Food Photography Tips – Episode II

Be careful with white balance
Different lights have different temperatures. Make sure your camera white balance is set properly (AUTO or whatever light you’re using). This is especially important if you’re shooting in JPEG mode.

Morning coffee from Senicphoto on Vimeo.

Tripod
When shooting in low light conditions (limited natural light) the tripod is almost a must to have. If you have a remote shutter this can further ease your workflow.

Using flash or strobes
This is commonly used lighting method. When utilizing one light source the subject might appear too dark on its opposite side. In this case use either second source or light bouncers. To avoid hard shadows, it’s always a good idea to diffuse it with either greaseproof paper or purpose made diffuser. Don’t forget, hard shadows are the enemy of the food photographer.

Different angles
Try to shoot same subject from at least 2 or 3 different angles. This will give you an idea how subject can be presented to your audience. You can try at least two main angles … shoot on a level with the food and looking down on it. Later on in post processing, you can “spice things up” further by cropping and rotating the subject.

Use white plates
White plates are ideal for food photography. It will give you a nice transition but at the same time food will stand out as the main focus.

Steak from Senicphoto on Vimeo.

Remove unnecessary items
Fewer items you incorporate in a shot, easier will be to showcase your main subject … food. I always prefer simple compositions over overcrowded dining table. Try stirring viewers to focus on food.

Use fresh herbs to add a color and complexity
Food is not always super vibrant and contrasty. A splash color can really make an image come alive. This is the time I use fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, rosemary etc.

Cropping
Make your food plate a main focal point. Crop it and rotate it as much as you want as long as 70% of image is actually reserved for food.

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Food Styling for Food Photographers

As a food photographer, you can almost count on being in situation where you got to improvise, prepare and do things food stylists do. I got to say it can be quite tricky styling the food in front of the customer … not to mention time is going to be your biggest enemy.  I would highly recommend you get yourself familiar with some basic styling skills … it will be beneficial and helpful on the long run.  I’m not saying food photographers can outperform food styling professionals but sometimes knowing few tricks could save you a lot of time and money.

Use paper
Most of the food you will be photographing will be placed on a plate and believe it or not, only top portion of that will be the actual subject. Lining plates with parchment or baking paper helps to add a fulfillment effect.

Less is more
While it may seem “full to the top” plate is the best way to go, an overcrowded dish can look less appetizing than a small portion. This could be an ideal opportunity to showcase a beautiful dishware and appealing surrounding elements.

Let it look natural
Capturing that perfect look sometimes means getting a bit messy. Instead of having everything perfectly symmetrical and clean it really helps to add movement and life to your photographs. If your baked chicken is a bit burned and the dish is not looking brand new … let it be. Most of the time food photos will look much better when presented in their real light.

Basic tools

  • Q tips – ideal for cleaning rims and insides of plates/bowls
  • Small scissors
  • Set of basic plastic handled paint brushes (with wood handled brushes, the paint on the handles tends to chip off which can happen in your food)
  • Tweezers (for poking and pulling – think of them as skinnier fingers)
  • Clear oil like vegetable or canola for making food glisten
  • Small squeeze bottles for applying sauce or drizzles

Fake ice cubes

Fake ice cubes are highly demanded in photography and even in film production, because real ice melts quickly and is difficult to work with. Some production companies sell fake ice cubes but they are not cheap, often costing up to 30$ for a single cube. Fake ice is very handy to use and it doesn’t melt under the hot photography lights, so by using it you can really simplify your work.

Glycerin
Photographers utilize glycerin to decorate their food subject with beautiful details and to make these details more outstanding, prominent and natural. In general, glycerin is sprayed using small bottles and you can find all these at your local pharmacy store. I tend to use it for photographing fruits and drinks because glycerin is a great tool for achieving “droplets effect”.

Building your online portfolio

As a young photographer, my main selling tool was a photo book, hand full of references and large amount of hope. The “online” presence was a new thing and not so many of us had a website … sounds crazy but that’s the truth. A lot of things changed since mid 90’s. On today’s market, consider it as a necessity … you got to have an online portfolio. Many colleagues of mine run their own websites, business blogs, Facebook pages and whatnot. The cyber presence is one of the most commonly used sales tool and it looks like it will stay like that for a while. If you’re new in photography business, I would recommend something simple and inexpensive. Before you choose where to host and how to build your website, I would suggest you follow some basic steps:

1) Keep it simple
Make your food photos a main star of the show. Don’t get caught adding unnecessary features and elements people generally don’t like to see on the website. In my opinion, choosing the content over the design is always a right choice and that’s why your visitors will come back for more.

2) Design matters
Your website should look clean, easy to navigate and free of any advertising elements. You got to make sure all links are working properly, navigation is intuitive and easy to follow.

3) Showcase only your best work
The saying “your portfolio is only as good as your worst image” is quite true. Take your time and pick the best shots … don’t forget people will judge you based on what you have decided to present. When comes down to number of photos you’re exhibiting, I prefer staying in the range of 20-30 photos per section. Less than this could leave a visitor with “I was expecting a bit more” feeling. On the other hand, don’t overwhelm your audience with tons of photos that could take a long time to browse through … find a middle ground.

