Food Photography Student FAQ

Pretty much on a regular basis, I get emails from a students wanting to ask me questions regarding food photography, or more specifically, food photography as a career.  In order to help out up-and-coming photography students, I’ve decided to make a little collection of the questions.  If you find that you have any more questions no covered here, please feel free to contact me.

mray @ food

I would like to know what in particular has drawn you to food as a subject matter 

I tend to appreciate the whole aspect to “meticulous lighting detail”.  With people photography, success mostly lies in the subject’s expression and less on the technique involved.  Most industrial photography and even most product photography (catalog)  is based on speed and quantity of shots.  Food photography tends to be at a slower pace, with more attention to detail.  I like to light. 

What type or style of food images seem to be the most popular in todays market?

Minimum focus with a “high key” lighting feel, but that seems to be changing a little.  That style has been around a long time and might be changing, ever so slowly.

What do you think makes a good food image? 

Great lighting.

How would you describe your work?

Great lighting :+)

What type of lighting techniques do you favour?

I favor (American English spelling ) a small light source ( crisp shadow ) and use mirrors to direct light where I want the light. I also mix different types of light to attain the desired effect for a particular project.  For example, people (subconsciously) think that certain types of food should look a certain way.  Breakfast foods need to be “light and airy”.  If you light them “dark and moody” and people will think (subconsciously)  think something is wrong.  If you're really interested in this subject, I've written a couple of articles on the subject.

Are there some food items that you have found work much better than others?

As a commercial photographer, you are assigned the subject matter you are to shoot.  You don’t get to choose it.  You have to make the best of your assignment.

Are there any photographers that you particularly admire?

Yes, look here -

Have you any advice to offer with regards to making photography your chosen career?  

Yes – study hard and get a REAL job :+)

Photography is easy if you are talented.  As a matter of fact, it’s easy even if you are not.  The problem is that anyone can pick up a camera and call himself or herself a photographer.  It’s so easy (and fun) that the competition is tremendous.  You either have to be talented or be willing to REALLY work your butt off.  If your dedication to the profession is not total, your chances of making a decent living are slim.

Good luck to you.


Mr. Ray,

I love your work and I plan on becoming a food photographer.  I am just about to graduate from Brooks and move to NY.  Thank you so much for your time.  My questions are these:

1.  What started your interest in food photography?

I appreciate and enjoy lighting.  It's a perfect match.

2.  How do you market your self?  What marketing/promotional strategies work best for you?

I have portfolio that i fed-x or drop-off

Web page SEO has proven very valuable.  That's probably the reason you found me.

KIT (keep in touch) emails are very good too.

3.  How did you start up your business and what was your greatest challenge in starting it?

Maintaining a client base is the big issue.  You're not very experienced and you will most likely get better with time.  If you shoot for the stars right away (client wise) you'll end up educating all the potential clients of you inexperience.  The trick is to grow your client base gradually.  Another problem you will face is scaring away clients with "usage", when shmucks like myself will not insist on the issue.

4.  What have you found most effective for finding new clients?

SEO - I let them find me.

5.  How do you determine pricing, especially usage?

I charge a day rate, not usag 

6.  How are changing technologies affecting your business?

You need to charge enough so that you can keep buying all those new toys.  Figure a new camera / computer system every 3-5 years.  You're talking about 25-35 G's a crack.

7.  Do you hire freelance assistants?  If so what is an average starting wage for an assistant in your region? 

yes, 200-250 a day

8.  How many assistants do you have and how large is your team on a typical job?

one assistant, one food stylist, one prop stylist, and one stylist's assistant.

Good luck.

Hello, Mr. Ray!

I am a college student…no, not studying photography, but business.  And after I graduate with my bachelor’s degree in Business Management, I plan on attending culinary arts school to earn a second Bachelor’s in Baking and Pastry Arts Management, so I can become a pastry chef.  I was doing a little research on food photography after a conversation with my aunt who knows about my passion for all things pastry and she was asking me if I was still writing and taking pictures a lot. (I do a lot of writing and a lot of photography as well, and my family claims that it’s good and I should incorporate that into my future somehow.)  She was asking if I had ever considered food writing and/or photography.  Anyway, after talking to her, I began to think seriously about both of these fields.  I had considered them before, but decided to put my interests there on the back burner, because I wanted to concentrate on making the food.  But, it keeps popping up in the back of my mind, and I found your site, and I absolutely love it!!

So, now that I have a genuine interest in both of these fields, I have a couple of questions:

1.      Could I be a successful food photographer if my degree wasn’t in it, and I just took classes at culinary school while I’m getting my degree in Baking and Pastry?


2.      How, specifically, do you start a portfolio?  I looked on your site at that article, but seeing as how I’m not a photography student, I just enjoy it, and I don’t understand all of the terms used in that article.  For now, I just keep a photo album of lots of different shots of the same dish and keep the pictures numbered, and I have a journal that I write in about food that I’ve made and the pictures correlate with the entries in the journal.  Is that a good way to start for now?  (I try to keep myself busy in-between studying for business) J  Is there anything that I can do to start making this more professional and ways I could mesh the journal and portfolio together?  I honestly don’t even know where/how keep a portfolio or what to keep it in. To me, it’s a 3-ring binder with lots and lots of pictures and short descriptions. 

