on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular


Story and photos by

First impressions count. Your initial opinion of cuisine often comes from food photos — in a brochure, ad, website, menu, food package or window display. "Good food photographs compel the person looking at them to say: 'Wow! Does that ever look good! I'd like to eat it,'" says Robert Wigington.

Afternoon tea
Afternoon tea
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Wigington's photographs appear in cookbooks by Bonnie Stern, Elizabeth Baird and Anita Stewart, on food packages for President's Choice, Nestle, Loblaws and other food companies and in magazines, including Canadian Living and Cottage Life.

Graphic design degrees

"Start by working with someone who has a graphic design education," he says. "Graphic designers will discuss your goals and audience. They can suggest a photographer who, in turn, can recommend food and prop stylists. Most foodservice operators haven't even thought about graphic design."

Photographers agree that a food stylist is essential for success. "Even though chefs can make good-looking food, a stylist knows how the camera sees it," says Wigington. "This is especially critical for everyday food items like burgers and chicken wings, which are notoriously hard to photograph."

Vince Noguchi, who does product photography for magazines and food and drink companies, including the LCBO, Kraft, Nabisco and M&M Meat Shops, agrees. "For restaurants, flavour is priority; for food stylists, it's looks. Food stylists handpick the freshest ingredients so dishes look absolutely stunning."

Grilled fish with mango and papaya salsa
Grilled fish with mango and papaya salsa
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Prop stylist

Noguchi says a prop stylist is equally important to convey the right ambience. "Good props will lend a nautical feel to a seafood photo," he says. "Restaurants may want to use their own decor and dishes, but the dishes have to be new because scratches show up on the photos."

What will it cost? "Restaurant owners may be totally shocked by the price," says Wigington. "In Toronto, where rates are higher than in the rest of the country, food stylists charge up to $750 per day, plus food costs. Food photographers can charge $2,000 or more a day.

"Invariably, an operator will say, 'That's an incredible amount of money. I could do it myself, or hire a friend who has a good camera.' They have to keep in mind, however, that an ad is also expensive, and if the photography doesn't motivate the viewer to say 'I want to eat that!' or 'I want to try that restaurant!' then they are wasting their money."

Photographic studios

According to Noguchi, it takes time to set up and tear down camera equipment, in a restaurant, and to photograph the same dish multiple times with different lighting, various coloured napkins, glasses and other props.

Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"Using my own studio is faster." Photographers will work around a restaurant's opening hours, if a location shoot is preferred. "I usually set up in the morning, when it's empty, and leave before patrons arrive for lunch," adds Wigington.

Catalogue photography

What rights do you get for your money? Wigington and Noguchi say it depends on where and how the photographs will be used (e.g., in the restaurant, within the city or nationwide), how long you want to use the photo and who you are (a small Mom & Pop restaurant couldn't pay the same rates as a large multinational chain).

Lobster sandwiches
Lobster sandwiches
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Advertising photography and catalogue photography are more expensive than photos for editorial use.

"A photo buyer should be prepared to pay for extra usage beyond what was originally negotiated," says Wigington. "Website use or a billboard, for example, would cost extra." A total buy-out of all rights, according to Noguchi, is rare, because it's very expensive.

Great photographs

Your food photography money will be well spent if you follow these tips:
  • Use a graphic designer to help plan your promotion, set your goals and target audience.
  • Hire a food stylist to ensure that the food is camera-ready.
  • Use a prop stylist to convey the right ambience.
  • Hire an experienced food photographer, but be prepared to pay big bucks for quality.
  • Determine the uses and time frame required for the photos up front, so you don't have to negotiate extra rights and fees later.