I think I need someone to shoot some food…

Many of my commissions have started with a conversation along these lines. But not all. Sometimes I’ll get a very clear and detailed brief with a proper budget, deadline and creative direction. Great – all I have to do then is turn up and shoot (OK, the reality is seldom that clear-cut but you get the overall picture).

raymond blanc – chocolate macaron

I also deal with many food producers, restaurateurs and growers who know that they need a photographer but don’t really know what to look for or where. That’s entirely understandable.

shaun whatling, the berkeley

Buying in the services of a photographer who can do justice to different types of food/drink in a variety of settings and for a range of purposes isn’t necessarily a straightforward exercise. We’re not as visible as, say, wedding photographers so searching in a phone book or online might not produce the results you’re looking for.

tarte tatin

Of course blogs like this and solid websites all help and it’s certainly true that many would-be buyers of our services do now recognise that they need a specialist so are prepared to look a bit harder. So when the phone rings or the mailbox chirps, the first thing I do is try to understand what the prospect’s needs really are.

creative fun

What I’ve done below is to distil all the different queries I’ve fielded over the years into a buyer’s guide. It’s by no means exhaustive or perfect, but if ever you’re in the market for someone like me, it might make the exercise run a little more smoothly and save you some money along the way.

  1. Do try to get a recommendation from someone who’s had personal experience of the photographer. You still have to get along on a personal level but at least you’ll have some evidence that the photographer knows his f stops from his focus points.
  2. Look at different styles of photography. What do you want for your food – high-end restaurant or rustic? Or somewhere in between?
  3. Have a clear idea about location. Do you want food shot where it’s produced or doesn’t location matter? If it’s the former, you’ll need to give the photographer some detailed information – light sources, how much space will he have, what time of day will the shoot start, who’ll be in the kitchen etc.?
  4. How much work is really required? Photographers work at different speeds so you need to be clear about what you need them to cover within your budget. Make sure there are no hidden extras. Is an assistant included? Studio charges? Retouching?
  5. What facilities does the photographer have? Is there a kitchen, somewhere to wash up etc.?

6.  Who’s going to style the food? If you’re inexperienced at it, make sure the photographer knows what he’s doing or you’re sure to receive less than sparkling images. If necessary, budget for the costs of a food stylist. Have a good think about props too.

7.  What are you going to use the images for? If you just need numerous thumbnails for an e-commerce site, don’t pay for highly stylised shots taken from numerous articles. But if they’re for an editorial feature, you’ll want top quality, high resolution images (which will cost more to shoot).