How to Hire a Commercial Photographer

Maybe you’re getting ready to launch a new website or unveil a new rebranding campaign. Maybe you’ve just taken a look at your product images and realized they’re painfully out of date. Whatever the reason, you need photography and you need it stat. 

So how do you go about hiring a photographer? Taking out your smartphone and doing it yourself, while cheap and easy, may leave your customers underwhelmed. You need imagery that is dynamic, that brings out the best in your products and encourages your audience to dive a little deeper into your organization.

Below is our proven process for finding the right photographer for any commercial project.

What Do You Need Photographed?

Before you reach out to photographers, make a list of absoltely everything you need photographed. This may sound like an unnecessary step. You may think that once the photographer is on site, you’ll be able to walk them through everything you need. 

Don’t take this risk. In fact, you need to be extra thorough when putting together your shot list to ensure you aren’t sitting at your desk, looking at the raw shots from your photographer and kicking yourself about a whole list of images that you just don’t have.

Think about everything you might need imagery for to complete your project. Make your list, ask others to take a look at it, then make additions or cuts. Below is an example of a shot list we put together to complete a manufacturing client’s website redesign. They specializes in the creation of abrasive products like grinding wheels and cutting discs. 


  • Shots of manufacturing machines
  • Product coming off of press
  • Exterior of building
  • Shots from high points looking down on facility (if possible)
  • Packaging shots
  • Any warehousing or storage shots

Group Shots

  • Employees gathering around manufacturing machines
    • Natural and posed shots
  • Employees working, using products
  • Shots throughout offices
    • People working

Products in Action

  • Close-ups on products in use
  • Photos of sparks flying
  • Shots of items after being cut/grinded
  • Photos of products held to camera after being used

Note that this list isn’t too specific — you want to rely on the photographer’s eye to uncover interesting photos. Point them in the general direction and give them a sense for what you need. Having a list like this will also allow you to receive more accurate quotes, letting you easily compare pricing between photographers.

Go Out to Bid

The easiest way to find photographers in your area is to let them come to you. Personally, I’ve had success using Thumbtack to find photographers. This site lets search for basically any service and evaluate bids sent your way.

To begin the bidding process, visit the Thumbtack homepage and type in what service you need. From there you’ll be asked a series of questions which help you put your request for bid together. For photography, it’ll ask what form of photography you need (commercial, portrait, etc.), how many images you need taken, what rights you need. It’ll also include a box where you can type in any additional information; this is usually where I include a summation of the shot list. 

Once all your information has been shared, Thumbtack will ask you to confirm your zip code. This will ensure that all the bids you receive are only from photographers who have already disclosed they work in your area. After a few minutes, you should see a few bids come in — expect to keep receiving them for at least the next 24 hours.

From here, it’s up to you to pick who best fits your needs. Thumbtack can give you a head start here as well, as all bidders come with a rating (up to five stars), the number of times hired and samples of their work. If you provided enough information in your request for bid, you’ll also receive a quote from each photographer.

I tend to quickly eliminate photographers who clearly didn’t take the time to look over my proposal and just sent their generic rate information 5 seconds after the bid posted. Furthermore, while the samples on each photographer’s profile provides may not directly relate to what you need photographed, you can get a general glimpse into their skill level. If the images aren’t what you’re looking for, move on.

The best part of Thumbtack is all messaging occurs within their portal, giving the photographers a limited snapshot of who you are. They won’t have your email or much more information than your name and what you put forward in your request for bid. This means you can easily avoid unwanted calls or harassing emails.

What’s in the Portfolio 

Once you’ve settled a few potential photographers, take a look at their portfolio sites. Most will include this in their bid, but if not you can easily find it via their profile or by searching for their name on Google. This also allows you to check other rating sites like Yelp, Facebook or Google. 

Ideally, you want to find shots in their portfolio that closely resemble what you need photographed. Depending on your industry, this may not be what you find. Just because a photographer advertises one kind of photography on their website (like modeling, for example) doesn’t mean they don’t also spend a lot of time working in your industry.

For our manufacturing client we mentioned above, I frequently had to request photographers send me specific images similar to our client’s imagery wish list. Don’t feel like you’re putting them out — they’ll be more than happy to give you access to a Dropbox folder with a selection of representative shots.

Always Have a Call

No matter how good your communication has been with a potential photographer via email or a website like Thumbtack, always have a call so you can talk through your project. You should do this for a couple reasons:

  • Double check they fully understand your project and needs
  • Make sure this is someone you’d like to work with in-person (read: are they professional?)
  • See if they have any additional thoughts or suggestions

This last point is key. Even after spending all that time putting together your photography list, there may still be something you didn’t consider. Don’t feel bad; unless you’re also a professional freelance photographer on the side, this can happen. Having this call gives you an opportunity to rely on their expertise and enhance your project. 

Review Proposal 

The final step before having your photos taken is to select a photographer and get a proposal. This should include the firm cost for your project, details about your rights to the images (generally speaking, that you completely own the photos, from use in print to display in digital and the right to edit or alter as you see fit) and timeline. Make sure everything lines up with what you discussed and that there are no unanticipated costs. For example, you want to be sure having your photos edited and touched up won’t be extra. 

Once you’ve signed the proposal, you should be all set. Work closely with them during the photoshoot, have them edit photos according to your specifications and you should have a surplus of great, enticing new images to use in all your marketing collateral.