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How to Pick Props for Food Photography

by Vicki Fairclough

We all love to post a pic of dinner once in a while (#tacotuesday, anyone?). But if you want to get serious about actual food photography , you’ll need more than a phone and a hashtag.

There’s the camera to think about, plus lighting, the food itself and — our topic here — the right props to set everything up in style.

How to pick props for food photography

Think small

It only takes a few test shots to learn that smaller is almost better for food photography. Bowls, plates and other containers generally look best when they’re nice and full, and that’s just easier if you start with a small prop. Plus working on a smaller scale gives you more space to play when fitting everything in your camera frame.

The upshot: reach for a tiny appetizer plate when plating a dessert, even though in real life you’d probably serve it on something larger. Swap full-sized dinner plates for salad plates, and so on.

Keep it simple

Food photography’s about the food, so the best props are ones that won’t distract from the main event with loud colors or busy patterns. That doesn’t mean boring, though! Look for interesting designs and finishes that complement the shapes and textures in the food.

Treat utensils as visual accents

The utensils in a styled food shot are kind of like jewelry in an outfit; these little design touches make all the difference. This is where it’s worth it to stock your prop kit with a range of colors and styles. Stores like World Market and Crate & Barrel often sell utensils individually, so you can pick and choose.

Tiny spoons are especially useful, and you can find great ones at thrift shops or antique stores.

Glass jars are your secret weapon!

Glass jars are cheap or free (how many are in your fridge right now?), and they look phenomenal in food photography. They magically lend vertical structure to your composition, while letting the food or ingredients inside be the star. Plus they even come in different textures for added interest.

Keep your own food jars and you’ll soon amass a good collection, but you can also pick up glass canning jars in many sizes at most grocery and hardware stores. (P.S. Drinking glasses can do the same job for your shots, too.)

Dont’ forget the linens

You don’t necessarily need anything super fancy here. Even basic kitchen towels go a long way toward warming up your shots and creating a true-to-life feeling.

As with dishes, you’ll probably reach for fairly neutral, not-too-distracting fabric props most often — but these can be a fun place to experiment with bold pops of color or pattern, too.

You’ll discover endless ways to put these props into use: make a tidy fold and place it as an accent in your composition; lay the fabric flat to create an interesting surface, or ruffle it up to add a textural element or even create shadows.

You’ll be amazed at what a big difference the right surface or backdrop can make.

Some people like to use the same wood (or tile, marble, etc.) for all of their photos. It provides consistency and helps develop a signature style. Or you might find you wan to change things up with each shoot. There is no right or wrong, so have fun!

Think outside the box here: You can work with tiles from home improvement stores, cutting boards, baking sheets, parchment paper, towels, old fence posts… you name it. And remember that the materials you use for your base and your backdrop are usually interchangeable, so you’ll double the bang for your buck

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