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a busy street in NYC a busy view of canal street in New York City

NYC Food Photographer

Getting to the Job

For photographers there’s two kinds of food photography shoots. Either your shooting in studio or on location. If you’re a food photographer who shoots primarily on location at restaurants some days the hardest part of the job is just simply getting to the location. In NYC in particular this can be sometimes expensive, quite challenging or both. Depending on the size of the job and how much photo equipment is needed to get the job done there are a number of ways to get around and I’ve done it all but commute to work by helicopter. (But that is on my bucket list).
Camera equipment being transported to a food photography job
If all the equipment that you need to do the job is a camera and an on camera flash that’s easy. Just take public transportation. But if you’re bringing lighting equipment, computers to shoot tethered and review the photographs on set, backgrounds to shoot on, sawhorses to support the backgrounds, scrims, grip gear, etc you’re going to need something to transport it, possibly a photo assistant to help set it up and a budget from your client to make all this happen. When I’m quoting a rate to a client I factor in transportation costs and bill my clients a flat rate. I do this because when I first started shooting I would itemize expenses. But when I showed the clients the estimates they would take out as many items as possible. I’m sympathetic to clients trying to squeeze the most out of their budget but often those are things that we really need to get the job done and we end up with a lot of photographs that nobody really wants to use. In the olden days I used to rent vans whenever I had a large amount of gear that I needed to transport. Part of the issue with that is finding a place to park the van while you’re shooting and the extra time spent by either you or your assistant finding a parking space and running back to the location. Most of the food photography jobs with restaurants in Manhattan are at places where there’s no parking. Outer boroughs can be a little more forgiving but not by much. There’s no non-commercial parking in Midtown, the Financial District and finding on street parking or even garage parking in some cases is challenging to say the least. When I moved to NYC I had to start my career over at the bottom and one of my first jobs as a Production Assistant was to just simply sit in the van during shoots or when we were running errands so that my boss didn’t get parking tickets.
behind the scenes of a food photography photoshoot
Cabs are a great way to get around NYC. But it’s not cheap. My average cab budget to and from a location is 100$. When I first started doing it on a regular basis I insisted on only using Yellowcabs because I wanted to support local NYC businesses. But I quickly learned the challenges. Never tell a Yellowcab driver where you’re going before you get in the cab. If it’s a place in the outer boroughs and they don’t feel like going there they’ll lock the door and won’t let you in the cab even if it’s available. Discrimination based on destination is illegal in NYC but still happens anyways. Also make sure that your Yellowcab driver knows where they’re going before you depart for your destination. I’ve had Yellowcab drivers get lost and when I wanted to leave the cab the driver held my possessions in the trunk hostage until I paid the bill for him to drive around in circles. Also make sure that the cabs meter is on. (The list goes on and I won't bore you with every bad experience that I've ever had in a Yellowcab). Now I use ride hailing apps. But that’s not perfect either. Ride hailing apps drivers never complain about the destination and always know how to get there but when they show up and you have a lot of camera equipment to put in the trunk of their vehicle some drivers will refuse the trip. I try to give myself an extra 15mins just in case I have to wait for sometimes the third cab driver to show up and accept the trip. As a policy when loading photo equipment into the trunk of a cab I will insist on doing all the heavy lifting myself. Some of my equipment is extremely heavy and extremely fragile and for liability reasons if anybody drops and breaks anything I want it to be me or somebody that I employ. Not all cab drivers in NYC speak English and even if they do this can be a hard concept to convey sometimes without being rude. But it’s for everyones benefit. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I’m trying to track down the repair costs for my Profoto ring light from a cab driver. And if you’re wondering it is possible to shove a 4x4ft sheet of white plexiglass into the back of an Uber XL.
a motorcycle loaded with camera equipment
To the average job that I do I bring roughly 100lbs worth of equipment. Camera + lenses + computer + basic lighting + light modifiers + tripod. It’s just simply too heavy to ever take on public transportation. Whenever possible I take my motorcycle to work. This is probably the thing that I’m most known for and what makes me stand out the most in my industry. I have a system for strapping my gear down that only fell off once. The ratchet strap dragged the Pelican case full of camera equipment on the ground behind me for roughly 20ft as I came to a stop. Luckily Pelican makes nearly indestructible cases. All of my equipment was ok and I did a photoshoot the next day. Commuting by motorcycle is by far the fastest easiest way to get around NYC and if I ever have to spend more than 30 seconds looking for a parking space that’s a long time. If the location that I’m photographing food at is in Midtown or another location where there’s no parking I’ll ride my motorcycle to the closest place that I can park and take a cab from there. Many cab drivers have laughed at me for only going 3 blocks. But it’s worth it to spend the 10 - 15$ to not show up to a photoshoot haggard and exhausted from trying to pretend that you’re a camel carrying gear through the desert. One of my favorite tricks for navigating NYC by motorcycle is that while it may be illegal for me to make a left hand turn the law says nothing about my hoping off my motorcycle and pushing it through the intersection.
a dreamy romantic view of a motorcycle loaded with photography equipment
I have a friend who is also a food photographer who does a lot of work on location at restaurants. She rides her bicycle to photoshoots. I don’t think that she brings as much camera equipment with her to work as I do but she is still super human. I’ve bicycled to work a handful of times and do not understand how she can do it.
a bicycle loaded with camera equipment
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This is an ongoing project with more coming soon.

Have a question? Feel free to ask and I would be happy to help.

will@howtobeafoodphotographer.com
A portrait of Will Engelmann
Will Engelmann is a Food Photographer in NYC. He has no other talents and has never done anything else in his life. If for some reason people stop needing high qaulity food photography he's so screwed. But at least for now he thinks he's safe.

Check out his Food Photography Website
Thirsty? Cocktail Photography Website