Food Photography Business Q&A
The licenses for the photo themselves, do you include that in your day rate or your job rate, or do you have that separate?
You're getting ahead of us.
Okay, I'm sorry (laughs).
No, we're gonna answer that question for sure. I'm gonna talk a little about copyrighting and usage, because I think that those, depending on the venue, there's a huge range, and you're--
You'd probably be a little shocked if you're new to this field. If you've been in photography before, you know, but if you haven't and you've never sold images before, you're gonna be shocked at the range, the wild range of pricing that is available to you as a photographer, depending on where you're selling that picture. So, who else had their hand up. Steve?
Going back to the, when do you need your images, how do you balance that with future work as far as, you know, you might have stuff on the books and that either causes you to work harder or, defer that business, or not take the job because you've alr...
eady got work on the books.
Hire people. Okay? Simple. If you're doing that much business, share the wealth. Hire people. Hire people who are hungry to do it, because they're out there. I get phone calls and emails everyday from young people or people who are trying to reinvent themselves and have a different skillset. They call me and they say, "Do you have work for me?" You know? I can do Photoshop, I can assist, I have cooking experience. I get calls all the time, and I hire people, and that's what you do. If your business is doing well, share the wealth. That's, it's gonna benefit your business and it's philanthropically and morally a good thing to do.
Sure. And, Kate.
So, back to locations, when there is a discussion of shooting in a separate studio that's not yours--
Do you go and scout the location before you even agree to take the job?
Absolutely. Or send me pictures.
I wanna see it.
I think it's really important to see the environment you're putting yourself in, and I think, solely, for the benefit of both the client, to say to them, this isn't the right space to give you what you want, and also for yourself, because you don't wanna try to make pictures in a really difficult environment. And if it is gonna be a difficult environment, you need to be able to say to the client, we need specialized gear for this. I would prefer to shoot in daylight, but since we can't, this is what we're gonna need. And that being completely honest and open about it and say, if there's another, if you have an opportunity for another venue, let's try it. So, definitely.
To the food receipts, do you put a margin or mark-up on the foods, or do you pass that through directly, and--
Directly, yeah. I don't pad it. Yeah, it's not really, it's not really necessary, you know? But you need to, like with the clients that I work with constantly, I try to keep, unless there's something so outrageously out of the realm of what we're working on, like some really expensive piece of meat or a lot of travel expense or something within the idea of shopping for things, like, I had to go all the way somewhere to pick something up, I'll make special note of that, but I stay within a, I set some parameters with particular clients that work with me on a regular basis, and I try to stay within those parameters, and it usually works out fine, because the repetitive items that I have to purchase to keep in the studio, obviously, are not on the receipt for them, but the general kind of, the general budget remains pretty much the same. So, you don't need to pad it, but you definitely, you're overestimating already, right? So, you're just protecting yourself. Paula?
Do you have a separate line item for post-processing, or do you include that as part of your photographers--
Depends. With advertising I do, with certain clients I don't, because I build it into my pricing. See, I have kind of a specific pricing structure because of all the things that we do in this studio. It's really more of a production fee than a photographer's fee, and then I break it down and I explain it to the client when we first start working together, and if they're comfortable with that, that particular structure, then when I send them an estimate, they understand that this includes X, Y, and Z. So, and I make it very clear. If you're including more than just your photography or more than just styling, make sure they know it, and say, this is what you're getting for your money. And then you can make them understand that, because you have multiple skill sets, you can offer them a better price.
Do you base that figure on time?
Yeah. I think if I, I really am sensitive at this point of my career about how much time it takes to do something, and what the value of that is gonna be on the back end. Any business decision you make has to be based on what you feel your time is worth, and that's the thing that I find shocking when I talk to young photographers about them jumping at opportunities for such little money, and the thing that drives me crazy, and I'll talk about it a little bit more in depth, is the concept of work-for-hire. If you don't understand what that means, it means they basically are paying you to do their bidding, and you don't the copyrights on your pictures. They own your pictures. That is a horrible way to do business as a photographer. And I know that there are people who jump at the opportunity to shoot for others in that scenario, but I have to tell you that you're really cutting your legs out from under you, and I'll explain to you why later with real dollar figures. So, Pam.
