How to Become a Food Photographer

Turn your Instagram habit into a career.

Photo: Andhika Yauwry / EyeEm/Getty Images

Perhaps you live to Instagram your dinner. Or maybe you've long had a love of cameras—and pasta. Either way, if you're toying with the idea of becoming a food photographer, you've come to right place. Sherry Heck, food photographer for Just, is here to tell you how to build a portfolio—and what you can do to make your hobby into your next job.

1. Buy a camera with manual controls.

If you're just starting out, you may have a camera that offers only a fixed lens. And while "you can take amazing photos with fixed lenses, you won't learn how to control the perspective or aperture," Heck points out. DSLR cameras most often come with manual controls, but some new, compact mirrorless cameras do, too.

2. Shoot everyday food and ingredients.

Heck says it's unnecessary to compose a complex, styled shoot every time you want to add a new image to your budding portfolio. Instead, focus on building a portfolio of simple photos taken in diverse situations, she suggests. "Test your skills by every window, at different distances, and use all the focus lengths with each aperture to document what is working and what is not," Heck recommends. Review your portfolio and ask questions such as, "Is it distorted? Is too shadowy? Most importantly, does it look delicious? How does a shift in light change the mood and feeling of your image? And, [in the future], could you highlight or bring attention to certain ingredients in the shot through a manipulation of light and aperture?"

3. Make yourself a website.

A website is—in addition to a place to share your new portfolio—a way to show others you're serious about your career, Heck says. "This is not a necessary step," Heck admits, "but I recommend it because a personal website adds a sense of permanence to your potential future career. Plus, clients will love to view your images larger than a phone screen [you show them]." When your website is live, be sure to share a link on your social media accounts. "Your website and social media accounts provide an opportunity to start building a network that may lead to future work projects," Heck says.

4. Team up with a food stylist.

While you can get away with a portfolio filled with simple images at first, you'll eventually need to take your portfolio to the next professional level—filling it with images on which you've collaborated with a food or prop stylist, Heck says. "A talented food stylist will not work with you until you have some solid images to show them your potential or the monetary means to pay them a testing day rate," Heck says. "If stylists see your potential, they may work with you in exchange for photos for their portfolios."

5. Show off your work.

"You will need to show [your work] to as many people as you can to get your feet off the ground with some initial small jobs as you build a client list," Heck explains. Take your portfolio to small business owners, she suggests, "Negotiate a trade of services with them if they can't afford a small fee. For example, you can offer to shoot their products for free in return for the business exposure that you can to add to your portfolio." When it comes to small businesses you can approach, think: new caterers or bakeries, local, small restaurants, or farmers market purveyors," Heck suggests. "These small entities are more likely to work with you to gain marketing and advertising exposure—in the same way you are trying to build up a solid portfolio." Local and regional publications may also be quick to hire a budding food photographer for restaurant reviews and other roundups.

"Just ask everyone and expect one 'maybe' for every 20 'no thank yous,'" Heck warns.

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