We often discuss the price of their services with their clients based on different project briefs, but how much investment is required from us photographers to be able to take professional food photos?
In this episode of the 'Let's Talk About...' blog post series, we will specify the total cost of taking a professional food photo from the photographer's perspective, and look into the different types of financial contributions that our images require.
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.
When looking beyond skills, style and knowledge, you will learn that other important elements are also required for an exceptional visual result.
It is not too easy to put a price tag on someone's level of talent, but it is very simple, to sum up the total cost of the required props, ingredients and gear to realise, how much value these items are providing to your business. We re-use most of our props and gear, so we not necessarily need to bus a new set of everything for each photoshoot, but of course, every single prop, backdrop and technical item were smaller or bigger investments at some point.
If you never broke down how much is the total value of your props & gears, and you have never seen these costs in detail before, the real figures you are about to see from me and from my professional guest, Wiktoria, will be quite surprising, or even shocking! :D
Props & Ingredients
Every food photographer & stylist owns an ever-expanding prop collection, so when the time comes to get creative with the styling for the next photoshoot, the creator can gather the backdrops, plates, cutlery, serving dishes, glasses, napkins, plants and other decorative items that will create the desired mood and atmosphere for their images.
As your collection grows , not only the sum of investment of props gets bigger by the time, but the value that your uniquely curated prop collection provides your projects keeps increasing as well.
- Have you ever looked at a food photograph to see the total cost of the featured props and ingredients?
You can realise how many things are needed for a beautiful scene just by looking at a photograph, but to help you understanding the financial aspect too, I created a visual example where you can see the cost of every single item on a picture.
In this case the backdrop I used was made out of scrap wood so it was technically free (even though its present value is way higher now), but in case you use custom made or printed backdrops, that can highly increase or even double total prop & ingredient cost. I usually design and make my own backdrops and also some of my props. By this, I save an insane amount of money: the lowest price for a single-sided printed backdrop starts around €30 and wooden surfaces starts from €150-200 (custom orders are even more pricy).
Making these surfaces "only" costs me the materials, my creativity and my time, but the unique style and value they provide to my projects is very high, as there will be no other surfaces that look the same.
Depends on your style and the project brief, the scenes in front of your lens can be more complex but can also end up being super simplistic with only one hero + the backdrop without any props. It is also important to highlight, that shooting either commercial or editorial work does not really affect how much props you will need, these can end up at any end of the complexity-spectrum.
One of the most significant investment for us photographers is the cost of get properly geared up, but -together with the prop cost- it often gets forgotten. We hear it often that it is not the camera that makes great pictures, and of course the creative vision and the unique style of the photographer is the most important factor in the creation process, and there are many who are creating with their phone only or a using simple camera. But we cannot ignore the fact that certain gear -together with the knowledge on how to use them properly- truly enables more advanced work and provide us with better results.
If you are just trying your wings as a photographer, my advice for you is the same as to my students: start out with your available gear, even if it is an entry level camera, older computer, or a bedsheet as a diffuser. By the time, I guarantee, that you will run into situations when your available gear will stop you from trying a new technique, make it impossible to execute your vision, or slow down your process. Then, you won't need to search for answers, as by the experience of these limitations you will be confident in what specs your future gear needs to help you overcome these challenges. Get to know your needs by experience and base your future investments on this knowledge, instead of following trends or giving in for peer-pressure.
You should consider update your gear or buy an additional one only in case there is a good return of investment. For example, if the new gear will make your workflow more effective, give you better results, save you time/speed things up, highly reduce the need for re-shooting or enables your business to get more profitable then it's a smart thing to consider that update or purchase.
This is how the collection of your gear, the type of equipment you own and certain updates will translate into value for both you and your clients.
Naturally, when I started doing photography, the total gear investment behind each photo was less than half of the figure you can see below (and this total is not even considering all the gear I own, just strictly what I used for this photo).
During the many shooting hours over the past years, I got a clear picture of how I needed to expand and improve the list of my tools, so I was able to invest wisely into the necessary items. In case you are interested, here is the ever-renewing list of my gear.
Exercise: Create Your Own Prop & Gear Inventory
We are normally buying props and gear to use them for multiple projects, but it is a good thing to keep an inventory of then so you always have a clear picture on what you own and how much investment these required.
