Are you a photographer trying to figure out how to find more commercial clients? You’re definitely not alone! Getting new clients is definitely one of the toughest parts of starting a photography business. There are tons of marketing classes and expensive packages out there that claim to offer solutions. But the cheapest and easiest way to get more photography clients for your business is to start with focused research efforts.
As commercial photographers, we have the advantage of being able to get really specific about our target clients and can even contact them directly to pitch our services. This is vastly different from consumer photography, where you never quite know exactly when someone will be getting engaged and needing wedding photography. Of course, you can make some educated and well-researched guesses. But selecting and targeting ideal clients will never be as easy for consumer photographers as it is for commercial photographers.
If you need a quick refresher on the difference between consumer and commercial photography, please read this previous article to clarify the distinction between the two. It is very important for all photography businesses to start out by focusing on one of the two crafts, rather than trying to do both at once.
What you will learn in this article
This article will help you come up with a list of prospective commercial photography clients. When doing client research, your goal is always to get as specific as possible. Don’t worry about being too narrow in your scope. The whole point is to get as narrowly defined as possible in order to pinpoint the exact clients that are looking for your services. If you’re just starting out, you want to start small and get bigger over time. This article will teach you how to find commercial photography clients by asking the following questions:
- What is your specific commercial photography niche?
- What are the commercial (money-making) uses of photos within your niche.
- Who are the key players in your niche.
- Within your niche, who hires the photographer?
- Who are the top industry influencers, and up-and-comers within your niche?
- What are the industry publications within your niche?
- List the organizations, trade shows, events, and meetups related to your niche.
- Who are the established and esteemed photographers within your niche?
8 Questions to Help You Get Commercial Photography Clients
1) Choose a commercial photography niche.
While commercial photography is in itself a niche, you need to go even further and define an even more specific niche. Again, don’t worry about being too narrow in scope. You need to be as specific as possible to focus your efforts in ways that are more likely to pay off. Be sure to select a niche that you want to do more photography work in. Don’t choose a niche if you don’t enjoy doing that type of photography. As SLR Lounge says, when you specialize in everything, you’re really specializing in nothing.
Commercial photography niches
- Advertising photography
- Fashion photography
- Product photography
- Food photography
- Editorial photography
Example: Let’s choose food photography for illustration.
2) What are the commercial (money-making) uses of photos in your niche?
Think of every possible way that one might monetize photography within your niche, and write it down.
Food photography can be used:
- to illustrate cookbooks
- as menu photos for a restaurant
- for publicity and marketing for food brands
- for editorial stories on food trends or popular local restaurants
Of the uses listed above, choose one to focus on.
Afterward, you’ll want to choose just one aspect that you are the most interested in. Again, the whole point is to be narrow and specific, not broad and all-encompassing.
My focus is on food photography, specifically restaurant photography for marketing and publicity purposes.
3) Who are all of the key players in your niche?
This exercise of fleshing out the entire industry of your specific niche is important for identifying all of the ways your photos might have commercial application. Each industry has many key players that are involved, and each of these key players can become a potential client or source of a referral down the road. Many key players will stay within the industry if they move on to a different position so they can become very valuable long-term referrals.
*All of these key players listed are prospective photography clients!
As a restaurant photographer, I’ve sold images not only to restaurants (the obvious client), but also to food growers and producers, architects and designers who built the restaurant, and even appliance makers who made custom built solutions for the restaurant. Don’t limit yourself to the obvious client. Always think of other businesses and services that are involved in your niche. More likely than not, they also have a need for professional photos.
Within the world of restaurant photography, you have:
- people in the kitchen and behind the bar (chef, line cooks, and bartenders)
- restaurant owner (sometimes also the chef)
- people who built and designed the restaurant (construction, architecture, and interior design companies)
- suppliers (of food, dishes, alcohol, silverware, chairs, and tables, etc)
- marketing and public relations people (sometimes a person or department within the restaurant or an agency hired to work on behalf of the restaurant)
4) Within your niche, who hires the photographer?
After you identify key players within your niche industry, you should have a sizeable list of prospective commercial photography clients. For the sake of focusing your efforts, select just one or two and ask yourself the all important question: who hires the photographer? Answering this question is important because you need to know who specifically you should target your marketing campaign at. This role will differ according to the industry you’re in and the size and scale of the client.
Corporate Client, or Client Direct
Some corporations will have their own internal departments that handle all photography needs. They might have an in-house photographer on staff, or they may hire freelancers to fulfill their photo needs. To investigate, go directly to the company’s website and search for a Directory or Job Listings page. Try to get a sense of the company’s structure and if they have a department specifically for photography.
Another way to find prospective clients in your area is to check the Membership Directory of your local Chamber of Commerce or a Trade Association within your niche’s industry of choice. Not only are these good sources of prospective clients, but there is also a good chance that if the client has invested time and resources into getting listed in these directories, they are more likely to be receptive to further marketing services, such as photography.
