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Estimating Food Photography: Ask These Questions First

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

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Questions To Ask Before Estimating a Food Shoot

Estimating Food Photography

All food photography projects are different, so there isn’t a one-price-fits-all approach when it comes to what food photography costs. You have to consider the shot list, how much time you need to shoot the shot list, whether or not you need a team, image usage fees and potential expenses that might be involved.

Below is a list of the questions I ask to all my potential clients before ever talking money.

1. Tell me about 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, learn more about the project 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 on in the conversation, because if I’m unavailable when the client wants to shoot, there’s really no need to keep chatting unless there’s flexibility on the shoot dates. And, if a client is looking for ongoing work, you’ll want to get clarification on how that would work and whether or not you would be interested in a longer term commitment.

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

3. What is your desired shot list?

It’s rare when a client knows exactly what they want, so most clients will not know the answer to this right away. But, you’ll definitely want to get them thinking about it. The types of images the client wants will factor into how much time you’ll need, whether or not you’ll need a team and the equipment you might need to help you get the shots.

Tip: If you ever need to rent equipment for a shoot, lensrentals.com is a wonderful vendor with a wide range of options, an easy online scheduling system and affordable rates.

4. How many images do you want?

This question may get answered within question 3, but be sure to get clarification for the estimate. Clients get really excited to work with photographers and will want to get as much as they can. It will be up to you to inform them to your process and what they can realistically expect to get in the amount of time you’ll have together.

For example, if a brand wants to shoot five recipes, but wants two variations of each recipe (an overhead shot and an angled shot), this would technically be 10 images. Additional variations like this could require more time and could potentially affect the image usage fees.

If a restaurant wants to shoot 10-15 menu items, it can be hard to narrow down an exact number of images they’ll get. I tend to shoot variations at restaurants, because there’s a lot more creative freedom and image approvals aren’t needed as I shoot. I have them prioritize the top ten menu items and if there’s time to shoot more, we’ll shoot more.

Outlining the number of images (or priority shots) that will be delivered in your estimate is really important. The client will know what to expect and in case they ask for more on set, you can either try to do it (depending on time) or refer to the estimate 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 this needs to be considered separately from your creative fee. I have bundled my creative fee and image usage into one fee for certain clients, because it’s a little easier for them to understand. For larger commercial shoots, I may keep usage as a separate line item. It really just depends on the client’s knowledge of the photography process and me helping making things as straight forward as possible.

Think of it this way: the more images the client wants, the more time you’ll need. The more usage the client wants, the more expensive the images could become.

I usually default to a 1-2 year term for image usage (depending on the client’s needs). Food images usually need to be refreshed, because recipes, products and menus are frequently updated. After 1-2 years, the client is usually ready for new images to keep things fresh or they can renew their license with you.

6. Who is approving the images and how are the images being approved?

Knowing who is approving the images and how the images are being approved is going to help you determine how the photo shoot process will go on set.

Will the client be there to approve images? In this case, you will want to shoot tethered (hooked up to a monitor) for easier image review. This is pretty typical for commercial shoots.

If the client can’t be on set due to Covid, do you need to share screenshots throughout the day? Will you need a live zoom feed?

Will the client be there, but allow you creative freedom to work without image review and approvals? This is pretty typical for restaurants.

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 as efficient as possible for both you and the client.

7. Where are we shooting?

Where you will be shooting will factor into your expenses. It could be travel fees to get to the location, studio rental fees or your own studio fee.

8. Who is preparing the food or drinks?

Knowing who is preparing the food and/or drinks is really important and will be outlined in the estimate. If the client is expecting you to prepare and shoot the food, factor this extra time and expertise into your creative fee, because you would be doing the job of two people.

If you’re shooting at a restaurant, the chef typically prepares the food. But, be mindful about plating, because not all chefs know that plating for the camera is different than plating for a customer.

If you’re shooting a larger production, you will want to have a food stylist on set with you.

9. Do we need special props, surfaces or backdrops?

This will get determined when you know more about the creative direction. Sourcing special props and surfaces isn’t an easy task, so getting the help from a prop stylist might be worth adding to the estimate.

For restaurant shoots, you might be able to use what they have in their restaurant, but it’s also fun to discuss surface and plate variety with them too. They’ll appreciate the creative consideration.

For larger productions, you will definitely want a prop stylist on set to provide a variety of options for the client.

10. How soon do you need the images?

Not all clients realize there are more work hours after the photo shoot. You’ll have to edit, finalize and organize all of the best images, which takes additional time. Asking how quickly the client needs the images will help you plan for the post-production and editing time that you’ll need. I usually bundle post-production time into my creative fee.

For restaurant shoots, you can usually let them know how much time you’ll need to editing after the shoot.

For larger productions, you will want a digital tech on set with you to help manage and organize the images as you go, because sometimes the client will want to leave the shoot with the images in hand.

11. Who is handling the retouching?

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

Specialized retouching requests might 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 cost into the estimate as a separate “TBD” (to be determined) expense.

12. 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 naming conventions do they prefer for the images (TIF’s or JPG’s)? Do they want the images delivered on an external hard drive or sent through a secure online delivery system? Make sure you know what the client prefers to make the image delivery as easy for them as possible.

13. Do you have a budget for photography?

I rarely get a clear response to this question. However, I ask it anyway.

If I do get an answer it will help me work up an estimate that is within the client’s budget. If a client wants a lot more 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 simply isn’t within your own requirements for the project. It’s absolutely ok to walk away and recommend finding another photographer when the budget simply isn’t in line with the value you bring to the table.

Free Download: Example Estimate Structure

I hope these questions helped show the importance of knowing a lot more about a food shoot project before talking numbers. Having a clear idea of what the client actually wants will help you create a fair estimate for their project and your time.

Summary of Questions to Ask Before a Food Shoot

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

Happy Shooting!

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.

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Dark & Moody Food Photography Tips

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I’m a food photography guru who turned my weekend hobby into a career-changing business. I’m also a cat lover, a moto rider and truly don’t think bay leaves serve any purpose whatsoever.

Hey, I'm Regan.

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