Today’s post is for those of you who are just starting to get food photography jobs for clients, have been doing your own food styling, and are wondering when it’s time to hire a food stylist.
Shooting food for clients is very different from doing sponsored blog posts for food blogs. With sponsored posts, it’s assumed that the blogger is doing recipe development, doing the photography, and doing the prop and food styling. Many of the bigger bloggers have a team to help them do all this, but in the beginning you are doing it all.
When To Hire A Food Stylist
Food companies, magazines, ad agencies, design firms, and larger restaurant chains will expect the food photographer to be working with a food stylist, and many times a prop stylist as well. Usually these types of jobs have several shots that need to be done in one day making it not possible for the photographer to also be doing the food styling.
Here is a list of the most common types of photo shoots where it is expected for you to be working with a food stylist:
- advertising work that shows in magazines, any type of collateral material (flyers, pamphlets, etc), direct mail advertising – all this is called print advertising
- catalog work
- images that will be on television
- images to be shown on billboards
- shoots for magazines
- food packaging
- bigger restaurant – menus and their websites
- high end grocery store images that they use in their stores, online, and in the mail
- and of course, any type of fast food work
I was actually the first food photographer that Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt hired to do advertising work for them way back when they only had 7 stores. These shots look simple and easy but they are extremely difficult to do. We had one main food stylist, and usually an assistant on every job.
As I mentioned in my previous post about food stylists, I will never call myself a food stylist, and I do not offer food styling services to my clients. I always tell them I work with food stylists. Even with the small jobs, I work with at least a food stylist and many times a prop stylist as well.
Jobs where you can do the food styling, if you want to:
There are three types of jobs where you can get away with not hiring a food stylist. There are probably more, but these come to mind first.
RESTAURANTS: First would be small restaurants. These types of jobs will involve working with the restaurant’s chef. Sometimes the chefs are familiar with plating food for the camera. These jobs end up being very fun.
Above is an image I took at a restaurant in Los Angeles and that’s the chef’s hand placing the little lettuce on top of the lobster. Yes, I ate that after we shot it 🙂
Many times the chef’s love it when you involve them, and with their help, the shooting can go a lot faster. It’s great when they take pride in their food.
Now, I have to mention here that sometimes the chef is not really on board with the photo shoot because the person hiring you either didn’t tell them about you coming in, or told them last minute so they are unprepared and furious. This has happened to me many times.
The shots above are also from a Los Angeles restaurant. The “chef” knew I was coming in, and just didn’t care one bit (his attitude was so horrible, I don’t want to offend the amazing chefs I know by calling him the same thing). He threw out all the food at the same time, even when I asked him not to do that. That means as I’m working on one dish, the others are wilting, getting soggy, or just looking old.
He lit a cigarette (illegal in LA), sat in a corner booth, and just watched me struggle with his food.
I had to literally rebuild every burger (there were 5 total that day), plus 5 other dishes, and I had to rush to get these done before the dinner rush started. By rebuilding, I mean take everything apart and start from the bottom up, and place each food item onto the burger one layer at a time, get extra sauce, and place it on the food nicely, clean up what the “chef” did, dig out the bread in the top bun (called the crown) so that it would sit nicely on the burger. You get the idea. I kept asking him to get me items I needed, like fresh pickles, fresh lettuce, etc. It was a horrible day for me and very stressful.
If you shoot restaurants, you will encounter this eventually, so just a heads up with that. Now, what I do is I will not shoot for the restaurant unless I get to talk to the chef and verify that they will work with me, or will have one of their crew work with me.
SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGNS: The other type of job where it could be ok if you style the food just started with the whole social media advertising thing.
I get calls all the time for low budget projects where there just isn’t room in the budget to hire a food stylist. Many times an ad agency will be calling for this and they might even offer to help with the food styling.
This would be for a client, a brand, who wants to do a series of images for instagram or Facebook. I don’t take this kind of work if there isn’t enough money for a food stylist. However, if you are just starting out, it could be a great way to get this type of advertising work and to get your name associated with big brand names. Not to mention getting your foot in the door with ad agencies.
BAKERY CLIENTS: I have done a few jobs where the product was a baked good that really looked good from the client. The image to the left was with a company that only made macarons. They also didn’t want a prop stylist and brought in all their own props (hence the doily – not my idea).
This shoot was literally me and the client at my studio. We only did 4 shots in a few hours. We shot tethered (you can see every image as you shoot because it shows up on your computer). You have got to shoot tethered when working with clients. By the time she was leaving, I had the files uploaded to Dropbox and had emailed her the download link. She came with a check in hand for payment – my requirement for such jobs.
How To Hire A Food Stylist
I teach food photography in the Food Photography Club. Many of my members are food bloggers, and they tell me they just can’t imagine working with a food stylist because they’ve always done their own food.
Here’s the thing, IT CAN BE SO FUN! I want you to look at this as a super fun collaboration where the two of you create something that each of you couldn’t do when working alone.
If you have never worked with a food stylist, but you want to get more work as a food photographer, you will need to become comfortable with this idea. So I want you to start doing what we call testing. Testing is where you get together with your food stylist and shoot for yourselves. You come up with some ideas in advance, plan out who is responsible for bringing what, and get together and shoot. It’s so fun!
So, that’s the first thing. Learn how to work with someone else before you get a job where you have to. To the right is my friend and food stylist Alise, poking at her white cake that we shot as a test.
To find stylists in your area, google it. You’d be surprised who you might find. Call them up or email them and ask them if they would like to test with you. Now, a few things here, if they are a major A-list food stylist, they won’t have time to test with you, so look at their work first. Do some research. You could ask them to test with their assistants.
Now that you have found some food stylists, and are going to test with them, talk with them. Ask them what their rates are for doing specific types of jobs. Ask them what they love to style, ask them what they hate to style. You can learn a lot from them and build a great relationship.
Prices vary for what stylists charge for jobs around the world. In Los Angeles, for a low budget job, the client might only be willing to pay $350 for the stylist. Many seasoned stylists won’t work for that, but the ones just starting out might.
Usually for editorial (magazine work), the rates are around $500-$850/day plus expenses and food, and this is for a 10 hour day.
For advertising their rates can go up to $1200/day + expenses and food that they will need.
So there you have it – when to work with a food stylist and how to hire one.
Have you heard about the Food Photography Club yet? I teach people how to take pictures of food and the business of it, with video content, live webinars and a private forum community. Our next launch won’t be till end of Summer, or early Fall so make sure to get on the wait list for updates.
For more information about food photography, please see my food photography ebooks.
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