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How Do Professional Food Photographers Find Clients?

It used to be, in the old days, that a professional food photographer would call up a potential client and make an appointment to stop in and show the prospect his printed portfolio.

Now-a-days, things are different, and photographers must find new ways of meeting and maintaining clients. In fact, many photographers, including myself, don’t even have a printed portfolio anymore. It’s all about having an amazing website and getting potential clients to see it.

Keep The Clients You Already Have!!!!

Before I go into how you can go about finding new clients, I want to tell you something you may or may not already know. Finding new clients is difficult, expensive, and time consuming. That is why you want to try as hard as you possible can, to keep the ones you already have. That sounds obvious, but it’s amazing to me how some photographers take their current clients for granted. I actually don’t mind them doing that, because it makes then vulnerable to my marketing efforts. Don’t make that mistake! Pay EXTRA attention to your current clients.

My client list, in case you’re interested…

How To Build A Killer Food Photography Portfolio

Finding Great Ideas For Your Portfolio Images

Food photography with 200mm macro lens

I’ve heard it said that Food Photographers should show the kind of photography they most want to shoot, or maybe a step above the kind of work they want. Not too many food photographers post “outline shots”. but don’t mind getting that kind work, now and then…

I don’t look to copy other photographers’ photos, but I do like to view, analyze, and pull ideas from them. I like to use Instagram, Tumbler, and a link page I created myself (100 Best Food Photographers), to see what quality food photographers have been doing.

When I’m visiting one of these sites and I see a photo I like, I either download it or screen capture it. Then, I add the image to my “swipe file”. I keep a copy of this swipe file on my phone, so when I feel the urge or want to think about my next portfolio shoot, I look at the photos and see if it gives me some ideas.

Is Swiping Files Wrong?

Some people might think this is somewhat immoral, downloading other photographers’ images, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t show them, or print them, or publish them in any way, so it causes no damage to the photographer. In fact, if someone did the same to one of my photos, I think I’d be flattered. :o)

When I’m “swiping” files, I will often select a photo based on a specific element of the photo that I like. I may not even like the photo I swipe, but I may appreciate the fold of the napkin, the lighting, or even the texture, or color of the background. I’m looking for inspiration in the little things. Like I said, I don’t want to copy someone else’s work, I want to develop ideas. I want to pull in an idea here, and another there, and combine them to make a photo of my own. I think that’s almost the definition of creativity, if you think about it…

Gather Props That You Think Are Really Cool!

You can do this as you plan your shoot, but I find it better to be doing this all the time. Sometimes you can’t find what you need, when you need it. If you’re going to commit to being a professional food photographer, you’ll need to start building a prop library, so why not start filling up the basement now? I often visit flea markets, antique stores, home goods stores, and thrift shops, keeping an eye out for interesting and inspirational props.

Ebay and Etsy are also great resources for finding great props for food photography. I suggest that you search for “vintage plates”.

Don’t tell my food stylist this, but to be honest, props are often more important to food photography than the food is, and I usually plan my portfolio shoots based on the new props that I’ve found. A hamburger is a hamburger, right? But give me the right lighting, unique props, and a really cool background, and I can make a beautiful photo. This photo might be something totally useless to a client, but it might be so artistic that it impresses a someone enough for them to hire me for their next photo shoot. And that’s really the goal of building a portfolio, isn’t it…?

Eye-Catching Backgrounds Can Make Your Food Photos AMAZING!

This is something else you’ll want to start accumulating as you start this new interest. Backgrounds often make or break the food photo. As a professional, you’ll want to start your collection early. Sometimes, when things are slow at work, I’ll buy some wood at Lowes or Home Depot, some paint and brushes, and go at it. It’s actually quite enjoyable. Pinterest is a great place to go to learn about creating cool food photography backgrounds.

Find A Food Stylist (I’ll show you where!)

For portfolio building, I usually skip this part if I can. The reason is that I already have tons of prepared food images, so I can get away with doing “still life” types of shots for my portfolio. If I go it alone, I can shoot when I have time and not worry about the expense or scheduling issues of working with another busy professional. Also, I won’t have to make any compromises due to having to make the other team member happy, since I will make up the entire team. :o)

If you’re really new at this, you’ll probably want to find a food stylist or get someone to help cook for you, so you will be taught of as a food photographer and not a still life photographer. If it’s your first time hiring employees, I suggest checking out Acclime Singapore so you can get it right the first time.

You can use this link to find a professional food stylist in your area. If these stylists are too busy to shoot with you, maybe they know of someone wanting to break into the industry, and can put you in contact with them. Often time, professional stylists work with assistants than ultimately want to become stylists themselves.