Kind of going back to the package you talked about earlier, and I think, you know, starting out renting a studio, is it, you know, a huge extra--
Amount. How does that kind of go into that package scenario?
Well, I think that first of all, depending on what city you live in, how much your studio is worth. Now, if you have your own studio, I'll give you an example. A kitchen studio in New York City runs around, starts at around 800 dollars a day--
And up. I have my own, so I, but I don't charge my client 800 dollars a day, because it's mine.
It's built into your--
It's built in, but rather than being, so when I do a line item readout on this, or when I'm talking a client through it, I say, listen. We're gonna shoot in my studio. We're comfortable here. We have everything we need. You need X, Y, and Z. This is what it would cost on the outside. This is what it costs if you're gonna work with me, because I can offer you a package, because I don't need to, I can, you know, I don't need to cover my rent with one job. Right? I don't need to charge you a thousand dollars to use my studio, because I'm not renting it from someone else. I can offer you a better deal.
So, if you are in a position where you have a professional space, you can make those kinds of business decisions where you can chop costs, package deals together, still make money, and keep everybody happy. Kristen?
Do you put a figure on that too? Do you give them a cost comparison?
So, you know, if this is gonna cost you 800 on the outside per day, I'll charge you five.
Or something like that, and we add it in to the project fee. And then when we get, let's say we've got all the pieces and parts. Okay. This is what this is gonna cost, This is what this is gonna cost, and I give you a line item, and here's what it would cost you on the outside, and here's what it's gonna cost you with me. There's still room for negotiation. One of the things that a friend of mine in advertising told me many, many years ago was, compromise everything, this is in advertising. This is completely in advertising, because you don't get to make this call in a lot of other venues, but, never compromise your day rate when you're negotiating. The idea is, if, and I'll give you dollar figure kind of comparisons, is that, the way she said it to me was, in advertising, and this is just part of the pay structure in advertising, 'cause I'll go over the rest of it later. But she said, argument's sake, if you come in as a 5,000 dollar a day shooter, then you're coming in with an echelon. If you come in as a 2,000 dollar a day shooter, it's gonna be very hard to get up to that other step, because once they've slotted in and they know what you cost, that's it. You're not gonna make jump with that particular client. So, you have to be able to say no to the lower number even though your eyes just popped out of your head at the dollar figure, because you know, in this particular venue, it's worth more. And I've done that. I said no. No, no, no, no, no. Come in at this number. If you don't wanna hire me, that's fine. And then, eventually, they hire you. Eventually they come around. And it's much better to work at this level three times a year than at this level 10 times a year. Less work, more money. That's the whole idea of good business, right?
Kristen's had follow up?
Yes. Sorry I keep raising my hand (chuckling). My brain's just rolling right now. Over the last six months or so, six months to a year, I've found that the concept of pricing is so much based on perception--
And do you find that, you know, when you compare those to, you know, those two tiers, basically, like the 2,000--
Yeah, I mean, for argument's sake, yeah.
Yeah. I mean, do you find that those, you know, there's just like a perception from your client that this is the level of work that you, it's basically based on what you're worth, I guess?
You know what you're saying, right?
You get what you pay for.
And that's the perception in any consumer business.
You get what you pay for. You go into a store and you see two identical items, and one costs more and one costs less. You immediately think the one that costs more is better, even though they're not different. It's psychology, right? It's human psychology, and it's consumer psychology. And as a business person, not an artist, not a photographer, not a stylist, you need to understand the value of psychology, and the idea that, if you hold yourself at this level, you are the Louis Vuitton, so to speak. Right? It's gonna be very different than buying a handbag at Payless. But even though those two things are probably made in the same factory. (audience chuckles) All apologies to Louis Vuitton. (audience laughs)
That's okay. I have, can I just--
All right, one more from you.
If you wanna get up here, come on, let's go! (audience laughs)
I've been reading a really amazing book that's just, it's just about service businesses in general. It's called, can I? I probably shouldn't plug it right now, but anyway, there's a whole section on the concept of, you know, just not being egotistical when you're first starting out, and like saying, oh, I'm worth this much, and just for me right now, I'm kind of mid-career--
So, I'm just really trying to find that balance of, what I'm worth and not charging too much so that people don't think I'm an A-hole. (Andrew laughs) And then, but also not underselling myself. So, it's just, I don't know, I guess it's just a comment.
