As a photographer, you might not have ever thought about the exciting world of food photography. But food photography is a rapidly growing market for photographers. Did you know that high-quality food photographs can help small restaurants become the next big trend? And with people increasingly turning to online ordering through companies like Uber Eats and GrubHub, photographs of food are in high demand.
If you’re looking to break into the world of food photography, you’ll want to read this guide that will provide you with all the information you need to start taking great food shots and starting your own food photography business.
Equipment needed for food photography
When you’re just starting in food photography, you may be unsure of what equipment is necessary for your business. As a photographer, we’re sure you likely already have some of this equipment but we want to make sure that you have all the right equipment so that you can have the best chance of success at making money with food photography.
There are a large number of food blogs that will tell you that you can take high-quality food pictures with your iPhone or another smartphone, but if you want to truly succeed in the food photography business you’ll need a camera capable of taking high-quality pictures, this isn’t the time for the point-and-shoot.
You can choose either a DSLR or a modern mirrorless camera. While DSLR cameras are still the industry standard many professional photographers are moving over to mirrorless. Working to create the best images possible will require you to have the best camera that you can afford. But don’t worry, any investments you make here will be worth it when your food photography business starts to get clients.
Some quality cameras that you can use for food photography are:
While these are not the only cameras that you can use, they are some of the best cameras for food photography.
When you’re working with food, the details are where you’ll hook your viewer. Seeing every morsel of delicious chocolate cake or the beads of moisture on a basket of freshly rinsed fruit is the difference between “That looks kinda yummy” and “Oh. My. Goodness. Where do I get that?”
To help your photographs of food exude deliciousness, you’ll want to use a macro lens. A macro lens will ensure that you can always get as close up as necessary. While you won’t need a macro lens with 1.0x or 1:1 magnification factors, it is still a good idea to have a macro lens.
It is also important, when selecting your lens, to check the aperture rating. Faster aperture speeds will help you to make use of the available light. Additionally, you will want a lens with a wider aperture. Choosing wider apertures will help you to isolate specific parts of the dish for close-up detailed pictures.
We recommend that you use either a 30mm to 60mm macro prime lens with an aperture rating of f/2.8 if you use a crop-sensor camera. If; however, you use a full-frame camera you’ll want to choose a 90mm to 105mm macro prime with an f/2.8 rating. You can also use a 50mm or 35mm prime lens on a full-frame body but you’ll need to make sure that they have a short minimum focus distance.
3. Lightbox, bounce boards, and diffusers
Kitchen lighting isn’t always ideal for your photoshoots. Food photographers have been shooting meals and individual food items in lightboxes as long as they’ve been publishing food photos. Lightboxes and light bounce boards are a popular tool for most product photographers.
While you can certainly make do with natural lighting, white cardboard, and a reflective surface, if you want a career in food photography, you’ll want to invest money in the proper equipment so that you can consistently produce photos that get customers.
When you photograph food, the food should be the main focus. However, you can emphasize the food by using props to paint a picture or set a mood in the photo. Finding pretty plates, cute linens to put your baked goods on, or a lovely platter and centerpiece to accent your photos can bring them to the next level.
Searching for just the right pieces to show off your delectable goodies is so much fun. Hitting up your local thrift stores and yard sales is a great adventure and a fun way to make conversation about your work. Think outside the box on your props to find new and exciting ways to display your subject. Often, you won’t see the props’ details, but they’ll pull a lot of detail in the food you’re photographing.
You can get great shots without a tripod; however, humans tend to have shaky hands. If you want to get clear, crisp photos every time, a tripod and the timed capture option on your camera will help. Once you remove your finger from the button, the timed capture setting will delay the actual photo snap allowing any wobble or shake of the camera to be mitigated.
A tripod also lets you position your camera in ways that may be uncomfortable for multiple shots. The camera’s stability will allow slower shutter speeds, longer exposures, and a better position for more advanced techniques and composite images.
Finding a tripod that allows you to shoot horizontally will help you capture overhead images for flat lay style shoots. These are popular for graphic design and Instagram photos.
Food photography techniques
There are a lot of techniques that you will need to know if you want to be a great food photographer. While we could write an entire article devoted to this topic (and we will), it’s important to think about some basic techniques that you should remember when it comes to food photography.
1. Diffuse the light
First, you need to make sure that you diffuse your light. While using natural light can give you clarity of color, too much light will wash out your subject. If you want to avoid this pitfall, you will need to diffuse the light to prevent it from over-exposing your shot.
To diffuse your light, try using a translucent filter. One should have come with your bounce board set. The translucent filter should remove enough light to give your shot the right amount of lighting necessary to get a great photo of the food.
2. Use artificial lighting
Commercial kitchens are bright but often the lighting in the dining room (where you’ll often be photographing the food) is designed for ambiance and isn’t necessarily always the best lighting for photography purposes. Even should you photograph food within the kitchen area, that light is typically set up for workspace illumination and the light will likely not be best for your shot.
To avoid this problem, you should bring your own lighting sources to set up your shot with the best possible lighting to get the best possible photograph of food. Using artificial light will help you create the most professional food photographs that get customers in the door. Remember, if you create photographs that bring in sales, you’ll be more likely to get more food photography jobs.
