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Starting a Food Photography Business

Lesson 39 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

Starting a Food Photography Business

Lesson 39 from: Story on a Plate: Food Photography & Styling

Todd Porter and Diane Cu

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Lesson Info

39. Starting a Food Photography Business


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Lesson Info

Starting a Food Photography Business

Bidness blogging and and how to make money and how we ended up here and creative live I don't know it's kind of all a random thing but I felt like this I felt like this life in this career found us because we weren't looking for it and, um you know how people get started and food photography or how they build their business and food photography kerem there's so many different ways I mean, every food photographer has a different story and how they got started and how they built their business, I think for us, the best way to kind of share how businesses in terms of food photographer ss to share ur story and how we got started and quite frankly, I think we got started in a really kind of non traditional way um, starting from a random fun hobby that's kind of led up for us to be able to travel the world and to do a lot of editorial in advertising work and it's kind of a dream come true more or less became just the culmination of a lot of things that we've done in our life and they happene...

d to merge together when we first started we had no conception that this was actually given become our life, it was just you started just doing things because you love them because they're fun, you know, I was well, we kind of step way back. I was in the restaurant business for quite a while, diane she had her portrait and studio photography business. Both of us were working easily that sixty hour weeks I hardly ever saw each other. So it was either when we if we wanted to actually see each other and we'll spend time together it's we had to work together somehow so is either do photography or do the food and and that sends for us. It was opening a restaurant we initially actually want to go down that restaurant route. We're looking for places we had put offers in a few places and just nothing end up panning out. So we I said, okay, let's, do the photography it's like, well, portrait photography is still a great the great options like diane love what she was doing still and so and I've always loved photography since I was a kid, too. I just had never thought about doing it professionally, and so we just started working together in the porch photography and then sometime along that line is like we stumbled upon these crazy things called the plugs yeah, food blog's we just figured at night we needed a hobby and our love of food continued, but we couldn't find a career in food I mean cooking food and serving food and selling food in the restaurant sense the one day in the evening we thought, you know we want to just lately share recipe were recipes rose cooking so we decided to look online to see if anybody was sharing recipes if there was such a thing in two thousand eight and you know again there was none of this we don't even know what a food photographer was we didn't know that they even existed had no idea what a food stylist waas so started looking online we found this crazy world called food blogging and I said, what is the balog and hunt said I think it's like an online diary I still don't understand what is a block so we looked started scaring and like hitting all these links and there were these amazing little like home made little homegrown web sites where people were talking and sharing food and they had their food pictures and they had their kids in it and recipes and I told todd remember one even I said check it out and we were just like scrolling through for hours and I said let's, start a blob that seems really super cool you know, we totally forgot about the idea of how to start a cookbook and things I had to share recipes we tend to get in a lot of trouble when she starts doing these yeah, I know all this sounds, but listen, I have an idea. I have an idea let's do there on everybody had all these like block so I said, okay, I guess we need a name I said, what do we want to call us and todd like I like white on rice in the beginning of that I'm a god that sounds so much like a porno that there's no way that I ever want to feel whatever it's no good mike, come on. It was called like we stick together like white on rice. It's inseparable was like fighting it first. No, no, no. I want to be like delicious recipes of fresh recipes or something more literal. And I was looking to save the website anyway, so not too bad. What a night taken right? A rice dot com mistaken. And then he said, well, you know, that's and I said, how about east west like east west? Something they finally ii somebody has to give in, you know, I said, ok, how about what? A nice couple so that'll please let it be taken so I looked and it was free for fifty. It was available for fifteen dollars, so that's, how it got started, I started with the fifteen dollar investment and a blawg that we had absolutely no idea that where it was going to take us on the reference in itself in the name has absolutely nothing to do with food photography, guarding our guarding, gardening or dogs. It just sounds weird, you know, it's two people do have rice in there, which is food, but it wasn't we weren't even we weren't even thinking about it in the context of food at that point, it was just I guess I did just a term you meaning, you know, inseparable, you can't separate the white from the rice is like it's one yeah, so we are kind of inseparable, and then that was kind of born. And then why dont rice couple dot com was born, and I started as a simple blawg in two thousand eight, where we started sharing silly little tin bits over a life in the evening, the pictures were just really horrible. I actually brought one up last night, and I I don't have time to pull some of the images down, but there's an apple co vados recipe you find their way. We're so proud of that picture you need to pull it up it's like so so bad, it's, like worse than an iphone shot. We keep it out there, but we were so proud of it. That was our first, really one of the first photographs that we published online. Little groups like the photographs that I say photographs, eh? So at that point, this belonged was just a hobby. We were still photographing families and kids working like sometimes fourteen, sixteen hours a day. And then we just started sharing parts of our life. And then we knew a little bit about a photography, not a lot, but I think what people came to us forward, the stories of two people and a dog in a garden cooking really kind of weird and fun and fresh stuff, and then it just started growing, and it was really awkward because we started being a part of this family on line and being a part of people's lives that we had never, ever met before. You know, we were visiting other people that we felt like we knew, you know, we visited them because we want to find out what their kids were doing, and they were visiting us and asking us how their pups were doing. So we've kind of built this online family and that everybody people started coming, and then somebody started asking us about using some of our food photographs or and we thought it. Are they good enough? I would you want to use it? Then we found out that, you know, people were using it for different things. Food web sites were growing, there