6 tips on how to build an essential prop collection
With these tips, you’ll be able to build a beautiful versatile food photography prop collection that won’t break your budget.
Have you ever drooled over someone’s prop collection? I still do, even though I might have reached my prop collection maximum for the storage space available. You know those images of perfectly stacked props on a nice wooden shelf. I think I’m obsessed with those images.
So if you’re like me and you don’t have a ton of space to store your props (and even if you do), you wanna follow some guidelines when it comes to building a prop collection. And here they are:
Do not rush your prop collection
This past weekend I’ve been cleaning my house and I found props that I bought a few months after I started blogging. I was selling at a flea market and there was some other seller with some pretty mint green metal containers. At that point mint green was super popular. And I loved them so much. It was perfect – popular color, metal, vintage, until it wasn’t. I figured these containers were too big, and the color didnt’ fit my style. And I honestly didn’t even know what I could use them for. I rushed it.
And years later you find me taking them from my kitchen where no one has ever touched them to the attic. I still have hopes that I’ll use them as storage in my house sometimes, but most probably I’ll just end up selling them
So my number one advice to you would be, to build your prop collection slowly. Do nut rush it or you’ll end up with useless props taking up valuable space, that you could have filled with props that you can actually use.
My second advice would be to go around your house and look for things that would make great props for zero money. Same goes with backdrops. I have a great article on how to use things that you already own as backdrops.
Choose something that you can use over and over again
When it comes to props, you want to buy props that are suitable for more than just one use and that you can also use during a longer period of time.
If something is very fashionable chances are, next year you’ll be throwing it out.
Think of props that are evergreen and work in many situations. These are props that look beautiful, but don’t overpower the food and aren’t even that memorable. These are props that can be matched with many other props and layer on top of each other and they can become props that you use on a daily basis.
Smaller is usually better
In food photography, larger props can end up looking too big for the dish. While in real life it is actually better to serve food on a plate that is so big, that you see a big par of the plate. This makes the dish look lighter. In food photography though a plate that is too large might overpower food.
So if in real life you’d be serving chicken and rice in a 30 cm (12 inch) plate, for a photo a 20 cm (8 inch) plate will work better.
When it comes to tiny props, there’s one type of prop that is really super tiny and also one of the most versatile and useful props – pinch bowls. Pinch bowls are very small bowls usually around 5 cm (2 inches). They are super useful for showing off ingredients used in your recipe that you can’t otherwise. They also add size diversity to a composition.
Look for textures
Texture adds another dimension and interest to your photos. We follow the principle of texture in all aspects of food photography and same goes for props.
Textured props catch light in just the right places and they add some depth to a photo. While clear white plates look pretty and clean in a restaurant, they portray a totally different feel in food photography. Oftentimes, clear white plates, especially when the food is minimal, can look sterile. This of course depends on the style or the client you’re shooting for.
But when you’re buildign your own rop collection focusing on props with texture is the way to go. One more thing too look for in props is the shine. Shiny props create lots of highlights and we want to avoid that.
Props with texture include:
- handmade ceramics witht texture or a subtle pattern
- used wood
- vintage cutlery
- textured metal trays
- textured glass
- and many more
Old antique props are great props, since they have some patina and this adds to texture and also gives them a matte finish. Some vintage props are harder to find, though. For years, I’ve been trying to get a hand on a vintage ice scoop, still no luck!
But recently I’ve discovered a video by Joanie from The Bite Shot about how to create a vintage-looking patina on new metal props. If you’re into DIY stuff, this video is perfect!
Pick a few outstanding pieces
Remember me babbling about buying neutral evergreen items.
It is really nice to have a few pieces in your prop collection that stand out and add that extra zing to your images. These are the props that are very memorable, BUT NOT OVERPOWERING. Depending on what kind of dishes you might shoot the most, these may be rustic laddles, vintage wire cooling rack, a beautiful cake stand, a very specifically shaped or textured glass…
This should be the pieces you fall in love with. When you see them they should spark something in you. But nevertheless you need to be careful that they fall into the no-to -overpowering category.
Use Instagram Save feature to save prop sources
I find Instagram Save feature useful for many purposes. And one of the ways I use them is also to save all the beautiful props that I might want or need in the future but don’t wanna buy (or can’t afford to buy) at that very moment.
How I use this feature is I save props that I find interesting in a special Collection I named Props. I save either an image of the specific prop if I’m only interested in that prop or I save an image with multiple props, if I find a shop that ahs lots of props I’m interested in.
Every time I’m looking for a specific prop I go to that Collection to see if I’ve already found something that I like in the past and so I save time, searching for new ways to source props.
Here are a few of my favorite places that sell props. I don’t get paid to post these, I wanna share with you the prop places I truly love, some I own and some not yet, but would love to 🙂
- H&M Home
- Zara Home
- Etsy (great for buying fabric and vintage props)
- Nordic Nest