August 10, 2020

With modern mobile technology from focus to filters, anyone with a smartphone can take a decent food photo for their personal Instagram account. But there’s a lot more to professional food photography than just point and shoot!

Food photographers must be experts at many skills, like lighting composition, editing, communication, networking, and even cooking! If you’re thinking about an exciting career in food photography, here are some facts you should know before you get started.

What Does a Food Photographer Do?

They take pictures, right? While food photographers do spend a lot of their time zipping between shoot locations, there is more on their agendas than just snapping pics!

Food photographers are usually independent entrepreneurs. So it’s up to them to find clients that need their services. Clients could include independent restaurants or hotels, food manufacturers, magazines and newspapers, cookbook creators, digital marketers, and social media managers.

The photographer will have to dedicate a portion of their time to building their network and making connections to keep the flow of work coming. So good food photographers have to be comfortable putting themselves out there and selling their expertise.

Once they’ve been hired for a job, food photographers meet with clients to understand their aesthetic and learn how they envision their food. Chefs may plate their dishes in a way that makes sense for the guest, but doesn’t result in the best photo. So the photographer must find a way to honor the chef’s vision and create an appealing image.

Great food photography is a matter of detail and patience. Austin food photographer and former Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts instructor Melissa Skorpil says that she usually plans on getting only eight shots in eight hours!

Rhonda Adkins, Food Photographer & Online Culinary Arts graduate“One of my favorite [photos] is some lemonades…six glasses of lemonade sounds simple, but every time I tried to move a straw to line it up, the fruit would pop up. It took me 6 hours to get all that stuff lined up!”Rhonda Adkins, Food Photographer & Online Culinary Arts graduate

Photo of five glasses with different flavors of lemonade, Rhonda Adkins

Photo courtesy and copyright Rhonda Adkins Photography

After catching the images on camera, there’s still more to do. The photographer must spend time in their “digital darkroom,” tweaking the photos on the computer to make them perfect. But when it’s done, the result will be a mouth-watering image that shows off the food at its absolute best.

Who Is On the Food Photography Team?

While some food photographers are 100% independent, it’s also common to have a small team working on each photo shoot.

The food stylist is responsible for the aesthetics of the dish. At some shoots, they may even be cooking the food. There are all sorts of food styling tricks, from inserting dowels so food stands up straight to adding a false bottom to a soup bowl to elevate the veggies. One food stylist who shoots for a rice company actually places each individual grain with tweezers!

Some photo shoots won’t have a separate food stylist, so it will be up to the photographer to make the dish look just right. Photographers should know some food styling methods so they can step in.

Gazpacho in a white bowl with a blue background, Rhonda Adkins

Photo courtesy and copyright Rhonda Adkins Photography

Photographers may also bring one or two lighting assistants. These helpers will set up equipment and move it as the day progresses. They may also position and hold the reflector to bounce light around and prevent harsh shadows.

If the shoot is for a restaurant, the chef may also be there to help and add their input. Food photographers need to be great communicators, so they can both satisfy the chef’s vision and get the best photo.

How Can Culinary School Help You Become a Food Photographer?

Food photographer and Escoffier’s Online Culinary Arts program grad Rhonda Adkins found that being a better chef made her a better photographer.

As an Air Force veteran, Rhonda had traveled all over the world and sampled food from Africa to South America to Iceland. After she left the military, she began her own food blog. But her photography wasn’t cutting it. So her next step was to attend photography school.

After completing that program, she found that she needed some food styling expertise as well. So she decided to attend Escoffier’s online Culinary Arts program.

“In order to be a better food photographer, I needed to be a better chef. So I went to [Escoffier]. And now I kind of have the best of both worlds, and I understand the food a lot better which is making me a better photographer.”Rhonda Adkins, Food Photographer & Online Culinary Arts graduate

Online culinary school gave Rhonda the cooking knowledge she felt she was missing. It also provided plenty of photography practice, since online students take lots of food photos to share with their Chef Instructors.

As a food photographer in Montana where there aren’t many food stylists, Rhonda’s culinary knowledge helps her to stand out in the local foodie scene. She also feels that her culinary education has helped her to work better with chefs. She understands now what it takes to create each dish, and she’s able to “speak their language” of food.

How to Get Started as a Food Photographer

Before embarking on any fresh career path, it’s a good idea to give it a test run. Connect with a professional photographer and ask if you can shadow them on a few shoots. You could also join a local photography club to get some practice.

Once you’ve done some exploring and find that food photography is the career for you, it’s time to start your education. Food photographers know exactly how their cameras work, so they can try different techniques and troubleshoot faulty equipment. Photography school can teach students about cameras, lenses, lighting, shot composition, and more.

Spring Rolls, Rhonda Adkins

Photo courtesy and copyright Rhonda Adkins Photography

And finally, food photographers must know food. They need to understand how certain ingredients will hold up over time and what foods should be over or undercooked for the best photos. At Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, students will have the opportunity to learn about the science behind the food.

Considering a change in your culinary career or just getting started? Learn more about Escoffier’s on-campus or online culinary programs and take the first step toward a career as a food photographer.

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This article was originally published on November 15, 2015, and has since been updated.