Estimating Food Photography: Ask These Questions First

Have you ever been asked what you charge for food photography before getting any details about the project? This happens to me all the time. But, I never talk money before getting a lot more information. In order to provide a fair estimate for a food shoot, I recommend asking these questions first.

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Questions To Ask Before Estimating a Food Shoot

Estimating Food Photography: Ask These Questions First

All food photography projects are different, so there isn’t a one-price-fits-all approach when it comes to what food photography costs.

Generally, there are four sections to my estimates: Creative Fee, Image Usage, Team Fees & Expenses. Sometimes not all sections apply to the project, but I always ask the same initial questions to help me further define each of these sections for my client’s project. Whether you’re a food photographer navigating the “rates” question or someone looking to hire a food photographer, use these questions as a guide to getting (or sharing) more information about the project.

TIP: If the potential client isn’t sure about the majority of these questions, it means that they are pretty new to working with photographers and it may be a little too early to start estimating food photography. This could be an opportunity to help them further define their project. They can either use these questions as a guide and figure it out on their own or I will offer a consultation fee to help them develop their shot list and a pre-pro for their project. A pre-pro is basically a pre-production document that outlines the creative direction for the photo shoot including a defined shot list with mood boards, food styling inspiration and suggested props. It’s incredibly helpful for both the client and the photographer to be sure that everyone is on the same page with the expectations during the shoot. Helping potential clients with this type of organization usually results in them hiring me to shoot the project as well. But, in case they do go with another photographer, I’ve been paid for my time to help them further define their project.

1. What is the creative direction for your project?

This is my favorite part of the conversation. I love hearing the client’s vision for the photography and getting their wishlist of ideas. It helps me get to know the client a little better, learn more about their creative vision and figure out if it’s a project I would be interested in shooting.

2. When do you want to shoot?

I ask this pretty early in the conversation. If I’m unavailable when the client wants to shoot, there’s no need to keep chatting unless there’s flexibility on the shoot dates.

Be careful if a client says “ASAP.” I know that’s a common thing to say, but photo shoots take time to plan and execute. The right clients will respect your process and will want to do the photo shoot right, not just fast.

3. What is the shot list?

Clients may not know the answer to this right away. But, you’ll definitely want to get them thinking about it. The shot list is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, because it helps you determine how much time you’ll need to shoot, whether or not you’ll need a team to help you and the equipment you might need to get the shots.

4. How many images do you need?

This question may seem redundant in comparison to question 3, but getting clarification on this is really important. Clients get really excited to work with photographers and will want to get as many images as they can. It’s up to the photographer to inform clients of the process and what they can realistically get in the amount of time you’ll have together.

Outlining the shot list and number of images that will be delivered ensures that everyone is on the same page. The client will know what to expect and in case they ask for more, you can either try to accommodate (depending on time) or refer to the agreed shot list if you need to politely push back.

5. How do you want to use the images and for how long?

Image usage will vary per project and is a separate fee from a food photographer’s creative fee. Does the client want to use the images on their website and social media? Do they want to print the images in a magazine? There are many different ways to use food images and it needs to be added when estimating food photography.

This is actually one of the more complicated pieces of the puzzle, because not all clients will understand how image usage works. In a nutshell, clients pay a food photographer to capture & edit the food images (this is the creative fee). But, they also have to pay to use the images (this is the image usage fee).

It’s also complicated, because there isn’t a one-price-fits-all approach to the fees. Image usage fees for a large brand would be different than a small-scale restaurant.

Image usage is important in food photography, though because food images are generally used for commercial use. This means that clients use the images to help them make money. This makes food images incredibly valuable and since photographers own the rights to their images, clients have to “rent” the images from the photographer.

READ MORE ABOUT: WHY FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY IS SO DAMN EXPENSIVE

6. Do you have a contract for photography or should I provide mine?

Starting the contract discussion early is important, because whether you’re using your own contract or using the client’s contract, there may be some adjustments that need to be made as you outline the expectations and deliverables. Having the time to read, adjust and finalize the contract is key to ensuring that everyone is comfortable and on the same page before the shoot. Also, get the contract signed before the photo shoot.

7. How are the images being approved?

Knowing how the images are being approved is going to help you determine how the photo shoot process will go on set. Some clients will want to be involved every step of the way and others will prefer to be more hands off. It’s really important to get on the same page together so the photo shoot can be efficient for both you and the client.

There are typically two scenarios with food shoots:

Scenario 1:

The client will want to review the images as you shoot, so you will be hooked up to a computer so you can see the images as you go. Usually this results in less images, because it takes more time to review, adjust and approve each image as you go. This is pretty typical when working with brands.