Advertising and Public Relations Agencies
Many commercial clients outsource marketing to a third-party agency. Think of Geico Insurance. They’re known for their quirky ads, but they don’t execute ad production themselves. Instead, they turn to an advertising agency. This agency then is how a videographer or photographer would end up indirectly working with Geico as a commercial client.
Similar to a photography business, these agencies tend to specialize in working with specific types of clients. Thus, getting connected with agencies that work in your chosen field can be a great way to generate new leads. Do a Google search for local advertising and public relations agencies in your area. Some of these agencies might be large and corporate, and others will be boutique, independent agencies. Take a look at the types of clients they represent, and the industries they work in. This will give you an idea of the type of photography they tend to invest in. For example, an agency that works primarily with restaurants and food products will likely buy food photography.
As we established earlier, editorial photography for magazines, newspapers, and publications is all about telling a visual story rather than selling the product. Editorial budgets and rates are typically established in advance, so there is often little room for negotiation. On the plus side, however, editorial photography often gives you a chance to exercise more creative freedom than advertising photography, while also serving as a marketing tool and credibility enhancer when your work and name are published.
Keep in mind that editorial clients usually work at least 1 week in advance for weekly publications, or as much as 3-6 months in advance for monthly publications. Thus, you might get connected to the client yet not have an assignment until much further down the road. This is one of many reasons why editorial photography is good to do on a freelance basis, but not necessarily reliable for a full-time income.
Every publication has a distinct photography style, so it is important to familiarize yourself with this style before making a pitch Make sure you have a portfolio or body of work that illustrates that you can execute a similar style. After doing this research, you can then pitch your services. Check the publication’s masthead and search for the Art or Photography Department. Usually, it’s the Art Director who will do the hiring.
In publishing, a masthead is a listing in a newspaper or magazine with information about the staff and people who made the issue possible. The masthead may or may not include direct contact information, but it will usually have a place for accepting submissions.
5) Who are the top industry influencers, and up-and-comers within your niche?
Within your chosen industry, make a list of the top 3-10 national and local influencers. Think of them as your dream clients. If you need help finding key influencers, look for trade publications or associations that give out awards. For example, I’d look the James Beard Foundation Award Winners or the Michelin Star Guide to find international top-performers. To find local influencers, do a Google search or check local publications.
As you go through this exercise, you might notice more opportunities to further fine-tune your niche choice. For example, I could target chain restaurants or independently-owned boutique restaurants. Again, it’s important to choose just one for the sake of focusing your efforts.
- Study the websites and published materials of the influencers.
- Find out who their restaurant photographers are and follow them on social media.
- Determine the key factors and styles that set their restaurant photography apart.
- Try to find out who does the marketing and promotions for all influencers.
6) What are the industry publications within your niche?
Again deconstruct this on a national and local level, and follow or subscribe to these publications. You’ll want to keep close tabs on industry news and trends to be on the lookout for prospective new clients and techniques that will keep your photography style modern. Getting familiar with the editors, writers, and photographers from these publications can also be great networking opportunities since these publications are in constant need of new photos and are often connected directly to your prospective clients.
7) List the organizations, trade shows, events, and meet ups related to your niche.
Every industry has an association, trade show, or specific events where all of the companies from that specific industry will gather. This can be the perfect opportunity for in-person networking among these companies. As a niche photographer, you are technically apart of this industry and may qualify for joining or getting involved.
As a food and restaurant photographer in Seattle, my primary way of sourcing new clients is to attend food festivals. Often times, many of the key players from a restaurant will be present at a food festival if they are exhibiting at a booth. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to key industry players. Bring your business cards and camera along, and document the food and events taking place at the festival. Afterward, choose your best photos and do a recap blog post on your portfolio website, and send the published version to the key players you met at the festival. This does two things: shows initiative on your part by following up, and also gives prospective clients a sample of your photography work.
8) Who are the established and esteemed photographers within your niche?
Every niche will have photographers who are working with top clients. While these photographers are not prospective clients for you, it is important to know who is doing very well in your niche and what you can learn from them.
- Search for local and nationally esteemed photographers within your niche. Study their work and follow them on social media.
- Try to get a sense of how they are making money from photography and the types of clients they work with. Your goal is not to copy them or steal their clients, but to do market research to gauge opportunity and demand.
- Make note of what they do well, and what they could improve upon.
- Use this information to develop your own unique photography style and approach.
For food and restaurant photography, I look to Instagram for inspiration. Searching for photography influencers on Instagram can be very educational as you can sometimes get a sense of unique, out-of-the-box ways that people are making money from photography. There are many pro food photographers with big corporate clients, as well as food bloggers making a full-time living from photography.
After going through this exercise, you should have a list of prospective commercial photography clients to pursue. Tune in for the next article that will talk about how to market photography services to commercial clients.