Commercial Photography includes many different photographic approaches, including Advertising Photography, Product Photography, Architecture and Interiors, Lifestyle Photography, Corporate Head Shots and Environmental Portraiture and even Art Reproduction. Although it may encompass a wide variety of photographic genres, commercial photography shares a main objective: to sell a product to a pre-determined target market. The word “product” in this context refers to not only an actual product, but also includes other marketable features like a service, experience, place or even a person.

This article will provide an overview of the commercial photography genres we work i. And how they are applied by businesses as part of their marketing plan.

Advertising Photography

Advertising photography used in high-end brochure designed by Natalie Field Photography for Cobb Global in Johannesburg South Africa
Advertising photography for Cobb Premier+ Brochure.

Often mistaken to be one and the same as commercial photography, there are two main differences between advertising- and commercial photography. The first is that advertising campaigns are built around a strong concept that narrates the message of your brand. Concept driven photography is used to create engaging content by capturing staged or artificially constructed scenes made for the purpose of marketing the product. The photograph does not necessarily have to relate directly to the product. But it should sell the lifestyle you want your clients to buy into. Therefore, every campaign should be preconceived and conceptualised with the style and identity of your product or experience in mind. Images can be bold, colourful and stylized. 

In comparison, commercial photography is concerned with the product or service itself. Backgrounds are generally neutral, images are void of distracting elements, and the focus of the composition is on the product as the subject matter.   

Advertising photography is your first impression, your foot in the door. The primary impression of the idea should be expressed through a main (hero) image or series of campaign images. Where these images are likely to be used is the second difference. Hero images will be used on billboards, magazine print ads, brochures, website landing pages, social media banners and so on.

Commercial Photography

The other elements in commercial photography are your supporting act. They should be created in a similar style and revolve around the main concept, feeding additional information to the consumer. These could include catalogue images of the product, creative details, introducing the process or team behind the product, etc. These subsequent elements will be applied to catalogues, articles, and social media feeds to give a deeper insight into your brand.

Product Photography

Product photography used in catalogue captured by Natalie Field Photography for Sightique Optic Supplies in Johannesburg South Africa
Product photography for Cube Eyewear Catalogue.

Catalogue photography is the most popular branch of product photography. It is focused on accurately but attractively representing a product: its size, colour, form, texture and functionality. The principal application is in online and print catalogues, where the images are used to sell the products themselves. This type of usage is often accompanied by product specifications like sizes, materials, colour availability and more. Standard practise is to capture the product on a clean (usually white) background. And filling at least 80% of the frame with the subject. Catalogue photography can feature the single product, product group, relative size, product details, product packaging and also product assembly.

But product photography doesn’t begin and end with commercial catalogue photography. It can also incorporate techniques from Lay Flat photography, traditional Still Life photography and Lifestyle photography. Combining techniques will add a different perspective or narrative element to the imagery.

Architecture & Interiors

Architecture used in calendar captured by Natalie Field Photography for FEM in Johannesburg South Africa
Architecture photography for FEM Calendar.

Perhaps your product is a place, like a hotel or co-working space. Maybe you provide a service or experience that requires a specialised space, like a biokinetics practice. Or your company offers a service in construction or engineering. In which case you would need to document the aesthetic of a large-scale project, like a skyscraper or bridge. Much as with product photography, you will want to represent the building or structure with clean and attractive photographs. To be applied to your online booking system, portfolio or about web page.

Architectural exteriors could be taken using daylight. Or, my personal favourite, at dawn or dusk. The latter offers low light emphasizing a warm glow from the building and surrounding ambient light. Interiors should be captured with the help of artificial lighting, to balance shadows and give an evenly lit view of the space. Details of the space, like materials and textures, finishes, appliances can also be captured to provide further information to your clients.   

And, off course, it is always good to show the space being used. In the above example, we captured the construction phase of the Discovery building in Sandton. The images were commissioned by FEM, who created their annual calendar featuring the workers in action.

Lifestyle Photography

Lifestyle photography used on website captured by Natalie Field Photography for Candice Berman Gallery in Johannesburg South Africa
LLifestyle photography for Candice Berman Gallery Website.

Lifestyle Photography shows your product or service in action. In-context shots that tell a story can boost emotional connection. This makes them well suited for social media, blog posts, mailers and other marketing channels at the top of your conversion funnel. The connection between the buyer and the product is easily created by featuring a person connecting with the product, place or service. A lifestyle feel can even be produced by simple adding signs of human interaction, a pair of hands or playing with shadows or silhouettes.

There is a trend to use stock photography for many instances that require lifestyle images. However, these generic images do not always fit into the business climate. For example, South Africa is our Rainbow Nation, and your imagery should be inclusive. Think of lifestyle photography as personalised stock.

Corporate Head Shots & Environmental Portraiture

Headshot photography used in article captured by Natalie Field Photography for CEO Magazine in Johannesburg South Africa
Head shot and environmental portraiture captured for CEO Magazine Article.

Many of us are selling a personal service. Photographers, doctors, lawyers, and plumbers all engage directly with the client, building a relationship. Your first impression is made on the “Meet the Team” section of your website. It allows people to connect with you prior to your first meeting. And recognise a familiar face when they walk through the door. Adding your colleagues also shows that you are proud of the people you are affiliated with, and that you are just that: a team.

Standard corporate head shots will be a head and shoulder photograph against a neutral background. Most companies are going for a formal feel, and it is highly recommended that wardrobe and styling is discussed prior to the shoot day for consistency in the collection of images. You might also want to do a group shot of a specific team, like EXCO.

Other than being used on the website, these images are often used in annual reports, featured in articles, and used as profile pictures for professional social media platforms like LinkedIn.

Depending on your line of business, you can also get creative with your headshots and shoot environmental portraits, showing the service provider in context. Read more about the different genres of Portraiture.

Art Reproduction & Exhibition Installation

Art reproduction for catalogue of John Vusi Mfupi for Candicer Berman Gallery by Natalie Field Photography
Art Reproduction for John Vusi Mfupi exhibition catalogue.

Artwork reproduction is a niche in commercial photography. It is focused on accurately documenting artworks for online and print catalogues or limited-edition printmaking. Whether the artwork is two- or three dimensional, you will need high quality images that represent the piece accurately. For two-dimensional works, you will require an image of the artwork itself and the artwork with the frame if it is sold as such. Also consider requesting details of the brush strokes or collage to show close-ups of your technique. On the other hand, sculptural and installation work will require several angles, as well as details of the materials used. Art reproduction requires particular lighting techniques to capture the piece verbatim, whether it is mat or reflective in nature. Accurate colour reproduction is also essential.

You might also want to show the work in-situ on the gallery wall. This can show the piece featured in a setting or demonstrate how it can be hung as a collection. For this, additional equipment can be brought into the gallery to control reflections. Or you might want to showcase the artist talking about the work during a walk-about. And the artwork being appreciated by gallery visitors for context.

Creating a Marketing Campaign using Commercial Photography 

As you can see, there are many elements in commercial photography to consider when planning a successful marketing campaign All of which should have a consistent brand identity and unifying message. By repeating the same photographic style across your marketing streams, you will create a recognisable brand identity. That is why we recommend you work with an agency to plan and execute your campaign. Whether it be for the launch of a website or release of a new model, Natalie Field Photography can assist with conceptualisation, production and execution. Please contact us for more information.