BTW, I know a few food and product photographers here in Toronto. If you were to pick their brains a bit, I’m sure they’d be happy to answer more of your questions than I can. Maybe start with My Yen Trung.
My biggest tip would be find a good food stylist and work with them. Food photography isn't *that* hard - some of the best food photographers shoot only natural light with some diffusers - so I can see why a professional isn't keen to take on a new assistant.
A good stylist is worth their weight in gold! They'll have props, know how to present food and can interpret your ideas and style in a clear way.
For Photoshop I think you'll pick up a lot from online tutorials as much as from a course. As already mentioned colour rendition is key - so knowing how to calibrate your monitor is very important (also invest in a grey card!).
Hmm, thanks for that, I'll be sure to find a good food stylist. I already have calibrated my monitor already. I will look into a grey card though. That's my problem, can't seem to find any online tutorials for food or product retouching...and I'm not just looking at free tutorials, I'm willing to pay. But Google seems to hate me the last few days :/
I’ve had pretty extensive experience retouching just about anything and everything, food included. If you search for photoshop and food on a few book sites (Amazon, etc.) I’ve no doubt you’ll find more than a few books on the subject.
The number one issue with food photography is colour rendition. Note that this is different from colour accuracy, although there’s a good deal of crossover. What is accurate and what is psychologically appealing to humans can often be two very different things. Reds are pretty easy to get right. Greens can take a little work but are generally not too bad. Browns – everything from the hue of freshly-baked bread to a perfectly-seared steak – are by far the hardest. There’s nothing worse than a photo of a baked potato that has a greenish cast to it.
Beyond that, you may be asked to do things like simple cleanup of backgrounds, dust and spot removal, post-lighting, compositing, filling in holes by duplicating elements, etc.
I have a couple more questions, if you don't mind: when doing product and food photography, how much photoshopping is the photographer asked to do? as in I know I need to post process the photos, and I'm not asking about that, but rather, if asked to photograph for an ad for example, are you asked to do the full ad, or is there usually a graphic designer that takes care of that? just trying to see which level of Photoshop skill I need before actually starting to think about finding my first gig.
I've read in a lot of places that for product photography, MF is a must, is that true, or can I get by with a 35mm camera? would not having a MF cost me jobs?
How much post will depend on how big the client is and whether you’re dealing directly with the end client (the food manufacturer) or some intermediary, like an ad agency or design firm. Most package work tends to be done by smaller design firms. Advertising and point-of-sale materials tend to be the provenance of larger ad agencies. In both of these cases, there’s a good chance that they have a retoucher on-staff, so it’s possible that you may never have to worry about that at all.
However. Notice I used the word “tend” a couple of times in that last paragraph. Unfortunately, it’s really not cut-and-dried and there are going to be at least as many agencies who would gladly prefer you do your own retouching than to have to hire someone on, pay them a salary, find them enough work to justify that salary, yadda yadda. The more skills you can bring to the table, the more valuable you can be to someone. That also means more potential revenue for you as well, in two ways: one, you should always be charging a retouching fee on top of whatever other photography-related fees you charge (hey, it’s more work, and you shouldn’t be working for free); and two, you may be able to pick up additional work as a freelance retoucher. Here in Toronto, the going rate for commercial retouching is between $150-200 an hour. I charge $50 an hour, and for me that’s adequate because I don’t have the huge overhead that the commercial places do.
As for whether a 35mm camera can cut it, ultimately it comes down to your clients and what their needs are. If they’re planning on running transit shelter ads and want their crispy fried chicken to look like it came from 40-foot-tall chickens, then you’ll need a MF or larger system. But for things like coupons, newspaper and magazine ads, TV and web, a camera with anywhere between 16 and 18 megapixels will do just fine. When I was an art director, I oversaw a shoot for a chicken-and-rib place where the photog used a 1DS Mk II and the shots were just fine for what we needed. I’ve also applied to be a retoucher in the studio of the most expensive food photographer in Toronto, Rob Fiocca, and I know that he uses an H3D with a P65+.
Will it cost you jobs? Yes, and no. Most clients don’t know a camera from their ass. You may get one or two who will be impressed by technical specifications, but generally if they see a big camera, they’re going to assume they’re working with a pro. It’s up to you to suss out what they need the photos for, and decide what equipment you need to deliver on that. And if you don’t have it, you can always rent it. Case in point, I shot a job for Hyundai just before Christmas, and rented a Phase One IQ140 because the creative director told me they wanted to make 36" x 48" posters and I knew that my camera would struggle with that. That same agency asked me to quote on photographing samples of a promo they did last year so they can submit it to some awards shows. Even if they win gold, the shots won’t appear larger than maybe 12" x 16" in the awards book, which my camera can easily handle.