Quick Guide: Food Photography Workflow
You got your first paid food photography gig (or your twentieth, some of us are slow learners). Yay! You are so excited, you decide you will start shooting tomorrow.
You don’t really have a streamlined photo shoot process, but you have a good idea of what you want, and you want to get started as soon as possible.
The next morning, you start cooking. But you quickly realize that you are missing an ingredient. Dang. That’s fine, you can make a quick trip to the store, no biggie. You finish your recipe and start styling your set. Hmm… that plate doesn’t quite work, you need to use the other one, which is too big for the amount of food you prepared.
Back in the kitchen, make a little bit more food. Go back to shooting. Your dish is looking okay, but the garnish is not looking so fresh anymore. Back to the store. Now you finally have everything ready but it takes you a while to find the right composition and you have to hurry because you are losing the light.
At the end of the day, you end up getting your shot, it’s not perfect, but you like it anyway. You send it to the client, super excited, only to hear the client tell you that you didn’t shoot the right aspect ratio. They needed a 16/9 ratio for a website banner, so you will have to reshoot tomorrow.
Sounds familiar? We have all been there. And once you have done this a few times, you come up with a process that you can refer to so this doesn’t happen anymore.
Between gathering all the right information, planning and sourcing props and ingredients, shooting, editing and finally delivering the images, there is a lot of moving parts to a food photography shoot. It can be overwhelming when you are starting, so I wanted to share with you my food photography workflow step by step.
Getting the right information
In this case, we will assume that we are shooting for a client. The first thing we want to do is making sure we have all the information we need. I like to jump on a call so I can ask all the questions I need, but if you are just starting, you may want to send the questions by email so you can refer to them later.
The questions you want to ask are: how many images are needed? Are there any specific orientation and / or aspect ratio needed? For example, a very wide image for a website banner, or a vertical image for a Pinterest campaign. Where are the images going to be used? This will determine what resolution you will need to deliver the images in. What feel are you looking for in the images? Bright and airy, dark and moody?
At this point, I like to ask for a few inspiration images or social media accounts from related brands that the client identifies with. I gather all this information on my food photography workflow checklist to make sure I have all I need on shoot day.
Research and pre production planning
Once I have all the information from the client, I start doing all the research. I look up my client’s competitors to see what sort of images they are sharing and to make sure I create something different for my client.
The intent here is not to copy those images but to pull inspiration from them, mainly in the details: the way a napkin is folded, a composition I like, a color palette I found interesting.
Once I have gathered enough inspiration, I put together a mood board that I share with the client to make sure I am going in the right direction. I usually include color palettes in the mood board.
Once I have the feedback from the client on the mood board, I start drafting a rough shot list.
Planning and roster
I take a few days to refine the shot list and adding details to my draft until I have a good idea of what the images will look like. At that point, I add the shot list to my Food Photography Workflow checklist, where I add as many details as possible, backdrops, props, garnishes, angles, composition, and often even a sketch.
This is also where I take note of the ingredients, garnishes and props I need to purchase for the project. I take the time to check my pantry to make sure I have all the necessary dry ingredients and check the quantities – I have had to run to the store more than once because I just did a visual check and it turned out that I was almost out of an ingredient.
Pre production and shopping
I plan my upcoming week every Friday afternoon. I keep a weekly schedule on Trello that I fill with the weekly shoots, the editing but also prop and ingredient shopping time.
I typically schedule my shopping time the day before the shoot, or the day of if I know the shoot will be pretty quick. You do not want to shop for ingredients too early as some of the freshest ingredients will keep really fresh for a day or two, especially greens and salads.
If you are worried that they may not last, put them to soak in ice cold water for about an hour before putting them in the fridge overnight, it usually gives them a bit of a second life. Check my 30 food styling tips here.
I also try to prepare my set the day before, especially the backdrops and the props, so if something doesn’t work or I need to source another prop, I still have a few hours and I don’t have to take time away from the shoot.
Depending on the project, I work with natural or artificial light. If artificial light, I will set up the lighting and the camera the day before. Obviously if I work with natural light, I will need to finish the setup on the day of the shoot.
On shoot day I will check my set and put the final touches. I setup my camera, my white and / or black cards and tether my camera to my computer before taking a few test shots using stand in food. When I am happy with the result, I prepare my garnish. I usually prepare 2 or 3 times the amount I will need and keep it in the studio, in an ice box if necessary.
Once my set and my garnishes / supporting ingredients are ready, I can start the cooking process. One thing I learned early on is to double the recipe or the amount of food you think you will need.
If it is a complex recipe, I also make sure to do a test run the week before, so I have time to do some research or several more tries if something doesn’t work quite right.
Once I have the food ready, I replace the stand in with the hero food and shoot my images according to the shot list in my Food photography workflow Checklist.
I typically try to avoid editing on shoot day. When you have been spending so many hours starting at the same food, it can be difficult to have an objective eye on it. Plus, I am usually pretty drained after a long food shoot. I like to take a day or two before sitting down to edit the images.
I used to treat editing as an almost administrative task that is annoying but necessary to the project. But I now know that it is actually part of the creative process and that your editing can make or break your images.
I learned everything I know about editing from the Lightroom Magic course from Two Loves Studio and I strongly encourage everybody to take that course. It will truly help take your images from okay to amazing.
Once I have edited all the images, I export low resolution files of the proofs that I upload to Pixieset. It creates a beautiful online gallery that I can share with my clients for their review.
The client can then select their favorite images directly in the gallery so they don’t have to send me an email with a bunch of cryptic filenames, which is cumbersome and can lead to errors.
Once I have the list of their favorite images, I upload the images to Pixieset and share with them a link and a download pin. Pixieset allows the client to download in 3 different file sizes so the client doesn’t have to worry about resizing.
And there you have it, my Food Photography workflow, from the pre production until I deliver the final images to the client.
To help you keep track of the many steps of my successful workflow, I created a Food photography workflow Checklist that you can download for free! I hope this has been helpful, leave a comment below to let me know your questions or comments!