Food photography has experienced a boom in recent years. Hundreds, thousands of people on Instagram calling themselves food photographers and food stylists without ever having set foot in a commercial photography environment.

But is that necessary to become a professional photographer?

There’s this subtly hinted snobbery that comes from commercial photographers on Instagram photographers. That somehow this isn’t the way things are done. Or taking pretty pictures and owning 50 backdrops doesn’t mean you’re a “real photographer”.

In this blog post, I discuss the differences, pros and cons and how to choose which photographer is right for your brand.

Commercial food photographer

Commercial photography is photography used to sell or promote a product or service, or in short, to make money. There are many different niches of commercial photography, from interiors, to product, to fashion. In general, commercial photography is defined by where the photos will be ultimately used.

Nowadays, more and more companies are seeing the value of professional photography, which has diversified the reaches of commercial photography.

Traditionally commercial food photographers would be commissioned by large brands who understood, and more importantly, had the budget for visual marketing. As a result, photographers often worked within a large team potentially made up of an art director, food stylist, photographic assistant and so on.


So one potential downside to hiring a commercial food photographer is cost. Not only because of production costs, but also because the distribution-scale (how many people will see the photo) is a factor to the image pricing.

That also means that commercial food photography isn’t a realistic option for smaller companies with a reduced marketing budget.

Location is another factor to consider. If you are based in a small town, your options for hiring a commercial shooter are more limited. Though it’s not necessarily the case these days with the availability of remote shooting.


However, hiring a commercial food photographer has many benefits too.

Working with an expert in their field means that the quality of the final photographs are second to none. It takes a lot of time to get to the level of a commercial food photographer. The amount of relevant experience the have is what makes them specialists in their craft.

Commercial photographers are used to working strictly to a client’s brief and timescale. They are experienced in working under a pressured studio environment, often with the client overseeing the shoot.

The instagram food photographer

In recent years there’s been a boom of the food photography industry through social media platforms like Instagram. All of a sudden the profession of the ‘food photographer’ was easier to acquire. You didn’t need a fancy camera, and with smartphones having increasingly better cameras – taking photos of food was instantly democratised.


The Instagram algorithm encourages people to consume more content by feeding us more of what we like. This means that a lot of instagram food photography can end up looking the same.

The term ‘food photographer’ and ‘food stylist’ has a very different meaning within the context of Instagram. Just because someone calls themselves a food photographer, doesn’t necessarily guarantee the same levels of expertise and experience. Similarly someone who’s a ‘food stylist’ may not know how to handle the food science behind preparing food for the camera. Plating is only a small part of the art of food styling.


On the plus side, the democratisation of food photography has created an amazing community of creatives that are connected by a common passion. I have experienced this myself and met many other photographers through Instagram. It creates a place where people can share their experiences, offer advice and just connect with other creatives.

Instagram food photographers are used to working remotely and doing everything themselves – the ingredient shopping, cooking, food styling, photography etc. So, for a smaller company that needs a full service hiring a content creator would be their best choice.

Food photographers that built their careers through Instagram likely have a large following. This can also be beneficial if part of your marketing strategy includes brand collaborations or sponsorships.

Which type of food photographer should I hire?

Choosing what type of food photographer to hire comes down to what you want to achieve. Here are some questions to consider when making that decision:

  • What are your marketing/campaign goals?
  • How do you want the images to align with your goals?
  • What previous experience does the photographer have?
  • Does the photographer’s previous work align with your brand?
  • Where will the images be used?
  • What is your budget?
  • How does the shoot location affect your goals?

In summary

Like many things, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to the type of food photographer you choose to hire. It’s about what fits your brand’s needs and that varies significantly.

By far the most important thing to do as a client is to make sure to do your research and have clear communication with any photographer you hire.

There’s no certification or diploma that qualifies someone as a professional photographer, no. Whether or not someone calls themselves a pro the proof is in their experience, professionalism and body of work – and not their title.

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