July 18, 2024

From Engineering to Photographing Culinary Artistry


Success story summary In a recent interview, Francesco Sapienza revealed his transition from engineering to food photography. Motivated by a desire to minimize regrets, he built a portfolio and then faced challenges expanding into editorial work. Advice to niche down ultimately refined his style to food. Francesco stresses the importance of outsourcing non-passionate tasks to focus on creativity, and to follow your passion.

A graphic with Francesco Sapienza

Can you please share a brief history about your photography business? What motivated you to start this venture?

I was a very successful engineer with a pretty unique knowledge worldwide. When I started photographing, I realized my heart was not fully committed to engineering and the passion for photography took over my life. What motivated me was my approach to life: do my best to minimize regrets.

A food photo by Francesco Sapienza

What kind of challenges did you face when building up your portfolio or setting up your studio? How did you overcome these challenges?

Initially when building up my portfolio, I faced what I considered three phases of challenges they were:

  1. Phase 1: Building a portfolio with relatively simple still life (food and food related subjects), which was easy.
  2. Phase 2: Expanding the portfolio to include more editorial work was more challenging. I reached out to up and coming food and prop stylists and did a lot of test shoots.
  3. Phase 3: When shooting commercially, I always kept in mind to try and create images that would look great in my portfolio

Could you describe the early days of your business? What were the initial reactions and feedback you received?

A consultant I hired to help me with my portfolio once said: “You have a fantastic eye for sure, but you’re all over the place, you need to niche down”. In the early days, I would show so many different genres of photography and so many different styles because I didn’t want to miss business opportunities.

A food photo by Francesco Sapienza

How did you manage to grow and expand your business? What strategies did you use to attract more clients?

I purchased a list with all the creatives / art buyers in the USA and started pitching them. The company selling the list also helped me with marketing in the beginning. After that, it was all word of mouth until about 2021, that’s when I started ranking very high in organic searches on Google (I’m still on page 1 for ‘Food photographer NYC’) and I now get about 20% of my business from organic searches.

A food photo by Francesco Sapienza

What are some key lessons you’ve learned along your entrepreneurial journey? Is there anything you would do differently if given a chance?

Do your best to buy time so that you can create more. In other words, outsource / automate what you are not passionate about and is just an energy sucker.

Are there any tools or software that have been particularly useful in managing and growing your business? Give us a list of what you use in your kit.

Here are the tools I use in my photography:

  • Capture One Pro
  • Calendly
  • ToDoist
  • BlinkBid
  • Adobe Suite
  • Wavesapp

A food photo by Francesco Sapienza

Could you recommend any books, resources, or mentors that have significantly influenced your business journey?

Here are some books that I highly recommend to anyone (not just photographers!)

  • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  • The 4 hr workweek by Tim Ferriss
  • Atomic Habits by James Clear

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who wish to start their own photography business?

These are some things I learned during my journey that I would like to pass on to others:

1) Make sure your passion is HUGE, not big, HUGE. If it’s not, there is no way you can make it.
2) Build a portfolio
3) Niche down
4) Buy time, get rid of all the things that are time and energy suckers, so you can create more art
5) Learn to connect with people
6) Listen and stay up to date on current trends, not because I think you should jump on them, but because you need to see how things change and draw conclusions from what you see.

A food photo by Francesco Sapienza


  1. I love this story! And the last photo is so beautiful: it makes me feel like I’m there at the bar counter. Such a stylish and moody atmosphere!

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