Why is food photography so expensive?

When prospective clients call me , the first question I ask is have you ever worked with a food photographer. For those unfamiliar with food photography and how it works there is usually deafening silence on the other end of the phone after I reveal the costs.  Why is it so expensive to shoot food? Can’t I hire someone for less money? What makes food photography so different?

Food photography can be very expensive depending on who is doing the shooting. Photographers set their own rates and there is no standard. It’s not a level playing field. There are newcomers to the profession that charge $500 for a food shoot and are happy to get it. There are experienced photographers like myself that charge much more. It all depends on the job, what’s involved, usage and how much time it will take.

Take a big jobs for example, a major packaging rebrand for Walmart which I was involved in shooting last year. I was paid a healthy sum to shoot their Great Value images. Walmart wanted all rights for the images, a complete buyout. They hired me to shoot photos that would appear on millions of packages for the duration of that products lifespan. By comparison I shot a single image for a local falafel franchise Maoz. The price was much different. An experienced photographer knows how to bid each job according to it’s specs.

Let me break it down. There are fixed costs involved in a shoot: staff requirements, studio rentals, cost of equipment amortization, food costs, crew meals, prop rentals/purchases, set construction you get the idea. The only wiggle room here is my fee. I can’t control the fixed costs but I can control what I charge. Depending on the budget I can be flexible within reason. Usually prospective clients shop around. If joe is willing to shoot the job for x and I am asking y, I am sometimes asked to match Joe’s price. Fair requests are never turned down. In other cases I have been outbid by thousands of dollars because I am bidding against  a recent photo school graduate. Not a level playing field.

My first question to potential customers is what is your budget? I always hear the same answer, we don’t have a budget. Every one has a budget. Why not be honest. It’s not going to offend me if your budget does not match my pricing. It just cuts to the chase,  remember there are fixed costs involved. If your budget does not cover even these fixed costs I am not a right fit.

Keep in mind I am a professional food photographer which means I make my living doing this work. If I can’t generate a profit there is no point to taking a job. Obviously there are jobs I shoot for cost if it will land me a marketing opportunity. I am always happy to do pro-bono work for a good cause.  A better strategy is to tell me what’s involved and your budget. I will tell you if I can shoot the project for that price. It saves a lot of time. It also creates the possibility that we can work together. If you really love my style and you want to work with me then talk to me about it. We can work out a fair price according to your budget.

I went to photo school, learned my trade, assisted photographers, have photographed hundreds of thousands images, shot for small start-ups all the way up to fortune 100 companies over the course of 20 years. In short, my experience is what you are paying for. When I do a job it gets done professionally. If you need open heart surgery you don’t go to a GP, you go to a heart surgeon. If you need food photography you come to a specialist. Can a fashion photographer shoot food? Of course. I can shoot fashion really well, but my specialty is food. I live in the food culture, I am a foodie, my understanding of food and food advertising is what makes me valuable to you.  I can shoot fashion but have no passion for fashion my passion is food.

The return on investment you get when you hire a professional food photographer will impact sales positively. In comparison, a poorly shot image done by someone who has no food experience, can effect sales in a negative manner. It may have cost less to shoot but what was the ultimate price for not doing it the right way. You may never know?

Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm