Break Into Food Photography as a Social Media Photographer


Break Into Food Photography as a Social Media Photographer

So you want to break into the food photography industry and you’re not quite sure how to go about it. I have an idea. It’s an untested idea, mind you, but I bet it will work. Read what I have to say and please tell me what you think about my idea in the comments section below.  This is the idea….

 Businesses have a need for fresh, unique, and relatively inexpensive social media content.

Unless you’ve spent the last couple of years under a rock, you’ve noticed that social media has become as commonplace as breathing. Everyone, including grandma, is involved with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, Snap Clap or whatever the latest social network is… Businesses are now starting to understand the marketing opportunities that all these social media platforms are creating and want to get in on the game. This new way of reaching potential customers is called “content marketing”. More and more businesses, like the ones consulted by Bob Bratt, are posting and tweeting in order to attract new business. The thing about content marketing is that to do it properly, these businesses need a constant supply of new content, and photography makes for REALLY good content. That’s where you come in.

sample of social media food photography

This is a shot from a social media shoot that I did for Nestle This isn’t the kind of shoot that I’m proposing, but It shows the importance of social media to businesses. This importance will only become greater as time goes on.


It seems like just a few years ago, I’d be on a location shoot and the Art Director would say something like. “Oh, ya… If we get around to it, he client needs to have that shot for the web”. It was an afterthought at best. It just wasn’t that important. That was a few years ago… Today, it’s a different story. I routinely shoot projects JUST for web page content and now I’m starting to get hired to shoot JUST for social media. In fact, a couple months ago I was hired to shoot a two-day job to supply a well-know company with photos that they were going to use on Instagram. It was a pretty big deal. We shot for two days and before that, we had to buy materials and build a set (kitchen) in my studio. The budget as VERY healthy, and it was all for Instagram photos. The times, they are a changing…

So the point is, large companies are realizing the importance of social media content so smaller businesses can’t be far behind. As an established food photographer, my prices are probably going to be too high for most small companies. BUT, if I were a young photographer, wanting to break into the food photography world, I would see this as a potential opportunity.

Here are a few types of business that might just need good quality food photography as social media content:

  • Restaurants
  • Caterers
  • Bars
  • Bakeries
  • Grocery stores
  • Any business, really…

So here’s what I’m suggesting…

I think it would be a good idea to approach some of these companies and tell them that you’d like to come into their restaurant and shoot a bunch of photos that they can use for social media! Tell them this is an experiment and if they like what you do, maybe you can figure out a schedule and a price for doing this on a regular basis. I suggest that you only spend one hour at each company. Why only one hour? Why for free?

Social media food photography shot

This isn’t your typical social media food photography shoot, but this is a good sign that my idea will work!

First off, there’s a learning curve for everything. I’m guessing that you can probably come up with 12-20 decent images in that hour, but this test will let you figure that out. The photos you are producing will NOT be advertising quality and you really don’t want them to be either. The idea is to give them good quality content that they can post or tweet for the next couple of weeks and then, when that batch of photos are used up, they’ll have to come to you for their next fix. You want them to go through a “content” withdrawal. You want your photography to be a little like content crack. If it’s good enough, they’ll want more, and more and more. No one likes to post the same stuff over and over. Ideally, you’ll be able to schedule a monthly visit to shoot more content for them, only this time, you’ll want to get paid.

With the help of a professional food PR agency, like this unique vegan PR agency, I suggest that you come up with a price that isn’t so high that it makes you too expensive for a s all company to afford. I’m thinking 100 bucks a visit to start out. Pretty much every company can afford that. A hundred bucks isn’t all that much money until you figure out how many restaurants there are in your area. That can add up to some serious moola! If each shoot is limited to just one hour, then you can do quite a few of these shoots in a single day.


Here are some things you can shoot, using a restaurant as an example.

Food / drinks / kitchen action shot / portraits of every employee / Every employee working / interiors / exteriors / misc still life shots / signage / customers and employees /

The biggest challenge you’ll run into is coming up with fresh new ideas after shooting in the same location several times. But don’t worry, I have confidence in you! :o)

And if you have the necessary skills, and you want to make some more money, you might want to offer additional survives like writing the “copy” to go with the photos. Maybe you can actually do the posting of the content too! Maybe you can make yourself into a social media agency of sorts??? You could build an EMPIRE!

  • These are the client’s benefits

You’re giving them fresh, unique, quality content for all their social media needs. (and it should be much better than their sister-in-law can provide)

  • Your benefits

There are “barriers to entry” in every business, and food photography is no different. This idea of mine will help you bust through some of those barriers.

Foot in the door

This idea gets you a “foot in the door”. Sooner or later, these companies are going to need other types of photography, and who will be the first photographer they think of to help fill their needs? YOU! Just make sure the clients understand that “content” quality is not the same as “advertising” quality.

If you’re going to do photography for a twitter post, the life expectancy is very short whereas a menu shot will live for years. You’ll need more time to do those kinds of shots and you need to make the client aware of these differences. This is a potential hazard to this idea of mine, but if you play it right, it’s doable.

Just keep to the one-hour shoot. Don’t stay longer! That way, the client will have to schedule the shoot and be ready when you get there. Don’t let them take you for granted. Walk in the door at 10:00 and leave at 11:00 sharp! If you don’t they’ll try to slip in other shoots that maybe you can charge for at a later day and for more money too.

Requires minimal gear

Because you’ll be shooting so many shots in such a short period of time, you won’t be able to use much equipment. That comes in really handy if you’re new to the business and don’t have the equipment anyway…

Build your portfolio

Even though you’ll be moving quickly, you will come up with some really nice stuff. You’ll end up with a few portfolio shots that you wouldn’t have created on your own. That, by itself, is worth the lower price you’ll be charging. Think of it as “they’re paying you to develop your portfolio”. Maybe you should pay them? Na…

Build your confidence

There’s nothing like “producing” under pressure to build confidence, and food photographers need confidence. This will be great practice for when the steaks are much higher.