was a slow growing need for new imagery, for a lot of brands and clients and websites. And then somebody finally asked us, well, can I buy one of your images, or how much would it cost for you to shoot an image of an apple? And then I gave out a raid because at that time, I was a professional photographer, and I had my rate, I had we have two mortgages, we had to pay at that time when investment property and gave a rate us, they came back and said, oh, that's too much. I can only pay you, like, fifty dollars. How is anybody going to make money? You know, photographing food? This is ridiculous. I'm never going to shoot you for fifty dollars, and then people started asking again, but as people started asking, I realized, wow, this is a serious opportunity, it's an opportunity, and that we're growing the block where committed to the block and sharing and there's this this request to want to hire us as photographers, but why wasn't getting the rate that I wanted? Because I couldn't put ours aside to shoot something for one hundred fifty dollars we couldn't do that because we couldn't take yourself away from work and really at that point I don't think the photography merited that I have a rate yeah, it was I mean it's not like you was horrible wasn't bad but it was always you and so that was also kind of a stimulus for us to learn to get better and just like with everything that almost everything that we do we tend to be the self learning types it's like we'll seek out resource is just like creative live places like that where you can go and you can learn because for us like when we were seeking seeking help within our local community bruggen stonewall nobody was really help us but luckily we found the on my family and people were willing to share it's after a while I told thought, hey, you know what this like really weird but maybe we should practice and really take it seriously because we love food and who would ever thought that maybe we could make a little side job earn some extra income photographing food at night when we got back as we worked seven days a week there's no way that we could work any less we never give herself really hardly a dave off day off if it was a day off we were working too make work happened and then finally I say, you know what? Let's just practice so and they would come home in the evening and we'd set up our strobes and we practice and practice we practice photography with practice, food styling I want to find they've got to get a little bit better, we started to get more serious about rates and understand what the market was going to be like, and finally we had our first big opportunity. Maybe a year and a half later it wasn't, um overseas company they came and asked us if they can use one of our rosemary recipe rosemary photos to use in their branding, whatever, and I said, well, and they were more like, well, I'm goingto use I'm just letting you know I'm going to use it and that's when I see a lot of people don't know that let's not be angry because a lot of people don't know about copyright issues, they don't they think online is sharing, so they're free to use it, and at least they came in told me and asked at least kind of asked and I said, well, you can't do that it's copyrighted, but what I can tell you is that if you want original images and I felt we were good enough at that time, we can shoot like ten images for you and sell it to you and then you can have use it whenever you want however you want and they'll be your own they said how much and I said, well, how much? You know, I don't know how much the jar, so this is how we based it off the question of how much? So we figured out what we would love to buy, what a macro one o five millimeter lens because that's, what we heard that all a lot of photographers food photographers were using and we didn't didn't want to invest like whatever it is a thousand dollars for lens at that time because it just didn't seem practical because food photography was not a business to us yet. So I said, how about I think I said like, a hundred dollars? I think at that time the lens was like a hundred fifty dollars, so I said a hundred dollars and to me that was a lot of money because we figured I could shoot it in like, two hours and they said yes, and that was like a light bulb to say, wow, somebody really wants to pay eight hundred dollars, is that for real? I mean, is this like it's a thing I get a new land, so for me that was that was like it was inspiring, you know about this could this be a business or side homicide and come to super exciting? And then we got into the whole business thing the business had came on it's like, well, your overseas, we're in l a how do I know you're not going to, like, you know, not send me the money, so they were awesome, and I think we were very lucky in the very beginning that we had a very great opportunity to work with someone overseas who actually play paid so they actually pay powered the money half the deposit we shot the images we said, a student is we deliver you need to well, we give them a preview, we said, and if you want the final files, you people the rest of the money, and they did, and that was the very first gig that we ever got, and that was the starting point. Tio we want to do this forever it out because it's so much fun because we were like, photographing screaming kids and families, and it just gets so stressful at times being able to come home and photograph beautiful food, you know, things that we eat and things that we loved already, it was like a dream we have a term in the studio, we called him five star customers. Eyes your special e came home from a day when you deal with a lot of five star people you just wanted, like, quit your job, we've been through that, so we found this opportunity, and then we started to get smart, and then we started to get serious about it, and then we eventually do. I talked to a friend who was a really smart business, he said, well, you need to figure out your brand, and that was the next thing the white and where's couple brand and I told, remember, told shawnee said, what's a brand, you know, I didn't know what a brand was at that time, because for me, business was what my new from an immigrant family was a brick and mortar upper space you built up, you open your doors, you gave a serve. Listen, if they liked that, you came back marketing for us, at least for my mom's generation was just doing a really good job and being nice if they come back came back, that was marketing, but my friend, who was super business savvy, said, no, you need a brand, you need to know your brand, you need to figure out something, and I thought, well, I don't feel like when and rice couple is a brand I've always told him that I felt like white on rice couple is taught in diane so that was the neck starting point and understanding who we were because we didn't feel like we wanted to shoot photographs and always be known as white on rice couple so the first the next part was what is our brand? He always asked that so we figured opera and it's just us you know there's no gimmicks there's no fashion statement you know there's no personality there's no hair job or anything like that you know it's way figured you know what let's just forget about brandon because in that part when we told him that we're going to get serious about this we want to really start doing this food photography food styling thing he says we need to get a brand you need the whole package you need the logo like oh my god that's confusing how about we just learn to photograph and that's what we did? We