If you are a professional, or an aspiring professional photographer, you rely on your photographic work to bring you financial rewards. Self satisfaction alone, won’t pay rent, put gas in your car, or food on the table. If you want to earn money from your pictures, then you will have to find someone to pay you for them. Here are a few strategies that you can implement to start selling your food photography!
It doesn’t matter what you take pictures of, every paid assignment will be one of two things. You are either getting paid to create new work for a client, or you are being paid a licensing/usage fee (aka stock photography) for work you have already created. These two situations may be independent from one another, or they can overlap. Here are a few strategies that you can use to find buyers for your food photography.
New Commissioned Work
There are plenty of clients out there who need beautiful images of their food. Here are a couple of different types of clients that could hire you to create beautiful mouthwatering food images for them.
Makers of a Food Product
When you walk into your grocery store, think about how many different food products there are. Aisle after aisle of products that all need food pictures to sell them! Some of these brands are global and owned by multi-billion dollar companies. Others are small, local ones who create a food product that is only available in your local area. Whether large or small, all of these products need food images. This could be shots of the product itself or a recipe that the product can be made into.
Restaurants/Chefs/Food Service Providers
To get clients to visit their restaurant or hire their services, these clients all need beautiful images of their food to show their menu and abilities to customers. They can make a delicious dish, but if the picture doesn’t entice someone to hire them, then the picture is worthless to them.
Cookbook publishers need beautiful images to bring the recipes in their books to life! They rely on beautiful food photography to entice a reader to pick up a book and flip through it. Their goal is that the reader will be hungry enough after looking through the book that they purchase it! Magazines and newspapers need beautiful images to complement any food-related story that they are running. It could be a story about a food trend sweeping their readership or a new local restaurant or chef in town.
How to land clients?
Unless you are blessed with jedi mind powers, you will most likely have to show clients what you are capable of before they will hire you. So how do you create a portfolio to show them what you are capable of?
There are several options. If you feel comfortable in your food photography skills, you can make and style dishes to shoot on your own. If you don't want to be the food stylist, find a culinary school student or food stylist and figure out an agreement for them to create and style the food and you both use these pictures in your portfolio. If you want to shoot menus for restaurants, visit the restaurant, at an off time, and ask if you can take pictures of your food. Talk to the manager and pay for your dish. For the cost of lunch, you have a piece to add to your portfolio.
Once you have this portfolio, I would start to shop it locally to editorial clients. Do some research and figure out what the food scene is like where you live. Get in contact with your city’s paper, magazines, blogs, and other media outlets that cover what happens in your city or state. Everyone has to eat, so restaurant reviews, story on local food products, or profiles on local chefs will always be stories in any local publication. From these local editorial assignments, you will get to know chefs, restaurant owners, creators of food products and other people who may need food photography. Make a connection with these people and keep in contact with them after the shoot. They will have had a chance to meet you, see that you are a professional, and if they like your work, the door is open for them to hire you. Many restaurant owners own more than one restaurant, so these editorial assignments can be a gateway to higher paying commercial assignments.
Stock Food Photography
Stock photography is a great concept. Who wouldn’t want to shoot something once and then get paid over and over again from different clients to use that image? The answer is every photographer would! The key to successful stock food photography is to figure out a niche of images that there is a demand for and isn’t over-saturated (forget about shooting anything on a white seamless background, it has been done a million times already)
Instead of shooting the food items that are found everywhere, do something unique! Embrace where you live and create a stock library from that. Food is something that varies greatly by geographic region. The crops that grow in Thailand are not the same as what you will find in Germany. From their local crops, different cultures have developed their own unique tastes and dishes! Today, people throughout the world have developed a global palate. If you are a magazine based out of Moscow and are doing travel story on restaurants in San Francisco it would be a lot cheaper for you to use stock images for the story as opposed to sending a photographer to shoot the same images. This example actually happened to me. It was cheaper for them to buy the photo from me than send a photographer to capture the same image. An effective way to build a unique and profitable food portfolio is to find what popular restaurants and food trends are around you and build a stock library of those images. I live in the Southern Part of the USA, so foods like BBQ and Pimento Cheese are regional dishes that could sell as stock.
How do you get your stock portfolio noticed?
Blog about what you do! I am a huge advocate of blogging and believe that it is the best piece of marketing you can have out there. It costs nothing but an internet connection and has the potential to reach the entire world! Through my food blog, I have been contacted by magazines and publishers about purchasing the rights to images that I shot as personal work. A successful blog with a wide reach doesn’t happen overnight. If you cover something in a unique way, and take the time to share it online with others, it can be found and lead to other paying work. There are also food specific stock agencies like Stock Food that you can apply to. If you are having a tough time getting noticed by the local media outlets, share your blog posts with them through social media. You can also share the blog post directly with the restaurant that you want to hire you.
Commission and Stock creating Synergy
Your commission work can become stock, while your stock can lead to commissioned work. If you grow both sides, you can end up creating a product that brings more than what you had before. When working with a magazine and shooting at a restaurant, I have been able to turn around after the story has run and sell the usage rights for the images to the restaurant. Just make sure that your contracts are clear about the length of time that the magazine is purchasing the images for.
Above are images from a personal project on college football tailgating that I have worked on over the last few years. I have turned this project into a large unique stock portfolio and then turned the project into a cookbook deal.
With food photography there are many different uses that the same picture can have. The key for your food images to be used in multiple situations is for other people to see them. Through using blogging and social media, you can share what you have done all over the web.
These strategies will vary slightly depending on the market you live in, but with some time and hard work, it is possible to find many clients to buy your beautiful images of food!
Want to learn how to make beautiful images of your food? Check out Issues 1-5 of photographing FOOD!