How to become a food photographer with little experience. Today I would like to share with you my story. It is not unique, but an inspiring one. If your passion is food photography but you struggle to become a professional food photographer and start making money, this story is for you. I hope it will encourage you to follow your passion and have a job you love doing.
Let’s Go Back to 2016
I have always dreamed of having a successful food blog, and possibly even a cookbook. This idea first came to my mind in 2016. I was obsessed with food blogs and spent most of my time pinning photos and recipes in my Pinterest profile. Now I understand that I misinterpreted my passion for food photography to food blogging. You see, I loved just the photography part, but the actual cooking and recipe development was something I could do occasionally but not on a regular basis.
It took me 5 years to realize that. Occasionally I would try to start a food blog, but it never lasted long. Last year I have decided to make another attempt and follow Julie’s path from the movie “Julie and Julia”. The idea was to bake through the cookbook by Claire Saffitz. Here is the post about the beginning of that journey. Fortunately this time, I realized soon enough that the whole process doesn’t bring me joy. Except for one part, food photography. That’s how I decided to put all my energy to become a professional food photographer.
How to Become a Food Photographer with Little Experience
This photo shoot of the Almond Poppy Seed Cake was a turnaround point for me. I loved the final images and realized this might be something I am actually good at. However, I had two problems. I did not want to continue to bake another recipe from the cookbook and I wanted to finally get paid for my time. This brought me to the idea of searching for food photography jobs near me.
How to Find Food Photography Jobs to Start Your Carreer
Needless to say, a simple Google search didn’t get me anywhere as looking for a food photography job is not the same as looking for an account manager job. I realized that I need to go to the freelance jobs portal and start building my website with a portfolio.
Upwork was the first website that popped up when I was looking for food photography jobs. It’s the world’s work marketplace, and one of the best sources for independent talents to find jobs. After registration, it took me one day to build my profile. To be honest, It was overwhelming as I didn’t know a thing about setting up a photographer profile. However, my advice is to go slow. Do your research, check out other food photographers’ profiles there. Take a closer look at them: how much do they charge, what photos do they use for their portfolio, and, lastly, how do they organize their portfolio.
Remember, that you need to start somewhere, hence don’t overprice yourself. You are just beginning your successful career, and I suggest making your fee per hour small. I started out at 25$ per hour, but I valued myself at $50 minimum. However, my goal was to get projects and reviews to make my profile attractive to potential clients. Currently, I’m still charging less than I would like to, but I don’t see it as a problem. Even though I consider myself a professional food photographer, I have still so much to learn and achieve. I am ok with that, and I would rather have a slow and intentional journey, rather than a hectic one. Plus, I have recently gotten a “Rising Talent” badge on the platform, and it makes me happy.
Lastly, I would like to mention that you need to be proactive. Submit proposals to as many jobs postings that match your experience as you can. Share an example of your work and don’t copy-paste cover letters. Take time to read through each job posting, and write the cover letter that describes what exactly you can bring to the project as a photographer. It’s also beneficial to include the link to the updated website with your portfolio if you have one. This brings me to the next aspect of building your career as a food photographer.
Your Website with Portfolio
Building your portfolio is extremely important for developing your career. I have created mine using the Adobe Portfolio feature that comes with my monthly subscription to Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I’m happy with it, as it allows you to choose the theme, add meta tags, and it is synchronized automatically with your Behance profile. I was surprised to get real messages from potential clients within two weeks since publishing my portfolio website online. I’ve also bought my own domain to make it look professional.
However, in the beginning, I was struggling with creating images for my portfolio, rather than figuring out how to put it all online. Hence, I would like to share you with a couple of suggestions on how to expand your portfolio to make it attractive to potential clients.
How to Build Your Portfolio
When you are at the beginning of your career as a food photographer, it can be overwhelming. You still need to learn a couple of more tricks to make your photography stand out, earn money, and most importantly build a portfolio that will speak for itself. I’m going to make it easier for you and share my experience on where to start.
As I have mentioned at the beginning of this post, my journey started as a food blogger. I cooked recipes from the cookbook, styled and shoot them. It took time, and you need to make sure the food you are cooking is beautifully made. That was one of the things I struggled with. I love desserts and baking, but sometimes it can get frustrating to make them look perfect.
I realized that in order for me to build a portfolio I need to think strategically. By that, I mean not randomly choosing and cooking the recipe, styling it the same day, and finally becoming frustrated. This happened to me many times. For instance, the photo shoot of this Almond Poppy Seed Cake. It was a turnaround point for me, but looking at the photos now I realize that had I planned the shoot in advance with no rush, the result would have been much better. This brings me to the next point.
What Exactly Do I Mean by a Strategic Photo Shoot? Seven Steps
Think What Image You Would Like to Get
Now before planning a photo shoot I take a look at my portfolio. What can I do next to broaden it? For instance, what should I add to show my potential clients that I can work with savory dishes and not only desserts? What about moody and dark photography styles? Maybe add some action to the photo? Do a flat lay or an overhead shot?
These are the questions I ask myself when I am planning my next photo shoot. I always start with the idea of the image I would like to get. This image is going to be a star of my portfolio and its cover page.
Look for Inspiration
This step is aligned with the first step. Sometimes the idea of the star image comes after scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram. Sometimes it is the opposite. You create an image in your head, and after that, you look for inspiration on how to execute it online.
If you check my Pinterest profile I have a lot of specific boards: baking and bread, fruit photography, still live, beverages, etc. It helps me not only save time while looking for inspiration but also allows me to grow my following on the platform. I have the same system on Instagram. Often I get more inspiration from Instagram, as I can always find some hidden gems there in other food photographers’ profiles.
