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Things I've learned as a Commercial Photographer

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

To start things off, it's best I tell you a little about myself and my commercial photography journey.

My name is Stuart Bailey (not related in any way to the great David Bailey). I've been a professional photographer since 2015, first starting my photography career working for the international airline British Airways as one of their in-house photographers. I was based 5 days a week at their head office called Waterside, which sits just over the road from London Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5.

There I was photographing anything and everything that the airline needed imagery for. From airline food in those horrible tin trays, to large commercial aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and the Airbus A350. I also had the opportunity to photograph a large number of celebrities and VIPs too including Prince William and even The Queen.

Prince William (HRH The Duke of Cambridge) - TUSK
Prince William (HRH The Duke of Cambridge) - TUSK

My job at British Airways laid an amazing foundation for me. The only things I was shooting before that job was a few weddings and the very occasional freelance job (which was usually for friends or family).

British Airways gave me amazing experiences, it's where I really came into myself as a photographer, and it's where I honed my skills and found my style.

Commercial Photographer London
Airbus A350 Interior - Shot for British Airways

I was at BA for about 4 and a half years before being made redundant in late 2019.

So I took it as the perfect opportunity to start my own business as a commercial, advertising, and lifestyle photographer in London, and branch out on my own!

It's what I'd always dreamed of ever since I picked up a camera for the first time.

I burned my bridges and didn't apply for any other employed jobs. I set myself up as a company, and started marketing myself like mad, first calling on all the contacts I'd already made along the way.

Since then, I've worked with some amazing clients as a commercial and lifestyle photographer. A lot of my commercial work is in the travel industry, and mostly aviation or railway companies.

I also do work for clients outside of those fields too which is mostly London based, however I love the aviation business and I have a deep knowledge of it, so that's where I focus myself for the time being.

I've learnt a few things along the way, so I'll be editing this post as I continue to learn, so keep checking back here for more!

Commercial Photographer London
Railway Lifestyle Photography - Shot for TransPennine Express

Lesson 1: Being nice to people goes a long way.

It's a very simple lesson. However a very valuable one. You never know who you'll meet and first impressions count for a lot, so be nice!

Despite how people are dressed or act, you just never know if that person in the sweatpants is a multimillionaire who runs a company that could hire you for work!

Some of the people I've met have connected me with people that have bought me amazing opportunities.

Even sitting in a coffee shop in London, start chatting with the people next to you. It's pretty unconventional for British people to talk to strangers (at least in London, up North is possibly a bit different). However, I've made connections that way, and people know other people that could be beneficial to you and your business. Be nice, have business cards on you with your logo, contact info, and a professional headshot of yourself so people will remember you more.

My job at British Airways came about from me selling my amateur photos in a field show in Kent, England. I'd only picked up a camera for the first time about a year prior to that show.

A guy came up to my stand and started talking about my photos, saying how much he liked them and that he could see I have a good eye for it.

Then he mentioned he was the editor of Nikon Pro magazine, so I gave him a business card, and then we stayed in loose contact over twitter for about 5 years.

One day out of the blue, he sent me a message on twitter saying:

" Hi Stuart, I wondered what you were up to right now - I've been contacted by a colleague at BA about a photography job and I wondered if you'd be interested?".

That message literally changed my life, from doing a job in central London as a CAD Technician (computer aided design) that I was bored of, to doing the job of my dreams as a photographer for an international Airline!

So lesson 1, Be nice to people. Firstly because it's good to be nice to people anyway. Secondly, because you just never know who you will meet and where it might lead!

The Twitter Message!

Lesson 2: Budgets can vary wildly from company to company

Another thing I've learned, is that budgets for a commercial or advertising photographer can vary so much from company to company.

For some of the large companies in London, you would think they would have a big budget for advertising photography because the images are going to make them thousands or even millions of pounds from the ads.

However, sometimes they don't have a budget at all and they don't seem to understand, or have never heard of term "usage".

In these cases, you have to think, can I actually make money from this job?

Do I just do it at cost price, do the work as a commercial or advertising photography portfolio piece that can then lead to bigger budget commercial or advertising work in the future?

Then some smaller businesses in London, or even outside of London I've photographed for have bigger budgets than the large companies!

It's a odd world where some companies really know the value of good photography and how much revenue it can generate for a business. Then some companies have no clue about the value of a good photograph.

I'm not being horrible about these companies, it's all a matter of experience in their teams and having not done a photo shoot before, or having pressure from the finance teams.

They maybe don't realise how much things cost (like models, or equipment), or the value of what the photographer can bring.

We as photographers need to try and educate the business world in how much value we actually bring to the table.

Commercial Photographer London
InchDairnie Whiskey Distillery in Glenrothes, Scotland - Shot for British Airways

For instance, say if a brand like Nike, shot an ad campaign that was to go on social media, billboards, and point of sale for a new pair of running shoes.

They got someone off the street to model them, and then had an amateur photographer to shoot the pictures, how many pairs of those shoes do you think Nike would sell from that campaign?

However, if they had Usain Bolt to model the shoes, and they hired an experienced commercial or advertising photographer to shoot the campaign, you would end up with some really great photographs, and I'm sure Nike would sell a whole load more shoes!

The world is becoming increasingly more visual than it ever has before, and the value of great photography should be higher than ever!

So it's up to us as commercial and advertising photographers to inform and educate our clients, or potential clients of the value of our work.

Not because we're being greedy and want more money and bigger budgets.

We do what we do because of the love for photography and the chance to do what we love for a living, and to create great work.

But in order to create better and more appealing work, sometime we need bigger budgets to get there.

Also the more appealing the final images are, the more likely the client is of making money from the photographs.

Commercial Photographer London
Royal Winchester House in Bracknell, Berkshire - Commercial Property Photography

Budgets and pricing for a commercial, advertising, and lifestyle photographer is a funny old business.

I myself have a day rate for different jobs. This covers me for the basic running costs of my business, from the mortgage on my house, household bills, food, business insurances, vehicle, plus vehicle insurance, etc, and a small portion to save for new equipment.

Then depending on where the final photographs will be used, I charge a usage fee accordingly and license the photos to the client. This is where I make my profit.

Remember, we as professional photographs are running a business. It's not just a hobby anymore. We need to live off the money from our work, and our work has commercial value.

In order to run a successful business, you have to make a profit (that's lesson number 1 in business), otherwise you're just doing it for a bit of fun and not moving forwards and probably moving backwards!

I hope that helps someone? I may do another blog post in the future about negotiating and how to find out a clients budget if they're not letting on how much they have to spend!

Pricing yourself right is a tough. Too low and people won't take you seriously and you won't make any money to continue running your business. Too high and you won't get any work! It's a fine balance.

You first have to know what your time is worth (that's all your bills etc), and you also need to understand what your finished work is worth commercially (that's the more difficult part). Also you need to know the actual going rate for commercial photography, ie, how much clients typically spend, because you can only really price yourself on how much your clients are willing to spend.

That's maybe something for another blog post in the future!

If you're looking for a commercial, advertising or lifestyle photographer for any project in the London area, then please get in touch and see how I can help you, or point you in the direction of someone who can!

Stuart Bailey | Commercial, Advertising, and Lifestyle Photographer

Phone: (+44) 07762 900 132

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