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Busy composition – when is it enough?

There’s a trend in a busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you’ll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

When it comes to composition, my style is not very minimalistic. I sometimes do minimalistic images, but more often I will add lots of elements to my photo. Trying more minimalistic images is also one of the things I want to do more in the future!

But we’re not going to be talking about minimalistic compositions today. We will focus on how to create a busy composition without making it too busy.

Because the line is very thin!

So let me give you a few tips on how to approach busy food styling:

1. Your dish should be the hero

Pretty obvious right?

But when you’re planning on adding lots of elements in your image, chances are they will overshadow your main dish. And your main dish should ALWAYS be the hero!

So a good exercise is to stop and take a good look. Really think about whether any element is distracting and ditch it, or place it just enough outside the frame so it doesn’t take as much attention.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

2. Make your dish the biggest element in the scene

Example. When you go to the forest to pick mushrooms, and you a small one and a big one. Which one will you pick first?

Okay, bad example, I never go mushroom picking, I’m the worst. I have my dad do this 🙂

But you get the idea, right? Bigger elements get more attention, would you agree? Same in composition, if you have an element inside your composition that is larger than everything else, it will probably become the focus.

Imagine you have an image with a burger and some fries and you want the burger to be the star. If you placed a huge bucket of fries right next to the burger it would become the hero.

But if you make sure, you only have enough fries so that they still look ‘abundant’, but the whole container of fries is not larger than the burger, then you’re good.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

3. Avoid overly colorful and patterned props

This is usually my advice for any type of food photography and styling. But since rules are meant to be broken, you can get away with crazy props in certain minimalistic photos. Not with a busy composition though! It is even more important to be selective about the props you use.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

4. Add some negative or passive space to your busy composition

Every image needs air to breathe and a place for our eyes to rest. Especially when you have lots of elements in the frame. So think about where you can add a little negative or passive space. If you are not familiar with the term ‘passive space’ it is the part of the image that isn’t necessarily empty but can be filled with neutral props and elements, such as linen, bowls, glasses that are almost the same color as the backdrop.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

5. Use leading lines and curves in a busy composition

Lines and curves are one of my favorite composition techniques when it comes to busy composition. They are used to lead the eye around the frame and to your subject. So you can see why they would be really important in busy compositions. With lots of elements, our eyes can get confused. By using lines and curves you can guide the eyes carefully around the frame (so the other elements are not left unnoticed!) and then to our subject.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

6. Make your dish stand out with color

One of the ways I keep focus on the main dish in a busy composition is to set it appart through color. I try to keep every other element other than the main dish very low key in terms of color.

Our eyes tend to go to the brightest and most vibrant parts of the image first. So by removing color from other parts (even when there’s a lot going on) I can get the viewer’s eye to always end up looking at the main dish.

There's a trend in busy composition that you can see on Instagram. With these food photography tips you'll be able to know how to style the scene so your dish is still the hero.

Hands In Frame For Food Photography

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m a freak when it comes to showing hands in frame. I feel like they add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Hands connecting with food make a scene look very natural and the hands almost invite the viewers hands to also interact. It puls you in and makes you feel like you’re here helping, not just observing.

​Now, let me tell you how you can incorporate hands in the photo.

Make sure to have a clear story

I think it’s pretty clear why this is necessary. If there are some hands just hanging out in the frame without a specific reason it will look like a mistake.​

So think about how you can add a story to your photo. Did someone just bring a meal on the table, are you offering a drink to the viewer, did you just come from the farmers market and are bringing fresh veggies, are you lighting a candle to add some mood to your meal,…

Do you see a pattern here?

All of these stories make sense. So think about what the story is and how you can add interest to the frame.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Wash your hands – dah!

Okay, you’ll say that’s obvious. Who touches food with dirty hands?! Uhm okay, it happened to me more than once (a lot more than once), that I styled the set and hurried to take the shot with my hands in the frame and completely forgetting that there was some flour, sesame, or whatever food I was touching before, still on my hands (and my camera – oops).

You can usually edit this out (unless it’s a huge mess), but who has the time, right?

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Out of focus

The hands don’t necessarily need to be the focus of the image or interacting with the main subject. Having a cake and someone eating a slice in the background can have a powerful story.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Show some action

I love process and action photos. They are the most dynamic food photo can be. Pouring a sauce, sprinkling some sugar on top of a doughnut, piping on frosting, cutting veggies… All these actions start with hands, so you don’t need to cut hands in the frame, but rather make them a part of the story.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Make them look soft and natural

This is probably the hardest part. At least for me. For some reason, placing your hands in a natural-looking way doesn’t always mean that they are actually in a natural position. More often than not, you’ll feel weird and unnatural holding your hands for the frame. It goes the same with your body if it’s also in the frame.

