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Anatomy of the food photography photo shoot

Let me ask photographers – How often you receive the call from a potential client and his expectations about photoshoot appear far from real? Something like — “I need 200 dishes to be shot for my site”, “Your charge is $700 for one day? No, it’s huge, I don’t have such a budget.” And then you need to explain that unlike in a product photography, in the food photography, you will probably cover six to ten dishes in one day, yes only this much.

So dear food entrepreneurs, I decide to give a bit of clarity for you on how the photo shoot happens. I will not tell you how commercial photo shoot for international brands works, as different budgets and a different number of people are involved. But instead, I’ll just share how we work in our studio.

Step 1. Brief

Let’s start from the client’s call. Once we receive the call and discuss details, we usually ask a few questions like

  • Which cuisine are we going to deal with?
  • How many dishes we need to capture?
  • Who is going to style the food?
  • Who is cooking?
  • Are we shooting in the studio or on the location?
  • What is the core brand message you want to convey the customers?
  • We also ask to send us the list of the dishes. and the reference pictures to guide us better. We confirm if the client wants something specific along with those dishes (like some special props or garnishing).

Step 2. Estimate. Advance. Planning

When we get our answers, references, and other details, we provide clients with an estimated cost of the shoot based on days, a number of people and efforts involved.

Many people believe that shooting is about two days of work and then it sounds too expensive. Well, it’s not even close to it. The one day of the photo shoot is usually followed by a week or more of postproduction. And also, count the few days of preparation in advance.

So when the estimate is approved, we start collecting the props and drawing the drafts which we finalize with the client later. By this time, the client provides us a 50% advance. Once ideas are finalized, we all meet in a studio or on the location.

Step3. The Photoshoot

The shoot usually starts early in the morning. If we shoot with the natural light then we have about five hours of shooting hours. It means we have to be fast, and the client has to be very organized and provide the dishes on time. If we shoot with artificial light, we need a lot of space (that means if we shoot in the restaurant, you may not serve that day, if the place is small).

The little trick clients like to use is to ask for one dish in two different setups. Well if you have one dish in two setups, it will be calculated as two dishes (because each setup takes independent time on the dish).

The more elements decided before the day of a photo shoot, the better. The less time will be wasted. Any changes in the plan during a shoot will eat time and add to the cost.

The shooting time starts when the photographer starts from his location. It means that the time of traveling and transportation must be estimated in those shooting hours. After arrival, the crew starts unpacking and setting up lights according to the plan. It normally takes about an hour. After the photo shoot, the crew collects the lights and packs them. That means if the location is not ready before the arrival of photographer and his team, you already pay for his time. (Remember this rule, it can save you a lot of money. Shooting in the photographers’ studio also saves your time).

Step4. The post processing and final payment.

So, the shooting is over. Client goes home and waits for about seven-ten days. I often meet the clients who call you next day and request images on ASAP basis. Well, I never give unprocessed images, because I’m a professional (So if you want images directly from the camera on the very same day, well, you can save a lot by shooting yourself. If you want professional results — please wait!).

What do we do all this time? We open RAW files in a software like Lightroom and start choosing the best images (best composition, sharpness, light, freshness). It may take one to two days. All images are studied in a proportion of 1:1. Then we process the images, make all the technical adjustments in several editing programs. It takes another four-six days. In about eight days, we will send you the watermarked images for approval. The moment the images are approved and we get remaining 50% of the payment, we share high-resolution images with the client. (Via FTP or CD).

In conclusion.

As you see, it’s not just about clicking a few pics, it’s quite a process. That’s why I think clients need to learn basic photography, at least, to make good pictures for the social media. Or to know how to brief the photographer and achieve the best results during a professional photo shoot.

P.S. If you like to learn more about photography which also works for the brand, please subscribe and receive newest studies from Eve’s photo School.

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Planning the food photography photo shoot

It’s an interesting fact when I plan the photo shoot in my studio, approve drafts with clients, decide the setup in advance, collect the props – the entire photography process goes fast and the results are usually impressive. The moment client says we will decide during the shoot, I can add 3-4 hours extra. The reading of “Planning the food photography photo shoot” is advised for clients, so for photographers. So, let us take a look at how to avoid these extra hours, just by making a plan!

Make yourself a Q&A session. Take the pen and paper. Here are some questions to answer:

Who will see these pictures?
Describe your target audience, the people who need to be caught by the visuals, while others may not notice it. The more accurate explanation you find, the better result you will get.

What do I wish to get from the viewers?
Do they have to buy your product or they have to be inspired by the illustration of the recipe and cook? This final goal may dictate the treatment of the composition: close-up, empty space, colors, etc.

What emotion will they feel?
A good photograph always brings forward some emotions. In case of food photography, it can be hunger, desire, passion, inspiration, love, and you name it. So what emotion you need to arise to reach the goal mentioned in the previous question?

Where are you going to use these pictures?
Social media requirements are a lot lighter than the magazine advertisement. Also for the online usage, you need more pictures than for the print. In other words, how are people going to experience your photographs? Would it be a timeline in some popular SM? Nice glossy page of the expensive magazine or a book? Maybe it will happen on some food site where other pictures will compete with it or it’s a big advertisement in a shop? Maybe it’s a giant screen in a cinema hall? The way how viewers experience the picture may give some ideas for the shoot treatment.


Come with the idea!

The answers to the preceding question probably inspired you with some sort of idea. Does not really matter if it’s still raw, note it down. Actually, write down all the ideas which just came in your mind. You may like to brainstorm it with your colleagues. You may like to discuss it with your photographer. Polish it, come with several really good thought on how to move forward. By the way, if you need some inspiration on how to get better ideas, check this out. Once finished, proceed towards the next questions.

How many products or dishes you want to shoot? 
A Food photographer can finish from 6 to 10 setups in one day, if we talk about serious professionals. Probably you do not need to shoot all dishes in a complex setup. I’m asking because startups often want to shoot 300 dishes for the site or more. You may create 6 extraordinary images to highlight the theme and the values of your brand. But all other pictures you can create with a simple setup, say on a white background. It will save time and money. Draw a list of the dishes in which you decide what is requires a primary attention while the other secondary.

Who will cook and style the dishes? Do you need props or prop hunter? Which props will reflect the idea? Do you need the models and make-up artist for them? 
If you need extra specialists, you need to think about it in advance. They need to be paid and the cost of the photo shoot doesn’t cover their services (project cost maybe different, than the cost of the simple shoot). They are required to sync their time schedule, as well. Excellent news – a photographer usually knows such specialist and can advise someone.

Once we have an idea, the list of the dishes and experts. We have to decide a location. The place for work has to match the technical requirements, mood, and need. For example, if we shoot with artificial light, we need a lot of space just to place the equipment around the table and no people around (it’s not safe for clients to jump over the wires). If we shoot with natural light, then we need to have enough big windows and good weather on the day of shooting. Whatever you choose, get the maximum from the location, so if you shoot in the restaurant, incorporate the interiors and some branding elements such as napkins with logo or so.

And here is the final stage – you find your idea, you know exactly what to shoot, and where. Start making drafts. You do not have to be an artist to make drafts. But you need to realize the way how the light falls on a dish. Your draft will include basic composition, props ideas, and basic lighting vision. These drawings will help in saving a lot of time and making the shoot organized. It’s really important that both the client and the photographer agreed upon these drawings. Ideally, a photographer is supposed to create the drawings, but if client draws the drafts – it’s also good.