It has been two years and I have never talked about what happened that led me to food photography.
One word Passion. Reality is complicated. Two years ago I was laid off from my Lead Still Life Photographer job at a luxury retailer. I was thrown a curve ball. I knew it was coming. Six months before the lay off I started to get some strange vibes at work. Three months before the layoff the company formally announced the layoffs. I still get a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about it.
Life is a journey let's talk about it!
I have been a commercial photographer for the last 10 years. I started as a freelancer for a newspaper. I met some awesome people while there and started being a photo assistant. I wanted to get more of an inside perspective on the commercial photography world. I climbed the rank from photo assistant to digital tech, to studio manager. Finally, I took a leap and went out on my own again as a photographer. I did general commercial photography work for a few years. It was great. I was having a blast, but not making the most money and I struggled with getting enough work.
I decided to make a change. I wanted to tackle a market that was pretty barren in Nashville. So I jumped into product photography. For about two months I focused my time on creating a product photography portfolio with a prop stylist that I had met. This is one of the best moves that I have ever made for my career.
A new Career
At about this same time I got word that a luxury retailer was going to open a studio in Nashville. There was a rumor that they needed product photographers. I hurried and put together a book of my new product photography. The rumor turned into reality. One of my good friends who was a product photographer had a recruiter reach out to him. He also gave them my name. A few months later I sit down for my first of three interviews with this company. The company makes me an offer to be a Jr. Photographer.
I started with this company as a Jr. Photographer, worked my way up to a Staff Photographer and finally, I made Lead Still Life Photographer. It was an awesome journey and I learned a ton along the way. I was at the Nashville studio from the day that it opened. I helped build the desk, put together the workstations, helped lay out the initial set design. I was with Saks for 3 years. It was an amazing job opportunity. I became friends with some amazing photographers, retouchers, and stylist that are now part of my team.
This job allowed me to meet some of the best product photographers I have ever seen. I was mentored by an amazing jewelry photographer. My photography skills accelerated at an amazing pace because I was doing photography 40 hours a week. I went from thinking I knew a lot about product photography to actually knowing. Photographing product and fashion for 40 hours a week will change you as a photographer. You learn what the important things to watch for are, you learn how to shoot a lot of items in a limited time frame. You learn how to photograph one item and take your time to get the perfect image. When I started I thought I knew about workflow. Over three years I learned what makes for a good studio environment.
I was creating product images every day and essentially doing the same thing every week for 40 hours. I say that, but I was always excited to go to work. I never stopped freelancing. I still had the drive to be creative outside of work. I knew going in that this type of job is rarely a forever job.
The Good Stuff
The great things about being a full-time staff photographer. You get a paycheck the 1st and the 15th of each month. You don't have to worry about getting paid on time. You don't have to market. You don't have to do business taxes, sales tax, or any complicated tax stuff. You have a place to go and work every day.
The Bad Stuff
The bad things about being a full-time staff photographer. You are doing the same thing every day. You are in the same studio every day. You are creating to the same standards every day. It can kill creativity.
While I was working as a full-time staff photographer I got bored creatively. I wanted something to do that was creative and fun. For the majority of my marriage, I have been the home cook. I started taking my cooking to new levels with fresh ingredients, and new flavors and textures. It became a really fun adventure to see what I could cook next.
Since I was creating really tasty and beautiful food I figured I might as well start photographing it. So in November of 2015, I started photographing my food. I photographed my food for fun. For creative freedom. To escape reality. To live. To be free. Photographing food was solely for me. I had no one to report to. No one to say if it was good, bad or indifferent. I did not care how good my food photography was.
Something is not right
Fast forward to January 2016. I start to feel something strange in the atmosphere at work. Things are just not quite right. I start to get more serious about my food photography. I start bringing out my lights. I start creating some surfaces to photograph food on. I start putting my work together for a possible portfolio. I'm having a lot of fun thinking about food photography.