​That’s so weird right?

​So how can you make them look natural? Well, there’s trial and error and mostly it’s checking out the photo and trying to determine what looks unnatural. Are the fingers too square? Maybe they too close together and looking very tight or are they too wide apart looking like claws. Are you making sharp angles with fingers or elbows (this one happens very often)?

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Make composites

​When it comes to images with multiple set of hands in frame, they are not the eaiest to capture in one take. And impossible if you’re the only person in the room.

Here’s where composites come in handy. All you need is a few photos taken with the same settings and photoshop. The rest is explained in my IGTV video here.

Hands in frame add a human element to food, which brings food to life in a completely new way and make a scene look very natura

Think about how the light hits your hands?

Also a very important part. If the hands are very close to the light source they might be too bright and have too much highlights. One way to solve this is to place them in a different position or if that just doesn’t go with your story, you can try editing the brightness in post-processing, which is my next point.

​Editing

Editing people and editing food are two very different types of editing. That’s why it can often happen that while the food looks nice and inviting, the hands may look lifeless.

​This totally depends on the way you edit your images and the dish you are photographing. But, if it happens that your hands look lifeless and colorless, chances are they are too green. I usually bring photos like this in Photoshop and use the Selective tool in the Layers panel to add a Selective tool layer. Then choose Reds from the Colors Panel and lower cyan just enough to make the hands look natural again. By that point the whole image will look weird, so you need to mask out just the hands in the Selective color layer. And you’re done!

Btw, I have a Moody Food Preset Collection available, if you’re using Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw.

Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to create some images with hands in the frame. Hands are not the easiest to photograph, but they add so much character to an image that it’s worth going the extra mile.

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.

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 🙂

Using curves in food photography

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

When it comes to composition, there is a number of compositional techniques that you can apply to your food photography. Which one you choose is greatly impacted by your style, the story or even who your client is.

I’m a big fan of natural-looking food photography and some of the key compositional techniques that I like to use are curves and lines. Today I’m going to focus on using curves because I think they add so much dynamic and sense of movement to the photo as well as making the composition look natural and somewhat feminine. Curves are also a great way to lead the viewer’s eye towards your main subject in a natural way.

Curves can be a separate or I should say main composition techniques or it can be just an addition to others, such as the rule of thirds or golden rule to add some movement to the photo.

Since curves can really be anything, I put up a list of curves that I use in my food photography the most.

S-curve

This is a curve that mimics the letter S. I sometimes use S-shape to build the entire composition around it like in the ramen photo. Or I use it to support my composition and add movement and softness to the photo like in the cookie photo.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.
Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

C-curve

C-curve is the simplest curve you can use and the reason I love it so much is because it’s subtle and adds dynamic to the photo without being too obvious. Just like the S-curve, you can use it as a main compositional technique (egg photo) or support other techniques (apple pie photo). One great way you can use a C-curve is by placing the curve around your subject, which makes the objects on the curve almost hug the main subject.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.
Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

Irregular curve

That’s any curve that connects objects in your frame in a way that makes the eye flow through those items towards the main subject.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

Spiral

Most often I use spirals as a main compositional technique and not so much as a supporting technique. That’s mainly because the spiral can look very obvious very quickly. When they are obvious they also look unnatural. The other reason is, that the spirals lead your eye toward its center. So I wanna make sure that the center of the spiral is my main object.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

Continuing s-curve

That’s an S-curve that is continuing and is forming a wave. I use this technique when I have lots of objects in a frame, that I want to visually connect and lead the viewer’s eye to the main subject.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.
Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

A combination of curves

More often than not I use a combination of curves so I can visually link different objects in the scene with different effects. For example, let’s take a photo of the breaded sweet bread. I used a C-shape by placing pine in a C-shape to create a shape that hugs the main subject and gives a warm feel. I used the hands to lead the eye to the main subject.

In the second photo with lemons, I also used different curves to add dynamics to an otherwise simple shot.

In most of the above photos, I’ve used a combination of curves. I intentionally left it unmarked for you to go through and try to find other curves and think about how they affect the photo. Let me know in the comments if you’ve found any other curves in these photos.

Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.
Using curves in food photography can add softness and natural feel to the photo. Here is a tutorial on how to use curves to create beautiful compositions.

How To Achieve Seasonal Feel In Your Food Photography

These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.

Since very early on in my blogging, I knew seasons are going to be a big part of it. It’s what I try to follow in my life in general and it’s what I wanted to do with the blog. And I also find it trendy right now, which I absolutely love because seasonal food is healthier both for us and the planet. Btw, if you don’t have my Seasonal Eating Guide yet, you can get it here.