practice every single day and everything and we're lucky and that what we do now carried a lot over from what we've learned from the portrait studio studio so we're able take a lot of concepts of lifestyle photography, portrait, portrait, photography moving it over to food, lifestyle, photography, travel, photography we're completely comfortable with photographing by herself no tripods or any gear just us and the camera so that helped carry it over and then just our experience cooking, you know, spending all the time in the kitchen. I mean, she by the time she was knee high, she was already cooking in the kitchen for her parents who loved tio have friends over, and I think they had six kids just so they could have six use two chefs like running around the house, you know they are. And then for me, you'll be in the restaurant for fifteen years. It's like it it you just develop the skills. So I think the combination of those two, like I said earlier, is kind of those things just merging together and maybe sped up the work flow a little bit, but we still have so much to learn and we still dio. Yeah, and so for us, how we started was from a blogger really was from a belong. It was from online sharing. We started just posting more. We just started sharing more of her work and during that time were always practicing so slowly. Over the months over the years, our photograph started becoming better and better and better. But we blogged and not for money we block because we loved it. It was such an escape for us and was such a comforting place for us to be able to cook something write about it and share it and then getting feedback. I mean, that's. Most important thing, really great feedback fighting our tribe online. People who are always supporting us, supporting the recipe is supporting everything that we did supporting the dogs. When they are bad, we would complain about the doctor, you know, our kids, and slowly that started to come up. And then we started to slowly build a business where we got out. I got offered one job, one for one month, and then we started get offering two jobs. The jobs started getting bigger because our work started getting bigger, because, as we wanted, a better as we wanted to grow our business, we knew the work needed to be better. And that's. One honest critique that we always put ourself in front of is, is this going to be good enough to charge this amount? We would look att what other magazine photographers were doing in the quality, and sometimes we would look and think it's, almost not there yet. If we want to get this type of work, so was always practising and practising and proctor and studying, and part of that tax thing is also studying the things that we loved, and that we just found gorgeous than that were being used commercially, whether it be in a magazine or it could be an article could be even just like a tv commercial, and you just look and see how it's style like in the commercial there's all these different things, and it doesn't didn't necessarily have to be even with food it's with everything used to start studying photography in general, but you still, of course have tohave that emphasis on seeing how it's done with food, because every genre photography is gonna have its different elements that really make it special. So he still had my company photographing family and kids, but the's job opportunities for photographing food and particularly travel started coming more because we were practicing blogging, doing what we do love what we do, I love to do everyday, started doing consistently and that's the key is always being consistent. We're always like sharing things and talking to people and that consistency and putting up our improved images always improving, always being consistent was what was the marketing for us is like people started sharing our work and it got to a point where I really hated turning down a food opportunity, particularly when it had to be in for travel because we had a business that we had to hold on to, so I started hired more people to watch that studio we started leave to be able to do more food. Photographs and food photography and all those opportunities because they told him that this is an amazing opportunity we cannot give up it's not like I can quit cold turkey and sell this place we still needed to support ourselves because if something didn't happen, we'd be bankrupt. I mean, there is that realistic question you have to ask yourself we are dreamers and we want to pursue our dream we want to pursue it so much that we just think about it night and day a part of it too is also being practical and there's the practical side of me because I grew up with that practical sense with my parents losing everything in vietnam and having to come over. So I was ingrained with that mentality, so I couldn't just think, oh, these opportunities and great let's just quit cold turkey and let's just be food photographers full time. Yeah, I think this point it's like you know, the it was it was the combination of a couple different things that led us to these next steps one it's like we were starting to develop the confidence within ourselves that our work is valuable. It has married ends like we can make a living off of this at the same time there is that common sense that the two were just balancing each other the confidence and then the common sense and I think when they started to even out when it we had enough confidence and when it made coming sense to make the next step that's why we moved, yeah that's what we decide to change so in two thousand eleven and opportunity to came up to actually and my lease for the studio without any financial strings attached or anything like that or I can actually renew or move onto something else, and I told him I think this is it and it was the decision in may of two thousand eleven that we said, okay, I think we're getting enough work were confident enough if we at this point were just to get just to live off of the income that we're we're making as a side job in food photography, we could still robin no way around it will straight months, but that's okay? And we have a garden so we can pick some way like, you know, if you stop with the fruit trees, we can be free to terrians sitting here, but that was an opportunity. And then when that opportunity came to either continue the portrait and the special event or go full time in the food photography that's when it wass okay, we're going to take the chance we're going to do it because we know that it's going to be good enough and we have us together so we decided to make that change, and when we decided to make that switch over full time, sign at least close everything off. I sold everything off in the family portrait studio and started to go full time in food photography that's when we knew that we needed to practice more and think about all the different facets of food photography that you can make money because one of my college professors always said that when I was going to go do md phd work, he said in that type of field it's such a strict discipline that you focus on, you have your specialty and that's all you focus on for, like, six years of your life, you know, I remember he asked me, like, what do you want to be when you grow up? You know, I said, I don't know, I just want to do so many things, and he said, well, you just want to be jack of all trades, master of none, and I said no if I wanted to be a jack of all trades master of all he says, I don't know if that's possible I said, I think I could make it possible, and that was twenty something years ago.

