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.