4) Little note about yourself
Well, this is quite important. As a part of any online portfolio you got to include a few words about yourself and what you do. Don’t get caught in boring cliché about what kind of equipment you use, how amazing your work is and how you can accommodate every single requirement. The potential client already saw tons of these so be yourself and try to make as interesting as possible. You might include some testimonials but don’t go overboard with this either. Customer feedback (if you have it) should be short and right to the point … after all no one wants to spend 10 minutes reading what other people say about you.

5) Pick the right hosting
This in fact shouldn’t be a big problem. There are so many hosting providers out there, picking the one that will fit your need and the budget isn’t going to be an issue. As far as I tell, there are many providers out there that offer turnkey solution. You can host the site with someone who provides not only design option but also some sort of advertising incentives, email hosting and whatnot. Some of the sites I would consider for hosting my online portfolio are:

Carbonmade (Free)

Photoshelter

Livebooks

Pixpa

Zenfolio

Smugmug

The day after – Post Processing

All right, you have successfully completed that photo session and you walked away with hundreds of photos that somehow need to be presented to your client as a final product. I’m sure the customer won’t be interested in keeping all of them although it could be requested. Many of them will be retakes, duplicates or simply non-usable from quality perspective. The next step is to ask your client to make selection and mark those photos they want to keep. This process could take some time and I would highly recommend you leave the decision to them … let the client choose what they feel is worth trading their money for. In terms of numbers this can vary. Determining the scope of work before the actual session will always prove to be a right step in your sales process. It might sound impossible, but you should have a rough idea what your client is expecting and how many photos they might need.

I always pick at least 100-200 photos and post them on my website. One thing for sure, you’ve got to have a password protected area on your site where only authorized customer have access to. These proofs in general can remain there for a while but eventually you will remove them making space for your other stuff. I found this workflow pretty good and trouble-free … I hope my clients share the same impression.

In general, 99% of all photos you take need some sort of post processing and fine tuning. How many files you’ll be working on and how much time you’ll spend in Photoshop is directly related to your experience and quality of shooting. Taking those pictures is half the battle. What you do in post processing is almost as important as nailing the shot in the first place. If your photos look amazing right out of camera, you’re really lucky … post processing might be quite easy. From my experience, food photographs always require heavy processing and you will rarely walk away with just a little bit of touch ups. Depending on complexity, you will probably edit and work on each individual file. I have one suggestion. Once you pick the “keepers”, try to automate the process as much as you can. I can share what I do but again you might find it awkward:

  1. Considering I use Canon equipment and shoot RAW format, my first step is editing files in Canon Photo Professional (this step is for basic analysis only).
  2. Using the Adobe Lightroom I process images in batches for common things like resizing, color temperature and white balance adjustments (I start with RAW files).
  3. Final processing step takes place in Adobe Photoshop. In here, I basically do everything that needs to be done. Unfortunately, it’s the most time consuming piece. The final result must comply with given requirements. I’m not gonna go into technical details because it’s way too complex … I will cover this topic in some future post.

Many will ask how much you charge for post processing. There are two ways of doing it. If your original quote includes post processing time it can be pretty straight forward. The challenge here is knowing how much work lies ahead of you … the client can always change their mind or requirements but expect the same fixed cost. The agreement has its good and bad side. Your customers will likely prefer to deal with only one fixed cost. On the other hand, you might leave post processing as a separate project and submit the quote after your photoshoot is completed. Don’t forget one thing, the client always have an option of hiring a third party company/individual to do this job. If they decide to do so, don’t take it personally … after all, it’s the budget that dictates and drives their decision. When it comes to hourly rate, I think charging anywhere between $100 and $150 per hour will be just fine. Before you rush in and offer your services, you got to make sure you know what you’re doing. Don’t expect your client to pay for your lack of knowledge, expertize and slow turnaround time. Proficiency and timely execution is a key … after all, you got to be frank about your computer skills and position yourself in this role accordingly.

How much do food photographers get paid?

I don’t think I can give you a straight answer on this one and I believe no one can. What I can do is to tell you what goes into price “build-up” and how different project aspects can drive the cost/charge up or down. Before you commit to anything, you got to determine the scope of work with your client. This is the key point and I would suggest you don’t skip it because it might bite you badly at the end. Understanding what your customer want, need and expects is the most important thing. You got to understand these requirements and build a solution around it.

I always prefer meeting with the client days maybe weeks before the actual photo-shoot. This is the time when I discuss all details surrounding my future engagement. In many cases clients are not aware of complexity that goes into the “final product” therefore you have to explain this process to them. There are areas you need to explore with your client so the good thing will be to check if you need to provide any of these:

  • Food Stylist
  • Prop Stylist
  • Photo Assistant

Based on the requirements, you might need help from food/prop stylist or a second shooter (assistant). Their rates could vary so make sure you know what you dealing with (hourly or daily rates). Just a reminder, client is paying you and you have to include their “cut” in the final quote. Now, when comes down to rates, I tend to charge by the day or half day. You might choose to go with hourly rate and nothing is wrong with that … when I was new in this role I was doing the same thing. It really depends how many items you need to shoot and how complex the gig really is. You could be working on a project where vast majority of time will be spent on preparation, food styling and other details. You part might only take 3 hours out of entire day in the studio.

