The Photographer or the Instagrammer – choosing your next pro
Just like The Cook and The Chef, an Australian television show I adore, ‘The Instagrammer and The Photographer’ both have admirable qualities. The valuable point here is—they’re offering very different services in a similar sphere.
Being well-versed in the food-service industry I hear both amazing and cringe-worthy stories about photoshoots, photographers and their final results.
In this post, I’m clearing the smoke to better prepare brands who are serious about getting the best value and results for their dollars. Read on to understand the differences between the Photographer and the Instagrammer.
What’s so different between a Photographer and an Instagrammer?
Starting in 2010, young Instagram had a different rulebook. Spontaneous, phone cameras, feely-filters, and hobbyists being showered in praise for their artistic expression. Everyone got that warm fuzzy feeling.
In 2012, Facebook bought Instagram and in September 2015, Instagram opened its advertising to all. Since then Instagram’s mobile advertising revenue has more than tripled to 2.82 billion dollars!
How Instagram has evolved! Today, seven years later, Instagram is a global social platform where personal and business brands can sell to a global market. Instagram is now an advertising engine appearing between your bestie’s baked brownies and your mum’s pet poses.
Rise of the food-grammer
With the rise of social media and interest in all things ‘food’, came the rise of hobbyist food snappers. Millions of ‘food-grammers’ have emerged in the last five years. The cream rising to the top—some are professionally-trained photographers and some are self-trained amateur photographers.
Food-grammers can have an adoring following because they tell engaging stories through words as well as images. Of course, on a quick skim you’re likely to come across some nice images, they may even offer a cheap service to take images for your product—but it’s important to be aware that all this, doesn’t necessarily make them a good choice when it comes to your product.
The images and recipes which they publish are highly curated and they’ll avoid tricky subjects such as curries, frozen product (unless they’re living through a northern hemisphere winter) or anything commercial. If you look across an entire feed you’ll spot wild variability in image and compositional quality.
A food-grammers kit is also limited. Most will have a small table set up next to a window for light. While this suits their own small creations, it’s rarely fit for a large spread of commercial product which needs expert styling, compostion, and an intricate lighting plan, in order to make the subject hold its own.
While at the top of the rankings a certain level of innate creative talent can be spotted in food-grammers, they still may struggle with the balance of emphasis and composition simply because they haven’t had the same rigorous, formal training that a pro will have.
They’re usually one-man bands who are jacks of all trades, masters of none. By comparison, a pro studio will employ the skills of a creative team made up of photographers, art directors, food stylists, and post-producers—each role is highly specialized and experienced.
It’s also important to note the differences in business models between food-grammers and pros. Food-grammers, as solo-preneurs or side-giggers to their normal day job, rely on a mix of advertising revenue or lead generation for their daily bread. It’s in their interest to churn out quick, easy shots to keep up the volume of posts. A pro exchanges decades of expertise for income and allocates the necessary amount of time and resources to each project, to make sure that they are working for the clients needs—not themselves.
Rise of the food-grammer
Don’t get me wrong. Instagram is an incredible tool—I use it both personally and professionally. Visual apps such as Instagram have allowed users to have a deeper connection with brands—and grammers know their stuff when it comes to digital marketing!
Superficially, these social apps have seemingly created a sea of options when it comes to the choice of someone to capture your product—the temptation for many food brands today. But think for a moment—this scenario is not unlike your own business. You would understand how a diner would only see the present moment of your product on their plate. It’s unlikely they would ever stop to think about the many staff you must employ, the expertise in commercial manufacturing, the separate ingredients, or the complex supply chains you need to manage to get your product perfectly to their table.
Likewise, with social food posts what’s important to stress, is that you’re only looking at a surface result. Without truly understanding and appreciating what goes on behind the scenes—the scale of selectivity, complexity, skill and available resources—if you aren’t able to compare apples with apples—you could be making decisions that aren’t based on what your product actually needs in order to make it shine.
So how do you separate the good from the brilliant? We’ve created a list of handy tips to help you understand the actual things you should be considering, rather than making surface judgments.
Hiring tips for your next food photo gig
How can you do your due diligence to ensure you’re not wasting money or time? How can you know that the money you’re about to outlay won’t be false economy?
If you want to minimize frustrations and ensure the best bang for the buck, here are the things you should investigate before you engage a photographer.
A professional photographer can offer images for any medium. Instagram is only one visual platform. Shooting for social is not the same as shooting for packaging, websites, adverts or billboards (to name but some). For best results, lighting and tone must be set specifically for purpose. While many clients aren’t aware of the subtleties a pro will help you clarify your vision, define your needs, walk you through your shot list, and recommend approaches you may not have considered. Unless part of the brief, a pro will aim for longevity rather than flash-in-the-pan trends to help stretch your budget and images’ relevance.
Any photographer worth their reputation will be a member of a professional photographic association. For example, Feast is a member of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography. The Institute expects its members to follow the Code of Professional Practice and conduct themselves in a manner that maintains the integrity of the industry. Accountability is important. Pro photographers will also maintain adequate levels of public liability insurance and invest in fully licensed commercial software.
Qualifications and experience
A professional food photographer will have hard-earned qualifications along with extensive experience. Make sure you look for several examples of commercial and advertising work in their website portfolio (not just their Instagram feed). Their experience will also allow them to provide quick quotes based on realistic timeframes to ensure that you receive high value from your dollars and that the shoot doesn’t result in undefined blowouts on your budget.
Ask who does the photography, styling, post-production and the art direction. If they tell you they do it all—be wary. While these skills can overlap, a person who could perform each of these roles at a viable commercial level is as rare as hen’s teeth. A team of one doesn’t necessarily cut down on man-hours if it takes them four times as long to create a result. In food photography because of temperature control (hot food, frozen food and everything in between), timing is key. Photographic preparation needs to work synchronously with food preparation and styling, so it’s almost impossible to successfully entrust these roles to a single individual.
Do they have a phone or digital camera—or do they have a career’s collection of professional equipment including cameras, lighting, screens, backdrops, props and gear to back up the gear! A pro will also have invested in a robust archival system to protect your investment from disappearing in cyberspace.
Do they have a professional studio with a separate prep kitchen, or do they work at their apartment’s sunny bedroom window? A pro will be able to build a studio on-site, inside, outside, in any kind of weather, at any time of day? Make sure that your chosen photographer has this kind of flexibility because things don’t always go to plan.
Speaks the industries language
Do they have experience working with creative directors, designers and advertising agencies? Professional creative industries, like any profession, has its own language—one which your photographer must be fluent in.
Testimonials and references
Like any service provider, you decide to engage, check their references and testimonials for positive experiences.
If you’ve spent time absorbing this list you’ll be closer to answering the big question for yourself—do you need a Chef or a Cook?