The Gut Punch
Eventually, we get the word that they are going to close down our studio. I'm pretty gutted about it. I have been doing a job that I honestly loved for almost 3 years. It is hard to find an amazing full-time photography job. They let us know that it would be a while before our last day the studio would be open for a few more months and that we would be getting severance packages. Over three years the people that I was working with had become like family. I was going to miss the people that I was working with more than anything. Despite the fact that I felt that this was coming I was still shocked. It ended up being about three months from the time we were notified until the studio would shut down.
My first call after finding out the news was to my wife. She was amazingly supportive. She was 100% on board with me opening back up my freelance photography business full time. She had zero worry about me being able to make enough money.
My second call was to a good buddy that is the Cheif Creative Officer for an advertising agency. We discussed opportunities with his firm as an in-house creative, and also started talking about rebranding my work. I decided to pass on doing in-house work with his company. We focused our conversation on rebranding my work and creating a new logo.
My third call was to my old business coach. We went over a few ideas on how to get me in front of a lot of people in the next few weeks to interview, and to also pitch my portfolio to as many people as possible.
Over the next few months, I went on dozens of interviews. I wanted to at least try to find another good fit as an in-house creative. I interviewed at a lot of really cool companies and got offered 6 full-time creative jobs. I ultimately decided that as much as I would like a steady paycheck that I really just wanted to spend some time and do my own thing again.
I consider myself truly lucky. I was able to have a few months before one job ended to figure out what I wanted to do. I was able to think about and plan my journey.
The Hard Work
I pitched my book to dozens of advertising agencies and creatives. I had put together a portfolio of my work in about a week. My portfolio consisted of 4 sections: food, product, lifestyle and a personal project. I was completely sold on the idea that I would be a product photographer. I thought product photography especially my e-commerce work was really strong. I was selling myself as a product photographer. This was the hard work. Getting to meet a ton of new creatives takes a ton of time and energy.
What actually happened though was during all of these meetings that creative directors and art directors were drawn to my food photography. I had hit on something that people were wanting to buy.
For three months I was the lead still life photographer. It was a great job. It was a difficult job. My former manager left the company early to pursue a new opportunity. I was given an amazing opportunity to try my hand at management without a lot of the responsibility. I got to help guide my team of still life photographers through a layoff and try to keep team energy high and still produce high-quality product photography. I'm going, to be honest, it was rough. Everyone had high emotions. Luckily because I had an amazing new manager who I reported to he made the task easy. The last day was really bitter sweet. We packaged up all of the studio gear into boxes and just left. It was great to wrap up that chapter of my life. We got to pack everythign up and I think that was good it allowed for a sense of closure that most people dont get. It was sad becuase over the course of three years I had made some amazing friends.
The New Buisness
About a month into my new business I landed a contract to photograph 20 restaurants for a company. That 20 restaurants ended up turning into 60 restaurants. Those 60 restaurants turned into 120 restaurants. I was suddenly a food photographer. This one client turned into dozens of clients. It was a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.
Let's be honest this was a gut punch. We had just moved into a bigger house. We had just taken on a much larger mortgage. My daughter was still in daycare. We had a lot of money going out each month. It was super stressful.
I have found that moving on to the next thing is always difficult. If you want to continually better yourself you have to challenge yourself. I heard a quote the other day that "Next level life comes with next level challenges". IT is completely true. It is a challenge to get to the next level. You have to embrace the hard stuff.
I am a Food, Beverage and Product Photographer!
Food photography ended up taking off. Two years later and I am happy to be a food and beverage photographer. I left a company after three amazing years. I was able to pull myself and my work together and start a freelance business again. It was a huge jump to get back in. I'm going, to be honest, I was super nervous. What would happen? Will I make enough money? Will people buy my work? I was a nervous wreck for months. Lots of hard work and effort and I can say that my business is going well. I'm still at a point where I am constantly working on improving my work, my business model, and workflow. I'm still evolving as a creative. I hope that my creative journey will keep changing. I have bigger goals for every month and every year. There is always something to change or test. I'm also super glad that I'm finally talking about how I became a food photographer.
Hopefully, I can give you a little bit of inspiration if you are thinking about becoming a food photographer. If you have gone though a career transiton tell me about it. How did it go? Do you have any tips for becoming a food photogarpher?