Food photographers often shoot in their own studio, but depending on the clientele, there are many cases when it is necessary to work at a hotel, restaurant, venue or larger production studio. For someone, who does not do this often, working on location can be an experience out of their comfort zone that brings lot of anxiety to the pre-production phase.
In this episode of the 'Let's Talk About...' blog post series you will get your questions answered about multiple aspects of photography on location - including getting ready for the first gig outside your studio, packing and shipping your gear, and working with models.
If you are interested in learning more about camera angles, manual settings on your camera, composition, food styling tricks and tips, or even business practices you can check the previous episodes of this popular blog series by clicking here.
Buy a One-way Ticket out of your comfort zone
We all love to work in our home studio or rented space where the complete collection of our gear and props are available, but sooner or later a project finds us that require travel to a specific location and work right there - far away from our comfort zone.
While you are celebrating of getting booked for a new and exciting project on location, you might experience anxiety as well when this happens for the first time. Do not worry though, you will be able to figure it out and take back control via efficient communication, transparency on your workflow, by and adopting professional practices.
Before I've been through this for the first time, I was shooting exclusively in my home studio. You can imagine.... I was nervous as hell, but I tried to get prepared in advance. If you find yourself in the same situation, this is what worked well for me back then:
- talk to photographers who mostly work on location (e.g. hotel, restaurant and event photographers)
- consult with your mentor(s)
- create your very own gear packing checklist - we will talk about this one soon, in more detail
- do a test shoot, using the gear you are planning to bring with you.
By doing these I was able to approach a new situation with confidence and negotiate without shaking like a leaf. I also prepared myself mentally to leave enough room for experiments, unexpected scenarios and ad-hoc decision making. At the end, all went well! After the shoot, I recommend reflecting and learning from any ups and downs in addition to listening to your client's feedback. This way you will be provide an even better service next time you will collaborate again, and improve your processes to attract future clients.
When it comes to on-location work, the next level is travelling longer distances / abroad for a photoshoot.
If you go by car, that will be more convenient, but if you need to book a flight, you will find yourself juggling with two things:
- protecting your gear from damages during air travel, and
- keeping things within the weight & size thresholds of different airlines.
I probably do not have to mention that a sturdy bag that keep your expensive equipment free from damages are not gonna come from the most lightweight range neither gonna be the cheapest. It must endure all the tossing and rolling the ground handling staff at the airport, so they are somewhat heavy, which leaves you even more limited room to bring what you need on set. This is why you must plan what scenarios you must cover on set and pack sensibly.
It also puts both your and the client' mind at ease if you scout rental opportunities at the location, so no matter what happens to your gear and backups, you can still do the job. I highly recommend getting yourself additional insurances to cover travel, gear, accidents, liability etc. in case these are not included in your general business insurance policies.
THINGS TO CONSIDER IN ORDER TO A SMOOTH COLLABORATION
- outline how many and what type of dishes will be captured - establish realistic expectations in advance by stating what's possible within the agreed time-frame
- learn more about the dishes by consulting to the restaurant or directly to the chef(s)
- if you need to shoot in the kitchen, request the part to be shown on the photos to be cleaned from any excess items, packaging or clutter
- discuss if the client prefers to see the person who is handling the food in gloves on the image or without
- check if can they provide cable extensions or you need to bring these
- agree on who will do the food styling - and if it is the chef(s) make sure you or your food stylist apply finishing touches like adding micro-greens, pouring sauce, dripping oil, add sprinkles in front of the camera when the plate is not moving anymore
- be ready to delegate, set schedule and actively assign tasks to your collaborators - chefs, kitchen staff, food stylist, models etc.
TIPS TO FEEL BALANCED ON-SET
- Make sure to be transparent about how many hours you will be available to shoot each day
- Agree on your breaks, meals etc.
- If you do everything on location, make sure to divide time sensibly between shoots and post-processing
- Have a water bottle with you at all time, and remember to drink regularly to avoid dehydration, fatigue & headaches
- If you shoot outdoors on a sunny day, do not forget to apply sunscreen or if the weather is cold, put on multiple layers.
- Protect your gear against challenging weather conditions, be prepared if it suddenly starts raining/snowing.
- Wear a vest with handy pockets or a waist-bag with compartments to hold extra batteries, lens caps and other handy gear or items you need during the shoot, my camera backpack for example has a removable part that can be used as a belt designed for photographers.