I don't think you ever have to worry about, if you are respectful and humble, you don't have to worry about being self-confident. I really don't think that you have to worry about that, because quite honestly, that's personalizing business. That's becoming, about your personality, about who you are. I negotiate tough. It doesn't change the fact that I am who I am. I'm gonna negotiate tough because I know that, eventually, as a business person, people are gonna respect you more for it. You know? I had a situation recently where I had an art director I work with pretty regularly sitting in my studio, who is a friend, and he knows me. And I'm negotiating on the phone with another client, and I hung up the phone, and the art director friend of mine, who I've worked with many times, looked at me and goes, "I forgot what you're like." (audience laughs) You know? 'Cause we have already arranged ourselves. You know? We've already kind of come up with a pay structure and we're already comfortable. And he looked at me, and he was like, "I totally forgot what you were like like that." You know? Because he heard how, skillful I was at, talking people through the idea of this is what it's worth, and this is what you're gonna pay me if you want me. And, like I said, we're gonna talk more about the idea that, there is, a lot of gray in this equation, and you have to be able to be flexible, but at the end of the day, you just don't wanna compromise yourself. You don't wanna go to the job, do the work, and walk away going, that wasn't worth it. That's what this is all about. If you walk away going, okay. That was good. I feel good about that. I could make more. We always feel that way. We always feel like we can make more, but don't walk away with regret, like you got used, and you know what that feels like, right? You know what it feels like when you get used. It's not, that's not a business emotion. That's a personal emotion, and when you compromise yourself in business, you walk away feeling bad. And, it cuts your confidence down, 'cause you say to yourself, I was worth more than that, and I didn't stand up for myself. And that erodes at you. It wears on you, and then it lowers your confidence. When you can stand up, and honestly, sometimes when you can stand up and say no to something you really want, you feel even better about yourself, 'cause you say, I got integrity and I have some guts, and I needed the money, but I didn't need it that bad. That's, you know, that's what it is, because at the end of the day, you have to feel good about what you're doing and who you are as a business person. Go ahead, Paula. I'm sorry, we took a while to get to you.
I have actually two sort of related questions. First of all, do you always charge a day rate, or do you charge per photo rate?
It depends. I think my, I don't ever do a per photo rate. I don't really ever do that, because it's, that's a tricky number to work with. You know? But if you, if you build an idea in your mind as to what certain amounts of photos are worth and how much time they're gonna take, then you can create a project fee. And I'm much more comfortable, ultimately, with a negotiated project fee, because we start to talk about all the components of what's gonna go into this, particularly if you have multiple skills. If you're coming in just as a photographer, it's a lot more cut and dried. But when you're coming in with multiple skills and you're doing different things, it's better to kind of negotiate a project fee and make your client understand what each component is worth. So.
And my sort of second question is, when you're just starting, for example, somebody recently asked me, a friend who had no budget, could I shoot some photos for a cookbook that she's self-publishing.
So I knew there was no budget. For me, I ended up doing it. It was an incredible experience. It was like doing five incredibly expensive workshops, but I wasn't getting paid what I was worth.
How much of that do you need to do at the beginning?
I think you do need to do some of that, but I think there's a way to negotiate through that as well. This person is a friend, right?
They're self publishing.
Well, why not negotiate with her for your services, money on the back end? If it sells, you make some money. If you didn't, you got some experience. I don't think that's, I don't think that's an imposition. I don't think it's outrageous. If you're going into this like a partnership, essentially. I don't have a budget. I'm gonna try to do this. I need you. You can help me, we can build it together. Negotiate on the back end.
You might be better off in the long run. (Paula laughs) You really, I mean, so I think that, I don't think asking for something. I think the problem with money in general, is we feel embarrassed about asking for it. Absolutely not! It's not. You do not need to feel embarrassed about asking money for something that you do well. Stand up. Understand that money isn't personal. Money is money. It's what we need to get by. It's what we need to feed our families. This is not a personal issue. Never ever feel embarrassed about asking for money to do a job, unless you feel like you just wanna be a philanthropist and just donate all your time to everybody who asks. But the reality is that, don't ever feel embarrassed about asking for money. Just be respectful. That's it. You don't have to be hard about it, but you do have to be firm. Do we have questions coming in over here?
