Props in Food Photography

The role of props in food photography

Food photography is different from other kinds of photography in that we create a scene from scratch. We're not waiting for the perfect moment to catch on film (, memory card). That means that we have to bring all elements to the table. The protagonist in food photography without any doubt is the food. But often we need elements around it. We need plates, bowls, glassware, cutlery. Chopping boards, knives, pans and linen. We need backdrops.

Start with the props you already have

You can always start out with what you have, using your walls, tables, floors, curtains, etc. as backdrops, some simple plates and other elements you already have at your place. Be creative! There are more possibilities than you might think at first.

Still, you might get to the point at which you wish to own a few props you don't already have but feel could help your styling greatly.

Build your prop collection consciously and over time

I've slowly built my prop collection over time, with some beloved items coming from flea markets, others from my grandma's kitchen and still others that I bought piece by piece, as I could afford through the years.

But I've made mistakes along the way. In the beginning, I thought that I just wanted "beautifiul" ceramics for instance. I got some beautiful hand painted items - that have colors and patterns that take all the limelight away from the food and don't look good on photos at all. I also misjudged the size and shape the plates should have. In fine restaurants the portion are often small and the plate is huge. In food photography that doesn't look good most of the time. We need smaller plates than we would use normally, so that they look full without putting a huge amount of food on them. I have many tiny pinch bowls that I use a lot for my compositions.

Another important thing we have to consider when buying our props is how versatile they are. Especially when we only own a few props, we want to be able to use them over and over in our pictures without giving the impression that it's always the same. So look for pieces in neutral tones like grey, black and white. In common shapes. With a matte finish. And before buying a new thing, think about what you have and if you need this to complete your set or if something else might be lacking (if you have 10 bowls already, maybe you don't really need this super cute artisan bowl you just found, but rather a dessert plate if you don't have any of those).

Invest in other creatives

Artisan ceramics really elevate a picture in my opinion. The unique pieces give a rustic feel and lend texture without distracting from the food, but rather underlining it. But these pieces are expensive. So if like me you're on a limited budget, take it slowly. On the other hand, there's a special pleasure in buying these pieces, knowing they were made with love and care and that you're supporting another creative, another person who tries to do what they're most passionate about for a living.

Where to buy props

A few of my favourite places to buy ceramics are:

I use linen napkins, runners or table clothes in many of my compositions. They are great to build layers of interest and add a little texture to the images. I've bought the ones I own at these places:

I've found my cutlery mainly at flea markets, although another options for vintage cutlery are

The backdrops I use most are my hand painted ones. I just buy thin wooden at the local store (most of them measure 120x60, but I also own a few bigger ones that are something like 2mx120cm or 120cmx120cm). I use mainly different shades of black, white and grey to paint them and then seal them with a matte varnish to be able to get them wet or dirty and just clean them easily afterwards without ruining them. But I also own a few vinyls I'm quite happy with. Good quality vinyls roll out pretty flat, they're light weight (great to take to locations) and they're really easy to clean. I own a few from Captured by Lucy (and I've just talked to her via mail and she gave me a special discount code for you - just enter LENKAHOORAY for 10% off)

I also have a few backdrops that are printed on large strong paper and which I've then mounted to mdf and sealed with varnish from

I've bought some cheap glass ware at flea markets and second hand stores, but you can find a wide collection at

I hope this helps in building your prop collection! If you know any great place to source beautiful props, let me know so that I can include it in the list!

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