How to find those first few food photography clients – Q&A

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Q&A – If you have a question that you’d like me, to answer, just leave it in the comment section below.

Q&A – Do you have any recommendations regarding marketing and/or finding those first few food photography clients?

Wow!  That’s really a good question…  I can make some suggestions , but because it’s been a while since I looked for my first client, I’d only be guessing.  I’m going to make some suggestions and then check with some friends of mine that are newer to the food photography business than I am. Check back to this post in a couple of weeks, because I’ll probably append some additional suggestions to the bottom of this post, so read to the end, and then come back and check and see if anyone listed more suggestions in the comments below.

Depending on where you live, probably the greatest ROI you can make in your  marketing efforts will be SEO.  But just remember,  marketing will get you and your work in front of people, but if your photography sucks, then your possibilities are limited.  So keep improving your technique, keep editing your web site, and above all, keep getting better as a food photographer.

Website

You pretty much have to have a web site these days and it needs to be professionally designed.  Put only your best photos on the site.  Many potential clients will end up judging you, by not only your best photos, but by your worst photo too.  They want to see consistency. They NEED to be confident that, if they hire you, their project will be equal to the work they see on your site.  If the quality of the work your website is inconsistent, they will likely feel skeptical about taking a chance working with you. Your work together will be a reflection of THEIR reputation and THEIR job might actually be on the line.  If you screw up, they will look bad and people don’t like to look bad.

SEO

No matter how long you’ve been in business, every food photographer can tell you that it’s hard to find new clients. That’s why it’s important to have good SEO.  It’s much easier for you to let the clients to find you, instead of you having to find them.  Good SEO is VERY important.  In fact, that’s probably why you’re reading this blog post right now.

Here’s what I suggest you do to find your very first food photography clients

1. Make some really great images to start the ball rolling. (That’s really the hardest part)  The idea is to start building a portfolio.  This process never actually ends, so don’t be discouraged at first.  No one is ever really happy with their portfolio.

2. Create a good website with good SEO.  Long term, this will be the most important marketing effort you will make.  You can be the best food photographer in the world, but if no one sees your stuff, then clients may not be able to find you.

3. Hook up with wanna-be food stylist and do some test shots.  A well-know food stylist probably won’t have time for you, so find someone looking to build their portfolio, that would be willing to do some test projects with you.  If you live in an area without a few food stylist, find a chef or someone interested in helping you. This will help you website and will get you used to working with a stylist.  And, it may establish a relationship that will prove very useful to you when it comes time to actually do some paying gigs.

4. Make a list of all the possible “food related” clients in your area, or at least as many as you can hunt down.  This list might include restaurants, food manufacturers, food distributors, grocery stores, catering companies, bakeries, graphic design firms representing food clients, and advertising agencies.  Just make a huge list.  You’ll need it for later.

5. I suggest that you first approach your local restaurants and offer to shoot some of their food for free.  It’s hard to turn down free work, so you’ll probably get an opportunity to get your foot in the door. Companies have a great need to social media content, so I don’t think that too many places will end up turning you down.   If you do a good job, you’ll have some more samples to add to the website, some blog ammunition, and you’ll possibly have a new client, the next time they need a food photo.  I suggest that you do this with as many places on your “target” list as necessary.  Give it away to get your foot in the door.  Hopefully, the next time they have a need for some food photography, they’ll call you, but this time, you’ll be getting paid.

I know that some people are going to object to giving away the work, but that’s really the best way to get your foot in the door.  After you’ve established yourself as a food photographer, then you can charge for your work.  For now though, you need to get new images for the web site and you need to get your foot in the door.  This method accomplishes both of your needs.  If you can figure out a better way, I’m all ears.

I’m sure that others reading this will have some comments and suggestions.  PLEASE help out by leaving a comment below.  How did you get your very fist food photography client?

6 Comments

  1. Jarrod Erbe · December 13, 2014

    Great advice – thanks, Michael!

    Reply
  2. Jojie · December 14, 2014

    Thanks Micheal. These are informative for those of us who hasn’t even started to go anywhere near paid jobs. In my case, I’m still building that capital to start business so to speak. When I am ready, I’d look this up.

