Why Food Photography Is So Damn Expensive

Food photography is expensive. But, not everyone is aware of everything involved in a food shoot. The truth is, there really isn’t a “one-price-fits-all” number to share, because all photography projects will require different things depending on the client’s wishlist. Whether you’re a food photographer trying to navigate estimates or someone trying to hire a food photographer, this post shares what’s involved with a food photography shoot and why it’s so damn expensive.

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Why Food Photography Is Expensive

Ask Questions Before Talking Money

Food shoots can get expensive depending on the details of the project. A lot of people will ask a food photographer what their ‘rates’ are without providing any information about the project. But, without more details, it’s really hard to put a ‘price’ on food photography.

It’s like walking up to an architect and asking what it costs to build a house. There are so many things to consider that make the question impossible to answer without more information about what you actually want. The same concept applies to food photography.

It’s important to ask questions before talking numbers with potential clients, because it helps you get a better understanding of what they want. Not to mention, it also helps the client think more critically about their project. Your initial questions may not be something they had thought about, so the questions are a great starting point for both the photographer and the client.


The Structure Of A Food Photography Estimate

I structure my food photography estimates into four main categories and we’ll dive deeper into each of them below.


Creative Fees

A photographers creative fee is what it costs a photographer to do the job. So, what actually goes into a photographer’s creative fee?

  • TIME


One of the biggest challenges I face as a food photographer is educating potential clients to how much time it takes to plan, produce and deliver high-quality, beautiful food images. The images in my portfolio took a lot of time to plan, set up, light, style, shoot and edit.

Many people think that a photographer’s job only happens during the photo shoot. But, that’s only one part of the process. A photographer’s time on a project includes the time planning the shoot, the time on set shooting and the time afterwards editing the images.

Pre-production time is the time leading up to the shoot and could include creative calls, emails, meetings, developing a pre-pro, sourcing materials, finding a team and a location.

The shoot time is the time on set during the actual photo shoot.

Post-production time is after the shoot takes place and includes editing, retouching and finalizing of all of the images.


Being a successful food photographer involves more than knowing how to take beautiful images. Photographers are experts at their craft, but also need to be educators and problem solvers on set. It doesn’t hurt to be fun to work with too. 😉

The more experience a photographer has, the higher their creative fee will be because they are bringing a lot of experience and value to the table. They know how to host an efficient and successful shoot that results in gorgeous images so the client can sit back, relax and know that they’ll get stunning images for their advertising needs.


Photographers are a business and have to pay their bills and taxes just like everyone else. They know what it costs them to be in business and have to deduct taxes per project. These numbers will vary per photographer and will affect a photographer’s creative fee.

Image Usage Fees

A common misconception when hiring a photographer is that the client will own the images after the photo shoot. This isn’t true. Photographers always retain full copyrights to their images. This means clients are technically “renting” the images from the photographer.

It’s important to keep in mind that the more images a client wants, the more expensive the shoot can become. The more usage a client wants with the images, the more expensive the images can become.

There isn’t a one-price-fits-all number for image usage either, which can make this a tricky area to navigate for both photographers and potential clients. The usage fees will vary depending on how the client wants to use the images and for how long. Image usage fees also vary depending on how “big” the client is. For example, a small, local restaurant wouldn’t pay the same image usage fees as a global food brand.

In a nutshell, image usage fees should be figured out separate from the creative fee. Sometimes these fees get bundled together, but it’s important for the photographer to make sure they’re accounting for both their time and the images they will be delivering when writing up an estimate.

Team Fees

Not all food photography projects require a team, but for larger projects, a photographer will hire a team to help them get the job done as efficiently and successfully as possible.

A photographer’s team will depend on the project, but could potentially include:


That’s a lot of people, right? Not all projects will require that many people, but the team fees will add up quickly depending on how many people are needed on set. Sometimes, photographers are expected to play the role of photographer and food stylist. When this happens, a photographer’s fee will increase, because they are technically doing the job of two people and it will take more time to complete the shot list.


A photographer’s team usually bills a flat day rate, but this rate could include overtime if the shoot goes longer than planned. Overtime varies, but is typically charged at an hourly rate separate from the team’s day rate. Setting up equipment, taking it down and cleaning up after the shoot is factored into this time. All these things need to be discussed leading up to the shoot so everyone is on the same page with how long the shoot will go and when overtime could come into play.


Food photography is expensive because expenses can also add up really fast. Expenses are going to vary per project, which is a big reason there isn’t a one-price-fits-all number when it comes to how much a food photography shoot costs.

It’s better not to talk money (even if you know your base creative fee) until you get more information and estimate the possible expenses. If you don’t list the cost for expenses in your estimate, those costs could end up coming out of your creative fee.


Let’s say I book a job with a restaurant client and I bring my D750 camera, my 28-70mm lens, my 105mm lens, my Manfrotto tripod all packed up in my travel camera bag. Let’s throw in one strobe, pocket wizards and a light modifier too. I’m basically showing up to this restaurant shoot with roughly $10,000 of equipment. Kind of eye-opening on the business side of photography, right? Photography equipment is a big part of the business and it’s not cheap.


Because equipment can be so expensive, not all photographers own everything they might need for certain types of projects. This means they’d have to rent some equipment. If a photo shoot requires special equipment that the photographer doesn’t own, rental fees will be added to the estimate and the client will be responsible for those expenses.


Food shoots are usually held at the photographer’s studio, a rented studio space or the photographer may travel to be on location (like shooting at a restaurant). Studio fees and/or travel fees will be factored into the expenses.


If you’re shooting food, the costs of groceries are another expense that gets added to the estimate when applicable. And, with food shoots, you usually need more than you might think. With restaurant shoots, the food is provided, but that food is still an expense that the restaurant would need to factor in.


Props and surfaces are another expense that might need to be added too, which includes dishes, linens, glassware, surfaces and backdrops.


Most images will be edited and finalized by the photographer. However, if additional retouching is requested after the images are delivered, this may be a separate expense. Some clients may already have a retoucher, but if they don’t, the photographer will need to factor this time into the estimate if it ends up being needed.

Whether you’re new to food photography or are searching for a food photographer, I hope this post gave a little more insight into why food photography is expensive.

Happy Shooting!


This post contains 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 2021.

Comments +

  1. Very interesting!
    I just started with restaurant photography and having my first clients. This article was very helpful. Thanks!
    And you have an incredibly beautiful portfolio!!!!

    • Regan says:

      Hi Liliana! Congrats on getting started with your first restaurant clients! That’s super exciting! Thanks so much for the sweet words and for commenting! I’m so glad that this post was helpful for you! I also have another post about Tips for Shooting with Restaurants, if you want to check it out. Link: https://reganbaroni.com/blog/business/restaurant-photography-tips/

      Reach out with questions anytime!

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