Food Photography Questions To Ask Before Estimating A Photo Shoot

I'm your food photography guru sharing photography tips, equipment ideas and business advice to help you improve your photography skills and navigate the world of food photography a little easier.

Hey, I'm Regan.

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

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How To Estimate A Food Shoot

How To Estimate Food Photography

Client Questionnaire For Food Photography

All food photography projects are different. This means that there isn’t a one-price-fits-all number to share when estimating food photography. This is why asking questions is so important before talking numbers, because you’ll get a much better idea of what the client actually wants and what you’ll need to deliver what they want.

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 get you started.

1. What is the creative direction for your project?

This is my favorite part of the conversation, because it gives the client a chance to talk about their vision. It will help you get to know the client a little better, hear more about their creative vision and figure out if it’s a project that would be a good fit for you.

2. When do you want to shoot?

This is a good question to ask early on in the conversation. If you’re unavailable when the client wants to shoot, there’s no need to keep chatting unless there’s flexibility on the scheduling.

Be careful if a client says “ASAP.” I know that it’s a common thing to say, but photo shoots take time to plan and execute, so you need to be sure you have the time to prepare, shoot and edit.

3. What is the shot list?

Your potential clients may not know the answer to this right away, but you’ll definitely want to get them thinking about it.

Generally, clients get really excited to work with photographers and will want to get as many images as they can. The shot list is one of the most important pieces in figuring out your estimate, because it helps you determine how much time you’ll need, whether or not you’ll need a team to help you and the equipment you might need to get the shots.

As this piece gets more defined, it’s up to the photographer to help the client understand the process and what they can realistically get depending on time and budget.

4. How do you want to use the images? How long will you need the images?

Image usage is a tricky part of food photography, because many clients are not familiar with how it works. It’s also complicated for photographers, because there isn’t a one-price-fits-all approach to the image usage fees.

Image usage is very important in food photography, because food images are used for commercial use unlike wedding photography where the images are used for personal use.

Commercial use means that clients use the images to promote their business and make money. This makes food images incredibly valuable. And, since photographers own the full copyrights to their images (even after the shoot), clients are technically “renting” the images from the photographer.

In a nutshell, clients pay a food photographer for the photo shoot and post-production/editing timed (this is the creative fee). But, they also have to pay to use the images (this is the image usage fee). The more images the client wants, the longer the shoot will take. The more usage the client wants from the images, the more expensive the images can become.


Check out the Getty Calculator and start experimenting with different types of usage and the costs associated with it. These numbers aren’t set in stone, but it can be a helpful guide.

5. 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/agreement or using the client’s, there may be some adjustments that need to be made as you outline the expectations and deliverables. Typically, photographers use their own contract. 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.


Be very cautious of Work For Hire contracts proposed by clients. Work For Hire basically means that whatever you are shooting will belong to the client and you will have no rights to the images.

This can be a red flag if you want to retain the copyrights to the images you capture. A photographer’s images can live well beyond the photo shoot. When you own the copyright to your images, they can be sold on stock libraries, they can be sold as prints and they can even get licensed multiple times for other projects. Just be sure you know what you’re getting into before agreeing to any Work For Hire agreement.

6. 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.

There are typically two scenarios with food shoots:


Sometimes, the client will want to review and approve the images as you shoot. The best approach for this is to shoot tethered, which means your camera will be hooked up to a computer monitor so you and the client can see the images as you go. Usually, this approach results in less images, because it takes more time to review, adjust and approve each image as you go. This scenario is more common when working with food brands or when doing photo shoots remotely.


Other times, the client will be more hands off and won’t need to see and approve images as you go. This means you would not need to shoot tethered. In fact, it allows the photographer to have more creative freedom to move around and shoot different perspectives. This approach results in the client getting more images and is a typical scenario when doing restaurant photography.

7. Where are we shooting?

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

8. Who is preparing the food or drinks?

Knowing who is preparing the food and/or drinks is really important. Do you need include a food stylist in your estimate or is there a chef preparing the food for you? Remember, if you do need a team, the team fees will need to be added to the estimate. If you’re expected to do both the food styling and the photography, you’ll need to adjust your creative fee and time, because you’ll be doing two people’s jobs, which will take more time and cost more money.

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

When you know more about the creative vision 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 (they usually don’t), you can see if what you already have will work, rent from a prop stylist or help the client find what they want. Just be sure to add this to your expenses.

If you’re shooting at a restaurant, you might be able to use what they have in their space. But, it’s also fun to discuss different surfaces, backdrops and prop variety with them. They’ll appreciate the creative ideas you bring to the table.

10. How soon do you need the images?

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

11. 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.

Additional retouching requests may come in after the images are delivered. If the client wants you to do any specialized retouching after the images have been delivered, it will be important to factor this time and cost into the estimate so they’re aware of it ahead of time.

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 format do they prefer their images to be in (TIF’s, JPG’s, etc)? Do they have specific naming conventions for their images? Do they want the images delivered on an external hard drive (I typically use these) or sent through an online gallery? Make sure you know what the client prefers so you can make the image delivery as convenient and easy for them as possible.

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

This can be tricky for clients to answer, especially if they’re not familiar with working with food photographers. But, 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 so we can start negotiating.

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 ok to politely decline when this happens, because not all client requests will be a good fit for you and your business.


The Structure Of A Food Photography Estimate

After you’ve discussed the questions above, you can start creating a fair estimate. The structure of your estimate should be divided into four sections:

  • TEAM FEES (when applicable)

I have another post that dives deeper on the structure of a food photography estimate, so be sure to check that out if you want some more guidance.

I hope this post helped you think more carefully about how to estimate 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, take the time to answer these questions so you can provide this information to the photographers you connect with.

Happy Shooting!

Summary Of Questions

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