Business of Commercial Food Photography


Lesson Info

The Production Team

Let's talk about everybody's individual roles. So, these are broken down into, I break them down into three different teams. So our first team is the production, pre-production team. So these are the people that we are collaborating around to set the creative and react to the client's needs. So we might have all of these people at the table or on the call when we're meeting with the client, 'cause all of these people have to understand that what their compatriots on the other side are thinking and what they need. So the producer, the producer is the person, who is your point person on everything, so that person is communicating with the production team from the client's side, or possibly with the client themself, organizing the shoot. Meaning, if we have production needs like equipment, rentals, dealing with the stylist, the billing, the bidding, all of the things are the things that happen on our side from production. So if we're creating a bid for a job, I may not be doing that mysel...

f, but I'm collaborating with my producer, who is going to be setting up. And that sometimes is your agent and sometimes it's your producer. It just depends on the roles that you have in your... You may not have an agent, but you most likely would have a producer that you wanna work with on your team. And then, again, an art director is somebody that's helping you personally set your creative tones and if your company is big enough, you might have that person collaborating on multiple projects, so having that person there helps you guide your style and helps keep you on track. So the food stylist, obviously, is somebody who is going to be hand-picked for a project. So if you have something that's specific about baking, you may hire somebody who has lots of experience in there. And I have multiple stylists who I think have different talents that I work with. So they're not on my staff, but these are freelancers that I'm really comfortable with. Finding these people, too, and your prop stylist, same thing. You may pick people that are specific to a project who would be somebody that you think can both translate your style and represent the client's needs very tightly, and sometimes they will suggest people that they like and that coincide with people that you like, or you might collaborate with a client on particular stylists, because they have somebody in mind, but they want you to comfortable as well, so they'll say to you, "Did you ever work with this person?" And I may say, "Yeah, I've worked with that person before." "Well, how do you feel about that person "for this particular job?" And be like, "I think that's a really good idea. "Let's reach out, see if they're available." All of these people, if they are not connected to a production company that you either own or work for, they are most likely freelancers or have their own companies, and you are collaborating with those people. Now, if you get an opportunity to make a bid on a job, the first thing you're gonna do is ask your producer, reach out to a food stylist, reach out to a prop stylist, and book me a studio, and from there what we do is put people on hold. So we'll say, "There's a prospected job "week of March 27th, can we put you on hold for that week?" And that person will say, "Yes", "No", or "I only have a couple of days "during that week that work for me." And then you have to basically make decisions about how you're gonna put people on hold, because you need to have a full crew on hold before the job even books. Because what happens in an advertising setting is you may be doing a single-bid job, which basically means you already have the job. So if I'm on a campaign already, that would be considered a single-bid job, because we are not bidding against other people. We're essentially just bidding against ourselves, meaning, make sure you stay in line with the costs from the last job. But then there might be a situation where, and this is more common when you're trying to get a job for the first time, where you're doing something called the triple-bid, where you're bidding against two other people and it's blind. You don't know the other people. Now, in motion, you might know the other directors you're bidding against, but in print you hardly ever know who you're bidding against. So not only are you playing the shell game with numbers, because you're trying to make sure that your bid is competitive, not too low, not too high, but you're also bidding against people for creative, 'cause they're picking other people that you don't know how they're gonna interpret the creative. So once those bids go out, you still have to put, once you're in the bidding process, you have to put crew on hold. So many times in this world, you put people on hold and then either you don't get the job or it does book at all, sometimes the job just goes away. That happens too. So it's really, you have to communicate with those people about what's going on and if you get to a situation where somebody says, "Hey, can we shoot this next week?" And you really need crew, you're probably not gonna be able to build the team that quickly. This requires lead time. And so currently I've had a crew on hold for every week of March for a job that hasn't awarded yet. So they keep shifting the dates around client-side, 'cause it's so complicated, they're flying people in, they have a client that has to come in from different parts of the country, everybody has a different schedule. So we have been move-- So what happened was we put basically our crew and our studio on hold for close to a month, and then