Commercial photography is the art of taking pictures that are marketable, and finding places to sell them. This can be done on a freelance basis, where the photographer shoots tons of images and then tries to sell them, or it can be done on assignment if an editor contacts the photographer and wishes to have certain types of work done. No matter where you want to get started, you're going to need a strong commercial photography portfolio.
Consider the Market
When building your portfolio it's critical to understand what your potential customer wants. If you're not sure what niche you want to focus on, you should consider taking a wide variety of photographs that will show off your photographic flexbility. This will also help increase your odds of a buyer seeing an image they like. Remember that any photographs featuring people will need to have signed releases allowing you to sell the images, so it may be best to focus on environments and products when you’re first getting started.
Spend Time Online
There are two reasons that the Internet is your most powerful ally in building a commercial photography portfolio. The first is that it allows you to search through the portfolios of thousands of working commercial photographers and see what sorts of images sell the best. The second is that it provides you with a low-cost way to get your portfolio to as many people as possible. Register a personal domain name and upload your portfolio, then send a link to it with any correspondence you have with publications or buyers.
Fake it Till You Make It
When you first start, you're not going to have assignments right away, so practice with "fake" assignments to demonstrate your skills. For example if you want to do advertising images, create a couple of made up ad campaigns and take some photos that would go with them. Then post them on your portfolio with explanations about how they interact with the campaign and why you thought they were the strongest images to use. Art directors love a photographer that can think “in theme.”
Choose a Niche
A great way to become a successful photographer is to become the master of your niche. There are photographers who focus just one subject matter like food, celebrities, food, animals, picture frames and many others. Find something you’re passionate about, grab a few publications you’d like to shoot for, and see if you can build a portfolio of work that speaks to that potential client.
When you're first getting started with photography it can be difficult to get on with a major publication so start off focusing locally. Find out if there are any local newspapers, magazines, websites, or communities that need photo work done and volunteer your services. You may not be rolling in the dough right at the start, but you will be building a powerful list of former clients and a healthy bit of experience, both of which will enhance your chances of landing a bigger and better assignment in the future.
Commercial photography can be tricky market to get into but with a positive mindset and a eye for spotting local needs it may be easier than you first thought. Challenge yourself to expand on your skills with every shoot and to reach out to businesses and colleagues and you’ll have a powerful portfolio in no time.