Photo Files: Confessions of a prop-aholic
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.