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Commercial Photography Handbook: Business Techniques for Professional Digital Photographers Paperback – September 21, 2009

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Acclaimed photographer Sally Mann sorted through boxes of family papers and old pictures to find "deceit and scandal, alcohol, domestic abuse, car crashes, bogeymen, clandestine affairs, dearly loved and disputed family land ... racial complications, vast sums of money made and lost, the return of the prodigal son, and maybe even bloody murder." Learn more | See similar books
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Editorial Reviews


"Kirk has changed gears a bit to outline for photographers of all levels of skill and ambition what commercial photography is all about—what the important principles are, how commercial photographers work, and, last but not least, how you can make money in these 'down' times."  —

"Gives you nothing but real world 'stuff' that author Kirk Tuck has learned in making a successful business out of his photography for more than 20 years."  —

"An outstanding primer on starting and running a photography business."  —

"The guide includes numerous color images (shots of food are prominent), and resources; a companion blog is available."  —SciTech Book News

About the Author

Kirk Tuck is an award-winning advertising photographer whose clients include Dell, Elle magazine, IBM, Motorola, Pharmaco, and Time Warner. He is the author of Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography. He lives in Austin, Texas.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 127 pages
  • Publisher: Amherst Media (September 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1584282606
  • ISBN-13: 978-1584282600
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.4 x 10.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,409 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I started my photography career as a teaching assistant at the University of Texas at Austin working for three diametrically different commercial photographers. Charles Guerrero was the consummate Brooks Institute graduate who possessed the knowledge to do every type of photography well. One day Charlie would be shooting technical shots of semiconductors with a 4x5 inch view camera and on the next he'd be shooting a wedding. Reagan Bradshaw was a kindred spirit, an English major who felt more at home with a camera than a typewriter. He would later become one of the most influential presidents of the ASMP (The American Society of Media Photographers). He could shoot fun ad stuff in his studio or head out for a long bout of Texas Landscape photography. My third major influence was Tomas Pantin who was resolutely an advertising shooter. He still has his fingers on the pulse of what looks cool and what doesn't. These three depended on me to run their labs for their commercial photography courses.

My early photography days were spent teaching students how to set up and use 8x10 view cameras, studio strobes, cinematic lighting equipment and much more. We also maintained a large and efficient darkroom.

One by one my mentors left the University to go back to their true love, taking photographs. When the last one left he recommended me to the chair person and I spent another few years teaching both commercial studio photography while occasionally filling in for a fine art instructor who'd gone of a sabbatical.

Eventually I left because that kind of teaching becomes a routine and the time and energy for your own work drains away. I spent seven years as the creative director of a regional ad agency until finally opening my own advertising studio in 1987. Since then I've be all over the United States and most of Europe and the Caribbean making photographs and cataloging experiences.

A student asked me recently what my favorite assignment of all time was. I could truthfully say that it was a toss up. There was the freezing February I spent in St. Petersburg, Russia shooting art in the Catherine Palace and being the first American photographer to bring equipment into the Alexander Palace. The Alexander Palace was the last palace of the Czars and the current headquarters of the Russian Naval Intelligence Agency. We were their guests. We worked hard during the gray days and we played hard in the evenings. A favorite memory is the evening we spent at the Mariensky Theater watching the Kirov Ballet perform "The Firebird". We were sitting in the box seats of the Czar and the show was great but one of our ongoing quests in Russia in 1995 was to find clean public toilets. I didn't find them in the basement of the theater but I did come back up to the long private hallway that led to our box seats. There was an ornate door with a velvet rope in front of it. Naturally curious I lifted the rope and tried the door knob. It was unlocked. I went in and closed the door behind. As I looked around the room it dawned on me that I'd discovered the "real" throne room of the Czar. It was his private bathroom. WC. Loo.

After making sure the plumbing worked I ascended the throne. I won't go into more detail but suffice it to say that few have sat upon the throne of the Czars. As the guards said when I was thrown out, "IT IS FORBIDDEN!"

My second favorite photo assignment took place in Monte Carlo for an American high tech company. It was a week long conference that, for one reason or another, was very sparsely attended. I had a marvelous room at the Lowes Beachfront Hotel, right next to the Grande Casino and, since the program had to be truncated because of the low attendance I was forced to entertain myself every afternoon, surrounded by beautiful people, swimming laps in the Prince Ranier Memorial competition swimming pool adjacent to the harbor. Oh, and having dinner at the Prince Ranier Private Car Museum, chatting with Tom Peters and Sir David Frost.

Over the past twenty years I've been present at the nomination of Clinton for his first term, done one of Renee Zellweger's first headshots, hung out in an executive suite with former president George Herbert Walker Bush and Michael Dell, met high ranking Chinese government officials, photographed the October fashion shows in Paris, and dragged camera gear through clean rooms, sewage plants, and printing factories.

Over the course of the years I've found that additional knowledge has generally helped me lighten my load of gear while giving me more access and more mobility.

I decided to share that information when I was approached a few years ago by the folks at Amherst Media. They really believe in books. Not just as receptacles of information but as beautiful objects in their own right. They asked me to do a book I called "Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography". I didn't know what to expect but a great review from David Hobby propelled the book into bestseller status, and, as the information has not changed, it continues to sell very well.

My second book is on Studio photography and the third book covers the ins and out of commercial photography. My fourth book is a compendium of lighting Equipment and my latest book is the first of its kind, a guide to using LED Lights for Photography. Exciting times, for sure.

