Commercial photographers might photograph models for fashion magazines, industrial equipment for a company's annual report, or new buildings for a construction trade publication. Most employers require formal training or a degree in photography for photographers entering the field.
Commercial photographers can study at universities, community colleges, vocational/technical schools or art schools. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs give the student a solid foundation in photography and allow them to gain practical experience. Some photographers go on to pursue master's degrees in the field. They can keep their skills up to date by participating in continuing education courses offered by colleges and universities.
Commercial photographers must have an innate artistic eye for their craft, but they must also be educated on the technical aspects of operating camera equipment. They must understand the physical requirements, such as lighting, that are involved in getting good shots. They must know how to use computer equipment to process, transfer and store images.
At a community college or an art school, a student can earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in photography. Vocational schools offer similar programs, sometimes specifically in commercial photography. These may be 2- or 4-year programs. Some arts schools offer master's degrees in photography.
Photography courses are usually taught through the fine arts or the journalism departments at 4-year colleges and universities. While students learn the basics of photography, the courses focus on artistic or journalistic photography, not commercial photography.
Students of commercial photography become proficient in both color and black and white photography. They learn how to manipulate images in an electronic darkroom. Students explore lighting and studio illustration. The coursework may include techniques of shooting with large format cameras, and some schools still teach film developing, although almost all photography now is digital. Many schools teach students how to make multimedia presentations. In a master's degree program, the student may take more elective courses and work on photography projects, allowing for a focus on commercial photography, if desired.
Commercial photographers can enhance their value to employers and keep their skills current by taking continuing education courses, entering competitions and teaching courses.
In addition to technical knowledge of photography, a commercial photographer who works as a freelancer should be a good businessperson. This includes how to negotiate a contract, how to price time and images and how to gain access to shooting locations. Commercial photographers should also know the basics of copyright and similar laws.
Job Outlook and Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates 3% job growth for all photographers in the years 2014 to 2024, which is slower than the average for all occupations. However, the BLS also singled out commercial photographers, noting that there would be continued demand for their services in developing enticing and effective advertisements. As of May 2015, the mean annual wage for photographers was $40,280, according to the BLS.
In summary, commercial photographers usually need some type of formal education, whether it comes from an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree program.