- Choose comfy clothes and shoes, and consider that you might have to kneel, sit or lay down to the floor/ground in order to capture the best results.
- When you need to hold static poses, squat or lay down for longer time, remember to hold a good posture and stand up carefully to avoid injuries
Exercise: create your own Gear packing checklist
During this exercise I would like to focus on what gear YOU own instead of listing stuff to buy. While creating a gear packing checklist, at the same time you will do an inventory of your gear - this will give you more clarity at a glance as your studio grows.
1. Decide whether you would like to have a digital or printable checklist, then choose your platform accordingly
2. List all of your gear
3. Assign a category to each item, for example
- Tripod, stand
- You can also add job-specific fields and space for notes
4. I like to include 2 checkboxes:
- one for packing, so nothing is missing from set
- and another for wrapping-up on location so I do not leave anything behind
5. If you buy something new or replace an old gear, make sure to update this list at the same time! This way your list will always reflect to your actual collection of items.
When you are going to shoot on location, duplicate your digital list / print out your template, and mark the items as you pack for the job.
I invited a professional creator and educator friend who has vast experience in capturing hotels, restaurants and food around the globe. Welcome, Viktor Kery on board!
Who are you and what is your photography specialty?
I'm Viktor Kery, and I specialise in hotel photography. My areas of expertise include capturing architectural details, interior spaces, food and beverage, and lifestyle shots.
What surveying questions do we need to ask the client in order to have a detailed brief for on-location work?
The surveying questions will vary depending on the specific project. Typically, we ask about the number of dishes, the preferred time of the day to capture the restaurant (to assess busy periods), whether the client wants lifestyle or interior shots, and any other specific requirements unique to the project. Each project has its own distinct needs and objectives.
Are there any suggestions or instructions you share with your clients to ensure the success of on-location work?
Communication is key for a successful on-location shoot. I recommend discussing the desired atmosphere, mood, and aesthetic with the client beforehand. Planning and coordination are crucial, especially when capturing interior or exterior shots. It's important to ensure that the space is staged and free of uninvolved individuals to create visually appealing images. Open dialogue and understanding between the client and photographer contribute to a fruitful collaboration.
What type of gear do you use for on-location work?
For interior and architectural photography, I primarily use 17mm and 24mm tilt-shift lenses with strobes. When shooting food, drinks, and lifestyle, I typically rely on my 70-200mm and 24-70mm zoom lenses. These lenses provide versatility and easy interchangeability on the go. On-location shoots usually involve limited time and space compared to studio setups. Therefore, I work with 1 or a maximum of 2 lights. This setup allows for agility and flexibility while maintaining high-quality results.
What is your practical advice on packing for on-location work?
When travelling to a location, it's essential to pack as lightly as possible, particularly when flying. I typically carry my tilt-shift and zoom lenses, 1-2 camera bodies with spare batteries, chargers, camranger, tablet, laptop, power bank, tripod, 1 light stand, and 1 softbox. To protect my equipment, I pack them in a peli case that fits within the weight restrictions (usually 32kg, which can be challenging). If the location is accessible by car, I prefer driving to accommodate additional light modifiers and backup equipment. Always have a backup plan and be prepared to troubleshoot any equipment malfunctions. Research local camera stores in advance for potential rental options if needed.
How do you approach situations when you need to fulfil additional requests, such as capturing the interior/exterior of the location?
Capturing interior or exterior shots requires dedicated time and planning. When facing additional requests, such as photographing the restaurant's interior, it's important to clarify that it is a time-consuming task and should be arranged separately. Typically, restaurant interiors are photographed during closed hours or when it is quiet to ensure optimal staging and visual appeal. However, it is crucial to maximise customer satisfaction and maintain a good relationship by offering alternative suggestions, such as capturing specific areas of the interior or close-ups of the counter. Flexibility and understanding between the photographer and client are essential in such situations.
What is your best practice for working with models and capturing staff members?
When working with models, thorough planning and sharing the desired look, atmosphere, and visual moodboard is crucial. This helps the models prepare and adapt their expressions and actions accordingly. When children or animals are involved, it's important to go with the flow and keep them engaged either through their parents or with treats. When capturing staff members in their work environment, it is essential to choose individuals who feel comfortable in front of the camera and can appear natural. Building trust and rapport with the subjects helps create authentic and engaging photographs.