I still love taking photographs and I'm constantly playing with new cameras and lenses. I think it's like a sport where you have to practice daily to preserve your edge, your "chops". I can't understand professionals who've given up shooting for themselves or hobbyists who only shoot on vacation. Cameras are small and light, especially these days. Is there any reason to travel anywhere without one?

I'm not totally consumed by photography. I also love to swim and swim with a masters group just about every morning but Mondays. (That's the day the pool is closed.....). Much of my discipline for writing comes from a life long discipline learned in the pool. As my coach, Kirsten Weiss, always says, "The only way to get better is time in the water." The only way to become a better photographer is time with the camera. Books, workshops, DVD's and such are just the building blocks or the modeling clay. You have to do the design, stack the blocks, throw the clay on the wheel and some times it's just basic hard work and drudgery. But in the end it's all that matters in the making of a beautiful image.

I bought a Honda Element a few years ago. I didn't see it as a car so much as a giant camera bag with tires. When I buy a TV I really just see it as a device to hook up a Panasonic GH2 to and scroll through images. I stopped drinking caffeine so I could handhold my cameras at lower shutter speeds. I named my child Shutter Speed. Why do something if you aren't committed to doing it well?

Next up for me are novels about a photographer. More swimming and a lot more writing about the things that can make our images different and better.

I live in Austin, Texas with my wife, our sixteen year old son and my dog. Life is fun. Photography is too.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Veronika Vents on September 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was looking for a book that would give me a smart introduction to the field of commercial photography. There are a ton of books in the market about wedding and portrait photography but fewer that aim to cover Architectural, Product, Corporate, Food and other subjects. This book explains pricing, goes into good detail about marketing and is a very well written and informative look at a market that lots of people would like to get into.

My favorite part of the book is about Marketing. Tuck explains what has worked for him and why. The other thing I like about the book is that the author is very straightforward about his position in the market. He lives in what he calls a "second tier" market which means he's not in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago. He doesn't pretend that all of his clients are national, Fortune 100 clients. Kinda nice to see advice aimed at the kind of markets that the majority of people in the US work in.

While many "business" books are really dry and full of forms and stuff about accounting this book is more like talking to a good friend over coffee about getting your photo business off the ground. Only in this case your "friend" has about 25 years of really good experience, admits he's learned some stuff the hard way and comes from the same town you do.

While the cover design is cludgy and disconcerting the guts of the book are very well designed and the images are quite nice. The author also left his ego at the door in one more regard: He's brought in work by other photographers who are very gifted in order to break up sections and show off different levels of ability.

Books like this are a simple decision. With Amazon's pricing it's just a bit more than some magazines. If you are starting out in the business you'll need to know a lot. This book covers a great overview.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By William Van Overbeek on October 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
Even if you are an established professional photographer working in the national markets you will still find this book very worthwhile. The sections on marketing and business practices are great reading and well worth the cover price. I find Kirk's writing easy to read. It has a nice, almost narrative flow. But it's the information that you will find valuable. I'm finding it to be a great resource.

In the interest of full disclosure I must mention that I am profiled in the book along with two other central Texas photographers, Wyatt McSpadden and Paul Bardagjy.

If you are just starting out in photography this book could save you years of expensive trial and error.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Wyatt McSpadden on November 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
Kirk Tuck is a natural teacher and storyteller. He's a man who loves what he does and is willing to cheerfully share what he's learned in the whacky world of commercial photography. His book has something for everyone from beginners to grumpy old pros like myself. Kirk was kind enough to include me as one of three photographers profiled in the book along with Will van Overbeek and Paul Bardagjy, good company indeed. This is a book you'll want to have handy when you're puzzling over the mysteries of professional photography.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David J. Elfering on June 1, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wish this book had been around when I started down the "digital road" years ago. Its an easy read that should prompt you to ask what it is you really like to shoot and then consider how to organize the business side, marketing, etc.

In a photographic world filled with what sometimes seems like aimless shooters (shoot everything and shoot it a lot) Mr. Tuck's book asks us to examine our talents and drive in a more cogent manner. Perhaps just as importantly his voice of experience told me a lot about handling essentials such as model releases, property releases, contracts for paid jobs, tax planning and insurance. All things a lot of us overlook in our rush to shoot, shoot, shoot.

Consider this book a "What Color is My Parachute" for photographers with a lot of other solid advice thrown in for good measure.

Another consideration he covers at length is to carefully consider managing the rights to our images. Do we give clients originals or not for example? You may not agree with his outlook on it, but regardless of how you do it this should thought through. Do you have a business model that separates you from competitors? Another thing worth considering before you hang out a shingle.

More questions to consider. Should I go to a photo school? Become an apprentice to someone? Join professional associations?

Kirk Tuck obviously speaks with his experience and shares it in this book. After reading it I'm considering a lot more essential areas that could have caused me issues down the line, and that alone is worth the price many times over. His writing style is down to earth and spending a day combing his thoughts would be invaluable to both beginners and a lot of professionals as well. Good stuff.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Philip John Greene on March 7, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What a great overview. This book has been extremely helpful in evaluating what I can do with what I have - since I don't have unlimited financial resources for a start up business. I like the way Kirk details needed equipment, working environment and client expectations in the various fields of photography. I think it'll be a time saver for where I put my focus rather than casting about by trial and error and losing precious time.

This book has also helped me think through and find a niche market to get started without needing the most expensive equipment available. Really an excellent overview to understand and then focus on this business - followed by references for further study.

The photo business can be a daunting and overwhelming business to get started in. This book brings it to a comprehensible level of understanding that is encouraging and exciting.
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