3. Try unique angles
Not every angle gives the best shot of food. We’ve all seen photos of our friend’s meals on Instagram that look downright unappetizing because of the angle. While there’s no specific angle that you can choose that will make all food look amazing, it is important to take shots from different angles to ensure that you get a few different shots to choose from.
For example, you might want to take a picture of a cake straight from above, to get the details of the decoration, but this won’t show off the full deliciousness of the cake. You can instead take the photo from a lower angle, in a way that focuses on the soft texture of the crumbs instead.
Doing something like this will give the baker’s potential customers more information and better entice them to come in. The main job of a food photographer is to make the food look amazing.
4. Adjust your settings
It’s important to remember that photographing food is different than other photography shoots. The settings that work best for a portrait are not going to be best for food, the reverse is also true.
For example, while you want to shoot a human to look their best, you’re not going to want to use settings that emphasize their pores or wrinkles. However, for food photography, you want to try and emphasize the little details which will require different settings.
If you aren’t sure what settings are best for the food your photographing, make sure that you try to take several different pictures with different settings and different angles. This will give you a variety of options to choose from that will help you please the client.
It’s fantastic when we get the perfect shot that doesn’t need editing. However, those shots rarely happen and you will likely need to perform some post-production. Using programs like Adobe Lightroom can simplify your post-production process by utilizing presets tried and tested by other photographers.
When you work with companies like OCUS as a food photographer, you don’t even have to perform your own post-production. At OCUS, photographers simply upload their raw unedited photographs and our team of editors will do the work for you. Without needing to edit your photos, you can get back to taking more photos quicker helping you make more money.
How to find food photography jobs
Once you’ve honed your skills and evolved your signature style, it’s time to pursue work. How does one go about finding and applying for food photography jobs? Like most freelance jobs, this is a common question. There are many answers, and the best advice is to pursue many options at once.
With most freelance jobs, you’ll be able to find customers requesting work on platforms such as OCUS. This particular platform hosts an abundance of freelance photography jobs with vetted and dependable clients.
2. Local restaurants
Take a look at the Grub Hub, Postmates, and Uber Eats menus for restaurants that are not big chains. When you find locally-owned eateries on these apps with less than stellar photos, you can call the owner and pitch your service. Another option is to email the owners or managers with samples of your work.
3. Build a website portfolio
You need to make sure that you have a comprehensive portfolio. You can easily set up your own portfolio online using a website builder like WordPress. The important thing to remember is that if you want to get into food photography you will need food images in your portfolio. You can always take sample photographs of your own homemade food to show an example of your work.
Every freelance career is built on referrals. This means that as you develop your skills and your reputation, you’ll be able to increase your rates and be more selective in the clients and jobs you choose to work with. As you build your referral base, you’ll be able to work with more prestigious clients, and your work will be used in more significant projects, bringing your name and your skills to light for more people and increasing your business potential.
5. Cookbook editors
Cookbooks are still a staple in kitchens around the world. While many people find recipes on Pinterest or blogs, others collect physical or eBooks for readers like Kindle or Nook-type eReaders. Having a beautiful website helps connect with these publishers and editors because they produce so much content that they won’t have the time to train you for their needs. When you can show them that you know what you’re doing already, you’re more likely to be hired for the project.
Places that need food photographers
Food photography is so critical in our high-paced digital world. You may find that people you never expected to need your services are your favorite clients to work with. You’ll find clients everywhere, from bloggers to Michelin Star chefs who need to present their artwork to the masses visually.
1. Food Bloggers
A lot of bloggers make their money on their blogs; it’s not a hobby for them. Therefore, they need high-quality photos to make waves on social media and attract readers’ and followers’ attention.
2. Food Trucks
Meals of the Gods, food trucks bring the best cultural foods to the hands of the people. However, they’re rarely part of a larger company that has corporate advertising and support. The food trucks in most food pods work together to create pod sites with their menus and events happening during their hours. Food cart pods have become a gathering place for many people to enjoy the company of friends and fresh air in recent years.
3. Local Restaurants, Diners, and Eateries
The best way to find a great place to eat in a new town is to ask the locals. But, when you don’t have a local to refer to, websites like Yelp and Google will be the next best thing. The atmosphere is less important than the food they serve. It may be the perfect opportunity for you to offer your services so they can sell their specialty to a new crowd.
4. Stock Photo Companies
With so many people blogging, graphic design, and otherwise using online resources for their images, stock photography sites are a great place to get started for residual income. When you submit pictures to these sites, in most cases, you get paid royalties every time someone purchases the photos you submitted.
Once you’ve built up a portfolio, you can pitch it to local and national food magazines. When they have a feature in a region other than their home location, many magazines will hire local food photographers.
The importance of community
The best part of working within a freelance community, such as OCUS, is that we strive to build each other up. We can work with photographers and artists worldwide to learn new skills and better our businesses through those interactions.
Providing a network for freelancers to share their portfolio and work with other freelancers makes OCUS a great agency to work with to build your business. Contact us today to learn more about the services we provide, and how to get started with your freelance food photography career with OCUS.