Updated: Aug 28
What I've learned so far about photographing restaurants
This is a post that shares how I started working with restaurants, and restaurant photography tips that will help your photo shoots hopefully be much more efficient.
Origin Story on how I got into restaurant photography
Right before the world shut down, in 2019, my partner and I were both working in the hospitality industry. I was mostly photographing family & newborn portraits at the time as my extra side hustle, trying to transition into a full-time business. But I was in a saturated market, so there was a lot of competition and I wasn’t completely loving the hustle and type of photography I was shooting. I started to bring my camera to the restaurants I or my partner worked at to see if I generate some social media content.
As I grew more interested in food photography, from taking pictures of burgers that I ate at my partner’s restaurant to capturing Georgia peaches my mother-in-law brought over on my large kitchen table, I tried to capture all things food.
And then the world ended. Our restaurant jobs immediately paused. And I was excited to get a week off from work…
After about six months of traveling, tennis, picnics, sleeping in late, and a lot of alcohol, I somehow missed my hospitality people and wondered how I could help them during this trying time when no one was making money. I decided I wanted to help restaurants, while also improving my photography skills and portfolio simultaneously by offering a one free hour photo shoot that included the edited images.
How To Approach Restaurants for Food Photography
I decided to just reach out to restaurants I thought I could help with my skills by either email or social media. I used any email I could find, sent to all the"info@'s" and even filled out the occasional online comment form. I had a decent spiel for the client with the free one-hour photo shoot and had a really good response from this. Business owners really appreciated this. Some of the clients I worked with in 2020 are still clients I have to this day.
I still recommend this tactic to new and upcoming food photographers looking for more clients and experience. This allows you the opportunity to build upon your relationship with a possible return client and future retainer. I worked with a lot of restaurant owners and eventually created a decent portfolio to share with future clients I could reach out to for paid restaurant shoots.
During this time, I was enjoying just working as a photographer full time and it felt great. I was finally working for myself and making enough to get fueled enough to keep going and reaching and learning. Always learning. And loving what I was doing. My subjects didn't scream, cry, or try to crawl away. I had a new challenge; to keep dishes from melting, drying out, or perspiring too much.
Find out what type of restaurant client you're working with
I learn by experience and what I've experienced by working with restaurant clients is that no two restaurants are the same. Some clients don't care too much about capturing just the food and what they serve, some want more lifestyle elements and people laughing and having fun in the photos. Some restaurants only want food and to be shot in a very particular way. It's up to you as their photographer to guide them through expectations and what you offer vs. what their vision is. This is obviously best-done way before the day of the photo shoot.
Work on finding out what the client wants, if you're working with the owner themselves, they don't always know how to articulate what they want. I always suggest working on a mood board together, pictures and visuals are a great way to describe what words can't. Another way to get a more visual understanding of what the client wants is by getting a list of Instagram accounts they find influential to them that match their vision. Remember, communication is key with the client, and with restaurant clients, sometimes it can be chaotic in terms of contact or getting everything scheduled. Be ready to pivot.
Just like with any type of photographer, there are so many genres of food photography. I will not tell you what type of pay structure you should do because quite frankly, I’m not there yet. Not sure myself. I like working hourly and offering half-day and full-day options for photo shoots. I think that works for me and my clientele very well. I never actually
have clients choose my hourly option anymore, I usually book half-day or full-day shoots these days. I am able to charge a high enough and livable rate and still be able to work with my ideal clientele in my pricing structure. For a lot, this business model does not work with people and I can understand why completely. It’s not for most.
Not only do I offer half and full-day photo shoots, but I also offer quarterly and retainer pricing that be beneficial for hotel or other hospitality-type clients or clients that change their menus seasonally.
Who to reach out to?
When just starting out, I thought about who actually hires the photographer for these kinds of photo shoots. As I stated earlier, I emailed everyone I wanted to work with, finding whatever email associated me with that restaurant or brand. I was no stranger to comment forms and in fact, have had several leads through comment forms, so don't knock 'em till you try them.
Try reaching out to restaurant groups, or companies who own multiple restaurants and similar concepts. It's an easy Google search for your city's restaurant groups.
Another way, outside of working directly with the restaurant or chef, would be to look up your local PR agencies and email them looking for work.
Remember that the people you meet now could be someone important later, so try only to make and create positive connections in this industry; it's a smaller world than you'd think and everyone is connected.