Never less, if you’re new on the market your rates should reflect the level of expertise and knowledge you bring to the table. Don’t be reluctant to charge a fair and reasonable rate as long as you provide a service that client wants and they’re happy with. I have one piece of advice for novices … be careful when quoting jobs because you have to know what the outgoing (hourly) rate is for a food photographer in your area. Quoting too much can be a turn off as much as low balling. To put things in perspective, when I started, the average hourly rate food photographers in my city was between $120 to $250. Shooting without assistant or food/prop stylist, I was on the lower end of that range but aware that next project could be easily go 10% – 20% higher. In today’s economy, you got to adjust  to market demand and always create a lot maneuvering space.

Unfortunately, there is no formula you can use to calculate your rate. Make sure you include all your costs and expenses first (plus profitable margin) before submitting an offer. Anyway, adjustment is always an option therefore it might take some time to balance things out.

How to find your first food photography gig (Part II)

All right … we covered some basic job search options in Part I, now I would like to talk about advertising and marketing piece. As we all know, finding an opportunity for a beginner could be a challenging task. A great way to start is to build a simple online portfolio. You don’t necessary need to have your own website and spend money for web hosting and development. Start with a simple free hosting option … trust me, you’ll find a lot of them on the Internet. Be careful on how you market and advertise. One of the most common things is to advertise, get the gig, and fail to perform. No matter how much (or little) you’re charging, the general public will expect professional quality work the minute you put your name out there. This being said, I would suggest you plan things ahead. There are four questions you need to answer before you start:

WHO – Who is your target client. No matter how you feel about this one, you should be really careful who you’re planning to approach. Again, start with small opportunities, build your expertize and bigger customers will hear about you. Don’t forget, small or big gig requires the same amount of dedication, professionalism and effort.

WHAT – What are you offering. I firmly believe that photographers aren’t Jack of all trades. Concentrate on one particular thing and stick with it (food photography). I’ve seen way too many beginners that specialize in following … Product, Portrait, Fashion, Landscape and Wedding photography … even very, very few pros out there are able to master them all.

WHERE – Naturally you have to decide where to advertise your services. My advice is to go local and stay local for a while. You will save a lot of time and money by doing so. First of all, explore all free advertising options such as email, local newspaper listing and free Internet business listing like Google, Yahoo etc. You’ll be surprised how many potential clients you can reach this way. If you have some money to spare, you might look into things like Google AdWords. You can set your budget with AdWords as low as $20 a month. Don’t forget one thing … word of mouth. Never underestimate this powerful advertising medium. Start-up companies have been made and broken by word of mouth alone.

WHEN – When you should start advertising? This is a really good question. Do you feel you’re ready and capable of selling your services? Do you think your clients will be happy with the end result? “Getting known” and “Getting a name” for yourself can be a two edged sword. You can be known as the person who did really lousy work or really great work.

Getting paid to shoot makes you a professional by all means. Good marketing & advertising holds an important key to success. That key is to make a profit … big or small.

How to find your first food photography gig (Part I)

IMG_8676All right. Once you gained some experience and feel comfortable shooting different setups, the ultimate aim is to start introducing yourself on a job market. To get going in this profession, it is necessary to have some knowledge of all fields of the photographic trade. Even though you are going to specialize in food photography, you should take a course that covers the basics in all aspects of photography business. Before you dip into your own venture, there is a lot of equipment to purchase. This could be expensive and many items and accessories are needed. Beside cameras, lenses, umbrellas, strobes etc. you need to invest some money building your own props supply and all small little things you’ll need when shooting food subjects (plates, table top covers, napkins, glasses, utensils, pots etc.). Don’t forget, the customer is not responsible providing props therefore you need to think ahead and bring it with you. Never less, you might purchase props before every gig and in time you’ll build your supplies that can be used in the future.

Finding the potential customers is not an easy task. You got to prepare yourself for a long and bumpy ride that requires a lot of research, hard work and most of all patience. A lot of people ask the same question “Where should I start?” Considering you’re new in this role, I would suggest looking first for some small local assignments. It’s always a good idea to approach a local newspaper and offer some of your photos for “Food section” articles. Although, this could look like you’re giving up stuff for free, don’t forget you need exposure! As long as your credits are in there, this can be a great advertising pitch.

My first customer was a local pastry shop. I walked in one day to the store and I approached the owner with the question if they need any photos taken for their website, brochures or any printed material. This is probably the best approach when you can talk face to face with potential client about your offer and service. Once you get a few of these kinds of jobs and of course you made your customers happy, you’ll gain a necessary experience and confidence for your future search. Your first customer can be a local restaurant, bakery place, small grocery store or a cake shop. This is where you should start … chasing a “big” client right of the bat could be quite tricky. It requires a lot experience and knowledge that most of beginners don’t have. I don’t need to mention, if you are a business owner, you already know that if you really take care of your clients they will skyrocket your business by talking with business owners they know about your services and start recommending you. This is how it all starts.