Behind The Lens: How to Start a Food Photography Portfolio Part 1

Preparing for a food shoot is a task I do not take lightly.
I make a minimum of two lists. Sometimes even 3 or 4. To guarantee that I bring the right equipment, don't forget any of the essentials, and always have a back up for a back up. You can never be too cautious. If ever there's an issue, you don't want your clients watching you scramble for a solution.
Part of changing the look of the blog was to share some tips I've picked up from working as a freelance photographer this past year. I am not an expert, nor will I claim to be. But as I figure out the formula to success, I am eager to share what has worked and disillusioned me this past year in photography.
 From organizing TFP's (Trade for Print) to dealing with all kinds of setbacks before, during or after your session, I want to share with you, the triumphs and tribulations of a budding photographer's career.
Today I'd like to share a bit about starting a food photography portfolio. It's great to start with your food blog photos, or photographing the classy dishes you make at home. But I knew the only way I could begin to charge clients was to build a solid portfolio with reputable individuals or establishments. I began to look up popular restaurants in my area and discovered Honshu Lounge, a popular Japanese restaurant in downtown Jersey City. I emailed the manager and set up this shoot on a sunny Monday afternoon.
Questions to ask yourself before reaching out...
  • Do they have a website?
  • Do they have food photos on their site?
  • What kind of cuisine do they serve?
  • How big is the location?
  • When are their hours?
  • Do they have good natural lighting?
  • How long have they been around?
These are important questions to ask yourself so that you know you're not wasting your time. When is the best time to approach them, if you'd be able to shoot with natural lighting or have to haul in some artificial lights, and would they even want your photos to begin with? Chances are, takeout and fast food locations aren't interested in your food photography.
Reach out to the owner or manager through email first. If there is no email address on their site, call them during a more idle time for them, usually Monday through Wednesday 3-5PM. Make sure to leave your full name, cell number and best time to reach you along with a link to your portfolio. Make sure to mention they are able to use your photos on their site, as long as you are credited and allowed to use them in your port as well. Let it be clear that these photos are NOT to be used for commercial purposes on either party's behalf, as in, neither of you can sell the rights to the images for a profit.
Scope out your location before you shoot. You want to know where is the best spot to shoot, background, natural lighting, space for props and equipment, etc.

Make sure to shoot on a Monday or Tuesday. Wednesday is pushing it, but these tend to be the slowest days, you won't be disturbing their usual customer flow too much.
Some restaurants close between certain hours during lunch and dinner. This is an ideal time for shooting, since you will have the space and freedom to shoot comfortably, without getting in anyone's way.

For this shoot, I simply used my Canon 7D with the 28-135mm telephoto zoom lens and a 46" reflector that my assistant (Tim, the love of my life) held opposite from the window to bounce the natural light onto the darker side. When I photographed the interior and the sushi chefs at work, I used my 50mm 1.4 wide angle lens, to capture a wider shot and allow more light in. I also used my external flash, the Canon 430EX for additional light, equipped with a diffuser. 
Using these photographs as a foundation for booking other food shoots and working with private chefs helped tremendously. When you're working with quality ingredients prepared by a trained chef in a restaurant atmosphere the results are absolutely magical, compared to what the average cook can prepare at home.

This will really amp up your portfolio, bring some exposure your way, and give you the confidence to start booking your own food shoots.
The props in the images were from the restaurant, but I own a nice small set of my own props I've used in other shoots. I'll discuss how to build up your own collection in another post.

 If you don't have a  TFP contract (another topic I will be discussing in the near future), then not only is a handshake going to have to suffice, but saving your emails is highly recommended. Have proof of what you both agreed on in writing so there aren't any surprises or broken promises.
In part 2 of this topic, we will discuss what to bring to this sort of shoot. Whether you are using natural or artificial lighting, your props or in house items, down to shooting gear and memory cards.

20 comments:

  1. Lovely photographs and good ideas. Thanks for the information!

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    1. Thanks Maureen! And you're very welcome =]

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  2. Amazing images Kym and fantastic informative post. Thank you for sharing and I have to say welcome back to blogging!

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    1. Thanks Sandra! It's great to be back. I'm so glad you feel it was informative. I love to share what I've learned so far, I feel it's time to give back ;)

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  3. Beautiful Shots Kym, I especially like the caviar one..That's a lot of good info and thank you.

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    1. Thank you Asha! And the caviar dish was slightly reminiscent of foie gras. Everything was amazing, flavor, service and presentation. Thanks for stopping by! =]

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  4. Wow Kym....your photography is just stunning! Such clarity and definition to your work. Thanks for sharing this post...I'm happy to soak up any info I can get on food styling and photography!

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    1. I'm so flattered by your comment Anne, thank you!I'm happy to share what I've learned so far. I'm looking forward to sharing much more in the near future. So glad you stopped by ;)

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  5. Your photography is gorgeous! I love how it's all about the food. Thanks for this great information!

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    1. Thanks so much! Although I enjoy working with food props and styling my photos, when a dish is this intricately plated and presented, it really doesn't need much else. Sometimes simplicity is key =]

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  6. This has been helpful! Trying to build a general photo portfolio right now but I love love taking pictures of food.

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    1. I'm so glad to be of some assistance! Thanks for stopping by! I look forward to sharing more food photography tips on the blog. If you ever have any questions or have a suggestion for a topic, please do not hesitate to ask! =]
      kymfajardophotography{at}gmail{dot}com

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  7. i wish i knew how to take pictures like this....sigh, i wish i were just adequate...

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    1. You can be! No one is born knowing all of the answers. Even the greatest artists that ever lived all began from the bottom, knowing nothing. I went from taking blurry photos to thankfully landing gigs in less than a year. If you have passion, are dedicated and willing to mess up a lot but learn from your mistakes and allow others to teach you, there is nothing that can hold you back ;) If you ever have any questions or topic suggestions, please do not hesitate to reach out =]
      kymfajardophotography{at}gmail{dot}com.

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  8. This kind of photography is what I aspire to. Slow goings, and not a lot of money for equipment, but I'm trying to make the best of what I have!

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    1. Hi Ashley! I'm super flattered by your comment, thank you! And even with a small budget and a slow start, you can still reach your goals when it comes to photography. I studied a lot of different food photographers to see their style, how it evolves, how they shoot, the angles, the lighting, the props, the backgrounds, the ingredients and would simply practice at home even if it was just shooting fruits. Challenge yourself, put yourself out there, and don't give up. Nothing can hold you back darling =]

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  9. The photos were attractively sumptuous and appealing to the eyes. The first thing you should put in your mind before engaging in food photography portfolio is the quality. Quality should be much superior to quantity, thus, in the event that you have an excessive amount of photographs with low quality it does make an impression of inconsistency. It's additionally significant that your portfolio just indicate the quality & style of work you can prepare reliably to manage your client’s expectations of your capacities.
    EdAlfaro.com

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  10. You obviously have a good eye. :-)

    P.S. My Culture magazine arrived. Thanks. ;-]

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Thanks for stopping by! Got a question, comment, recipe suggestion? I'd love to hear from you. =]