Oh my goodness gracious, WHERE DO I BEGIN??!?!? I freakin’ love props. LOOOOVE THEM. In fact, I like to joke that the reason I got into this food photography biz was to write off my prop addiction. It’s only *sort of* a joke, people. I’m not gonna lie– it’s a really huge bonus of my job. I get to shop for super cool stuff and it’s all BUSINESS! It doesn’t get much better than that.
So, how did I start? Honestly, I kept it very simple, (and cheap.) I went to Home Depot for some simple tile surfaces and I scoured Goodwill and garage sales. Want to see what I mean about tile surfaces? See below.
This is one of my first food shots. I am using a $3 tile as a surface and an identical tile propped up as a background. Simple, cheap and yet (hopefully) effective.
At thrift stores and garage sales, I looked for basic white dishes, cool vintage pieces and cheap glassware in varying styles. In the beginning, I was motivated by volume– I knew I needed a lot. That said, a lot of what I initially chose ended up being unusable and I only used a small number of things, over and over again. The things that DIDN’T work were usually super bright, heavily patterned, occasionally cutesy, often shiny items. Things that would draw your attention away from the star of the shot– the FOOD– and distract you.
The things that DID work tended to be more neutral, not so trendy, less reflective and a bit more classic in nature. Please keep in mind– I am telling you about the very beginning of my food photography career. A lot has changed since then! I have evolved, my style has shifted, my tastes have changed. That said, there are still some basic guidelines that hold true when starting a prop collection for food photography.
Here’s my basic shopping list of things to look for as you get started:
•a selection of large tiles in various materials: slate, marble and ceramic in a range of tones (these should be cheap– a couple of dollars per tile)
•wood planks or table tops in various finishes (local salvage yards or etsy are good places to look)
•a selection of linens in a variety of colors: white, gray, charcoal, something neutral/earthy and varying shades of blue are good places to start (pro tip: buy pieces of fabric you like and cut to desired size)
•flatware (look at thrift stores. Pro-tip: the less shiny the better!)
•a selection of small plates (think appetizer or dessert) in light tones (light gray, white, light brown, pale blue) and some dark tones (charcoal, navy and black)
•a few larger neutral platters
•metal cookie sheets, baking pans and dishes (pro tip: the more beaten up ones actually tend to photograph better since they are usually somewhat textured and less reflective)
•some simple glassware in various styles: juice glasses, cocktail glasses, tumblers, etc. (Pro-tip: thrift stores sell glassware at very low prices)
•a few “wow” pieces that you absolutely love. Not only will these pieces get you more excited about prop styling, they will help you define a potential style you want to build on.
This is only a starter guide. I have MUCH more to say about props, so stay tuned!