Find a Recipe
Once you figured out your future star shot, you can look for the recipes. When I was starting out some people suggested buying already made dishes and pastry and take photos of them. I’m not a fan of that idea unless it is a famous Birthday Cake from Milk Bar. In other cases, I believe it’s easier to cook the recipe yourself. Plus it allows you to be more creative, and take photos of the cooking process.
Before I used to be an unnecessary perfectionist when cooking the recipe. Choosing to make puff pastry from scratch rather than buying puff pastry sheets, making sure I use all the spices and my measurements are exact, etc. Now I allow myself to worry less and choose relatively easy but beautiful recipes to make.
Creating a mood board for the upcoming photo shoot is an important step, and it can save you tons of nerves and time. In every mood board, I try to include 4 – 5 images I would like to get as final shots. Each of them represents either angles, props, or composition I’m going to achieve. I consider myself an intermediate food photographer, and there is still lots to learn for me regarding composition, styling, etc. I’m not ashamed of that, and with every client project I have had so far I outlined this to my clients. I created the mood board and shared it with them. This is not only helpful for me during the photo shoot, but it also helps to keep my vision and expectations aligned with the client.
Props and Styling are Everything
If you consider yourself a food photographer, you know that food photography comes hand in hand with food styling and props searching. I’ve heard many times that with commercial photo shoots there are usually two people preparing for the photo shoot. That is photographer and stylist. Hence, the idea is that you don’t have to be both. I agree with that, but I think in the beginning is important to do your best to be both. With styling, you learn composition, colors, and many other things that will help your work to stand out.
I am a strong believer, that the most successful people are the ones who take time to learn new skills and become experts in them. One day in the future you might outsource the food styling part, but for now, I strongly recommend you to take time and learn it yourself.
I don’t consider myself a pro in food styling, but I am eager to learn. Mood boards help me here a lot. I look for ideas, composition, props, angles, and try to replicate them with my style. Some may call it copying, but for me, that’s not fair. Every creative has its own voice, but in order to get to know it, you should start by singing hits made by other singers.
How do I look for props? I will be honest with you, and before this question was also confusing to me. How can you possibly buy and store all those forks, plates, cake stands, etc.? I don’t have an answer for that, but I can share with you my strategy. For each photo shoot, I go online to look for props. This can be Williams Sonoma, Zara and H&M Home, or Amazon. I buy props I need, use them in my project, and return them. I don’t bake or cook with them, so there is no harm done to them. This strategy might be not the best one, but it suits me now when I am still at the beginning of my journey and don’t have a lot of money left to spend.
Food is Your Model
Let me tell you a story behind this Almond Poppy Seed Cake. The one I have mentioned before. That day I baked the cake, waited impatiently for it to cool down, and rushed through the whole photo shoot. I was hungry, and all I wanted was to eat that delicious piece of cake. The styling was minimalistic. Not because I didn’t know how to do better, but because of the lack of time and hunger. If I’m not mistaken, the photo shoot was taken in the late afternoon, and I was chasing the last drops of light.
This story brings me to the next point: see the food you are making and taking photos of as your model. Not something you would eat later. This vision helped me to distance myself and become a better photographer. Now I sacrifice taste for appearance, take time to plan the styling, and prepare the dish in advance. There is food waste happening in my studio, but that’s something I try to be ok with.
For instance, I remember I used to wonder how you can possibly eat all those massive yogurt bowls with granola. Now I realize that they are huge as it’s more appealing for the eye. Not all of them are going to be eaten, and you shouldn’t think of the setting as your typical breakfast / lunch / dinner plates.
I’ve said it many times, but I can’t stress enough how important it is, in the beginning, to take things slowly. It takes me a whole week to prepare for the upcoming photo shoot. Yes, 7 whole days. Here is the brief outline of the process:
- Sunday: Start thinking about the upcoming photo shoot
- Monday: Look for inspiration online
- Tuesday: Create a mood board with reference images
- Wednesday: Search for props
- Thursday: Cook the recipe
- Friday: The day of the photo shoot
- Saturday: Editing and publishing the project into your portfolio
Sometimes I can combine such steps as creating a mood board for the next photo shoot with looking for props for the current one. As I’m not getting paid for these projects I make for my portfolio, I try to limit them to one per week. This way I have time to work on other projects for clients.
Strategic Photo Shoot. My Recent Project
To illustrate the seven steps I’ve outlined above I would like to show you my recent work. This was the project I did on my own. Since I didn’t want to involve any type of cooking, I have decided to create a photo shoot of wine. Beverages photography was something I wanted to work with, but there was no example I could have shown to the potential clients.
It took me about 3 days to complete the photo shoot, and I am happy with the result. I took my time and prepared the mood board. Bought peaches and apricots as my props. Lastly, I started to set up the setting around 3 pm. It allowed me not to hurry, and once the hard light was there my setting was ready. There was no rush, and I even managed to film some content for Reels.
That was for me an example of good and professional work. I went out of my comfort zone, took extra time to plan, and managed to get amazing results that will help me to pitch potential brands and clients.
Being a food photographer is a dream come true for me. I love every aspect of it, and I am looking forward to seeing where this journey will lead me. If you want to become a professional food photographer, go for it. Your voice is unique, and believe me when I say it: everyone wants to hear it.
I hope that this post helped to understand how to become a food photographer and plan the next steps. I would be happy if you could give me the support, and simply write a comment below. Talk to you soon!