We do. I always love that comment about money when people say, when you go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread, is the grocery store supposed to say--
Oh, do you mind paying two dollars for this? (everyone laughs)
Right! Yeah, and I think that that's, you know, once you've kind of distanced yourself from the emotions of money, because it's such an emotional issue for so many people. And once you get past that and you start to see yourself like the grocery store. I'm selling a loaf of bread, man. I don't have to feel bad about it. This is what it's worth. Took me three hours to bake it, or something. Whatever. It's my time. You're the same thing, except you're not baking bread. (chuckling) You're taking pictures of it. (laughter)
[Panel Question Asker] Maybe you are baking it too.
Okay, yeah, let's get some questions. Real quick one here from Recipe Taster. Could you please define return days?
Oh, return days!
With the stylist, yeah.
Okay, so a stylist has prep days and return days and shoot days. Right? So they start with prep days, where they go out to the stores and they rent and they buy and they procure and they ship it to you and they package it up and they do all that. Then they come to the shoot and they do their job, and then after the shoot is over, they have to do it all over again. Pack it all up, get it back to the stores where they rented it from. So, that's a return day. So, that's one of those things where, people don't think like that. Okay, the jobs over! Let's go home! No. You gotta pack up all the props, you gotta get them back to where they came from.
All right. I always like to ask the big picture questions, and a question came in from J Jo, who is from New York City, and says, "Maybe this is a little stupid, but how can I know "when I'm ready for business?"
That's a good question. I think that the confidence that comes with, you have to look at your work objectively and compare it to other people in your industry, and if you feel that your work is on a par, or at least close enough, with people in the industry, then you gotta go out there and take a chance. I don't know that you ever are gonna look at your own stuff and go, okay, I'm ready. (quiet laughter) Stuff at the beginning of my career wasn't good. I didn't like it. I look at it now and I'm horrified by it, because you get better as you, you know, you start at a certain level and you grow. I was good enough at that point. I wasn't good enough to do everything that I do now. I wasn't. So, you have to be able to say, am I good enough for the local paper? Am I good enough for a blog of a friend that I know? Am I good enough to shoot, you know, for a restaurant in my area? And you start there, because the idea is that, you're not gonna just wake up one day and go, okay! I'm gonna go shoot for food and wine today. It's not gonna happen. You have to gradually work your way up. So, I would suggest to, whoever is thinking about getting started, that don't have a crisis of, you know, that, I feel unprepared. Compare yourself to around and be objective about yourself. Start small. That's a big picture answer to a big picture question.
[Panel Question Asker] It is! It's a hard one.
Cool. So, Neil F P from Chicago asks, "How do you educate the client who is hiring someone "for the first time and communicate the value "verses the price?" You said you had your own sort of, you know, attack for that. Can you give us, and not only that, but also, smaller businesses.
Yeah. I think that, it's to be knowledgeable, right? So if you're in a particular area, know what stylists cost. Know what a studio costs. Know what a propper costs. Understand what prop rental costs are. How much does it cost me to rent this bowl? It's research. You have to research all of the value in your particular area to understand how to price a job. I can't tell everyone how to price their job. It's impossible, because I work in New York. It's the most expensive city in the world, especially to produce art. So, food is expensive. Gas is expensive. You know? You gotta go from place to place and pick stuff up. Rental is expensive. Studios are expensive. Space in inordinately expensive. So, if you're in Chicago, find out what Chicago stylists are earning. Find out what, you know, props cost to rent, to buy, to lease, you know, to do all of these things, and then you can talk to your client and say, okay. This is what everything costs, and I can probably work with you on price in this area, in this area, and this area. These things are really non-negotiable, because what it costs is what it costs. So, you also have to be able to find the wiggle room in your own budget. You have to find out what you can get cheap, what you can own that you can use over and over again, which is always important. There are some photographers who don't own cameras anymore. They rent them, because their clients are gonna pay for 'em. All of a sudden, that's something you don't have to pay it for anymore, so it gives you wiggle room. Right? If you get to that point in your career, I'm happy for you, but I mean, it's, you know, that's, but there's lower levels of that too. I own all my own gear. I don't have to rent anything. Let's say I need lights. I own it. Build in. That's where you got your wiggle room. That's what it would normally cost. You keep everything on your line item. Just because you own your camera doesn't mean you don't try to charge a digital fee. It costs you money to run that camera. You gotta keep it upgraded, you gotta by media for it, you have to continually upgrade your equipment. You need to keep those things in your line item and understand and educate your clients. It's that everything I have costs me money to make you art, so all of that has to be considered. So if you own lights, you don't just go, oh yeah, I got lights. No! You put a rental fee in there for lights. You're not renting it from the store, you're renting it from me now, and I can, the store's gonna charge you 200 to rent those lights. I'll charge you a hundred. There's my wiggle room.
