The Art of Impactful Commercial Photography

Good commercial photography is an excellent business investment. When you have completed a $100 million project, for instance, the cost of photographing the project is not even a drop in the bucket. I worked as corporate affairs manager in three large engineering companies and Amcor, an international paper and packaging company. Each year in preparing our annual report for all those companies, I would work with commercial photographer, Joe Vittorio, to take some great shots of various multi-million dollar projects, flying thousands of miles across the country for the work. The images can be used over and over for many different purposes over a long time. For instance, a media release is immediately more usable if you supply a good photo to accompany it. Therefore, it is worthwhile to ensure you use photographs for greater impact.

Above 3 photos were taken by Joe Vittorio.

Photo 1: Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority electricity transmission lines and the Tumut 1 hydropower station (with the white water pipes in the middle distance, right) in Tumut, New South Wales, Australia.

Photo 2: Iron ore being loaded onto a train northwest of Western Australia.
Photo 3 Electricity turbines in the Snowy Hydro-electric Authority’s Murray 1 power station, New South Wales, Australia. (That’s me in the shot to give a size comparison of the turbines.)

The internet has brought a resurgence of the visual image into our everyday communication. Digital cameras and cell phones with integrated cameras have generated an explosion of images in everyone’s lives. Photographs accompanying text strengthen the impact of your written words, so commit to using photographs for greater impact – not just stock photos if you can avoid it.

Photographs offer the benefit of instant and powerful communication and they are worth more than words.

Some lessons I have learnt from using a good photographer:

  1. Plan ahead so you don’t waste the photographer’s time – they are expensive to have idle. Whether in the office photographing executives or shooting products and projects in the field, don’t have the photographer stand around doing anything. If you need models for the shot, ensure they are ready when you want them. Get the photographer to set up lights and check settings so are ready to shoot immediately after the ‘talent’ becomes available. With field shots, ensure you have all the necessary permissions and clearances well ahead of time to shoot and enter the areas you need to. It is worth confirming these the day before the shoot. But don’t cut the photographer’s time once you are in place. Give them enough time to check creative angles. The greater creative quality from this should motivate you to use photographs for greater impact
  2. When taking field shots, plan the time of day for the shoot, if possible. Natural light is best in the early morning or late afternoon. The warmth of the light at those times is worth waiting for. Filters can help deal with grey clouds and adverse conditions, but seek those best times for the ‘money’ shots.
  3. Expect your photographer to make an effort and take the time to shoot from various angles. Don’t hesitate to clamber over structures to find creative angles. Take standard shots for straightforward uses, but take the time to find creative shots as well – close-ups of textures, people, and objects. As I have, you will find that graphic designers love the creative shots to illustrate points in a brochure, report or website. One day for a project shot, the photographer and I stood for an hour on the path under the side of a new bridge my company had built to take dusk shots of people walking, running and cycling with the outline of the bridge stretching behind them. The graphic designers loved these shots so much that they put one on the front cover of the new corporate brochure and used another internally.
  4. If your product or service is intangible, try getting a creative photographer and/or graphic designer to suggest creative alternatives, such as photographs of interesting people using the product or service in action (preferably reasonably realistic, not looking contrived like a cheesy shot of a model). And make sure they are wearing all the right safety gear if you are setting up industrial or workplace shots – or your carefully taken shots could be vetoed by safety staff.
  5. Since the web enables so many photos to be hurtled worldwide so fast, copyright and clearances must be attended to carefully. When you arrange for a professional photographer to take shots, you must ensure anyone featured in the shots signs a model release in advance to authorize you to use the shots for marketing and communication purposes. Otherwise, they have the right to sue you for illegal use of their image or at least prevent you from using the shot. If the shot shows your employees, you need to get their signed clearance. Same with employees of other organizations if the shots include some recognizable staff from elsewhere. This is especially important on websites because the shots could be copied by anyone worldwide for any purpose. You also have to ensure you aren’t shooting sensitive subjects. With many security people paranoid about terrorists possibly photographing potential target sites, you need to ensure you and your photographer are cleared well ahead of time to shoot your pics. You don’t want to be mistaken as potential terrorists by over-zealous security staff, bystanders or police.
  6. Beware of the format used for digital pics. Professional photographers usually take shots in high-resolution RAW format, which provides more dense detail and more opportunity to manipulate the images on a computer, e.g. by Photoshop. The downside to RAW images is that they take up a vast amount of space to store or email. A single RAW pic may take 30 megabytes of storage space – far too big to email anyone.
  7. Most still images we see on the Web are JPEG files, which are much more manageable than RAW files. However, you must be aware that whenever you open and close a JPEG file, you lose part of the data because of the file compression. Repeated access will result in a loss of quality. Most consumer cameras only use JPEG format images and therefore aren’t suitable for quality reproduction in print. Photos from cell phone cameras used to fall well short of being worthwhile to reproduce in print, but year-by-year, the quality of such pics is improving and is OK for web and social media use in particular – and sometimes for printing where the quality is not a vital requirement.

I hope these tips help you to use photographs for a more significant impact in your professional work.

Further reading

You can read more on this topic in my article, “Visual images will interest media in your news angle.”

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

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