So you want a career in food photography, but you’re lost about how to land clients when your Instagram following isn’t massive and it seems that’s all brands care about? I’m here to tell you that it IS possible, and let you in on some secrets that have helped me make it happen.
I started my journey into food photography with Buuck Farms Bakery in April of 2019, and my first paid shoot was 6 months later. I had ~700 followers on Instagram and no clue what I was doing. Since then I’ve learned SO MUCH, landed clients I never thought I’d have the chance to work with, and have been making a comfortable full time income since June of 2020. In this post you will find tips and actionable steps to further your career in food photography, regardless of your social media following.
I broke it down into 6 Steps that will help you take your food photography career to the next level. Here we go!
1. Shift Your Focus
First things first. You have to stop thinking of yourself as an “influencer” and start thinking of yourself as a food photographer/recipe developer. You have to know and believe that Instagram is not the end-all be-all. I SAID IT!
When I first started out, I truly thought that the only way I could make money in this field was by getting brands to pay me for sponsored social media posts – because that’s what a lot of “influencers” in this field lead you to believe. But, that’s simply not true. Once I wrapped my head around that fact, everything else fell into place. Once again for the people in the back – you can be a successful food photographer WITHOUT EVEN HAVING AN INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT AT ALL.
When I reach out to brands, I barely even mention social media. I explain that I am a recipe developer and food photographer who wants to provide them with content for their social media and advertising needs. If they ask me to post on my social, and the shoot fits my brand, I’m happy to do that, but that isn’t the angle I initially approach them with.
How to put this step into practice: Identify your strengths, and market them. Develop a media kit and/or rate sheet that focuses on what you can offer the brand, not your social media stats. Connect your strengths with the brands goals and outline how you can help them. See an example of what I send when reaching out to brands below.
2. Make Meaningful Connections
Instagram can still be a very powerful tool – even if your follower growth is painfully slow. Use it to your advantage.
- Find Your People One of the best things I ever did was join a little chat group with some other baker friends on Instagram. It’s great for morale as working from home can get lonely, great for bouncing ideas off of, for troubleshooting Lightroom or Pinterest problems, ALL OF IT! Reach out to peers in your field. Make friends.
- But – and I cannot stress this enough – BE GENUINE. Don’t be sending DMs saying “I followed you I’d love if you followed me back so we can support each other.” It’s spammy. It’s annoying. It will never work. Find accounts you feel connected with, like and comment on their content, respond to stories that make you laugh, share their posts you love.
- Connect with Brands A lot of my paid deals have been a result of connecting with brands on Instagram. But again, being genuine is so important. Find the brands you love and actually use, tag them in your posts when you use their products, and respond to their stories and keep the conversations going in DMs.
That being said, there are brands out there who put a lot of weight into your social following. It (sorta) makes sense – they are thinking that the bigger your following is, the more people will see their product. And that’s true, to an extent. So, I do believe that as your instagram grows, you can use that to your advantage and demand a higher rate for social posting.
BUT – you don’t have to wait for your following to grow to make a comfortable salary in food photography – or even a large impressive cushy one. You just have to find the brands that value your work regardless of your follower count.
Think about it – when they hire photographers for studio shoots with huge teams and the whole show – do they ask that photographer to disclose their IG following? No. It’s understood that the photographer will create the content, and the brand will be the one to promote it. And that’s what I was talking about when I said shift your focus. Instagram is a bonus to your job – it’s not your ACTUAL job. Ya feel?
3. Invest in Yourself and Your Business
Starting and running a business will cost you both time and money. Apps, programs, courses, gear, subscriptions. They all add up, but are essential. Sure you could edit all of your images on a free iPhone app, but they will never be as good as that same image edited in Lightroom. Here’s a few things that I think are worth the investment-
- Photography Courses Learning everything on youtube and google alone is possible, but time consuming. There are so many amazing courses you can take online that will fast track the improvement of your photography skills. Two that are on my list and that I’ve heard great things about are: Sam Adler’s Mastermind and Joni Simon’s Beginner Bootcamp and Artificial Academy. Joanie also has AMAZING and FREE YouTube videos that I watched on repeat when I first started out and learned so much!
