Ask These Questions Before Ever Talking Money

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. 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 and potential expenses that might be involved.

Below is a list of the questions that I ask to all my potential clients before ever talking money. If they don’t know the answers to these questions, it may be a little too early in their project planning to be talking to a photographer.

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, 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.

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?

Most clients will not know the answer to this right away. But, you’ll definitely want to get them thinking about it before throwing numbers around. 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. I often offer an hourly consultation fee to help potential clients plan their shot list based on what makes sense for their need and their budget.

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 many images as they can. It will be up to you to inform them of your process and what they can realistically get in the amount of time you’ll have together.

For example, if a big brand wants to shoot five recipes, but wants two variations of each recipe (an overhead shot and 3/4 angle shot), this would technically be 10 images. (five recipes shot two different ways). Additional variations like this will require more time, especially if approvals are needed per shot.

If a restaurant wants to shoot 10-15 menu items, and doesn’t need to approve the images as you shoot, you may end up taking a variety of images of each dish if time allows. With restaurants, shooting variations is more doable, because there’s a lot more creative freedom and image approvals are not needed during the shoot.

Outlining the shot list and number of images that will be delivered in your estimate and contract is really important. The client will know what to expect and in case they ask for more than planned, you can either try to shoot more (depending on time) or refer to the shot list from 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. Think of it this way: the more images the client wants, the more time you’ll need to shoot. The more usage the client wants, the more expensive the images could become.

6. Can I provide my photography contract or do you have your own photography contract?

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. 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. 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. 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.

Will the client be there to approve images? In this case, you may want to shoot tethered (hooked up to a monitor) so the client can review and approve images as you go. This is pretty typical for a lot of food shoots.

In some cases, like with restaurants, you’ll have more creative freedom because they won’t need to review and approve images as you shoot.

8. Where are we shooting?

Where you will be shooting will factor into your expenses. It will include studio rental fees or travel fees.

9. Who is preparing the food or drinks?

Knowing who is preparing the food and/or drinks is really important and will be noted 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 a more extensive shot list, you will want to have a food stylist on set with you.

If you’re shooting at a restaurant or with a new business owner, 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. They usually do a pretty good job, but you might need to play the role of food stylist from time to time.

10. Do you have special props, backdrops & surfaces for the shoot?

This will get determined when you know more about the creative direction, but most clients won’t have special props and surfaces to work with. Sourcing these things 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.

11. 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 larger productions, you may 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.

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.

Specialized retouching 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 cost into the estimate as a separate line item expense.

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 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.

14. Do you have a budget for photography?

I rarely get a clear response to this question. However, I ask it anyway. If I don’t get an answer, and have enough information to go off of from the previous questions, I will work up a fair estimate for the project and my time and send it along.

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 your creative fee and time. It’s absolutely ok to politely walk away and recommend finding another photographer when this happens.

I hope these questions helped show the importance of getting a lot more information about a 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. Can I provide my photography contract or do you have your own photography contract?
  7. Who is approving the images and 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 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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