Photo Files: Confessions of a prop-aholic



food photography props



My name is Jada and I have a problem. I can’t stop bringing home props for my food photography. Gilded glass bowls from estate sales; fabric scraps from JoAnn’s; paper straws from the dollar bins at Target.

If $1 vintage pastel parfait bowls are wrong, I don’t want to be right …

So, it’s only appropriate that the first post in my Photo Files series is:

PROPS.



where to buy props



Tips on using props to improve your food photos

1) Color. Not all food styling should be perfectly matchy-matchy. I get a lot of ideas for great color combinations from design and wedding blogs. Pinterest is another endless source of inspiration. Slight variations on complementary colors can make for the most beautiful photo setups—sage greens and deep oranges, vibrant blues and muted peaches—play around and have fun. Here are some of my favorite recent color palette inspirations:



Color inspiration



1.  The Sweetest Occasion  2. Griottes  3. All Things Stylish (David Hockney)  4. Magnolia Rouge

2) Set the mood. Food photography isn’t all about making your audience salivate; it’s about evoking feelings of warmth and comfort; aching nostalgia; playful vibrance; and the many other emotions that go hand in hand with food and eating. For example, look at the differences in mood in the images below. The photo on the left uses a rustic, intricate silver platter and dark bottle of balsamic vinegar to set a romantic mood. The gold-accented dishes and pink and blue floral tablecloth evoke fun and light-heartedness. Of course the props aren’t the only factor in creating this mood—lighting, backgrounds (stay tuned!) have a lot to do with it—but they are important elements. Before you go grabbing that tarnished vintage serving spoon or modern neon placemats, think about the story you’re trying to tell. 

photography moods



3) Bright white, crystal clear. Not every dish and prop in your setup should be colorful and attention-grabbing. Never underestimate the importance of a solid collection of white and clear dishes. White dishes make almost any foods look particularly photogenic, because the food can shine without any interference, and help bounce the light; clear dishes allow unobstructed views of the food from any angle.



canellini beans 3 cropped



The best place to buy props

You likely already have a number of good “props” hiding in your kitchen. But, as I can attest, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to hunt for more. Here are my favorite prop sources:

  • Estate sales. Estate sales are, far and away, the best source for props. At least the ones I’ve had the pleasure of rummaging through in Chicago and the surrounding ‘burbs. Not only are they completely LOADED with vintage kitchen wares and linens, but the stuff is cheap. Some of my recent finds include a vintage, cast iron pizzelle maker ($6); a beautiful glass bowl with an etched floral design and gold rim ($11); retro milk glass snack dishes ($5); and colorful, like-new table linens (between 50 cents and $6).
  • Joann Fabric (or any fabric/craft store). This is a good place to start building a collection of fabric swatches to use as tablecloths and napkins in your photos. Buy a yard of each of your favorites and you’re set.
  • Vintage/thrift stores. Chicago has some fantastic thrift and vintage shops, but, in my opinion, they pale in comparison to the estate sales (both in price and selection). Still worth a try if you’re looking for something specific … or just need an excuse to go shopping.
  • HomeGoods. I freakin’ love this place. If you’re looking for modern, stylish props and quality kitchen goods at a great price (discounted Le Creuset anyone??), this is your spot. This is also the place I buy almost all of my white dish ware. The discounts are deep and the stock is fantastic.
  • Etsy.com. You’ll find some really special stuff on Etsy—if you have the patience to search through the millions of items on the site. Fortunately, many popular design blogs and magazines often highlight their editors’ favorite Etsy finds, so keep your eyes peeled.

Happy prop shopping! Stay tuned for future Photo Files on backgrounds, lighting, food styling and more.

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6 comments

  • I absolutely love prop shopping! I love Marshall’s and Home Goods too. My favorite place to shop for props though is my Mom’s summer cottage. She has so much cool stuff tucked away everywhere! It is a dream. I also love going to the quilt shop for fabric too. I love your photography that accompanies this post. I am a new fan!

  • Thanks for this post! I always wondered how the food blogs with pretty photos manage to find such adorable props, dishes, even straws. I’ll have to keep an eye out the next time I rummage through Target’s dollar section. ;)

    Cheers!

  • Hi! I love this post, and am exactly the same way. Unfortunately, I’ve collected so much stuff that I have trouble storing it all. Any tips for storing your dishes, boards, and such? I’ve broken some of my favorite plates trying to get them out from the bottom of the stack.

  • Hi Amy–yes that is a challenge! Fortunately I have a ton of cupboard space, so I just try to space it out so it’s not too cramped. Another good trick–use those disposable styrofoam plates as cushion between plates, bowls and platters! I also pad really fragile props with the fabrics I use in the photos and that helps avoid chips/breaking. Good luck!

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