- Programs Lightroom, and Adobe Premier if you do video, are essential in my opinion. Snapseed is a great free iPhone app I use from time to time, but just for small tweaks to images I’ve already edited in Lightroom. I also pay for other premium services that help me to create a more professional presence, like Canva Pro, the FoodiePro Theme for my website, and the Tasty Recipe plugin.
- Gear You need a DSLR and a good lens. I shoot on a Nikon D610. And my two go-to lenses are my 50mm and my 105mm macro. I started with the 50mm, learned the ropes, then upgraded to the 105mm when I felt I was ready. While having a DSLR is important, you definitely don’t need the priciest, fanciest one. It’s the photographer who makes the image, not the camera.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for What You Want
No one is going to hand you a successful career in food photography – or in any field for that matter. No brands are going to knock down your door begging you to shoot for them. There are hundreds, probably thousands of food photographers. You have to go get it. You have to make it happen. Make connections and form relationships, then ask to work with them.
It’s as simple as sending a DM and saying something like, “Hey there! I’ve loved chatting with you on here and would really appreciate the opportunity to work together. Is there a media contact I could email with my media kit?” Some might ignore you or tell you no, sure. But 9 times out of 10, they’ll give you the contact info because in reality the contact is probably another employee and they won’t have to answer it anyway.
Another way to get that contact info is to send a DM on instagram with a photo that you took using their product. And say something like ” Hey! I would love to work with you guys, so I wanted to send you an example of the type of content I’d like to create for you. I used your chocolate in this image and thought you’d like to see it. Is there an email contact I could send the originals to so you can download them for any future social media posts?” This develops rapport and lets the brand get a taste of what they’d get from hiring you. It also shows initiative – which is a quality not a lot of people possess.
5. Diversify Your Portfolio
Just because your instagram account is full of desserts, doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for more savory brands. I would say at this point half of my work is savory, even though you would never guess that by looking at my instagram page.
Challenge yourself to shoot outside of your comfort zone, both with the actual type of food you’re shooting, and with your styling. Some brands might want light and bright, while others want a more moody vibe. Be able to show potential clients that you can do both. Here’s some examples of my savory work for brands that you’ll probably never see on my dessert-heavy instagram feed.
6. Seek Out Third Party Marketing Agencies
This took me months and months to figure out. But there are TONS of brands who outsource their marketing to a third party. Meaning that another company entirely is finding the content creator to work for that brand. If you can develop a working relationship with one of these agencies, they will bring you consistent work, so you’re not hustling to find new brand deals every month. These agencies exist at a local and national level and I’d say the one I currently work with provides me with about 60% of my client work.
Third party marketing agencies are different that job boards. Job boards like H Hub and Upwork aren’t great for photographers and creators in general. They severely underpay and undervalue creators and generally aren’t worth your time in my experience and opinion.
You can find third party marketing agencies by doing a simple good search, like “food marketing agencies in Indianapolis”. Find a contact. Send an email. This tip is the one that will really help launch your career in food photography.
This was incredibly helpful! Thank you so so much for sharing, that was very generous of you!
So glad you enjoyed this post! Happy to help!
Thank you so much for this article! I needed to ‘hear’ this. I love what I do; it is my passion, but IG sometimes drives me crazy. I feel like it is keeping me from my real work. You just gave me fresh insight! Thank you!
I’m so happy to hear that! So glad you liked it!
All I can say is WOW! You have given away so much helpful information it’s amazing!! Thank you so much! Love every word of this!!
So glad you liked the post! Thanks so much for your continued support!
LOVED this post, so insightful and helpful for new food photographers/bloggers! I can also recommend Sam Adler’s food styling mastermind. I’m currently taking it and it’s incredible!
So happy you enjoyed this post! And yes I’ve heard amazing things about Sam’s course. It’s definitely on my list.
This post is fantastic! As a new food photographer it can be scary to know where to start and how to navigate all the information out there. I’m definitely going to be putting these into practice. So thank you for providing these amazing actionable tips! Your work is incredible!
Thank you so so much! I’m so happy you found this post helpful!
Wow! This is just what I needed in my creative slump. Great actionable steps to really keep pushing forward. Thank you so much for sharing what you learned with us!
I’m so happy that you found this post helpful! I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned!
