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Do You Want to be a Food Photographer?

Do You Want to be a Food Photographer?

Opportunities exist if you are willing to invest in your future.

By Irena Chalmers

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“A food photographer tries to capture the essence of a pear, a head of garlic, a completed dish or the noisy vibrancy or hushed luxury inside a restaurant. Each person sees things differently and translates an impression into a unique style,” says famed food photographer James M. Scherzi. If you have dreams of following in his footsteps, his advice is to “pursue your passion.”

Getting Started
The best way to get started is to apprentice with a food photographer and recognize that it takes a particular skill to capture the image of food. Photographing food is not the same thing as photographing shoes or automobiles or a house on fire.

Check cookbooks and magazines to find a photographer whose work you admire and then find his website. Ask if you can become his apprentice, knowing that this can mean you will have to lug heavy cameras around or fetch lunch, but the experience will enable you to see what the job entails and give you an idea whether you can make a living at it.

It’s not an easy way to make a go these days, and the Internet has taken over, which means there are both more opportunities but fewer high-paying ones. Once you have honed your skill, you might be able to get a job with a stock photo company that feeds the ever-demanding maw that is the web.

The Money
A newspaper photographer might earn about $200 a day. Of course this will vary, depending on the circulation and the location of the publication. Magazine assignments are billed at a considerably higher rate and the fees for food advertisements are in an entirely different (and more profitable) league.

Bear in mind that overhead is very costly. As a freelancer you may be in a position to earn as much as $100,000 a year but have expenses of nearly that much! The cost of professional equipment can be as high as $25,000 and must constantly be updated. You must also be familiar with Photoshop, Illustrator, PageMaker or Quark, Word, Excel, File Maker Pro and be able to create and maintain your own website. This means you will need a state-of-the-art computer.

The Business of Photography
In addition to your artistry you need to be a good business person. If you are able to book two assignments a week, or about a hundred jobs a year, you’ll need to earn (net, not gross) at least $650 on each shooting day to make ends meet. Your expenses may very well include an assistant and a food and prop stylist. Props for the photo background can be rented and the client customarily pays for the food that is used in the shot. Even so you may need to rent additional equipment. You also must factor in your time reviewing the images on the computer, arranging them in files for the client, and discussing them with him or her.

As you see, a commission that can be billed to the client at $1,200 a day may seem like a hefty fee but there may not be much profit. There is also the never-ending task of finding more work, producing estimates and spending (nonbillable) time with the client.

What’s Positive about This Profession?
The much more positive side of the coin is that a skilled photographer can charge considerably more for his work and bill the client for expenses. An established photographer will work five days a week, particularly if he has a big project such as an entire cookbook, rather than a single image. He may also have several steady clients.

In addition, you will have opportunities to test your creativity, to meet and work with inspiring people, and to be your own boss.

Best of all, your photograph can be admired

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