It’s been exactly one week since this new chapter of my life began. After what easily qualifies as the longest week of my life, I’m happy to report that all my boxes are unpacked and I’m officially settled into my new place. Since I haven’t yet had a chance to test or photograph new recipes, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to talk about my favorite food photography props, which are freshly reorganized in their new home.
When I teach my food photography class at NGI, prop styling is always a hot topic among the students. Using the wrong props – or just too many – is one of the easiest ways to ruin a food photo, and if you look through some of my legacy blog posts, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. I find that for beginner photographers there is a tendency to use overly ornate plates, forks, napkins, etc. – the rationale being similar to if you’re selecting dishware for a dinner party, you’d want your guests to feel like you’re bringing out the most festive items for the occasion. Unfortunately, “decorative” props (think textured plates, brightly colored napkins, silverware with decorative edges) tend to distract from the beauty of the food, hijack the entire photo, and potentially even warp the perception of colors in a prepared recipe.
Food photography props of muted colors, earth tones, subtle designs and matte textures are usually the safest to bet on. Furthermore, when in doubt, less is more. If a prop does not add interest to, but rather distracts from, the beauty of the food itself, you can be certain it’s unnecessary (I, too, learned the hard way). Another issue is that most bloggers opt for the obvious sources for their props, places like West Elm, Crate & Barrel, Sur La Table, etc. And while I adore those stores as much as the next person, sourcing props from chain stores means everyone is using the same stuff. And although it sounds pretentious, thrift/vintage stores, flea markets and garage sales are the best places to find props, since they have the most unique items and are ridiculously cheap. Over the last seven years of food blogging, I’ve accumulated an obscene collection of props and below are some of my favorites and their stories.
Left: pale yellow ceramic coffee cups. I found these guys at the giant Green Village thrift store in my former neighborhood of Bushwick. What I loved most is their subtle 70’s flair – don’t they look like something Megan Draper would have in her Los Angeles bungalow? I also loved their modest size, as props on the smaller side tend to look better in photos than larger ones. Price: $1/cup. As seen in this savory cake recipe.
Right: vintage English oval plate. This item was also found at Green Village. I loved how worn down this plate was, that it was slightly chipped and that the rim design had faded away. I also loved that it was not a traditional circular plate. Price: $2. As seen in this homemade gravlax recipe.
Left: white ceramic dipping bowls. These were found at my beloved Marine Specialties store on Cape Cod. They were originally used by Northwest Airlines, which is revealed by a stamp on their undersides. Due to their color and size, they are the perfect sauce bowls for basically any recipe. Price: $.50/each. As seen in this patty melt recipe.
Right: white ceramic plate with blue rim design; white single serving gratin dish. The flat plate was found in a thrift store in Williamsburg. Since many foods are brown or yellowish, they look great on plates with blue accents, since blue and yellow are complementary colors. I love how the blue design looks like it’s been hand-drawn on to the plate. I found the gratin dish at the Food52 Holiday Market pop-up here in the city. As part of the 2015 pop-up, Food52 raided the prop closet of the Food Network and brought back a small selection of stuff that Food Network was no longer using. The items were on sale at the market at very low prices (which is otherwise unheard of for Food52). Blue rim plate: $1. As seen in this toast recipes video. Gratin dish: $2. As seen in this bean gratin recipe.
Right: mini ceramic loaf pans; gold-rimmed butter dishes. I found these when Rene and I went on a weekend trip to Beacon and Cold Spring along the Hudson. I just love the Italian-nonna feel of the loaf pans. I have not used these for a blog post yet, but I have made zucchini bread in them for ladies’ brunch and they were met with ooh’s and ah’s. As for the butter dishes, I was drawn to their gold rims and how beautifully they catch light. Loaf pans: $6/pan. Butter dishes: $1/dish. As seen in this cashew ricotta recipe.
Left: coupe glass. Although these can be found pretty much anywhere these days, this particular glass was found in a parking lot flea market in Beacon. They usually go for $3-6 retail, but I scored this for $1. As seen in this holiday cocktail video.
Silverware: tarnished fork; gold-finish butter knife; wooden butter spreader. The fork was found in a giant cardboard box of aged silverware in the aforementioned Williamsburg store. Tarnished forks and knives are best for food photography since they do not catch and reflect light in photos, thereby avoiding the distracting patches of highlights that newer silverware can cause. The golden knife is also from the Food52 Holiday Market – I love how regal it looks. The butter spreader is from a thrift store in Beacon, NY. Fork: $1. Knife: $1. Spreader: $.50.
So, if prop styling is something you’ve been struggling with, I hope you learned something from this post. And if you have any other questions related to food or prop styling, or blog photography in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out or just leave a comment below.
Do you have any prop styling tricks? What are you favorite props and where are they from?