This is extremely helpful as I’ve just come into the food photography space. where would you recommend getting a template or making a media kit? I also want to have a portfolio to show brands, restaurants, so I want to make a website to hold my online portfolio. is it okay to go with a free website starting off? or is it better to buy a domain? Im thinking of going with squarespace. any insight you have on this would be wonderful.
I’m so happy you enjoyed this post! I make most of my graphics, including my media kit on Canva. I pay for the pro version, but you can make great stuff on the free version. I bought a domain right off the bat, so I don’t have any experience using a free website. I wanted to have one url from the very beginning that my audience would recognize. Hope that helps!
This post is really helpful! Thank you for all the tricks and information
So happy you enjoyed this post!
Nicole - The Granola Diaries
Loved this post. So insightful and truly, actionable feedback like you promised! I keep thinking to myself, I will reach out to brands when my Instagram reaches X or when I improve my skills, but I do think you need to start somewhere! Thank you!
Yes exactly! We ALL start somewhere. And honestly, there’s absolutely nothing to lose when reaching out to brands. The worst that can happen is they say no. And then it’s on to the next!
This was incredibly helpful! Thank you!
Happy to hear it!
Just wanted to say a big thank you for sharing this. It’s one of the best things I’ve read recently, and I’ve already saved this post to refer to in the future ❤️
Thank you so much! That makes me so happy to hear!
This was so helpful! What would you recommend writing in an email for a third-party agency?
I’m so glad you found it helpful! When reaching out to third party agencies, I introduce myself and explain what I can do for them and attach my media kit. Very similar to what I do when reaching out to individual brands.
Thank you for all the insight. It’s so hard to not think well there are tons of people already doing it, why do they need me? But reading things like this gives me hope and the push to keep trying.
I’m so glad you found this post helpful. It can definitely be discouraging, but you just gotta keep going!
I absolutely loved this post! Thank you so much for your transparency. At times it can seem like Instagram is the only way for us to get our work out there, but that isn’t true. It can be super discouraging, but this post really made me excited to start working on my business! Thank you!
I’m so happy you loved it!
Very helpful, Liz thank you! I also try and position myself as a photographer and recipe developer, but I don’t think the contact really hears it like this, which canbe frustrating! Out of interest, what additional pricing info do you give when you say “full rate sheet available”? How much detail do you go into? Thank you! 🙂
Glad you found this post helpful. So in my media kit, my base prices are listed, but if a client expresses further interest in working together, I provide a full rate sheet with prices for short and long term contracts, and different packages that include different amount of images etc. Then I negotiate with the brand and come up with a quote that best fits their needs! Hope that helps!
This is SO helpful!! All of this feedback makes this whole process much more understandable. Thank you for taking time to share important info like this!!
I’m so happy to hear that you found this post helpful!
Thank you so much for this post. It is encouraging for where I am, but also lays out what I need to do. Thank you also for giving an example of your media kit. I know it’s essential, but has seemed like a big question mark to what it is. This gives me a visual.
Hey! Yay I’m so happy you found this post helpful!
This week on Instagram was meh as I have no clue why Instagram is not showing the posts to my audience… And I couldn’t help feel a bit discouraged. But then buttermilk by Sam just shared your profile and I got to find this gem. THANK YOU, MUCHAS GRACIAS!! This blogpost is so helpful and insightful. And also motivating in my case. I am currently working on creating a website and this has cheered me up to pursue that.
I’m so happy you found this post helpful! IG can be so frustrating and I wish I had the answers, but being successful despite IG is definitely possible!
Thanks for providing this information! As a food photographer/recipe developer who’s just starting out, it can feel soooo overwhelming to simply start. I’ll be using these tips for sure. Also, your savory photography is stunning.
SOO happy you found this post helpful! Thanks so much!
You’ve always got great tips and guidance! Thanks for this insight. As a newbie to this world, it’s both helpful and encouraging!
So so happy to hear that!
Thank you so much for this post! I feel like a lot of people like to say “oh you don’t need a big following” but they rarely give helpful information on how to pitch brands without a big following. So thank you for the actionable tips I really appreciate it!!!
So glad to hear that you enjoyed this post! Happy to share what I’ve learned along the way.
Cannot thank you enough for this post! As someone who’s just starting out in this industry, it is so helpful and also gave me some peace of mind about not having a huge IG following. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this!
I’m so happy to hear that you found this post helpful!