    Reply
    • Michael Ray · December 14, 2014

      Jojie – You don’t need a ton of money to make nice pictures. Sure, we all want to have more gear and gadgets, but the real key to being a great food photographer is the ability to “see” what the light is doing and then be able to change it so it looks the way you want it to. So while you’re waiting to get the money together, keep shooting and learn to “see” light. It’s all about the light. (okay, maybe not “all”, but the light is really important. :o)

      Reply
  3. Life Images by Jill · December 15, 2014

    Thanks Michael. I am at the stage of wanting to source clients – so I think offering to take some shots for free might be the way I need to go to build up my actual restaurant food port folio, not just shots I have taken at home of what I want to photograph.

    Reply
    • Michael Ray · December 15, 2014

      Ya, this business is a real catch 22. You can’t get people to hire you until you show them you can do what they’re looking for. So how do you get something to show them in the first place? you have to make it yourself, so you might as well have someone else pay for the food at least (the restaurant).

      Reply
  4. Michael Ray · December 17, 2014

    I’m not sure that this is cool or not, but all these posts are from the linkedin discussion. about this blog post. I’m bummed that this was posted there and not here, so I copied it. Is that cool to do???

    Veld Praesto likes this

    14 comments Jump to most recent comment

    Jarrod Erbe

    Jarrod

    Jarrod Erbe

    Owner, Jarrod Erbe Photography

    Top Contributor

    Thanks, Michael. I like the idea of doing a few shoots for free in order to get a foot in the door. Similar to the “time for prints” approach in other areas.
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    4 days ago
    Mandy Toh

    Mandy

    Mandy Toh

    Mandy Toh Photography http://www.mandytoh.com

    Top Contributor

    Look out of food bloggers in your area and work together on food projects.
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    4 days ago
    Marcela Macias de Hadzimehmedi

    Marcela

    Marcela Macias de Hadzimehmedi

    Photographer. Food Stylist. Prop Stylist at Marcela Macias Photography

    Hi Michael! I am just starting out, the first cookbook I photographed was published a few weeks ago, I have taken photos for a Panamenian Juice company and I have been working for a couple of nutritionists, photographing the recipes in their blogs, and providing images for their branding. What has worked for me, and continues to bring me clients is being active in forums and groups, and focusing on helping and adding value in whichever way I can. I also had a food & crafts blog, with a weekly newsletter, which helped me keep people on the loop of what I was doing. All my clients have come from these two sources.
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    3 days ago
    Sandy Weatherall

    Sandy

    Sandy Weatherall

    Food Photographer and Owner of Jinsei Photographics

    I have trouble marketing too! I have had some great projects but do not have the luxury of shooting food steady. I have established myself and have been published in over 30 cookbooks. My question is fees. I have inquiries, but when they hear a $300-$600(hardly outrageous in my opinion) rate(half and full day) they dismiss it. How are people charging to not price themselves out of work but not give away their services either?
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    3 days ago
    Ed Shapiro

    Ed

    Ed Shapiro

    Owner, The Hintonburg Studio

    I started years ago by first creating my own portfolio of food layouts that I prepared in my own kitchen and by networking with a few wedding caterers that I worked with in the portrait/wedding side of my business. I built a portfolio first- that was my major sales tool I started with small fast food and take out restaurants and offered better images for their menu boards. I would talk to the owners and bring along a small portable light box to show how Duratrans type of transparencies imparted brilliant depth and color to food photographs. I networked with sign makers who produced the illuminated menu boards and created some packages where the photography would be included with the signage installations. Besides, I hit the streets and did the legwork visiting as many food service businesses as I could; wholesalers, suppliers, food equipment providers, restaurants, caterers, operators of mobile catering trucks, hotel catering managers, cook book publishers and business started it slowly but surely roll in. I had some agency contacts from my other commercial work and picked up some food work from them. I also networked with food stylists and chefs. Every time I shot a food layout of different products and various ethnic dishes, I would add them to my portfolio. I also began frequenting antique and secondhand shops as well as various retailers and started a prop collection to make my food shots more interesting. I once stopped in to a local supermarket that was renovating their store and picked up a job producing 5×8 foot photo-murals of produce for their new interior walls.

