Food photography is expensive. Not everyone is aware of everything involved in a food shoot and there isn’t a one-price-fits-all number to share. All projects are different and require different things depending on the client’s wishlist. Whether you’re a food photographer trying to navigate estimates or someone looking to hire a food photographer, this post will help demystify why food photography is so damn expensive.
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Food Photography Is Expensive
Food shoots can get expensive depending on the details of the project. 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 want. The same concept applies to food photography.
It’s important to ask important questions before talking numbers with potential clients, because they may not realize how quickly their wishlist can add up. There are four main categories that food photographers should include in their estimates:
- CREATIVE FEES
- IMAGE USAGE FEES
- TEAM FEES
A photographers creative fee is what it costs a photographer to do the job. But, what actually goes into a photographer’s creative fee?
- BUSINESS EXPENSES
One of the biggest challenges I face as a food photographer is educating potential clients to how much time it takes to produce high-quality, beautiful images. The images in my portfolio took a lot of time to set up, light, compose and style. Not to mention, the time after the shoot to edit and finalize the images. Not all projects require the same amount of time, but there is always pre-production time, shoot time and post-production time to take into consideration.
PRE-PRODUCTION & POST-PRODUCTION
Many people think that a photographer’s job only happens during the photo shoot, but that’s only part of it. There’s pre-production time and post-production time to consider as well.
Pre-production time is the time leading up to the shoot and could include creative calls, emails, meetings, sourcing materials and equipment, gathering your team, finding a location and pre-light days.
Post-production time is after the shoot takes place and includes editing, retouching and finalizing of all of the images so they’re beautiful, organized and ready to go once the client receives them. A photographer’s time before, during and after the shoot is all part of the photography process.
Being a successful food photographer involves more than knowing how to take beautiful images. Photographers are experts, educators, thought-leaders, communicators and problem solvers. It doesn’t hurt to be fun to work with too. 😉 The more experience a photographer has, the higher their creative fee may 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 their project is in good hands.
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 and clients have to pay for the photo shoot AND to use those images. The more images a client wants, the more expensive the shoot can become. The more usage a client wants, the more expensive the images can become.
Unless a client is buying the full rights to the images (which is super rare, because it’s so expensive and in my opinion, unnecessary), the client is actually “renting” the images from the photographer.
Image usage fees will vary depending on how the client wants to use the images and for how long. Image usage is figured out separately from the photographer’s creative fee, but can sometimes be bundled in depending on the client & project.
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.
The need to hire a team is a big reason food photography can get really expensive. A photographer’s team will depend on the project, but could potentially include a food stylist, a food styling assistant, a prop stylist, a prop styling assistant, a digital tech, a first assistant and possibly a producer. 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 a client may think they’ll save money by asking a food photographer to also do the food styling. But, the truth is because the photographer is being asked to do the job of two people, their fee should go up since more time will be needed to do the project solo.
A photographer’s team usually bills a day rate, but this rate could potentially 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.
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.
Location & Travel
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.
Food & Props
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 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 to consider. 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.
RELATED POST: HOW TO ESTIMATE A FOOD SHOOT
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All images ©Regan Baroni 2021.