Business of Commercial Food Photography


Lesson Info

How to Manage Client Expectations

We will also talk here about managing expectations and I put that turkey on there for a reason, right? Because the turkey is one of the hardest things to photography and the expectations are usually sky high as to how, you know, you're going to manage that situation because it's such an iconic thing to photograph and if you don't manage that well that can be one of those situations where there is a lot of disappointment. But as far as managing expectations for clients, all clients, no matter what you're promising them or what you're negotiating with them is about what's possible for the budget they want to pay. So, and sometimes, you have to drive that bus like we talked about, where you say, Okay, I can work with you for this much in this venue and once you've answered, once they've answered all your questions, right? Your ten questions, you can create a price that you're comfortable with and they can say, no I can't do it, I can only do it for this much and then you go back and say I...

can pare that down. And you find out what's possible for the money that either you're willing to work for or they're willing to pay you. And that's about managing expectations because if you go into a situation where they don't understand what you can do for the amount of money they have and then they expect more, then you actually don't look as professional as you could otherwise. And that's again a part of that communication. Get out there and talk to people. Let them know what you want. Let them know what they, what you expect in the relationship and that way they understand what they're gonna get. It's always important to intimate in a negotiation with a client and managing their expectations to say, the more money you throw at this, the better your production is going to be. Now you don't have to be that blunt about it, but you hint at the idea of, that more money equals better quality. You get what you pay for. And that's about managing expectations. Because if you intimate at that without being so hard about it that, Yeah I think we can really do this, but if we had a little bit more in the budget, I know we could do this a little bit differently and I know that's gonna really turn out really well because I can hire this stylist and she costs a little bit more, but she's great and she's gonna make the food look good and all of that. And then all of a sudden the expectation of the client is, oh I get it. I get it, I understand. Right? I can't promise this and deliver this. But I can promise this and deliver this. That's where you really need to do it. Don't promise what you can't deliver. Because it's a classic mistake in dealing with your client to promise them the world. And all you're doing is setting yourself up for failure when you do that. Because you can't always deliver everything that everybody wants. You can't please all the people all the time. But if you set those expectations in a realistic bandwidth and then overachieve, you are presenting yourself as somebody who can do that consistently. I can give you, I promise you this, but I'm going to deliver this. And then all of a sudden, your stature as an artist, as a business person, and everything kind of is elevated because you managed all those expectations appropriately. And you delivered what you can deliver and more. And that is always where you want to be in these situations. So, okay, the last thing I want to talk about and this goes for all kinds of situations where you're given comp pictures. So you're working on a project and there's already some creative that's been kind of tossed around and this really speaks to advertising more than anything else, but it's not impossible that there's comps thrown your way for all kinds of work. So you get these comparable and you look at it and you say, okay I can make that picture. Eh, you just lost. Because the client is looking at something that's not real. You can't promise that you can make the comp. Because they fall in love with the comp shot. Because it's usually created by an agency art director who pulled out all the stops because they want to impress the client and then you can't match that because the food is impossible to make it look that way and I can't tell you how many time I've seen this happen. So, you have to be able to manage the expectations of the comp. So, when you're in the creative meeting, you need to point out the flaws in the comp and say, that's really nice, but I don't know if the food will behave that way. And this comes with all that experience that you're gathering with being familiarized with your stylists and understanding what your propping can do and understanding how much can be done in post-production. Especially with agency work because there is truth in advertising laws in this country. And if you don't understand that you can't just comp in anything on a food product, your agency is going to get into trouble and then you're not going to work with them again. So, you have to manage the expectations of comp love. They get, the client falls in love with the agency comp and then you have, now it's on you, to make that work. So, before you even start to set creative, you need to discuss the comp and say, this part of it is doable, this part of it is a little unrealistic and we need to discuss how we're going to make that work. And be positive about it. Don't say you can't do it, but make a point of saying, we need to be realistic about this. Because this is not necessarily what the product looks like and this happens all the time with commercial stuff because we're talking about packaged food and we're talking about canned food and you open up a can of, you know, canned fish and it don't, it doesn't look like piece of, you know, tuna that is being served at Eleven Madison Park, right? So, it's definitely one of those things that I've been blindsided by a couple of times and I didn't know when I was in an advertising situation and I'm looking at that comp going, how am I going to make that picture? I can't make that picture. And I didn't to communicate that. I just knew it instinctually that this was a problem and of course, it became a problem and we had to manage it. And it was fine, we worked it out, but it was really hard. And in order to next time make that situation better, you go into the situation saying, Okay, loved the comp, looks great. Here's what's realistic. I got a great stylist who's going to make this work, but you see those lines there or you see the way that food falls or you see the way that steam is lifting that's going to need to be comp'd in afterwards and that's not going to be, we can't capture that in real time. And all that stuff. So, that all comes with the experience of understanding how to look at a comp picture and know that you have to manage the expectations that picture just created. And that's really important and if you find yourself there you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. At what point do you have to come back to the client and renegotiate, potentially, budgetary things because of things that, when things change and happen on the set that's unforeseen. Never. Okay. You eat it, because if you didn't see it coming and it's something you should have seen coming and most of it is things you should have seen coming you can't do a thing about it. You just got to eat it and move on. Because trying to renegotiate in the middle of a photo shoot is bad form and it makes it seem like you were not prepared. Even if, and by unforeseen, I mean that is very vague. What's unforeseen, that the studio burned down? I mean, I don't, you know, I don't know. Yeah. But I think if it's something based on the actual work then you didn't do your homework Yeah. You just didn't prepare well enough. You shouldn't have to be in that situation and if you find yourself in that situation, you save face and you eat it. That's best way to go about it because you do not want to show that to a client and show them that you miscalculated something. I mean, if it's going to break the whole shoot then maybe, clearly, you have to pull somebody aside and have a conversation, but if it's about, okay I'm going to eat a thousand bucks or I'm going to eat 500 bucks, to save face in your business, that's an investment. So, that would be my suggestion. And if a client were to come with you of, can we do this? Can we do that? So, then that's a different... Well, I mean, I've had those situations where all the sudden we have, Oh can we add two... Can we add two shots to this? Okay, let's go over here and talk about this a little bit. And I've actually renegotiated terms because they wanted more content on set and that's crazy. It hardly, it's very rare that it would've happened, but it has happened to me. And it was with a big client and I was blown away by the fact that it actually happened but, and it was to my advantage. It wasn't like I did anything wrong. It was just that they wanted more. They were like, Hey, we like the way this looks. Can we do some more here? And I was like, Yeah, but that's going to cost money can we talk about that for a minute. And we took a break and we went into another room and we talked about it. I wouldn't at this stage in the game, in my career, my agent would do that and renegotiate what even if it happened at that late time, but the idea is It's odd, but it has happened to me. So, I'm sure it's happened to other people and the idea is if the client changes the scope of the work in the middle of the shoot and if that's what you meant by unforeseen circumstances... Yeah. Okay (laughs) Okay, so I misinterpreted the first part of your question. Yes, if all the sudden the terms of your contract change in the middle of the shoot, you need to renegotiate it immediately. Do not do or withhold the imagery, shoot it then withhold the imagery until you renegotiate the contract. Because that could be a ploy to try to just suck more content out of you. But most of the time, clients won't do that to you. They just usually get excited and if it does happen it's because they're excited about what's happening on set and they really like what's happening. But I mean, at the highest levels it's so hard to do because everything is so planned out, to just start adding shots in the middle of an advertising shoot, I mean it's just almost unheard of. And it just happened that the thing you were working on in that particular circumstance was very freewheeling and then all of a sudden they saw an opportunity to maybe pull some more content out of it. So, they negotiated on the spot about what we could do with that content because they needed to budget that into the shoot day because it was gonna take time. But yeah, I mean that's an unusual circumstance, but it has happened so you gotta be prepared that if somebody wants more content, you gotta be aware that you have to tell them that it's going to cost more money. Tina would like to know, if you're contacting smaller restaurants or local do you offer a day rate or do you also ask for usage rate? Well, no, I would give them a flat package rate and I would calculate what that usage is... the usage is worth to me and then I would draw up a contract that gives them a certain amount of time to use that imagery and then they would have to renegotiate. So, I've actually done that with a couple of companies. And a flat rate usually works best for them because it's less complicated and as long as its within the bandwidth of what they're willing to spend, then it's fine and you don't really need to itemize it. But you gotta calculate what it is your cost is going to be and what you've created is and then how much you want to sell that usage for and then give a time table as to when that usage runs out. So, for me it's usually two to three years and after two to three years if they want to continue to use it on their website or whatever then we renegotiate.

