Developing an Appetite for Food Photography

We’re frequently told that if you want to earn sales from stock photography — and especially microstock photography — you should shoot for businesses. Images of people in suits sell better than pictures of clouds and flowers, however well-shot the roses might be.

It’s a message that not everyone seems to be listening to. Search for the keyword “business” on iStock, and you’ll be offered an impressive 202,612 images. Look for “food” images though, and you’ll be able to browse 238,976 pictures. On, the online version of a more traditional stock company, the figures are reversed but the gap is still surprisingly small. Getty’s website offers 450,884 “business” images compared to 403,142 photos of food of various kinds.

Those numbers however don’t seem to be reflected in sales. None of iStock’s most popular images contain a picture of anything edible. Several though carry the “business” tag.

Strawberries are Easy
The large numbers of food images available despite the apparently smaller market probably has much to do with ease of shooting. It’s much harder to find models willing to pose as executives than it is to buy a strawberry and photograph it while it’s still fresh and shiny.

And that’s as good a reason as any to do it, but it does mean that you have to be a little smarter in the marketing. One option is to leave the crowded food halls on microstock sites and submit your images of fruit and veg to a specialized niche company like StockFood.

Founded in 1979, StockFood has always offered images of food, supplying advertising agencies, magazines, newspapers, book publishers, corporations, designers and the food and beverage industry with relevant photos.

The company’s website boasts 176,000 finely targeted images, a figure that sounds much smaller than the number of similar photos available on less specialized outlets. StockFood though makes up for those figures by demanding only professional quality images, requesting that photographers use careful captioning that includes all of the ingredients in a dish and by emphasizing “strong, multi-functional” images.

“For example, an image depicting a family in a grocery store could be used for editorial purposes as well as for advertising uses such as point-of-purchase displays and supermarket circulars,” explains Shannon Mahoney, the company’s general manager. “[It] is an image that can enhance, and be adapted to, a variety of layouts, ideas and media therefore providing more opportunities for use.”

Submitting images to StockFood for review is relatively simple. According to the site’s submission guidelines, the company will accept ten images attached to an email or even a link to an online portfolio. Model and property releases are also necessary, even for shots of hands and restaurants, as is caption information. The most common mistake photographers make when submitting images to StockFood is not following the guidelines, says Shannon, so it’s worth spending a few minutes ticking off each of the requirements.

Don’t Expect your Images Back
Once accepted though, the submissions have to be exclusive and taking the photos back if they don’t sell isn’t easy.

“Pulling images is possible but due to our extensive international distribution, it can be extremely costly and time-consuming to remove an image once submitted,” warns Shannon. “We ask photographers to be certain that all submitted images are available for the term of the contract and that all rights have been retained.”

Photographers can choose to sell their images either Royalty-Free (RF) or Rights-Managed (RM). Shannon noted that the RM images tend to have higher production costs and a more conceptualized look; RF images are usually simple, clean and more versatile. Earnings though depend on the frequency of submissions, and the company sets the prices. For RF images, the cost depends on the file size; for RM images, the price is determined by the image’s intended use.

Shannon wouldn’t reveal the sort of royalties that photographers can expect from a sale but she did point out that successful photographers produce a continuous stream of new images. Most importantly, those new images should take the latest trends in food photography into account, including changes in styling and lighting.

“This is one of the most important things to bear in mind when shooting food images for stock in addition to keeping images fairly simple and clean,” advises Shannon. “Be sure to get familiar with what is currently popular in the market.”

StockFood itself can help with ideas and advice but browsing the 400,000-plus images on other sites can be helpful too. Even if you aren’t buying, seeing what sells there might help make sure that your own food images sell well too.

[tags] food photography, stock food photography [/tags]

One comment for this post.

  1. Henrik Said:

    Thank you for the tip. I will sure browse their images to get some inspiration and ideas.

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