So far, on a day rate, I've been charging in the $1500-$2000 range. That includes the cost of the stylist. The rate may change if they want things like prop rentals, prop styling, etc as my stylist would obviously add costs for the prop rental and additional services. So far, we've been focusing on close-up images of meals on the restaurant's own dishes. For this type of shoot, we can usually do a maximum of 8 setups in a single day.
The biggest challenge I've had so far is getting a clear vision from the clients on exactly what they want in the images. Obviously the approach to photographing a tight plate of food is very different than shooting food and beverages together (both the food and beverages need to be styled and a mug of beer can take quite a while to stage). Our most recent client had hired a designer who had absolutely no idea what he was doing. He kept telling us that he had a very clear vision of what he wanted but could never articulate it. He sent sample images that all had very different approaches. One was a burger on a black background, one on a white, one with a model holding the burger, one photographed outside, and so on. All of these things need to be decided long before the shoot. 24 hours before the shoot we didn't even have a list of the 8 plates that they wanted to shoot. In the end, I contacted the owner and let him know that we may need to bow out of the shoot. I would rather turn down the work than shoot images that I know they won't want to use. My original discussions had been with the owner and in the end, they pulled the designer out of the equation and the chef, owner, stylist and myself were able to produce the exact images that we had originally discussed. I would never want to be in a position where I show up at the shoot only to find that the approach they wanted meant that I needed special equipment that needed to be rented or simply had not been packed as it was outside of the scope of the shoot. An example would be expecting to shoot tight shots and suddenly being asked to shoot a wide shot with models that would require additional lights to illuminate the entire restaurant. Obviously a shot like this would also reduce the number of setups that could be done in a single day.
With the restaurants I'm working with, this is often the first time they've actually undertaken professional photography. The first step is usually getting great images of exactly what they serve on a daily basis. It's critical that we all have a very clear idea of the goals and objectives of the day. The next shoot can look at more ambitiously staged images if need be.
Many of the restaurants don't use any imagery on their menus. In the case of my most recent shoot, the shoot planning began with a discussion with the bar manager who was embarrassed to post his iPhone shots of their wings on Facebook for wing night. Social media marketing is becoming one of the main drivers helping to motivate their photography needs. As we spoke more, he discussed that they were introducing an entirely new menu so the timing was perfect to photograph an selection of the new menu items in addition to the wings.
Now I'm hoping that their investment in upgraded imagery will prompt some of the other local restaurants to follow suit.