Scenario 2:

The client will be more hands off and no monitor will be set up. Because of this, you can capture more image variety and get a little more creative with angles and variations. Usually this results in the client getting more images and is typical when working with restaurants.

8. Where are we shooting?

Where you will be shooting will factor into the expenses when estimating food photography. It could include studio rental fees and/or travel fees.

9. Who is preparing the food or drinks?

Knowing who is preparing the food and/or drinks is really important. Do you need a food stylist or is there a chef preparing the food? Are you expected to play the role of a food stylist and the photographer? You will need to consider these expense when estimating food photography for your clients.

10. Do you have special props, surfaces or backdrops?

When you know more about the creative direction for the images, it will become clear what kinds of surfaces, backdrops and props you’ll need. If the client doesn’t have these things (and they usually don’t), sourcing everything yourself can be a tricky task. Getting the help from a prop stylist might be worth adding to the estimate.

If you’re shooting at a restaurant, you might be able to use what they have in their space. But, it can be fun to discuss surface and prop variety with restaurant clients too. They’ll appreciate the creative consideration.

11. How soon do you need the images?

Not all clients realize there are more work hours after the photo shoot. You’ll need time to organize, edit and finalize all of the best images for them, so be sure you’re both on the same page with when the images will be delivered.

12. Do you have a retoucher?

I always edit and finalize the images before sending them to my clients, however this is not the same as specialized retouching.

These requests may come in after the images are delivered. If the client already has a retoucher, then you don’t need to worry about this. But, if the client wants you to do specialized retouching after the images have been delivered, it will be important to factor this potential cost into the estimate.

13. How do you want the images delivered?

Finalizing and organizing the images for your clients is an important part of the service you provide. What format do they prefer their images to be (TIF’s or JPG’s)? Do they have specific naming conventions? Do they want the images delivered on an external hard drive (I typically use these on set) or sent through an online gallery? Make sure you know what the client prefers so you can make the image delivery as easy for them as possible.

14. Do you have a budget for your photography project?

This can be tricky for clients to answer. However, I ask it anyway.

If I don’t get an answer, but I have enough information from the previous questions, I will work up a fair estimate for the project and my time.

If I do get an answer, it will help me work up an estimate that is within the client’s budget. It’s very important to know more about the creative direction and shot list before trying to work this out, however. If a client wants a lot more images than their budget can support, it’s an opportunity to figure out how to negotiate their requests to be more in line with what they can afford.

And, sometimes a client’s budget is simply too low for what the project will require of you and your time. It’s absolutely ok to politely decline when this happens.

READ MORE ABOUT: UNREALISTIC PROJECT REQUESTS AND HOW TO HANDLE THEM

I hope these questions have helped you think more critically about estimating food photography. If you’re a food photographer navigating that tricky “what are your rates” question, use these questions as a guide to get more information before talking numbers. If you’re looking to hire a food photographer, think through these questions so you can provide more information to the photographers you connect with.

Happy Shooting!

SUMMARY OF QUESTIONS:

  1. Tell me about the creative direction for your project.
  2. When do you want to shoot?
  3. What is the shot list?
  4. How many images do you want?
  5. How do you want to use the images and for how long?
  6. Do you have a photography contract or should I provide mine?
  7. How are the images being approved?
  8. Where are we shooting?
  9. Who is preparing the food or drinks?
  10. Do you have special props, surfaces or backdrops?
  11. How soon do you need the images?
  12. Who is handling the retouching?
  13. How do you want the images delivered?
  14. Do you have a budget for your photography project?

This post may contain affiliate links which means if you click or make a purchase through my site, I might make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only promote products that I actually use and support. 

All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.

Comments +

  1. Magda says:

    Hi Regan! Great tips here, thank you. I’m preparing my questionnaire for clients and was looking for some more ideas. I was wondering, do you provide clients with a quote during the meeting / call, or do you tell them you need to take away everything they said and prepare it? If the latter, have you ever had a situation when clients were surprised you hadn’t given it to them straight away? Thanks x

    • Regan says:

      Hi Magda! Thanks for commenting! Yes, sometimes a potential client will ask “what my rates are.” And, I always politely say that I need more information so I can work up an estimate. If I’m on the call with them during this question phase, I will tell them that I’ll get back to them soon with an initial estimate. No one has really questioned why I don’t have those numbers “right away” on the call. If you happen to run into that, just mention that all projects are so different and you need time to review the information so you can work up a fair estimate based on the time and expenses the project may require. People are usually totally ok with that. Good luck and reach out with questions anytime! Cheers!

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