Food Photography Services
Beautiful food photography is meant to entice the viewer.
How to buy food photography
or hire a food photographer
Food photography is a relatively expensive venture, so planning ahead to amortize the expense over your future promotional needs is always a good idea. By giving some thought now as to how you might want to use these images in the future, plans can be taken for the photo shoot to allow the flexibility of getting the most out of your images.
Here are some important questions I will ask about your shoot:
- Should I shoot horizontal, vertical, or square?
- Do I need to leave room for type in the image area?
- What kind of background will we need, or is there a background at all?
- What kind of feel do you want the lighting to create?
- Do you have a mood board?
Where should we shoot?
There are times when shooting on location make a lot of sense. For example, if your going to include the actual restaurant as a background. Another reason we sometimes travel on location is because of the availability of certain key people. Or, a chef or restaurant owner may not be able to get away from the restaurant for a shoot. In those cases, along with others, shooting on location is something we often do. No problem. I do it all the time.
The Food Photography Team
The team may very due to the particular job. Some jobs require additional, or fewer members, depending of the complexity of the project. Here are the typical team members and their functions, the day of the shoot.
You, the client - The rest of the team is here to make you a happy camper. We will give you pretty much anything you want. Even if we may disagree with you about some of your decisions, we’ll offer you advice, but ultimately, the final decision is yours. It’s your nickel. Your job at the shoot is to make the big decisions. Do you like this, will be a question you hear quite a bit. We all understand that some of these decisions are tough to make, but you are the fearless leader and the rest of us can’t make you happy, if we don’t know that it is that makes you happy. In other words, we’re going to be counting on you to make those decisions. If you don’t do your job efficiently, the project may end up floundering, wasting time and your money.
Art Director – If you haven’t hired a designer or Art Director to be at the shoot, then his responsibilities end up being your responsibilities. The Art Director is in charge of making those decisions related to the photo as it relates to the eventual uses in the marketing pieces. Art Directors are good with choosing colors, angles and such. To be honest with you, the rest of the team sometimes prefers not to have an Art Director present. This gives the team more freedom to create “pretty” pictures and the need to please less people. If you’re a strong leader and can make decisions well, you won’t necessarily need an Art Director at the shoot.
Food Photographer – That’s me! My job is to make sure that everything happens, even though sometimes I prefer to have the stylist take on the majority of the scheduling and logistical responsibilities. My main responsibilities during the shoot are to manipulate the camera in selecting the angle, lens, focus, and also to create lighting for the shot. Many people don’t realize that the lighting is what most often makes a photograph appealing or unappealing, bland or dramatic. As a wise writer (Harvey) once said, It’s all in the lighting!
Photo Assistant – The Photo assistant’s job is to manage the studio and to do whatever needs to be done to keep the studio functioning properly, and to assist the photographer in his duties. He (or she) answers phones, gets lunch, moves equipment, relays communications between team members, and a whole bunch of other things.
Food Stylist – The food Stylist is responsible for making the food look more photogenic. They prepare the food and do what it takes to make sure that is food looks its best for the camera. They know all the tricks and techniques to accomplish their goals. I have seen stylists do things to food that I can’t even mention here. It’s amazing what a good food stylist can do, that a chef would not think of doing. Many clients select to eliminate this team member for economic reasons. Most of the time, I feel that this is a mistake. A food stylist, while being expensive, is usually an invaluable part of the Food Photography team. A chef makes food to taste good AND to look good. A food stylist only makes it to look good. There’s a big difference when it comes to Food photography and its time requirements.
Food Stylist Assistant – This person’s job is to assist the food stylist in whatever he or she may need. That may mean sifting through a thousand peas, to find the best seven. She may need to run to the store to get something the client said that they were going to bring, but forgot.
Prop Stylist – If there is going to be props in the shot, you probably want to have a prop stylist involved. The prop stylist that I work with most often, keeps his prop inventory stashed here at the studio so it’s always close by and ready if we need to access it. Besides having props on hand, the prop stylist will also shop and find specific props requested by the client or Art Director. In many photographs, if you look hard enough and if you’re honest to yourself, you have to admit that the props often times MAKE the shot.
The Technical Guy – This is usually someone from the client’s company familiar with how things are done at the restaurant. Sometimes this is the “client” and sometimes it’s a person in the “operations” department. We can make some beautiful pictures, but if the product doesn’t look like what you make at the restaurant, someone’s going to be in trouble… I’ve had clients here actually count the number of beans in a bean salad, to make sure that things weren’t being exaggerated, especially for packaging projects.
