Deciding how to price your food photography is challenging for many bloggers, but it's a key part of a successful blog monetization strategy. And key to pricing is knowing how to put together a food photography estimate. Blogger-turned-professional-photographer Darina Kopčok guides you through all the questions you need to consider in estimating a food photoshoot. 

How to Estimate A Food Photography Job | Food Bloggers of Canada

The most difficult aspect of photographing food professionally is pricing your work. The second most difficult aspect is estimating a food photography job. There’s no standard pricing for food photography. Different types of clients have different budgets. The general rule is the bigger the client, the bigger the budget. Agencies and big brands will demand a higher quality of photography than a small business and are willing to pay for it.

The general rule is the bigger the client, the bigger the budget.

In order to estimate a photography job properly, you have to get a clear picture of exactly what’s involved in producing the required images and how those images will be used. A surprising amount of work goes into a food photography shoot. Understanding the complexity of the request will help you determine how much time you need to bill for in order to make a profit, and to complete the job to the client’s satisfaction.

Questions to Ask Before Putting Together a Food Photography Estimate

It’s important to get as much information as possible before providing an estimate, which means asking a lot of questions, preferably by phone or an in-person meeting. Ideally, the client will have a shot list, which is very important. If you don’t know exactly what you’re shooting, you can’t provide an accurate quote. So find out how many shots your client needs and what will be in the shots.

If you don't know exactly what you're shooting, you can't provide an accurate quote.

Knowing your subject will help you more accurately assess how long it will take to shoot each image. A cocktail image can take a lot longer to shoot than a plate of cupcakes, as there are a lot of reflections to manage in glassware. Shooting dishes in restaurants typically goes faster than studio work, as the food is being photographed in its own environment.

Other questions to consider are …

What Food Photography Props Are Needed?

No matter how many props you have, you often find that you need very specific props for a job you’re doing and have to purchase or rent some items. Props have a big influence on the story an image is trying to convey, which is why on big shoots there will be a prop stylist in addition to a food stylist. As a blogger or photographer fairly new to the game, you are most likely doing your own propping. This means you need to have an inventory of props and rotate it regularly. However, you can charge a fee for renting your props to recoup some of the costs of building and maintaining your collection.

What Surfaces and Backgrounds Are Required For the Food Shoot?

You undoubtedly need to supply the surfaces and backgrounds for the shoot. Understanding the aesthetic your client is looking for helps you with your colour choice and style. Your backgrounds and surfaces need to be cohesive and make sense alongside your subject.

Who's Supplying the Food For The Photoshoot?

If you’re shooting a food product, the client supplies it. Most of the time, supporting ingredients are also required. These are purchased by the food stylist as a part of their prep, which they charge for. If you’re doing the styling, it’s up to you to buy the items needed.

Who’s Doing the Food Styling?

It’s surprising how many clients give no consideration to this question, or think this is your job. You must educate them that food styling is a separate skill set and profession from photography and should be treated as such. As a blogger or new photographer, however, you will often work with small clients that do not have hundreds of dollars to hire a food stylist. You can do the styling if you feel confident, but you should charge something for it, as it takes you considerable time to shop and prep everything, and you’re doing double duty on the shoot itself.

Who Oversees the Food Photoshoot?

This is a very important question. The client or representative of the company needs to be present to provide creative direction and to approve the images as you shoot them. This is the only way to be certain that you’re providing what they envision. However, if you’re shooting for a client long distance, you have to send them previews of the shots as you’re working. The shoot will take longer because of this, so consider this when you’re estimating your time and what you should be paid for it.

Who Will Do the Photo Editing?

Unless you’re working for an ad agency, the post-processing will likely fall on you. However, I’ve shot for magazines that had an in-house editor responsible for the post-production for the sake of consistency in style. If this is the case, you should reflect it in the estimate.

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Where Will the Photoshoot Take Place?

If you need to rent a studio to do the shoot, this should be a line item on the estimate. The cost of studio and equipment rental should not fall on the photographer but the client. If the client doesn’t have the budget for this, they can choose a location for you to travel to. I’ve shot in production and test kitchens, in cafés, and even clients’ homes. Just make sure your equipment and liability insurance is sorted before you venture out on this type of on-location shoot.

When Does the Photoshoot Need To Happen?

Don't commit to anything without a signed contract and a deposit, so you're not left holding the bag …

Shoots are often organized well in advance. Often, they’re also organized at the last minute!

Consider how much time you need to prepare for the shoot. If you’re hiring a food stylist or an assistant, you also need to make sure they’re available and get a quote from them, which you include in your estimate. If you’re shooting at a studio, it must also be available on the desired date. Don’t commit to anything without a signed contract and a deposit, so you’re not left holding the bag if the client backs out or changes the date.

What to Include In Your Photoshoot Estimate

Unless you’re working with a big agency, try to keep your estimate as simple as possible. Clients basically just care about the bottom line. They want to know, “How much is this going to cost me?”

I recommend three to five line items per estimate, one of which should be your creative fee. The others can be an editing fee, usage, or a charge for props and surfaces. If you’re doing the shopping and styling, that should be a separate line item. If you need to rent equipment, the clients absorbs that as well. You could also charge a fee for the use of your equipment or integrate it into your creative fee:

  1. Creative Fee
  2. Editing Fee
  3. Usage Fee
  4. Prop/Surface Rental or Purchase
  5. Styling and Shopping (if you're doing them)
  6. Equipment Rental (if required)

What Does the Creative Fee Cover?

The creative fee should cover your costs such as transportation, parking, creating specific surfaces, or props you need to buy. It’s basically what you need to need to do the job.

You don’t need to point out that you’re charging them twenty bucks for gas and parking. That being said, you should generally be transparent about what the client is paying for, rather than just quoting them one big fee. It’s a good business practice and it helps clients understand the cost and what goes into creating their images.

Charging for Image Usage

You should charge something for usage. I look at the creative fee as something that covers my cost of doing business, and the usage fees as my profit. The Getty calculator is an online tool often recommended to estimate image usage price; however, for the Canadian market, I find the recommendations too high. In Canada, usage usually falls in the range of anywhere from $50.00 to $250.00 per image. Your images will likely be in the lower to middle of the range, unless the images are being used to sell a product with wide distribution, for example on product packaging distributed through Wal-Mart.

Some photographers charge a bulk fee for usage, particularly for smaller or lower-paying jobs, such as restaurant shoots. I recommend specifying the number of images you’ll supply at particular price points, or else clients might demand all of the images from a shoot. This will create too much editing time for you and will greatly impact the profit you can make. Don’t fall into this trap.

Track Your Time

Finally, track your time. When you first start photographing for clients, you may find that you often underestimate how long it will take you to complete a shoot — sometimes by quite a lot. There’s a lot involved, from pre-production planning, to collecting props and backgrounds, to the shoot itself, to post-processing and file delivery.

Tracking your time will give you a better understanding of how long it takes to do a shoot and you’ll be better able to estimate how much you should charge for your creative fee.

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Estimating a Photography Job was written by Darina Kopčok, a blogger turned professional photographer based in Vancouver, BC. She has shot campaigns for nationally recognized brands such as Hardbite Chips and Wild Coast Fruit Co., as well as worked with international organizations based in Europe and the UK. She's also an experienced writer and educator, working with bloggers and aspiring photographers to elevate their skill set and navigate the business side of the photographic industry. Darina blogs at gastrostoria.com.

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