Basic steps to create your own Prop & Gear Inventory:
- Pick a software or app where you will set up your inventory, for example: Excel, Notion, ClickUp, Trello etc.
- Create columns with basic information about your items: name, main category (prop, gear etc.), purchase value
- You can add more advanced fields such as: subcategory (backdrop, plate, camera, lens etc.) inventory number, photo, date of purchase, warranty info, product link (easy to reference and buy it again if needed)
- You can create different summary fields or statistics, for example to see the total value of your entire prop collection and per category/subcategory or to see your investments per month/year.
Even if you set it up at the very beginning or later when you are in business for a couple of years, it is never too early or too late to start an inventory - starting it later is just a bit of a hassle since you need to go through all the items. Make sure to keep this list up to date, and refresh every time you bring home new props, add more tools or update your gear.
I invited a professional photographer friend to uncover more about what it costs to take a professional food photo. Welcome, Wiktoria Gralka on board!
Who are you and what is your photography specialty?
I'm Wiktoria and I'm a professional food/product photographer & stylist from Poland, living in South Tirol (Italy). Before I focused my career on photography I used to work in a restaurant as a chef.
I am passionate about aesthetic, color harmonies, storytelling and the magic of light.
I like to try on different styles when I shoot food. But I am always focused on capturing the details which human eyes might not see so clearly.
How can brands benefit from working together with a professional food and product photographer?
I am in this business a while now and I still can see brands have hard time choosing professional services for their advertisement.
There is also huge misunderstanding between influencers and photographers. I often get a response from brands “ we are currently not searching for influencers” However what they are not getting is the fact we deliver completely different content and the value behind our work.
In my opinion brands who want to appear professional and worthy in front of their customers have to invest in high quality content which not always influencers or their friends can provide considering the costs of props and gear.
How to build a unique prop and gear collection
This one is a tricky one, when I started building my collection I used to make a ton of mistakes. Now I can definitely say I got smarter with that and I only buy things I know for sure I am going to use.
Here are a few things you should consider while building your prop collection:
- Buy plates, bowls and other props which mix & match well. Just think about building up a big table scene but you have 2 white plates, 3 pink ones and 1 blue one. There is no way that combination will look cohesive! Also don’t buy randomly one pink plate, go for 3 instead. This way you can be sure you will be able to build up your composition easily.
- Your prop collection should be versatile and fit your own style. If you are still not sure what is your style go with the safe choices like grey & white plates. They always work together.
- Props should never be the first thing the viewer is seeing (unless the viewer is photographer or stylist 😂) They should not be distracting and overpowering!
- Go for textured props & various sizes ! Camera loves it and texture adds dimension and interest to your photos! Different sizes of props will allow you to create more captivating frames.
Regarding gear collection there is not much room to make a mistake when you do your research! Good quality camera & lenses, artificial light if you are using one and a few soft boxes will do the job.
My favourite lenses:
- 100mm Macro Lens
- Nifty fifty
My favourite soft boxes:
- Large octagon soft box
Do you consider the use of your existing prop collection and gear when pricing a project? How do these costs appear in your estimate?
Of course I do, however I am not calculating it for each single project having in my mind what exact props I will use. I know in overall how much money I’ve invested so far into my business and my prices are reflecting that. I always try to explain my clients the reason for my prices and in 99,9% of the times they understand it. You have to be open and confident about the value you are providing for them.
How do you deal with the situation when your own prop collection is missing a required item, so you need to buy new props for a project?
Well, here the situation looks different. If client comes to me with a specific backdrop or plate I should buy providing me even with a link where I can order it, I add the costs of that separately to the invoice.
Another thing worth covering is costs of food, fresh flowers or anything you would normally not have in you studio to make things happen. It is very important to include that additionally because If you calculate everything together you might come to a conclusion, you just worked for free because the costs of the food were the same as the pricing for the project.
If you expand your prop and gear collection, does it affect your pricing?
I have simple solution for you when to rise your prices! When most of the clients are agreeing to your current prices that means you are pricing yourself too low and you need to change them.
There is so much that goes into consideration when pricing your services and its never easy but it all comes to how good is your work and how confident you are selling it.