Class Materials

bonus materials with purchase

Gear Guide
Places to shop for Food Styling Props

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

First, thank you to Diane, Todd and the CreativeLIVE team for a wonderful exploration of "shooting" food with artistry. This course offers the beginner and professional photographer many incites into the world of natural food photography. With some business and lifestyle tips the majority of this course showcases an effective natural shoot style that allows anyone to deliver wonderful images. The strongest point I found useful is to “find a voice” for the story, your images or your client. While I understand “finding the voice” when writing copy it is the realisation that any activity can have its own voice. Your voice can be the style of image you like, the shoes you wear, the books you read, etc. it is not limited to how loud you (or anyone else) shouts. Using general principles and building good habits through practise will allow you (and me) to achieve, not just find, success. The “lighting clock” is a useful shorthand helping communication with clients, producers and peers. The strong emphasis on practise, speed and taking advantage of any appropriate situation both improves productivity and reduces the impact on a client. Last but not the only other gem in this course is the bald (not a joke Todd) fact that any photography business was, is and will always be based on the relationship between the photographer and the client. Building a relationship is the best marketing device any photographer, food stylist, entrepreneur or creative mind can develop. Other courses offered by CreativeLIVE also stress the relationship aspect of good businesses as their best marketing asset. I highly recommend this particular course for lovers of (in no preferred order) food, photography and life. Thank you for reading and I hope you find your voice in all things. FJH...


Diane and Todd are amazing! They've held nothing back when giving the rest of us an honest, detailed look into what it means to be a food photographer. I've seen many seminars on the topic from different companies and photographers and this one is my favourite. I love their no fuss approach to food photography. It leaves me feeling like food photography is manageable without having to fuss with cameras and lighting gear that are outside of my budget. I love that Diane often mentions how there's more to food photography than the plated dish. And Todd is just adorable and has the cutest laugh! They're a fantastic team that are engaging and make it easy to learn from them. Highly recommend purchasing this course!

MAlisa NIcolau

I loved this class and how Todd and Diane taught it. It was very personal and inspiring, with lots of insight and tips. This is not a camera technical class, but more an artistic, motivational and visual food photography learning environment. Their examples on how to set up scenes and stories behind the food and people involved are very enlightening. They gave me a lot of great ideas and hope that I, one day, will become as good of a photographer as they both are. Great team!!!!

Student Work