Being confident in your photography is only the start of growing your success as a food photographer. Knowing how to pitch yourself to clients, communicate with vendors, and set yourself apart from a populated market are just some of the business techniques that are essential in seeing you profit from your work. Andrew Scrivani joins CreativeLive to help you take your photography and business to a place where you can start making it a successful career. He’ll cover: 

  • How to get work in the Food Photography Industry 
  • How to promote and network yourself to grow your client list 
  • Techniques on communicating with your vendors and clients on set and off 
Make your photography work for you and make money while shooting what you love.  



  • I highly recommend this course! Andrew is an engaging and thoroughly knowledgable teacher. This class is less about how to photograph food - although there are some terrific tips - and more about the "nuts and bolts" or rather, "bread and butter" of running a successful business. A lot of the information is relevant to business in general, but the specific tips about food photography are especially exciting to implement! I found the hands-on portion during the morning of day 2 especially helpful in assimilating the general or more abstract ideas covered in day 1, which laid a fantastic foundation. 5 stars!
  • Andrew is not only a funny, incredibly entertaining person, he's a seriously great teacher. Being in the live studio audience for this class was such a treat. I was able to learn a lot of the nitty gritty lived-in details of what it takes to be a successful food photographer. Things that are hard to come by in books and online! I would highly recommend this class for anyone who wants to take their passion to the next step: making a living.
  • While I'm not quite ready to focus my business on food photography, this class gave me a much clearer idea of what options and challenges there are in the food photography industry. Andrew covered everything from what jobs might be like when starting out on a tight budget to what options open up as the photographer becomes more experienced and successful. I already did my own internet research about the food photography business before the class, but this was more comprehensive and easy to understand in a short amount of time. Now I feel more confident about setting my business goals, who to look for to collaborate with on projects and eventually the kinds of clients I'd like to work with. He also gave many tips that are immediately applicable in my current photography business that isn't yet focused on food.