12 important Food Photography Props for Beginners
Silvain • updated June 22, 2022 • 6 min read
Silvain • updated June 22, 2022 • 6 min read
Food photography props for beginners are essential for everyone starting out in food photography.
But which ones do you really need? Which food photography props are. useful if you are just starting out with food photography? What plates, how much cutlery, and what else do you need to set the scene for food?
In fact, you don’t need a whole shelf full of dishes. A few props (as they are called in the jargon) are enough for the beginning, and you probably already have a lot of them at home.
Often, you tell yourself that you still need this and everything. At the same time, the use of the same props also makes up the visual style of a photographer.
I recommend you start by building a solid base that you can use over and over again and that is universal. Over time, you’ll figure out what your style is.
The look of your props depends on your style of photography. If you prefer to take bright photos, then you need more bright dishes.
If you prefer to photograph dark settings, you’ll naturally need more dark tableware. Or do you prefer baking over cooking?
Then baking dishes are more interesting than pans and pots. So before you get a huge closet of photo props, it makes sense to start with a few props and gradually add the things you’re missing for your photos.
A basic set of ten utensils for the beginning is highly recommended. With these different props, you can implement just about any idea.
They come in round and square, oblong and oblong. In light and in darkness, in large and in small. The variety of wooden boards is almost endless. For starters, I recommend a large and a small rectangular wooden board.
Wood brings warmth into the picture on the one hand, and on the other hand, it is suitable for almost any kind of food. Be it freshly cut fruit or vegetables, as a base for bread, as a serving plate for pastries, or as an additional layer under a plate. Wooden boards are versatile and, therefore, one of my favorite photo props.
Food is served on a plate in most cases. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to find one or two in the cupboards of food photographers. Unlike everyday dinnerware, however, there are a few things to keep in mind for food photography.
Wildly patterned plates in bright colors often distract from the actual subject instead of supporting it. Therefore, for basic equipment, it’s better to go for a few plain specimens. You can also make life easy for yourself if you look for a matte texture.
Then you won’t have the problem of annoying reflections later on. Because as beautiful as shiny plates look, they are just as difficult to photograph. You can’t go wrong with matte, plain plates in a variety of sizes.
Bowls, bowls, bowls. If there’s one thing you can’t have enough of as a food photographer, it’s bowls. For salads, use big bowls, medium bowls for soups and stews, and small bowls for ingredients. And it’s the small bowls that are so often used in food photography.
You can use them to fill gaps in your photo and put the ingredients of your dish next to them again separately. Often, with cooked or baked dishes, you can’t really see the individual ingredients anymore.
Then it makes sense to put the ingredients in a small bowl next to it. This way, you tell a story that tells the viewer which ingredients were used for the dish. You get a better idea of how the dish tastes. But also, e.g. for simple spices like salt & pepper to fill a gap in the picture.
The same applies to the cutlery as to the plates: rather plain and matte than colorfully patterned and shiny. While a shiny plate can be photographed quite well with a few tricks, it is almost impossible to avoid reflecting yourself with the camera on a mirror-smooth spoon.
That’s why it’s better to buy a few specimens with a matte finish. This will save you a lot of work afterward. In addition, 2-3 sets consisting of a teaspoon, a soup spoon, a knife, and a fork are completely sufficient for most shootings.
I myself own a fancy gold one, a vintage-inspired silver one, and a rustic wooden one; – I’ve been shooting with them almost exclusively for the past three years and have been well-equipped for any subject.
Cloth towels are great for adding some texture or an extra layer to a flat image. Depending on the subject, you can also play with some color here and choose a cloth in a complementary color or one from the same color family, for example.
Cloth towels also have the advantage that they can be placed in different shapes. I therefore often use tea towels to direct the viewer’s eye through the image.
Especially if you prefer to bake, buying a baking grid makes sense. A tray works like a plate for pastries, and the grid pattern makes the picture look more exciting.
Here, too, there are countless variations in shape and color. Choose something that fits your style. In addition, it makes sense to choose a slightly smaller size here, too, so that your sweet creations are shown off to advantage and don’t look lost.
One of the most affordable props is baking paper. Similar to fabric sheets, you can use baking paper to create an additional layer in the image. Plus, the baking paper has the advantage that you can get it dirty.
So if you need a white background but don’t want to ruin your beautiful cloth, baking paper can be a good alternative. If you crumple up the paper beforehand and smooth it out a bit, it adds a little texture and makes the image look more exciting.
Depending on the color scheme, you can use brown or white baking paper, and baking paper is especially great for pastries.
A small pan or pot can be a nice change from plates and bowls. In particular, visually unappealing dishes like goulash often look better and more appetizing in a pan than on a plate.
When buying, pay attention to the size. It is better to choose a small pan or pot, which looks more harmonious in pictures than a normal-sized specimen.
Photographing glass is a completely different challenge. You can see every fingerprint, every speck of dust, and every reflection. Nevertheless, it is good to have one or the other specimen in your cupboard.
It can support your image. For example, you can tell the story of a cozy evening with a glass of red wine in the background or conjure up even more freshness in the picture with a glass of sparkling water.
But also for the one or other drink, a glass in the repertoire is not wrong. As with all utensils, I would also advise simplicity here.
If you want to take photos of food for a vintage theme or a tea ceremony, vintage teacups will fit in perfectly. Make sure that the decorations on your teacups don’t take attention away from the main course.
Finally, the most important food photography props: backgrounds. The floor or wall you build your set in front of is crucial to the story and the look of your image. An open wood background will make your image look rustic, while a marble slab will look chic and classy.
A bluish background often goes well with yellow food, while a white one goes better with green. Again, for starters, a few will do just fine. Think about what you already have at home.
Maybe a wooden chest of drawers, a white dining table, and, in the basement, a wooden plate, which you can paint, are enough to find out what you feel most comfortable with.
Otherwise, you can often find good backgrounds in bulky waste or even in the wallpaper department at the hardware store.
Plants are often used as props in photography because they can make any picture more interesting. Use a flower or potted plant to make a stylish composition, or use flowers that are in season to show when the photo was taken. Also, flower petals or plant stems can be used to make a dish look more appealing.
Images with too many props and too much styling are often too busy to stand out. Props should help set the scene and draw attention to the food, not take away from it.
Start by putting one or two props in a picture, and then add more if you need to. When buying props, keep in mind that you don’t want to buy a whole set of silverware or a whole box of old dessert plates.
You should only buy one or two pieces of each that you really like and that you can use over and over again.
To keep your photos interesting, choose props with interesting shapes, nice textures, and worn edges. When you take a picture of these things, the light hits them and helps make an eye-catching picture.
A good way to start your collection is with a variety of simple white or neutral plates, bowls, cake stands, and linens. Then build on top of that and add a few pieces that are different in size, shape, color, or pattern.
Avoid adding things that will take away from the food. Ask yourself if the items can be used in more than one way and repurposed from shoot to shoot so that your viewers don’t get tired of seeing the same props over and over again.
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