systematically, they would release, "Okay, we're gonna release 3/20." Okay, 3/20's off, we call up the studio, we call everybody up, "Okay, you're not "on hold for 3/20 anymore." Or somebody might call me and go, "Hey, I just got booked. "I just got booked for 3/27. I'm out. "I'm out for that week." That doesn't mean they're off of my job, but it does mean I have to put someone else on hold for that week. So now I might have two prop stylists on hold. One that's my first choice for the first three, and one who's my second choice for the week that the other person can't be on hold. So it gets very complicated, but your producer's the person who should be managing all these people and making the phone calls and making sure that people are still on hold, and those people know that if they can't stay on hold or they get another offer to do another job, they have to communicate with the producer, because then what happens is, if you have people on hold, and let's say we also have things called second holds and third holds, like in studio work, so I call a studio of choice and I say... Or a producer calls and says, "I wanna book your studio for 3/27." They say, "Well, we have a hold on 3/27, "but we're not quite sure if the job is gonna award, "so why don't we take you as a second hold?" So then they take you as a second hold. And then if your job books before the other job books, then you call that studio and say, "Okay, our job booked," and they will say to the first hold, "Okay, we know you guys had first hold, "but we have a job that just booked, "would you let go of your hold?" So this whole ethical system of how those things work. And you have to be aware, or at least have a producer who's aware of all of the nuances of how that works, because, remember what I was saying yesterday, and I'll reiterate today, when you miss something and all the sudden your job books and you don't have a stylist on hold and there's nobody available, because everyone else is booked, and you'd be surprised how fast good stylists get booked up, so if you don't get 'em on your calendar a month in advance, you might not get the stylist of choice. And then your whole job is at risk when you don't get the person that you think is right for the job. So the absolute idea of coordination in all of these things is essential to the success of the job. And this goes back to the whole idea of collaboration and teamwork, is that if you're not communicating with your producer and your producer's not communicating with the agency, or all of the studios that you're dealing with are having-- And then all the other complica-- See, this is just even part of the-- The producer has such a multi-layered job. So I said earlier, when we were talking about a job with, say, frozen foods, so the client has to communicate to our team, our stylist team and say, "Okay, we're gonna send you three shipping crates "full of frozen food three days before the shoot." Well, what are you gonna do with all that food? Well, I gotta rent a place that has freezers. And then those freezers, with the stuff in 'em have to go to the studio eventually. So it's sort of-- Now we're talking about trucking and we're talking about using reputable vendors, because we wanna make sure all those people have insurance. That's how complicated it can get on the highest levels. Now, I understand that the majority of people are not there yet, who are watching things like continuing education, I get that, because even for me, that progression took a very long time. But you never know. And just like the story I told you yesterday where you have somebody who has the creative ability to make the shot, but they don't have the infrastructure around them, if you, tomorrow, get offered a job to do something on this scale, because they like your creative, at the very least, now you're aware that, boy, I got a lot of work to do. And I know exactly what I going to do. I'm gonna go back to this PowerPoint and I'm gonna click through it. (audience laughing) How many people do I need? How many people do I need? But it's not meant to scare you as much as it is to shake you a little bit and make you aware that this could happen to you. You could, because you have ability in this industry to jump from being a blogger to doing a campaign. And it's happened a lot in more recent time. This is not 20 years ago, 30 years ago, where there was a hierarchy of how you made your way through the photo industry, and later when we meet the man who's gonna be helping me on set today, who is somebody who's been in the business for a very long time. People from his culture, from a little bit older than me, or even guys my age who were very young in that system was, the super-star photographer, who had a first-assistant who was the heir-apparent, and three other assistants behind him, and a studio and a producer and everybody on staff in a giant loft in So-Ho, right? And then all of the sudden, digital photography happened and nobody could sustain that anymore. So the whole hierarchy has changed. So people who are relatively new to the business have the opportunity now, because their creative is very obvious. You see their Instagram, you see their website. You can say, "Wow, I love the way that person shoots." But is that person prepared to handle this kind of a job? So now, through these kinds of mechanisms we can learn those things without having to go through that whole system. Can you rate these from one to four, if someone is just starting out, where would you start and where would you end? In order of importance, if you only have so much money. Food stylist one, prop stylist two, producer three, art director