The Best First Modifier – Food Photography

Getting your first light is a daunting enough task (more on that in another article). However, choosing your first modifier can be even more intimidating. With so many choices in both brand, price, type, and then sizes too.

There are plenty of great modifiers that can offer a range of looks for food photography, but when starting out and looking for a versatile and easy to use option, there is one modifier that I would highly recommend

The Softbox

For the majority of food photographs, we are trying to recreate natural looking light. The flash is merely a means to an end. A way to allow us to get the perfect settings, no matter what the available light is.

Most food is eaten near a window. With a softbox you can remove the fabric scrim/diffusion material to make it seem like a sunny day, or add it in to make it seem cloudy. Then you have the shape and catch light of a standard rectangular window.

They can be purchased cheaply like this one here https://amzn.to/33fpmBT or if you use Elinchrom, Profoto, or Broncolor lights, you can buy more elaborate ones that give a better quality of light.

Taken with a high quality softbox to camera left

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How To License Photographs

When I started out in photography, I was more than flattered to be paid £250 for a days work. Compared to my low wage day job it seemed like a dream. However, after breaking a lens of about a similar value, renewing my insurance and making a few upgrades it became suddenly apparent that £250 a day would not cut the mustard.

So I doubled my day rate and I was shocked to see that the amount of work I was getting increased too. £500 a day was a markable increase in my income, so along came a studio, some big lights and a nice desk set up. However, it still wasn’t enough to make a good living from.

This time I upped my day rate to £1200. The work increased yet again and this seemed to be a sweet spot for my area. However the work we were producing was hard on the gear, we needed multiple fast machines and that £1200 a day quickly vanished. I did’t know what to do as no one else was charging this much in my area. So I spoke to a few trusted friends from further afield and decided to target very specific ad agencies in London and Manchester who would pay a license fee on top of the work that I was producing, which would allow me in turn to produce better work (there is a constant chicken and egg debacle in photography).

My current studio set up

What Is a License Fee?

The simplest way to look at the license fee, which is often called usage fee is this. You get paid a set of expenses for your production, on top of this you get paid a day rate which is for your labour, then you charge the client a specific fee for them to use your image in certain scenarios. If we didn’t do this, then the general day rate would be huge. This way clients get to chose exactly what they pay for and not have to pay for the images to be used in a way that they simply don’t need. However, they still have the option to buy the image in perpetuity, which kind of gives them unlimited usage, at a larger cost.

Why Doesn’t Everyone Pay Usage?

Simply put, they don’t have the budget. So you might be thinking, surely the bigger brands are being ripped off?

Well, no. They receive a far higher level of production, skill, and time, they also receive a better standard of photographer because of this, which is really important to certain brands and campaigns. The images produced on a £20,000 shoot will be of a far higher standard than those produced on a £1200 shoot and produced by a photographer who knows that they can get the job done, on time, on budget, every single day. Consistency is key. I tend not to work with brands who can’t afford license fee as they see my portfolio of high production work and expect a similar service to that. but with a far lower budget, which of course I could never produce within their parameters .

When Should You Charge Usage

The above is all well and good, and we can talk about numbers until the cows come home. However, to be booked by an agency who are willing to pay the big fees you need a few things. First of which is a portfolio that shows a clear vision in your work. Secondly you need proof that you can produce work on a high standard for a high level client at a similar production cost, which in turn becomes a catch 22 (something we will look at in the future), and finally, you need to know the right people so that you can get your work in front of the right buyers and directors.

How To License and What To Charge?

I tend to use https://www.the-aop.org/information/usage-calculator as a rough guide for how much to charge. As with everything in photography, it is a negotiation. But this is a great starting point, although often deemed a little high in certain categories.