client's image use, and many other factors. 

Photography and business blog A Photo Editor shares regular insights on commercial photo project pricing, showing just how quickly fees add up. For example, an unnamed international luxury hospitality brand paid $60,975 in total costs for a photographer to capture the company's hotel and amenities. Another photographer billed a pharmaceutical company $15,000 for a smaller project.

The way photographers operate will also impact pricing:

In-house commercial photographer pricing

  • Salary can range from around $26,000 yearly (median) in a place like Oklahoma City to approximately $54,000 yearly (median) in New York, with a countrywide average of $37,000
  • The location plays an important role in establishing the salary

Freelance commercial photographer rates

  • The day rate can be anywhere from $800 to $5,000, excluding the image licensing fee (an additional $250 to $10,000) 
  • Other incremental expenses—like additional talent or location hire, refreshments, extra equipment, and more—will be added on top of the fee

Professional commercial photography studio fees

  • Professional studios that offer ship-and-shoot service generally charge price per photo, with expenses already factored into the cost
  • The prices will vary depending on the number of photos and may reduce after reaching a certain threshold of number of images ordered; product photos from POW, for example, are $49.99 each but drop to $44.99 if you order 26–50 shots—and discounted even further for more
  • Some studios, like POW, also offer upgrades, like 360-degree spin photography or a rush fee for a faster turnaround
Camera POW Commercial Photography: What it is and How to Use it for Your Ecommerce Business

Learn more about our 360 spin product photography services!

In a world where its possible to see all sides of something with just one click, we like to go the extra mile to give you that full-on experience. We offer 360 product spins, making it simple to customize your customer's view.
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What is commercial use of photos?

Commercial use of photos is when a business uses images for promotional purposes. 

Commercial use is a bit of a different context than commercial photography. This touches the legal aspects of who has the rights to ownership, usage, and credit for the photos. “Commercial image” in this instance refers to any image used for commercial, or business, purposes. 

Typically, professional photographers own the copyright to their images. Instead of granting full copyright to clients, the photographers license their work for commercial or business use. This agreement determines how, where, and for how long the client can use the photos.

Essentially, the client pays for a photoshoot and commercial usage of the resulting photos. That’s why it’s essential to make sure you have the full quote—not just for the photoshoot but also for image use. 

Some photography service providers, like POW, have chosen to simplify the process by building a royalty-free usage license in the quote. This license allows businesses to use photos anywhere and for an unlimited time. This licensing agreement is more straightforward and also typically more affordable.

Use commercial product photography to promote your products

Well-planned commercial photos will align with your brand’s personality across different platforms—your website, online store, social, email, or print—and at every customer touchpoint. You may even find the photos reduce purchase return rates, which can be as high as 49%, due to a mismatch between what’s in the shot and what ends on the buyer's doorstep.

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Commercial Photography FAQs

What does commercial photography consist of?

Advertising is a type of commercial photography generally reserved for a marketing or ad agency. Commercial photography is a general term for all photography created for business purposes and includes several subtypes, like fashion, product, and others.

What is the difference between commercial photography and advertising photography?

Advertising is a type of commercial photography generally reserved for a marketing or ad agency. Commercial photography is a general term for all photography created for business purposes and includes several subtypes, like fashion, product, and others.

Is product photography commercial photography?

Yes, product photography is commercial photography. Product photography is just one of the many types of commercial photography. You can find product photographs across most retail and ecommerce stores, but businesses also use them on websites, social media, and other marketing channels.

What is the goal of commercial photographs?

The goal of commercial photographs is to sell or promote products, services, or a brand itself. Companies and individuals use commercial photography both online and in print.

What are examples of commercial photography?

White background ecommerce photos
Lifestyle composite product photos
Print magazine advertising photos
Architecture photography for interior design

What is considered commercial use of photos?

Commercial use of photos is when images are leveraged for business purposes and/or promotion. Any business or individual wanting to use commercial photos must first obtain image use rights from the photographer. Agreements on commercial usage detail where and how long clients can use their photos for business purposes.

Are commercial photos copyrighted?

Yes, commercial photos are copyrighted. Any photographer, including commercial, has full copyright protection for their photographs. This means other individuals or businesses aren’t permitted to use the photographer’s commercial work without prior permission.


Written by Anete Lusina

Anete Lusina is a freelance B2B writer, covering topics like software and technology. She is also a passionate street and art photographer.