    My hourly and daily rate was never particularly low + materials and expenses. My average food job usually ends up around $10,000. – mostly display, menu, billboard and ads on the side of trucks.

    I hope this helps! .
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    2 days ago
    Ed Shapiro

    Ed

    Ed Shapiro

    Owner, The Hintonburg Studio

    Oh- I forgot! More sources of business leads: Government health and agricultural departments publish many brochures and posters pertaining to various healthy eating ideas and diet plans. Health food stores are always sending out flyers and advertising in local newspapers. One encouraging thing I can tell you that many local photographers do not offer food photography because it is very painstaking, specialized and oftentimes tedious. Many food service business are importing photographers form larger cities with proportionally larger talent pools and the are paying quite a bit of money on travel time and expenses. If they know that there is a local professional source of high quality photography, you food photography enterprise my grow faster that you might imagine! Good luck and much success! Ed
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    2 days ago
    Criss Ford, Mandy T. like this
    Jarrod Erbe

    Jarrod

    Jarrod Erbe

    Owner, Jarrod Erbe Photography

    Top Contributor

    Great suggestions, Ed. Thanks for sharing!
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    2 days ago
    Ed Shapiro likes this

    Michael Ray

    Michael Ray

    Food Photographer & People Photographer – Creating compelling commercial portraits and food photography

    Top Contributor

    Wow great stuff. Nay I post this on my blog?
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    2 days ago
    Ed Shapiro likes this
    Grace Dickinson

    Grace

    Grace Dickinson

    Photographer; Philly-based, Nationwide clients

    For me, I started by really focusing on building up a portfolio, primarily right in my own home, but also through networking with other chefs and foodie friends. You can do a lot for your portfolio just by cooking and styling your own recipes. You can’t pitch your work and stick out in a competitive market without the photos to prove you’re worth hiring for the job. It also helps to craft a style for yourself. There are tons of food photographers – building a style that can be consistently seen across your work will set you apart from the crowd.

    My food work can be seen here (http://gracedphotography.4ormat.com/1096524-food-photography) but I began simply with a wordpress food blog chronicling my own recipe creations, and built my skills from there (http://foodfitnessfreshair.com/).
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    2 days ago
    Asami Z., Ed Shapiro like this
    Sandy Weatherall

    Sandy

    Sandy Weatherall

    Food Photographer and Owner of Jinsei Photographics

    Thanks Ed! The government angle is a good one.
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    1 day ago
    Ed Shapiro likes this
    Jasmine Waheed

    Jasmine

    Jasmine Waheed

    Photographer | Retoucher

    Grace, lovely work, great tips here, if anyone would like to give me feedback on my food work as I am relatively new to food photography and have a bit of an odd style any CC would be very welcome. Hit me hard if need be I need to learn more to get seen and get working. 🙂
    http://jazzwaheed-photographer.com/new-work/p0a3o6q1mr77z94s9rkfaavc9j9ori
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    1 day ago
    Jarrod Erbe

    Jarrod

    Jarrod Erbe

    Owner, Jarrod Erbe Photography

    Top Contributor

    Jasmine – in my opinion, your work is beautiful. I love the variety of angles, backgrounds, and styles that you have incorporated into your work.
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    1 day ago
    Grace Dickinson

    Grace

    Grace Dickinson

    Photographer; Philly-based, Nationwide clients

    Jasmine – love a lot of your styling! Some of your overhead shots are really fun. And you definitely have a noticeable style and feel to your photos, which I briefly mentioned I think is really valuable. My only advice would be to try working with light to see if you can make the food subject pop even more, particularly in the shots at the beginning of your landing page that one would view first. You definitely have a solid portfolio though, and I’ve enjoyed browsing through your book work.
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    1 day ago
    Cristina Mejia

    Cristina

    Cristina Mejia

    Editorial Design Professional

    Nice work Jasmine!

    Reply

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