Because it is so "easy" and also "fun", there is a lot of competition in the field.  I would suggest that your degree be in photography.  There's a lot to learn.

3.      One of the reasons that I want to do both writing and photography is because my aunt told me that she knows a photographer who she was talking to about his field and he would always say that he could make more money if he could photograph and write, as would the writer say about the photography aspect.  Is this a smart way to have a corner on my field? 

Sounds like a plan, but food photography is VERY specialized.  Chances are that you would end up being only mediocre at the photography end unless you really understood that aspenc of the field.

4.      As far as my photography goes, I am a film purist.  I don’t mind digital photography, but I truly love film!  I don’t even own a digital camera.  Will this love of film hold me back in the food photography industry?

Absolutely!  I haven't shot film in years.

5.      How do I begin collecting equipment that I would need for a small studio or even my own private work to begin with?  Is there a specific kind or brand of light that I should start out with, that’s user-friendly for beginners?  All I really work with now is my camera and I just use whatever lighting I’ve got (I’m only in an on-campus apartment). 

You need to learn more about the profession.  I would suggest that you spend some time at this place and others like it.

Good luck

Dear Creative Food Photographer,

As an aspiring food photographer myself, I really admire your work and was hoping you could take the time to give me some insight on how you run your business. As a student at Brooks Institute of Photography, I am required to take a Marketing class for my Advertising and Industrial Photography Degree. As a project we have to interview working professionals in a concentrated field of interest such as food. I have included a couple questions that I was wondering if you could answer and email them back to me.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule,

Kim Riddle

How long have you been in business?

 25 years

How did you get started in the professional field? Did you go to school?

Seemed like an easy way to make a living.  Art Institute of Pittsburgh

Do you submit your work to editorial magazines? How do you contact them, through the photo editor etc..?

I have not really approached the magazines yet.  Soon.

How much work do you get in a year in your area?

Kind of an open ended question...  a lot.   Actually, this year, I've been making an effort to "go national", with pretty good success.

What is your day rate?

Next questions... :+)

Are certain parts of the year busier than others?

Not really.

How do you do your marketing? Do you have certain days you set aside to do your marketing in a week or month? Do you have office staff to help you?

No office staff, besides an inturn or two. I create a marketing plan at the beginning of every year and then usually totally ignore it. I spend most of my  money on email / web related marketing.  I'm going to write an article on marketing for my blog , one of these days soon.  I'll let you know when.

Do you hire new assistants? How do you find assistants? 

Freelance only

Hello, my name is Lauren and I am a grade 12 photography student at a highschool in Ontario. I am doing a project on a photographer of choice, and I have always found food photography to be very interesting. I came across your website, and love your work and was wondering if you would be able to answer a few questions for me.

1) What influenced you in deciding to become a commercial photographer?

seemed like an enjoyable way to make a living.

2) Where did you go to school to become a photographer?

Art Institute of Pittsburgh

3) Roughly, how much money would a commercial photographer generally make?

20-200 k

4) And last, do you enjoy what you are doing?

I've never dreaded going to work.  Can your dad say that?

Hi my name is Jessica Sturevski and I go to Bethany College Hurstville. We are currently doing an assignment on a food photographer and I have chosen Michael Ray as he seemed interesting. There are a couple of questions that I would like to ask you and would take it as a great pleasure if you wrote back.

1) Job requirements and skills needed

camera and a good eye...

2) Brief employment history

3) Preparing a photo shoot (what’s involved, skills, use of props, lighting)

Please write back really soon.. This information will not be used for commercial use.

Thank You

Hi Michael,

First let me tell you after browsing your work on the website, I though it is quite good. I found myself salivating over every picture, which I suppose is the goal. 

My Name is Randy and I am a student at Santa Monica College in CA. I am taking a history in photography class, and we have a term paper on a topic of our choosing. I chose to do Food photography, more specifically Fast Food photography. The professor warned me that finding information on this topic could be quite difficult, but to go ahead and try.

I have a couple of questions that maybe you could answer for me. Is there a typical style that you use for food as apposed to other photos. IE do most food photographers use digital in order to manipulate the photo easier?

Yes, cheaper too.

What kind of paper is most often used to develop fast food photos. 

Photographers , now a days, hand over CDs or DVDs,  not prints

Do you style the food, bring a food stylist in, or more often 

the food is styled by the clients?

99% of the time a stylist.  The other 1%, the client will style.

This topic now that I have started seems quite difficult. If there is any information that you can give me that is all inclusive of the process from getting clients to the finished product I would appreciate it so much. I hope that I have not waisted too much of your time and look forward to your response.


P o r t f o l i o: These images are from Michael's portfolio. Click on any one of them to take you to see his on-line food photographer's portfolio.