3 Food Photographers Discuss Home Studios, Networking, and Shooting in the Times of COVID19

The photography industry is an ever-changing amoeba that forces those within it to constantly adapt — and that was before the world got flipped upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. These days, adapting for photographers — food photographers, in this case — means constructing a home setup that allows for the creation of high-quality imagery that fits the needs of a given client.

For Reno, Nevada-based Shea Evans, turning a kitchen into a dual-purpose workspace is a two-pronged task. Fortunately for Shea, his background as a chef means he knows how to use the space in his kitchen as efficiently as possible. All that leaves is the tech side of the equation so as to accommodate a Zoom call with a client before and during shoot day.

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SE:   “Setup is part space management because, after all, I do live here, so it’s also about figuring out how to efficiently handle/move gear and keep things tidy. I’ve loved to cook for years, though, so having a functional kitchen with the right tools and a skillset to make a variety of foods solves those problems by default.”

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A look at some of Shea’s homemade work. View the entire gallery here.

SE:   “But setup is also part tech, figuring out how to open my modem/router to outside traffic so a client can follow along.”

What comes next is filling out the kitchen with any and all tools a food photographer may need to fulfill a client’s ask. Even the smallest pieces of equipment — stuff that wouldn’t be anywhere near a regular home kitchen — can be vital in making the best possible work. As Los Angeles-based Andrea D’Agosto notes, this accumulation of niche items comes with time and experience.

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Millicent Wibert of Creative Mill Studio preparing a stop motion at Andrea’s home studio.

AD:   “When a studio first becomes established, it’s hard to have all the extra things right off the bat. Experience plays a big role in creating a top-notch studio and anticipating your client’s needs is a real must. There are little tricks and tools that are used all the time and they are accumulated over time. For example, maybe a heat gun is needed on a particular shoot, so you purchase it and then you always have it in your studio for when the time comes up again.”

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A look at some of Andrea’s at-home work

Of course, we can’t forget about the main requirement: proper photography equipment. Cayla Zahoran has had a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn for years and it’s filled with top-notch cameras and lighting gear — the kind of equipment you’d see on a shoot with a name-brand client.

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CZ:   “My home studio includes a Nikon d850 with a Nikon 85mm f/2.8 PC Micro-Nikkor Telephoto Manual Focus Lens, a Gitzo Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod with Manfrotto 410 Geared Head, a 3 Phottix Indra500 Lights with profoto softboxes, and some Phottix Reflect Softbox Umbrellas. I have much more, of course, but that’s everything in the image above.”

One silver lining to the COVID era is that everyone has more time on their hands. This means people are more likely to be near their phones and computers and can therefore respond to outreach emails more promptly. That said, the last few months have seen businesses of all kinds struggle to stay afloat, so while it might be easier to hear back from potential clients, they might not be ready to hand out assignments just yet.

SE:   “In some ways, we’ve got more time than ever to network — or maybe “to connect” is better phrasing. People are generally more likely to be on their devices. I’d say I’ve had equally positive results from networking with organizations (like Komyoon, Wonderful Machine, and Create in Place) as I have with creatives/art buyers via Instagram or an email blast.”

CZ:   “Networking and marketing have always been the hardest part of owning a photography business. However, reaching out and pushing for new business these days has been quite a struggle for me, especially since a lot of businesses still aren’t in the office and restaurants are just trying to keep their lights on.”

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A look at some of Cayla’s at-home work.

Still, as spring has transitioned into summer, things have (slowly) started opening back up. However, each shoot comes with myriad hoops to jump through, especially ones where the photographer is on-site. But the on-location work is still less time consuming than remote stuff, mostly because people are still figuring out how to best utilize Zoom in preparation for shoot day. For creatives and producers who have spent all of their professional careers on set and face-to-face with each other, this has taken some getting used to.

AD:   “Client approval via Zoom has played a big role regarding safety, with smaller crews, masks, and gloves a part of the setup. Also, dedicating one person to each task has been big. For example, maybe I used to help out the food stylist and return some of the dishes to the kitchen after a shot, but now we make sure only the food stylist is touching the dishes. Or maybe, if I had stepped away from my computer and the stylist needed to see a new shot, they would be snap one off themselves, but now we make sure that myself or my assistant are the only ones touching the camera.”

CZ:   “I think the biggest process has been planning the photoshoots so clients will be at the shoot virtually instead of in real time. It slows each shoot a bit more, and there is more planning to do up-front and more pre-production calls to take place to make sure everyone is one the same page before the shoot even begins.”

And sometimes, in order to complete an assignment under these circumstances, you have to get creative. That’s exactly what Andrea did when she was told she couldn’t do a traditional on-site shoot for a client. Here’s how she worked around that:

AD:   “I’ve seen clients handling things in new ways to adapt. One client, for example, said that they couldn’t hire me outright for a project for fear of a lawsuit if anyone got sick. But, with some creative thinking, I was still able to get them the shots they needed and they bought them from me after the shoot. It was similar to a stock transaction.”

As for the market conditions at present juncture, it’s a mixed bag. The photographers we spoke with did mention an uptick in work in recent weeks, but things still haven’t gotten back to where they were pre-COVID, as you can imagine. That said, the more effort you put into your home studio, the better chance you have of appealing to clients who are in hiring mode. In time, clients will get better at creating safe on-site setups for photographers and their crews. Until that happens, it behooves food photographers to maintain a quality home setup so as to appeal to as many clients as possible.

SE:   “I’ve done one commissioned at-home shoot in addition to a number of personal projects. Last month, I did my first location shoot since this all started, including all the protocols that came with that. But it’s still very stop-and-start.”

AD:   “For the food photography industry, I think there are starting to be more opportunities. There are new safety protocols in place and new ways of serving customers and it all needs to be documented. I’ve started to get really busy, happy to see that clients are feeling the need for new imagery again.”

This article was published courtesy of wonderfulmachine.com

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