four. That's easy, because these two people on the end here, the prop stylist and the food stylist are essential to pretty much any food shoot on any level. And even if that person is just another set of hands executing your wishes, where you have a vision and you're able to communicate that to somebody, that's essentially the relationship anyway. I mean, yes, at the higher levels, those people are independent artists who have styles of their own. But on the lower levels, there may be somebody who's proficient in the kitchen, who can execute a recipe for you, and the prop stylist might be somebody, just a set of hands, that says, "Can you pull down "that prop and put that on the table for me?" And that person will be learning in the process, if you're building your own team. So I've said this before in other classes. I think it's really important that if you are a photographer and you don't have a lot of food skill, but you love food photography, you should partner with somebody who does. Or if you don't have a large collection of props, then connect with people who do, and then maybe form partnerships and start working as teams, because then, all of the sudden you, as a team, can start to promote yourselves as a package. And the more you can offer the client, the more ease of use for certain clients, it's better for you and for them. So you don't always have to go looking for a proper, so you don't always have to go looking for a food stylist. Is there a national directory for finding people who do all these different positions? So if you had to travel to another city and you're not well-connected? Yes, there are resources that I'm gonna mention at the end today for photographers, and if you go to things like PDN, and I have a couple other ones listed that I can read off to you, but yes, there are definitely directories, and then, of course, some of the stuff that we talked about with photography, like showcases and those kind of portfolio review things, those kinda services, those things also provide those kinds of directories for people. Plus, producers in towns, so if you called up a production company, if you're working in another city, and say, "Hey, I'm in need of a stylist, "can you recommend a few people?" Word of mouth is always the greatest way to do these things, and then all of the sudden you get five emails with three different websites and whatever, or this person's Instagram feed and get a good sense of what they do and who they are in the city, it works that way. I mean, newspapers, too, keep stables of people in different cities, so if you have any connections at newspapers, you could always call up an art director or a photo director at a newspaper and say, "Hey, do you know any stylists in Atlanta?" Or something like that, but that's a great question. Thank you. Talked a lot about yesterday, about negotiating with clients when it comes to. M-hmm (affirmative) You know where I'm going with this. Yes I do. All right, why don't you just take it away? Okay, so what Jim was intimating was that these people are also independent contractors that need to negotiate, so what does that mean? It means that there is a wide range of what these people get paid. And just like us, that's a sliding scale based on the job, the client, the amount of time is invested, and how big the production is. So at the top level, absolute top level, top-flight food stylists, top-flight prop stylists can command in excess of $1000 a day. The real, at the advertising levels, you're talking about maybe $1250 to $1500 a day for a really top-flight food stylist, and then you gotta pay for their assistants too, 'cause they don't come alone. They come with an army. So for food styling, on an advertising shoot, between a food stylist and maybe her three assistants, you're probably looking at in excess of $2000 a day for food styling. Prop styling, probably a little bit less per day, but you're gonna get prep day, they're gonna get prep days. That's the other thing, food stylists and prop stylists get prep days, so they don't just work when they're on set. If they're going out to the shop and renting stuff or they're going out and doing shopping, or they're doing mise en place before the shoot, you're paying 'em for that too. So when I say $2000, $2500 a day, that times three sometimes. So the prop stylist too, also, because they have connections where they can get props, you're a lot of times renting props from your prop stylist as well. So that's another way they get to make money. So they don't only just command their day rate. If they have a particular style, they probably have a battery of props that go with that and they basically will rent them to you or rent them to the production. So that's another way to make money as a prop stylist. But that, again, that's a very good question. Your producers, it's a little bit more, when you're hiring a freelance producer, it is a little bit more standardized rates. I think probably at the highest end you're talking about two grand a day for a really top-flight producer, but most likely that scales back as well. But it's always good know what the top level is, because then you can always negotiate down from it. Because when you're talking about the people who are brand-name, recognizable people in food styling and you know what they're getting paid, well then, clearly if you're a smaller person in a smaller town, with less prestige in the industry, you're not gonna command that kind of money. And if somebody bids at you that way, you know you gotta come back at them pretty hard and be able to fit them into your budget.

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.