Top 10 commonly asked photography questions

Whether you’re a new photographer just starting out or have a few years of experience to your name, chances are you’ll have found yourself asking similar questions.

Each month I do a live Q&A on social media and I’ve found that many photographers are asking the same questions time and time again. I answer the 10 most commonly asked photography questions here.

1. Can I use branded items in my portfolio?

The answer to this is yes. I myself and other professional photographers I know do this but you do need to be careful and think about the work you’re publishing. Most big brands don’t mind you photographing their products to use on your website or in your portfolio as long as the products look good. Your work should be of a high standard and show the products in the best way possible. The image below is an example of a product shoot I did for myself. For this shoot I made sure to stick to the fresh, clean style Clinique are renowned for.

Clinique product image by Karl Taylor

As long as your work is of a high-enough standard, most big brands don't mind you photographing their products.

2. What’s the difference between the modelling lamp and flash in a studio light?

This is a commonly asked question and something that seems to confuse a lot of new photographers. The flash comes from the flash tube, which goes around the modelling light. The modelling light is a form of continuous light that allows you to see what you’re doing, get an idea of the shape of the light and how the shadows are falling. It has no impact on the image. It is the flash, which fires when you take the picture, that records the image.

To learn more about this, watch Types of studio lighting.

Studio light modelling lamp
The modelling lamp on a studio light.
Studio light flash tube
The flash tube surrounds the modelling lamp.

3. I want to set up a studio — what studio lights and modifiers should I get?

When it comes to modifiers, softboxes are a good option for those jut starting out. Go for the biggest one you can afford and build up from there. If you have a bigger budget, I always recommend Paras. These versatile modifiers can be used for anything from product photography to portraiture and have the option to add a front diffusion — essentially turning them into a large softbox and giving you two lights in one.

Learn more about lighting modifiers here.

Parabolic lighting modifiers
Parabolic lights are versatile modifiers.
Parabolic lighting modifiers

I have a selection of paras in studio.

4. How should I price my work?

This is a complex question with an equally involved answer. Put simply, commercial photographers charge a day rate, which they determine by considering business and personal costs, profit and taxes. A day rate for a professional photographer can be anywhere from £500 to £1000 (though top professionals can charge up to five times that). To determine what to charge for your work, consider your place in the market and find out what your competition is charging. Remember you’ll also have to factor in any pre-shoot and post production work too.

I go into more detail about this in my blog post ‘Photography pricing – How to charge for your photography'. You’ll also find more information and examples in our Business section.

5. I’m looking to buy a new lens — what would you recommend?

  • Product photography: I most commonly use my 80mm and 100mm lenses for product work on my Hasselblad medium-format camera.
  • Portrait photography: My 100mm f2.2 lens (which is the same that I use for product photography) is my go-to for portrait work. You can use anything from 85mm to 135mm but remember, longer focal lengths can make your subject appear chunky.
  • Landscape photography: I find my 16-35mm lens offers the greatest versatility for landscape photography (though the humble 50mm lens can also be a good choice).

Find out more about lens choice in my Camera Lens Buying Guide blog post.

Camera lens example
I use a variety of lenses for different types of work.

6. Which camera should I buy?

With technology changing all the time, the answer to this simply comes down to your needs. Crop sensor cameras are what most entry level photographers go for — they’re cheaper to buy and suitable for anything from street to food photography. Full-frame cameras offer better quality and lens choice but they are more expensive. Medium-format cameras are what many professionals use but are very expensive.

I go into much more detail about this in Which DSLR camera is best for you?

Camera sensor sizes
Medium format cameras offer the largest sensors, but they are the most expensive type of cameras.

7. What is the best monitor to use? Do you calibrate your monitor and how often?

I use an Eizo monitor for most of my work, though I do also have an Asus monitor. My Eizo monitor, which is one of the top monitor brands, allows me to see my work at the highest possible quality and I can feel confident knowing I’m delivering the best quality work to my clients. This particular monitor self-calibrates every 200 hours. Other monitor ranges such as NEC, Asus or Philips don’t all offer self-calibration but they may fit more within your budget.

8. I want to work as a photographers’ assistant — how do I do this and what skills will I need?

Working as an assistant is a great way to learn and get experience. I worked as an assistant before starting my own company, as did many other professionals I know. It can be difficult to get work as an assistant and the best advice I can offer for this is to make sure you have other skills that will make you more employable. Some knowledge of studio lighting is key, but skills in retouching or video editing, for example, can help too.

9. How do you market your work?

Social media is a powerful tool for any photographer nowadays, but you do still have to make that connection. When I started my business I used brochures, postcards and printed portfolios. I sent these to clients and used them as a tool to setup meetings and win work.

You can find out more about marketing plans and how I market my work in our Business section.

Business marketing plan example
An example of the marketing material I've used to grow my business.

10. Where do you get your ideas from?

As a commercial photographer, much of my work is dictated by the client rather than being my own idea. When working for a client, I work closely with art directors, who are responsible for coming up with ideas and providing a brief. My job is to solve different problems and bring their visions to life. When I do come up with my own ideas, which I do for a lot of our photography classes, I use pre-visualisation and mood boards to develop my ideas.

See also: Identifying & overcoming the challenges of a high-end product shoot

Photography planning example
If I'm not working to a client brief I use pre-visualisation to develop my ideas.
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