Another idea is to contact a culinary school. This may prove to be a good source of help cooking for your portfolio. Some of these students may have the ambition of becoming a food stylist when they graduate, and the school may know who some of these people are. Just keep in mind that they too will have little experience styling, and you’ll be learning together.

food photography of pomegranate

Here’s an image shot just for my portfolio. I shot it without a stylist and I feel it was quite successful.

The Portfolio Food Shoot

So after you get all your ducks in a row, go ahead and do the shoot. I like to plan on doing two or three different shots in a day, and will try to do a couple of variations of each of these shots. Be open to opportunities that present themselves. I sometimes plan on thing and then discover that another path looks to be more interesting.

With each portfolio shoot, just do the best you can and hope it turns out. Try as hard as you can to make each shot as remarkable as possible, but in the end you need to realize that today’s favorite image will be most likely be next years sample of mediocrity. Don’t be afraid to take chances and fail. Try new things and don’t be afraid to go off on unplanned tangents that intrigue you. Life and food photography are nothing but learning processes that never end. Well, I guess they EVENTUALLY end, but hopefully not for awhile… :o)

Build A Quality, Professional-Looking Website With Great SEO, To Show Off Your Beautiful Portfolio.

For my website, I found a young professional graphic / web designer that wanted to make a little side money. I’m happy with the results (you’re looking at it now). Unless you do web design yourself, you’ll probably need some help with making your website. You may want to try something like Squarespace or one of the online portfolio sites, but I would suggest you have it professionally designed and that you use WordPress. That’s what I use and I’m very happy with it. WordPress makes it really easy for non-programmers to add and updates pages. This will come in handy as you create new portfolio images that you want to add to your site.

Don’t overlook having great SEO in the design of your site. It’s a lot easier to have potential food photography clients find you, rather than for you to find them. I would strongly recommend that you spend some time on YouTube or buy a book or two about SEO. Just keep in mind that Google is always evolving so you’ll need to keep up with the current SEO trends. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, so don’t skip this step!!! If you can make it to the first page of Google, for your search terms, the battle is halfway won.

sample photo for food photgrapher emailer

Here’s a sample of what one of my emailers looked like inside of MailChimp.

Email Marketing For Professional Food Photographers

For good or for bad, the business world runs on email, so your business will need to take advantages of the wonderful world of email marketing too. Here’s how I suggest that you use email to find and keep food photography clients.

Create A List Of Target Clients You Want To Work With.

You can use your computer’s “contacts” program to create and maintain a list of potential clients you want to work with, but I choose to use on online email service called “MailChimp”. There are other companies that do the same thing as MailChimp, but I like their service, so I’ve stuck with it. MailChimp was designed to send out email “blasts”. It’s a free service until you reach a certain number of addresses, so it’s free to try out for you newbies. There are other more comprehensive marketing services out there that keep track of all your marketing interactions, and I may investigate them at a later date, but for now, I’m okay with what I have with these guys.

Building Your Email Marking List

You’ll want to collect information from individuals that you think would be interested in your services. Company web sites are great for collecting info. They often list the names and email address of the people you’re looking to connect with. Social media sites such as LinkedIn are also useful for locating needed info, not to mention, establishing relationships. LinkedIn actually allows you to download your contact’s information into a spreadsheet. That saves you a bunch of time.

Asking Permission To Send Your Food Photography Emailer

I’d be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes add people to my list without their permission, but in general, I try to ask them before I include them on my list. It’s good practice. Another nice thing about using a service like mail chimp, rather than sending out mass emails yourself, is that it keeps track of “unsubscribes”. You don’t want to send out emails to people that don’t want to receive them and there are spam laws that you need to be aware of. MailChimp will take care of this for you.

Never Stop Building Your List!

Anytime you come across the name and email address of a target client, you’ll want to file it away somewhere, so later you can use it for marketing purposes. Whatever you do, never stop building this list!!!! Email marketing is only going to become more important in the future, so treat that list of yours like the gold it really is.

Potential Food Photography Clients

Here’s a list of potential client types, a place for you to start looking. If you’re not sure that they would be a possible client for your business, visit their website. That will tell you more about what they do and if they may use the services of a professional food photographer.

  • Any Marketing or Communication Company
  • Advertising Agency
  • Web Design Firm
  • Graphic Design Firm
  • Restaurants (Chains tend to have more money to spend on marketing, and therefore food photography)
  • Local publications that have a lot of food related articles or ads containing food images
  • Food Manufacturers – Large and small, all need photos of their products
  • Bakeries & Ice Cream shops
  • Grocery stores (Chains have more $)

Email Introductions

Once you’ve located a target email, it’s a good idea to contact that person to introduce yourself and ask if they would mind if you keep in touch with them by sending an occasional image. When I do this, I PROMISE not to send more than one promotional email per month. Usually, that’s below what most people regard as spam, so they don’t usually have a problem with that. You’ll soon realize that those same people may not “open” your email, but they’ll be okay with you sending it. MailChimp can, if you’re interested, let you know who has and hasn’t opened your emails.

