How to Sell Commercial Photography

Although commercial photography is an area of specialization usually reserved for those who take pictures to be used by retail businesses, advertising agencies, and many types of corporate endeavors, when the issue is SELLING commercial photography, the definition really expands.

Defining Commercial Work

For example, a professional freelance photographer who wants to sell commercial photography might specialize in travel work, corporate portraits, glamour shots, or a handful of other types of work. The key is that they will be approaching specific commercial clients in order to sell them their work or their services.

How does the photographer know who to approach? They analyze their potential markets, create an appropriate “campaign”, and then communicate with potential clients directly.

Making the Sale

Analyzing the markets comes down to some fundamental issues, including the types of photographs being sold, the appropriate clients for the photographer’s area of specialty and their style, and understanding how to sell to the identified clientele. Basically, it all boils down to finding a way to get images and photographs in front of the clients that are the most likely to buy them.

So, the best way to go about this is to briefly summarize the area(s) of specialization. For example, if you do a lot of outdoor photography, but also happen to take many sports or adventure photographs too, you can create a list of potential clients in your immediate area. This might be a local publisher of travel magazines, a few area newspapers, or websites connected to your areas of specialization. You can then obtain all of the relevant contact information for each agency, with a particular emphasis on getting the name of the person most likely to make the decision about purchasing the work.

Building a Client List

You may end up with only a handful of names, or you could end up with a very substantial list. The key is to then create the appropriate type of direct communication to grab their interest. If you believe that they will receive a piece of “snail mail” without delay, you could easily forward a simple printed card or sample of your work with a brief note. Alternately, you could employ a more modern approach and communicate via an email. This would contain the same greeting as that sent in a regular letter, but it would also contain an embedded graphic file that provided a sample of your work when the email was opened.

Should you opt for the unsolicited email approach, however, be sure to include an “opt out” option that allows the recipient to request that they are removed from your list of contacts. This might be a bit of a bummer to receive, but remember that this saves you time and wasted energies because it tells you that the business in question is not interested in purchasing work at the time.

You may receive several positive responses from this approach, and it is vitally important that you reply promptly and appropriately. Your research will have already let you know the type of businesses with which you have communicated, and if one happens to invite you to come in for a meeting you will need to structure your portfolio to reflect the needs of that business. Be ready for this opportunity and be sure that you can respond immediately to the request for the meeting or presentation.

Advertising Essentials

If your direct approach does not generate the kind of interest you would like, do not give up! You can still follow the traditional advertising approach to marketing your services. Put ads in local newspapers, appropriate business directories, and even consider buying some online advertising if that is in the budget. If you are new to the business, you are going to need to develop a client base, and once you do, you will find that you might have far more success with a later effort at direct communication with potential clients.

Another modern way to sell your commercial work is through the many different stock photography websites. This has become such a lucrative field that many photographers realize a steady stream of income from them. These demand the cleanest images possible, and there can be some steep competition. If you know your area of specialization, however, you can probably create a portfolio of images with direct appeal to your market. This is especially true for the sites that allow their photographers to add “tags” to each of the images. This helps someone to find images related to their search terms, and if a potential buyer looks at one of your photographs, they are often going to be interested in several of them.

Clearly, there are many ways to sell your commercial work, and each of them does demand a bit of time and effort. It is important to remember that even the most successful freelance photographers bemoan the number of hours spent handling the business end of their work. Don’t despair, however, because it is quite common for any photographer to get only thirty percent of their time to dedicate to their photographic work, and the rest is spend managing and selling it!