[Panel Question Asker] We're also paying for your experience.
[Panel Question Asker] Priceless, right?
That comes with a few wrinkles and a lot less hair.
Yeah, right? (chuckling) Okay, hey, quick question. Do you shop at whole sale markets using your tax ID? And any advice for dickering?
No, I don't, because it's the volume you have to buy in is too great. I don't normally need that much to shop as a whole seller, even though I'm a business. It's not, I mean, Costco is, the savings is pretty much the same as it would be. I mean, there is lots of businesses who shop at Costco, and I don't have a tax exempt ID, so, the pricing at any of those big warehouse stores, is not gonna make much of a difference.
Amy Fair Photography asks, "I'm a self-taught, "passion-driven food photographer. "I am searching for editorial work. "Do you think clients will pass me up only because "I don't have a degree or education in photography?" (Andrew laughs)
I find that hysterical, because I don't have a degree in photography! (everyone laughs) So--
[Panel Question Asker] So the answer is no.
I think the answer is, can you put an LOL? (everyone laughs) 'Cause--
[Panel Question Asker] I think that's why I wanted to ask it.
Right, I mean (everyone laughs), look, there are so many people in our business who are either experience taught or self taught, and I did go back to school later and learn photography in a more formal sense, but I don't have a degree in photography. I have, you know, the degree from the school of photographic hard knocks, you know? You go and learn from your friends and you dig in and get a camera and go try it out, and, you know, make bad pictures and make better pictures. So, I would never say that anybody who doesn't have an education in photography, that they don't have a chance to make it in this business. That would be hypocritical. Yeah.
[Panel Question Asker] I have a degree from the school of Creative Life. (everyone laughs)
Well, there you go! And you know, these are the things that weren't available to us when we first started in photography. You know? These types of, these types of entities are just fantastic for the idea that you can garner so much information from the internet, you know, and it's not, if you have the patience to sit there and watch it and look at me for 18 hours, then... (everyone laughs) You know. (everyone laughs)
Okay, another question from Carolyn, which is CPR Photography in San Francisco Bay.
Interesting question here. So, she wants to know, is there an advantage to have clients only download the content as opposed to sending tangible products like a disc or a drive to them for tax implications? For sales tax implications?
Oh, I don't think so. Well, you know there's lots of stuff that gets sold online that is still taxable and tangible. I just don't think that, because photography has become something that, for the most part, doesn't have a tangible result unless it's printed on paper, I wouldn't worry too much about that. I think that it's traceable and it's real in the internet, on the internet. (chuckling) In the internet. (chuckling) It's tangible and real, and it's provable, so it's, you know, it has a trace. It's traceable. So, I don't think you need to worry about that so much.
Espucci asks, how much do you discuss all this information with a client over the phone, or is an in person consultation more important?
Well, that's a good question. Whenever I have the opportunity to sit there and talk to somebody face to face, I prefer it. I think that, I'm comfortable with the idea that, I like to have interaction with people. I like to look them in the eye. I like them to see how I handle myself professionally, because I've worked on my presentation. I've worked on how I discuss things with people, and for the most part, I've gotten a lot of good feedback on what it's like to have a meeting face to face. I think on the phone and particularly on the internet, I don't like to negotiate in writing. I don't like to start to do that back and forth, 'cause there's so much that gets lost in translation, and I think that when you look into somebody's face and you see that they're well meaning and respectful, those kind of, unspoken cues that we give to one another when we're talking set people at ease, and I think that my experience as a teacher and as a, you know, as an instructor and as a coach, I think that comes through when I talk to people. Especially when they're looking to learn about what we do and I have to talk them through it, and that way, those experience, that experience skill for me is something that, is better, so if you feel you are good with people and you have a good way and your comfortable around other people, then I would try to do face to face as much as possible.