Build your skill level

The more you shoot, the better you’ll get. That’s a given. Again, they’ll be paying you money to educate yourself. It’s a win-win for everybody!

So that’s my idea and I think it’s a good one. Sell yourself as a social media food photographer and hopefully find a couple dozen clients that will need you on a monthly basis. It’s a great way to make some money, build your portfolio, and increase your food photography skills. Don’t charge a lot at the beginning and then raise your price as time goes on. With a little luck, you can get them addicted to your product and you can grow this into a substantial business. It works for drug dealers! (Hey, maybe that’s a good name for your business: “Crack Food Photography”) And if it works out, please get back to me and let me know. I’d be curious and maybe you can buy me a drink or something… :o)

If you like what you’ve seen here, please share it with someone…


  1. Andrey · February 9, 2015

    Thank you for article!
    I’m currently trying to make a money by food photography. The main problem is that clients do not need new content frequently, let’s say once a 2 months is enough for some of them. They love my shots, service but they just don’t need new shots.
    Another thing, is that you have to spend more than 1 hour to create acceptable results. That’s just my experience, usually I shoot with at least 2 speedlites, some reflection cards, clamps and so on. I bring with me a heavy bag with stands, modifiers. Another bag with camera, lenses, transmitters, laptop. Prepare for session takes usually ~15-20 min. And I never shoot employees, people in the restaurants (I come to shoot food, not people, I think it’s pretty important to position yourself exactly as food photographer).
    But I’m going to try your strategy in another city, where no one knows me. Hope it will be interesting experience.

  2. Rob Leger · February 9, 2015

    Nice idea but wont’ work…..unless you mean on a small scale – sure as a hobbyist..Problem is you have to connect with each and every restaurant for one thing….reach the right person at right time of day….3-5pm….I worked for years in the rest. industry in NYC. I’ve sent out a few thousand emails to restaurants with links to some pics i’ve taken trying to reach the right person–What did i get ? Zero…Where’s the compensation for my time…? Not that i’m asking for it – but still….That’s with half way decent pics to begin with and affordable pricing structure. ..Zero….

    Also for newbies where is your market?? A professional shoots for quality..he has to in order to differentiate himself from the blog poster, the phone shooter, the managers niece with the cool camera at home who has the money for Art school who comes in on weekends whenever necessary- Social media shots don’t go for quality…but rather ..The non menu grabag shots that you refer to……Well….Ok …but anyone can do that. Anyone with a camera or decent smart phone can shoot for social media….The owner, the waiter, the owners daughter…..So where’s is the in for the would be pro’? People are not going to pay decent money for something that anyone can do…At least not in my experience….

    Also now you have to sell the owner on the idea of doing discretionary spending…So already right out the door you have an uphill battle to convince someone to purchase something that he didnt’ previously consider a need….

    Marketing companies, PR firms….like you work for is a whole different scene….Huge budgets, art directors, prop stylists, food stylists ..assistants… who often are more up on the tech stuff than the photograher ….But then of course here it’s who you know….where you went to school and with whom…bla bla bla…

    • Michael Ray · February 10, 2015

      That’s interesting. I don’t know if you can make a career out of this idea, but it may be a good way to break into food photography. You can build your portfolio, make connections, stuff like that…

    • Rob · February 10, 2015

      That’s very interesting! I would imagine that trying to sell professional food photography to restaurant owners that don’t use social media or don’t care how their food images look would be very, very difficult.

      However, I think Michael’s suggestions are fantastic and if nothing else and like what Michael says….at least you could build a solid portfolio and make connections. Sometimes those connections in the industry can lead to jobs and further jobs down the road.

  3. Michael Ray · February 11, 2015

    I still think there is an opportunity here and I think that shooting people aAND food is the way to go. In most small to medium sized cities, you’d have a very hard time making it as just a food photographer. You might get away with it in NY, Chicago, of LA, but in most towns, being a specialist is a quick way to failure.(IMHO) Sure there are some exceptions, but unless you’re an unbelievable talent, you’re much better off shooting whatever comes your way.

  4. Life Images by Jill · February 11, 2015

    Thanks for this timely post as it is something that I am aiming at right now. So thanks for the discussion and the imput.

  5. Morella · August 7, 2018

    Thanks for the article… I can see where this idea comes from and I think it could work until certain extent. I worked for a couple of months for a restaurant doing their food photography for social media, I took only my camera, did a basic set up on one of the tables and fired away… Of course the owner wasn’t really expecting anything fantastic, the place had really bad lighting, décor was awful, and dishes uninspiring, still, choosing a rustic backdrop and the type of editing I managed to get really nice photos and it only took me maybe an hour an half, and that’s because I had to wait for the kitchen to prepare the dishes.

    However, this idea doesn’t (in my opinion) really give an insight onto “how to sell the service”. I got into the restaurant because the owner was looking to have the pictures done, otherwise it would have not happened.

    From my experience food photography is seen as an “unnecessary expense” because anyone can take a picture of a plate of food with their phone right? Until food business (big and small) understand that right now you need to have GOOD pictures on social media, menus, website, etc food photographers will encounter the same “no thanks” wall. Unfortunately the “who you know” is also an important factor in getting jobs.

    • Michael Ray · October 18, 2018

      While I agree it’s true that many clients don’t understand the marketing value of purchasing quality food photography, there will be others that do. The more sophisticated the client, the more successful they are likely to be and therefore more understanding of the need for quality marketing. You’ll always have people that don’t understand and they won’t be your clients.


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