So what’s this going to cost?
As you can see by the flexibility of the crew involved, the props needed, the amount of prep time for the stylists, the price can vary quite a bit. This is probably a good time to discuss shot complexity. The easier the shot, the more shots we can do in a given time period.
Two things tend to affect the complexity, that therefore the price of the shot; the number of food items in the shot, and the intricacy of the background of the shot. The more food items, the longer the stylist needs to prepare the dishes of food. The more stuff in the background, the longer it takes to futz will all that stuff. The fastest type of food photography is when you have one food element, outlined. When I say outlined, I mean that the image’s background is to be cut out of the shot and the plate (or whatever) is going to be placed on another background by the artist or printer. The most time consuming type of shot is the one where you have several food items on a very complex background.
We normally discuss shoots in terms of “shots per day.” Outlined shots tend to go faster and therefore you can get many more shots per day, than other types of shots. Other variables that effect the time involved, is the food itself. Turkeys, as you know, take a long time to cook. Long time = less shots per day = more expensive per shot.
Of course, if you want a specific prop that the stylist has to spend days to find, that will affect the cost too. Besides props, food costs can be an issue too, unless of course the client supplies all the food for the shoot. Shooting twenty lobsters is going to be more expensive than shooting twenty plates of Mac & cheese. You get the idea.
So, as can see, I’m sort of beating around the bush when it comes to giving you a price. I guess you’ll have to call to discuss your individual project. Every time I try to give a ballpark price to a client, the Food Stylist ends up beating me silly for forgetting this or that. To tell you the honest truth, I usually have the stylist tell me how long the shoot will probably take. Her time is usually the determining factor in how long the length of the shoot. Sorry.
How to cut costs, if you really have to
If you ask us to give you a price, we will estimate the project in order to give you the best possible job. There are projects where you may HAVE to cut costs, or not be able to do the job at all. You just can’t afford to go first class, but your not willing to give up and use the local yokel photographer. Here are some things, if you must, that you can do to make the job work for you financially.
Shoot in the studio and not on location - It takes time and money, not to mention mileage, tolls and hotel, (if distant) to go on location. So to save money, it’s always cheaper to shoot in the studio.
Shoot outline shots - Like I said before, we can shoot many more “cut-out” shots than we can “environmental” shots.
Shoot single items - Even if the artist assembles the items later in the layout, shooting five individual dishes is still faster (and the quality is better) than shooting a group of five dishes that need to be ready all at the same time.
Use your Chef – If you’re absolutely convinced that your chef can do a great job and you don’t want props in the shot, then eliminating the stylists can save you an enormous amount on the shoot. Probably as much as 40-50%. I do about 95% of my work with a stylist, but for the 5% where I’ve worked directly with a chef. I have to admit that the final outcome of that 5% wasn’t all that bad. Not as good as it could have been, but the client was happy in the end.
The anatomy of a food photography shoot
Contact a Graphic Designer – Figure out what you currently need and what you will probably need in the future. Maybe she can give some good ideas that will more than pay for the fees involved. If nothing else, your current project will look a whole lot better that if you let some printer be the designer. If you need some recommendations on a designer, just let me know. I know a bunch of them.
Find a good photographer - You’re way ahead of the game there… :+)
Communicate the project details with the photographer and stylist team, including number of shots, food details, prop ideas, mood, uses, and don’t forget about deadlines.
Get estimate for photo shoot
Agree on estimate and schedule shoot.
Have pre-production meeting to discuss:
- Layout details
- Props and backgrounds
- Mood Feel
- Special needs
- Shot order
- Who is responsible for what?
- Stat time
Stylists shop and prep for shoot days before the shoot.
Show up on the morning of the shoot.
Select plates and props
Test for shooting angle, lens selection and focus
Dummy food arrives
Compositional and lighting refinements process
Hero food arrives
Final image captured
File maximization and minor retouching
On to next shot until done
The final product is delivered either that day or within the day or two following the shoot.
Lunch - Lunch is in there somewhere – brought in from local resource and the price is usually included in the price of the shoot. Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch!
Down Time - There is some substantial downtime at time during the shoot. After the initial plate and prop selection, you may find yourself with substantial periods of time during the refinement process. Internet connection, including wireless, is available in the client work area. It’s a good idea to bring some “busy work” to make good use of your time.