[Panel Question Asker] And how do you instigate that? When you're on the phone, do you say, can I meet with you? When is a good time for us to meet?
Yeah. You know, I would be pretty up front. I'd say, hey, I'd love to talk to you. Let's go for coffee and chat about it, you know? I can bring my iPad and we can look at some stuff together.
[Panel Question Asker] So you push that a little bit?
[Panel Question Asker] Great.
Yeah, I had just recently had a new client. She's a high profile client, and she was never, never ever did anything with food, so she didn't really have any idea as to where to go, and I felt meeting to face to face was definitely a way to make her feel comfortable, because I think she was a little intimidated by the idea that I have so much experience, and I wanted her to feel comfortable. To know, we're gonna work together. I'm gonna talk you through it. We're gonna make sure you're comfortable with your pricing, and I'm gonna make you understand a lot about the process, so that she didn't feel like she was getting taken advantage of, plus she felt like she understood. She was incorporated into the process. So, and it worked out really well.
[Panel Question Asker] Great.
So, Snappy Gourmet asks, "Do you adjust your price based on how much you think "your client is willing to pay? "Do you charge more for larger companies, clients, "or is it more per job, "where you might adjust your day rate?"
Well, I mean, I think that you, the size of the client really does make a difference, because the usage then is commensurate with how big they are.
[Panel Question Asker] Right.
Right? So if you have a bigger client, you, I would start at the higher end and work backwards. You know, I'll give you an example. I had a client, a very large, casino in Las Vegas that called me. I had done a charity event a few years back with a high profile chef from Las Vegas, and it was for Autism Speaks. We both had mutual friends and we were both thrust into this situation together. He was the chef and he was providing the food and I was gonna shoot it and donate the pictures to the event page, so that they could put it up on the event page. And as a thank you to him, I sent him a series of photographs as a personal gift. No licensing agreements, nothing. It was for you. Print them, put them in your home, keep them on your computer, whatever. About two years later, the casino representation called me and said, oh, we're gonna use those pictures you gave to Chef. And I said, no you are not! (audience laughs) And they said, well what is it? You know. And the negotiation was a little tense, because I think they didn't, first of all, they didn't know me. She didn't research me, the person I was talking to. She had no idea who I was. She just thought I was some yahoo who took pictures of the chef. (audience chuckles) And when she called me, I immediately understood that she didn't know me and she wasn't treating me respectfully, so I threw a number at her that made her head spin. (audience laughs) I really did, and I did it to fire a shot over her bow, and I wanted her to understand. You are not dealing with an amateur. You're dealing with somebody who understands this business, so I hope you do. That was what that message sent. Because if you know, then you know what this picture is worth. Especially the way you wanna use it. And, and the hair on the back of her neck raised and then she went back and researched me, and then she called me with her tail between her legs, and then said, we really wanna do this picture. I said, so how do you wanna use it? And they told me, and it was reasonable, and I gave them a price that everybody could live with. But the reality is that, don't be afraid to fire that shot over somebody's bow, because the idea is, if they are coming at it, like from a position of, I'm gonna take advantage of you, which is exactly what she was doing, I'm gonna fire back at you and make you understand that you are not going to take advantage of me. If you wanna talk to me in good faith, let's do it, 'cause I'll work with you. And it was fine, and it worked out, and they got the picture they wanted and I got a price that I was comfortable with, and everybody walked away happy. But that's only because, you know, I was able to stand up and say, mm-mm-mm. No. Not gonna happen. So.
Cool. Okay, kind of a two part question here. Do you charge hourly rates for client alterations? So, you've done your work, you've sent your three pics to them, and they say, hey, we love this one. We'd like to see, maybe, this removed or this lighting changed a little bit--
Well, not, no. A re-shoot is one thing--
Yeah, and that's another part of the question.
I would very rarely do a re-shoot. I think I've only done it a handful of times in my career--
[Panel Question Asker] Cool.
And I think it's because I think if, I'm not gonna give you sub-par imagery. I mean, it's just like, that's not what we do. You know? As professionals, we give you what you want. If you want a variation or you want a crop-in or you want something re-processed, okay, we'll do that. That's part of the job, right? But not a re-shoot. Re-shoot costs you money. (laughing)