Email Blasts Bring In Work

Like I said, if you don’t overdo it, people won’t consider your email as spam, and in fact, if your photos are really good, most people will look forward to your next release! The key here is to only send your best photos, hopefully images that people haven’t seen yet. The reason for sending out these emails is to keep clients up to date with what I’ve been up to. Sending out old images they’ve probably already seen, defeats that purpose.

Formatting Your Emailer

There are many different opinions on what makes a good emailer, but I like to make my emails to be as personal and casual as possible. I start off using a mail merge field of their “first name” and then saying something like “How’s it going?”. Some food photographers think that this is a bit disingenuous, and I can understand that, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it works of me. For now, at least, that’s what I’ll continue doing.

After the informal greeting, I follow with a couple lines of copy talking about what I’ve been up to or about the image placed at the top to the email. The emailers are not a big deal that you have to sweat or agonize over. Don’t overthink them to the point of paralysis. Just send out beautiful images on a consistent basis and things should start to happen for you.

Even though I said not to sweat it, make sure you send out test emails to yourself and a couple of friends, to confirm that there are not mistakes of formatting problems. There’s not much that makes you feel smaller than to send out a thousand f’d up emails. I know from experience…

How Email Blasts Get You Work?

There is a concept in marketing called “Out of sight, out of mind”. Basically, it means that the more often you can make a positive impression on someone, the more likely you are to get a job from that person. There will even be times when the client has a project land on his desk, while at the same time, your email lands in his inbox. Because of that coincidence, he’ll be more likely to decide to give you a try. It’s happened to me a bunch of times.

Right place / Right time

Sure, as food photographers, we all try to be as unique as possible, but the reality is that on many client jobs, several photographers could handle the project. And in those cases, having your email show up at an opportune time could make the difference between using you over another shooter.

While the “out of sight, out of mind” reason is a good one, another and probably more significant purpose of sending out consistently amazing emails, is to convince the client that “You’re the man!” (or woman). By getting them to think of you as a photographer that makes amazing images, they’ll most likely hire you when the next appropriate project arises.

K.I.T. Emails

This is an often overlooked way of getting jobs. I learned this method a long time ago when I went to a seminar on “creativity” with Ian Summers (sp?). He suggested that the best way to get work was to contact people that you’ve already worked with before, and just reach out to make contact with them. It’s another form of the “out of sight, out of mind” theory.

This was before email… Ian said that when things got slow, he would cut articles out of magazines that he thought a particular client would find interesting, and send it to him in the mail. It’s a personalized way of letting people know you care about them on another level, besides work. If he know that a client was interested in cars, he would use that subject as a basis for the contact. With email and websites like “StumbleUpon”, this is easier to do than it used to be…

Social Media Can Make You Famous!

Using social media to post your food photography, and to interact with others, is a great way to build your notoriety. I think the key here is to consistently post GREAT images and to give attention as well as accepting it. And for God’s sake, keep your politics to yourself! Why piss off half your possible client base with some stupid statement that has no place in a work setting? Try to think of social media as your marketing place, not your personal place. Do as I say, not as I do… :o) No, I’m not all that famous… And if you’re not attracting enough customers or you’re just tired of the hustle and bustle of promoting yourself online, you can check this social media agency for help.

Only Your BEST!

Food Photographers dream

Here’s an interesting combination of “finished” photo and “behind the scenes” photo. It ended up being a pretty successful emailer and social media post. That goofball in the lower part of the frame is me…

Never post mediocre work. It’s okay to post interesting “behind the scenes” photos that aren’t of high quality, because people are interested in how things were done, and realize that these kinds of photos are taken on the fly. When posting “final” images though, they better be really good. People use to say that a portfolio is judged by its weakest image and in most instances, I think that’s still the case.

Social Interaction

I don’t know about you, but I’m an introvert, so this method of building a client base really doesn’t apply to me. No matter how much I wish otherwise, I just can’t bring myself to go drinking with total strangers.

I’ve also heard that it’s a good idea to join and participate in the professional organizations, especially the ones that your potential clients belong to. The idea is to try to meet as many of potential clients as possible, in a casual setting. Get invited to parties and other get-togethers. People tend to work with people they already know, so getting to know and rub elbows with these people sure couldn’t hurt.

Word of Mouth

The food photography industry is a relatively small world and if you’re good, your name will get around. The key is to be good. How do you do that? You keep shooting, and learning, and observing, and shooting even more.

That’s How A Professional Food Photographer Finds Clients!

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my little rant about how you, as a professional food photographer, you can find and keep clients. Please email me if you have any questions or let me know of other methods I may have overlooked. We’re all in this together, and as long as you stay away from MY clients, I’ll help you as much as I can… :o)

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Michael Ray Photography
2820 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222