Food Photography – Student Questions and Answers
I have had numerous inquiries from students about techniques and the photography profession. Please review the questions and answers here before contacting me directly. I will happy to answer questions not already addressed here.
1) How did you get into food/commercial photography?
Originally, I was a chef. I worked in the culinary field for 10 years in Germany, Switzerland, and the United States including some five star hotels. I always had an interest in photography and decided to change professions. There were several reasons for leaving the culinary field including stagnating wages and long work hours including holidays. Unfortunately, the hiring of chefs are currently based on price not quality; thus, my credentials became unimportant to potential employers.
2) Are you a formally trained photographer? If yes, which school did you attend?
I was formally trained at Antonelli Institute outside of Philadelphia.
3) Do you find that food photography requires special lighting technique?
4) What camera format and film do you most frequently use while shooting food?
4×5 inch camera using transparency film, some 6×7 cm, almost no 35 mm
5) What do you enjoy most about being a food photographer?
The freedom of creativity and its results. (Being able to eat the props isn’t bad either).
6) What is your favorite food?
7) Are your images digitally altered?
Most of my images are not digitally altered. Generally, I have only altered images I use for logos and web page backgrounds. The ability to “fix” imperfections in the computer is wonderful but also a curse. Once you spend eight hours fixing an image that could have been shot properly with another two hours of traditional photography efforts, you will understand. If a problem can be fixed on film with reasonable effort, do it right on the film. The computer should only be used to fix problems that can not be solved by traditional photography methods.
8) I have started dabbling in food photography, and I was wondering what type of lighting do you use to give that moody look (ie. the chocolate yule log, and the cup of coffee). I have experimented with the “painting with light” technique, if I don’t use a CTB filter it gives a nice warm light, but you seem to have a patterned effect happening, almost like you are shooting through a piece of lace. What is the secret?
Sometimes I do use lace, but not in those pictures. I have homemade designs I filter light through almost like a felt snowflake.
9) What could I use for a simple background for my pictures?
Paper, fabric, brick, sand …
10) How do you incorporate balance, rhythm, and dominance into your photographs?
Do you use any other techniques aside from balance, rhythm, and dominance?
I do not look at my images and ask myself does it have balance, rhythm, and dominance. In commercial photography we look for texture, contrast, mood, feeling, and design. What emotion and feeling does the image provoke. I love texture; food has so much of it. Because I feel food is close to nature I like to use natural backgrounds such as wood, stone, and maybe grass.
A picnic shot in the early morning or evening can create a romantic mood. You only need either some breakfast items or some salads for the evening. I guess you pick your dominance by where you place your main subject, selective lighting and selective focus are also part of dominance. Balance develops with time and a good eye. Rhythm to me is when a picture reads well; your eyes travel the image and nothing disturbs the eye. Sometimes a prop can be too powerful and lead away from the main object, or you use light colors taking your eyes of the subject. A simple composition can often create the mood, feeling and purpose of the subject far better than a busy overloaded image. You get lost in such images and it can be painful to look at.
11) I hear that a lot of pictures do not use real food. What tricks do you use?
99% of the food I shoot is 100% the real thing without cosmetic enhancements. I am very particular about the foods I buy in the store. If I was doing a picture of apples, I would go to several stores if necessary to find the quality product I need. I also warn the person at the register to handle the produce carefully. Cashiers tend to bruise fruits and vegetables.
One of the few times I didn’t use real food was for a cake. I iced a styrofoam disk. The styrofoam was cheaper than baking a cake. It is important to realize that the product being advertised must be the real thing which wasn’t an issue for the cake picture. My skills as a chef have allowed my to forego using fake food in most cases. I think the only fake food currently displayed on my web sites currently is an image of “ice cream”.
12) I am extremely interested in becoming a photographer for a profession. However, like many people, am concerned with money. I want this career to be able to be one that can financially support me. This is the concern for why I am contacting you. I was wondering if you could tell me how much you or a photographer like you makes on an annual basis.
The average income for a commercial photographer according to the Bureau of Labor and statistics is around $24,000 annually. Note, in the first five years of business, you will likely not earn more than your overhead. You will actually lose money during the first five years of the average photography business.
You should also ask the question how high is your overhead: rent, utilities, employees, equipment, etc. A photographer can have revenue well above $100,000 dollars, but may have a overhead of $80,000, leaving him with a $20,000 income or less. I can not state this more strongly, “Stay out of debt.” Right now the industry is going through some difficult times. Prices have been falling because many photographers have not had the nerve to stick to their guns or do not have the business experience to figure out how much they have to charge to make a confortable living. Sad but true. I recommend to everyone who considers photography to learn as much about business as you can, that includes: Accounting, Marketing, Promoting and negotiating. Computers are also are very important , you should know: Photoshop, Illustrator, Pagemaker or Quark, Word, Excel, File Maker Pro and how to create and maintain a web site.
In this industry to succeed you need to be a good business person moreso than a good photographer. You can be an excellent photographer and not be able to survive because you ignored the business part. We all need money to live.
So the answer to your question is:
At the beginning because of equipment cost and overhead you will actually lose money, unless you have a fairy godmother who paid for it all. After five years in business, you might make enough to cover your overhead.
Only life and your skills will truly tell you how much you will make. Get to know people and get to know who is who in the industry. Intern and learn as much as you can before you open your own studio. Buy equipment used to keep your budget low. Start saving now so you can live off your savings for a few years.
It sounds depressing, however Commercial Photography is a difficult business. If you really love Photography and you take some of my advise you will be fine. Just do not make the mistake and think it is easy. Only the fittest will survive, I am the only one in my class who still works in the field.
13) I’m a student that is in love with photography. I am currently going to school and don’t know whether to get a degree in commerical photo, advertising photo, or biomedical photo. I have been looking at Ohio Institute of Photography and Technology. In which, they offer both Commerical and Biomedical.
I have no knowledge of biomedical photography specifically, so my view is biased here. I suggest you ask as many people in the field as possible who work in that niche. They could provide more direct relevant info.
With the above in mind, I would recommend for you to go with the commercial degree. As a commercial photographer you still can choose which way you like to go. For instance, I went to school for commercial photography, and learned a little about everything. A good chance to find out what kind of photography you like is either assisting for a photographer, or interning. You may even do some of this before you go to college.
Wikepedia has a wonderful page on food photography http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_photography