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Food photographers specialize in capturing vivid, appetizing food images for use in a variety of media, including magazines, advertisements and cookbooks. In addition to taking photographs, food photographers may also need to style subjects for photo shoots and possess an understanding of the culinary industry and food preparation. Many food photographers start out in the culinary arts; however, with proper practice and training, any photographer can master food photography.
While there is no established education requirement for employment as a food photographer, candidates are generally expected to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, however, experience and skill are more important than educational credentials. Individuals with good employment histories and solid portfolios can succeed as food photographers regardless of their education backgrounds. For this reason, seeking employment as an assistant or apprentice may be a more practical path for the aspiring photographer than pursuing an arts degree.
In order to successfully capture and sell a product or recipe, the photographer must understand his subject as well as he does his tools. Food photography requires expertise, not only with camera, lighting and placement techniques, but also with food itself. Aspiring food photographers should ideally care about and understand food, if not at a professional level then at least enough to discuss food with potential and paying clients. Finally, food photography is a still-life art form, requiring the photographer to possess a meticulous eye for detail and a willingness to dedicate time and patience to each shoot.
Photographers in the food industry can find employment either within an established company or as a freelancer serving multiple clients at once. Clients and/or employers may include major corporations and food companies (who require food photos for use in advertisements, promotions and packages), magazine and cookbook publishers and even individual restaurants.
Food photography is not a high-speed job, but the perfectionism inherent to the craft can impose a certain degree of workplace stress. Generally speaking, photographers work out of a studio—either one of their own or that of a specific client. Location shoots (at restaurants, individual kitchens or other subject-specific locales) are also likely to be a part the freelance photographer’s experience. In addition to the exacting nature of creating a “perfect” image, the photographer’s working environment may include pressures related to deadlines, client expectations and criticism.
According to the career information presented by StateUniversity.com, a successful food photographer can expect to make around $35,000 per year. However, photographers must consider a variety of factors when assessing this salary estimate, including benefits (not included for self-employed and freelance contractors), geographical location (urban centers offer more business opportunities to food photographers) and frequency of work (often higher for freelancers than for those employed by a corporation).
L.W. Westerfield is a writer, editor and blogger. Her interests include food, culture, holistic health, yoga and literature. She has written for "USA Today Magazine" and a variety of southern California newspapers. Westerfield is a certified Hatha yoga instructor and a Whole Foods Nutrition Counselor with a focus in macrobiotics and traditional Eastern healing arts.