Andrew Scrivani certainly knows how to make food look good on camera. The New York Times contributing photographer has spent several decades perfecting his craft, mastering how to take photos of food that’ll instantly make you hungry. But while he’s long been considered a leader in the field, a lot of what he’s learned has actually been taught on the job.
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“I felt my way through it over the first years,” he explains. “I kind of came at this as a blank slate.”
These days, though, he’s generated an assemblage of knowledge that he shares with up-and-coming photographers. He teaches classes, mentors young photographers, and has even written a book, “That Photo Makes Me Hungry,” geared toward amateur photographers who want to perfect their food photography. The book is replete with guides—everything from style recommendations to essential gear. He understands how pervasive food photography has become; it’s transitioned from simply accompanying text to becoming a global phenomenon, a tangible way to document edible experiences through social media.
That Photo Makes Me Hungry: Photographing Food for Fun & Profit, $14.99 on Amazon
“It’s part of that sharing culture,” Andrew says. “We’re sharing all our experiences. As we live life we’re living it through the phone, and part of that is through food.”
And while his book poses plenty of useful tips and tricks to think about when it comes to physically taking photographs of food, Andrew maintains that a big portion of being successful is crafting a brand on the internet.
“If you’re going to be a food photographer and half of your feed is of your kid and the other half is your food, that doesn’t feel like a professional presentation,” he says. “How you craft your public image in the social media age is really important.”
For more rules of the business, keep reading for an excerpt from Andrew’s book, where he underscores some of the most important tenets to keep in mind (think, “When opportunity knocks, kick down the door”). And while you’re at it, download Andrew’s podcast episode of Table Talk, where he talks the photography business and what it’s really like to be a food photographer.
Excerpted from That Photo Makes Me Hungry. Copyright 2019 by Andrew Scrivani. Reproduced by permission of The Countryman Press. All rights reserved.
Five Rules of the Biz
Know Your Worth
Never, Ever Give It Away
Exposure on Social Media Is a Myth
When Opportunity Knocks, Kick the Door Down
Money Is Not the Only Compensation
Imagine this: You’ve posted a beautiful, moody picture of your favorite dessert on your Instagram account. You get more likes than ever before, and, in the comments, you’ve even had some feelers from what seem like legitimate outlets . . .
My advice is to stop for a moment and read this chapter. In it, I will explain how the business works from experience, mine and others. I’ll tell you what to ask for, what to look for, what to expect, and what not to accept.
There are no spreadsheets or business plans in this chapter. I approach it from my perspective, with insight on finding your own style and knowing how to sell it well. I share the “The 10 Questions” every food photographer should ask before taking on a job. I’ll discuss pricing and partnership, and most importantly, the best ways to find work. You may be surprised that I suggest being involved with the shopping, chop- ping, and prepping of the food. To me, spending that time in the kitchen means that the end result will look like I want and expect it to look. There will be no surprises, like a bell pepper split vertically instead of horizontally when it comes time to stuff it.
In addition to those details, I’ll get into self-promotion and ways to get your work in front of the right eyeballs. Many of you are trying to build a following on social media. There are certain ways to make your photographs stand out. I’ve pulled together some “Rules to Post By,” as well as listing some of the common mistakes of food photography on social media (never flash your food!).
I am sharing my knowledge, and always have, for one very good reason: our business is not unionized or organized in any way. Our work can be priced in so many different ways, even in the best circumstances. If we don’t have some collective understanding of what professionalism is in our business, then it eventually won’t be sustainable for any of us. I want the opposite to be true.
I had help, too, when I started out, and I encourage everyone to ask questions and connect with photographers you admire. Two of my closest friends, Joe Fornabaio and Jen Pugliese, were also my mentors at the beginning of my career. Joe taught me how to be a photographer, and Jen taught me how to be a professional photographer. And I still talk to both of them almost every day. Both are a little younger than I am and look up to me like a big brother at times, but without their collective knowledge of this business, I would not be writing these words. I consistently went to both of them, people who had a decade of experience before I ever went on an assignment, to help me navigate the business. You all need a Joe or a Jen in your life. I have many other mentors and I’ve been one for some people. Some of you will pay it forward and mentor others. It builds strength in our business.
Header image by Andrew Scrivani.