What is the Cost to Start Making Money as a Food Photographer?
The cost to start out as a food photographer can be anywhere between $0 to $10,000. The low end of zero is assuming you have some knowledge and the bare minimum equipment already. The higher end is for more experienced photographers wanting to scale their business quickly. A good average cost to expect is about $1550 for most new photographers based on the estimates in this article.
There are many expenses to consider when starting out on a new business venture. This post will go over all of the necessary and unnecessary costs for starting a food photography business. We’ll also discuss what things to save for in the future.
What is the Minimum Cost to Become a Food Photographer if You’re Starting with Nothing?
Total Cost Estimate: $450
If we add up the estimated costs of a camera, a lens, a memory card, and diffusers described below we have a minimum starting cost of about four hundred and fifty dollars.
Let’s say you are starting from scratch and you want to know what the absolute cheapest cost would be to get started. You will need as a bare minimum; a camera, a lens (if you are using a camera body that doesn’t already have a lens), a memory card, and something to control light such a diffuser.
According to Priceithere.com the average digital camera costs somewhere between $300 and $900 dollars. However, we’re going for the absolute cheapest things you can start with in this section.
If we’re getting technical here, You could actually get a used digital point and shoot camera from a secondhand retailer such as B&H or eBay for as little as $80. I don’t recommend that of course. In fact, a smartphone (which you probably have) would be better than that in most cases.
Let’s assume you at least want to start with a DSLR camera and go with the lower estimate of $300 for a used one.
For a DSLR camera you will need a lens to start with if you do not already have one with your camera body. The average cost for professional lenses is between $200 and $700 dollars. You can get one used fairly cheap though. So let’s say you get a used lens at $100. I recommend a 50mm f/1.8 (aka the “nifty fifty”) as it is an extremely versatile lens to start with.
Memory Card/SD Card:
You only need to have one memory card to get started and they average about $20 at most stores. I don’t recommend getting these used. They can be faulty enough brand new and are pretty inexpensive.
Diffuser & Bounce Cards:
A diffuser is very important if you are shooting with natural light (which you should start with). It’s free and it’s beautiful. Diffusers cost somewhere between $15 – $30. Artificial light can come later in your career. You’ll also need something to bounce light no matter what type of light you’re using. A simple set of double-sided bounce cards runs about $15 – $20 but you can also use black and white poster boards.
So we’ll say you get the cheapest diffuser and the cheapest set of bounce cards at $15 each. So $30 here.
That brings us to the estimate of $450 to start.
Helpful Things to Have When Starting Out
These are not all things that you must have, however they will make your workflow far easier and help you take better photos. I’ll list below about what these items will cost you and the total.
Total Estimated Cost Here: $1100
There are many editing software options, some free and some paid. I recommend the Adobe Suite, or at least the Lightroom and Photoshop photography plan. You can get Lightroom and Photoshop for only $9.99 per month with that pricing plan. So an estimated cost of $120 per year.
You will almost definitely want a tripod and I recommend making this a bigger investment. You can get very cheap tripods to hold your camera but you run the risk of it toppling over and damaging your camera. A much bigger expense than just buying a sturdy tripod that will last.
Tripods can cost anywhere from $20 to $20,000. Crazy right? Don’t worry, you can get a quality tripod for about $150. I love my Vanguard Alta Pro tripod. It’s sturdy enough to secure my camera but lightweight enough to travel with and it is super versatile. Estimated cost: $150
Backdrops are the part most food photographers love. You can make them at home with pretty cheap materials but you can also buy them online at many places now. I have a whole list on Amazon of low priced options I love. They tend to average around $50.
Food Styling Props:
Props are another fun part for most food photographers. You can buy most of your props at yard sales, thrift store, or purchase them online on stores that sell dishes. Etsy often has very cool unique dishes that have a vintage look. Costs here can vary widely, but a budget of about $80 can get you started with many props.
Unless you plan to never edit your photos you will need a laptop for retouching. Good laptops range in price from as low as $200 on Back Friday deal to much higher. Expect to pay around $700 for a decent one for your photo editing needs.
Adding it all up:
That puts us at an estimated total of $1550 to become a food photographer with all the basic essentials.
Costs to Consider as You Scale Your Business & Need New Equipment
Now that we’ve gone over costs to become a food photographer you may wonder about future costs you may have. Here are some things you’ll likely need going forward.
Food Photography Education/Courses:
There are many options to learn about food photography. I’d start with Youtube it’s filled with great creators and it’s free. Another great place is Skill Share. They have a large library of online classes for food photography. It is a great place to start learning at a low cost. Just $32 per month.
Camera Upgrade/Backup Camera:
Most photographers prefer to have a backup camera for big photoshoots in case of anything happening to their main camera. You also may eventually want to upgrade to something nicer. Estimated cost: $500.
You may also find that you’d like to increase your scope, no pun intended, and try some new lenses. Estimated cost: $400
Another area where prices vary widely. Artificial lights can be anywhere from $45 to $5000. A good one can cost as little as $250 though.
You’ll likely want a bag to carry all of your camera gear and lenses and such. There are a number of style options online but you can get them pretty inexpensive. Estimated cost: $65.
A styling kit is a collection of things that you find helpful when setting up your food for the shot. Things like tweezers, rags to clean plates, spray bottles for spritzing greens, paint brushes, etc. Estimated cost: $50
File Storage/Hard Drive:
Once you are taking lots of photos you’ll need a place to safely store and back them up. A backup drive is a great solution. I really like the Seagate ones and you can get them online for about $100
Many food photographers swear by shooting tethered to a computer or laptop screen. This isn’t completely necessary but it is a great area to branch into. Estimated Cost: $40
Expenses for Running a Food Photography Business
Aside from the costs that are directly related to food photography, you will need to plan for costs of doing business. These are some things you’ll likely want to budget for.
You can get a domain and hosting fairly cheap with a hosting service like Bluehost or Siteground. I have used both and had great experiences. Estimated cost: $100
If you want to grow your business and find new clients you may want to try look into advertising. You can run ads in local publications or on social media, do email marketing, or print flyers. Estimated cost: $200.
Business cards are an essential if you do lots of in person meetings with clients. You can get them printed online and mailed to your address. I really like using Canva for this. Estimated cost: $35.
Client Management Software:
It’s very helpful to use a software to organize client bookings, contracts, emails, and payments. I have had a great experience using Honeybook, but there are plenty of options. Estimated cost: $39 per month
Studio + Utility Expenses
Not a necessary expense unless you’re doing very large scale work. A home food photography studio is completely sufficient for most scenarios. If you do need a studio the costs can be anywhere from $1000 – $5000 per month.
Once your business is really grown you may want to hire a bookkeeper to handle all of your books. When starting out you can simply use an excel sheet or a well-known service like Quickbooks. Estimated cost: $55 per month.
Business Email Account:
A business email address is something to consider for your business. It helps you keep your emails separate and looks more professional to clients. Estimated cost: 12.50 per month
Food photography can be a very profitable business with very low startup costs relative to most other businesses. You can start with a basic knowledge of photography, a camera and some simple gear. Don’t worry about fancy gear and expensive ad campaigns when you’re just getting started. As you gain clients and experience you can scale your business and expenses accordingly.
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