I wanted my photos to reflect that! I didn’t incorporate seasons very intentionally in the beginning, but eventually, I realized there are a lot of ways I can actually say ‘Hey, it’s winter! And this is a Winter dish.’

I prepared a list of techniques I use these days to achieve that seasonal feel in my photos. They are pretty straightforward! It’s usually a mix of a couple of these techniques that produces the best result.

Okay, here we go…

1. Colors

When I say Autumn, which color do you imagine? I’m guessing you said orange, brown or yellow. What about Winter? Did you say white or gray, blue maybe?

Did I guess what your answers were?

See, we associate certain colors with certain seasons. And those colors are super powerful when you want to convey a feeling of a certain season in your photo.

We can use these colors both with styling the dish or the scene.

Let’s look at the two photos below: The left one is clearly all about Autumn. It’s an apple pie, I added some reds, oranges, and browns, which are very typical autumn colors. But also check out the color of leaves. They are green, but the green is more muted and leans more toward the yellow. This shows us that the leaves are about to decay. It all adds to the autumnal theme.

If you look at the photo on the right, it’s a strawberry and rhubarb galette. It also has some red color, which is my first association when I think Spring fruit. But notice that the color of leaves is more vibrant and it leans more toward the blue. It has a fresher ‘young leaves’ feel.

Even though the green color probably was different in real life too, I changed it a bit in post-process to emphasize the season. So I moved the green slider towards yellow for the autumn photo and towards the blue in the spring shot.

Also, the backdrops are completely different. The ‘apple pie’ is shot on a dark brown wooden backdrop to give a more cozy autumn feeling. While the strawberry galette is shot on a dark blue backdrop and blue plate that make the red pop and create a fresher vibe.

These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.

These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.

2. Temperature

Same as with color there are certain temperatures (and I mean color temperatures) that we associate with certain seasons. In general, we think cooler for Winter and sometimes Summer and Spring, and warmer for Autumn.

We usually tend to keep the color temperature around neutral, but by moving it a bit (not too much, of course) you can achieve a stunning seasonal feel.

If we look at the two photos below, we can feel that the one on the right is really warm. I achieved that both with editing and adding candlelight to the photo. On the other hand, the photo on the right feels cooler and we can guess that this is a winter dish.

These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.
These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.

3. Ingredients

By adding the ingredients that are in season we can really tell the viewer which season it is as long it makes sense to the scene. In this cherry ice cream sandwich photo, I added a few cherries around the sandwiches to show what’s inside the ice cream and to show that it’s cherry season!

These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.

4. Story – Props

We can also tell the story about the season with props. You can use pans or utensils, that we usually use during a certain season… like snowflake cookie cutters in the Winter.

Or you can even use props that aren’t necessarily connected with food, like in the photo below (on the right), where I added Christmas decorations to show that this is a Christmas recipe.

In the photo on the left, I’ve used a teapot and some cocoa and marshmallows to give us a sense of Winter, but also the shape of the cookies can give us the idea.

These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.
These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.

5. Light

The most obvious light situation that shows the difference between seasons in soft and harsh light. There are many more sunny days in the Summer than in any other season. So we immediately connect harsh light with Summer. Like in the two photos below. The harsh shadows give the Summer afternoon feel.

These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.
These simple techniques will give your food photos a certain seasonal feel and make them tell a story about the dish and the season.

Dark and moody photos are also more associated with colder seasons and light and airy with the warm part of the year, but that’s also a personal style. You can make both for any season using all other techniques!

6. Make the dish seasonal

I left this one for the end since I think it’s a no brainer. If you have a photo of Christmas cookies and make everything else look like it’s actually summer, the photo will fail. Unless it’s some kind of artistic decision, it’s probably not going to look great.

To wrap things up…

There are so many ways to throw your viewers in a time period. It’s usually a mix of more techniques or a lot of the time all of them. I hope I gave you some ideas. If you try any of these, please tag #useyournoodles so I can see it!

How I Styled Shrimp Pasta – A Time-Lapse

Watch my food styling process of this shrimp pasta dish from start to finish in a time-lapse.

Watch my food styling process of this shrimp pasta dish from start to finish in a time-lapse.

Hi guys! I finally managed to get a video of my food styling process up. For those of you who are following me on Instagram, you’ve already seen this video of me styling this delicious Shrimp Pasta. However, I wanted to explain more about the process, so stick around.

How I Start My Food Styling Process?

First things first – a concept! And a story. I think this is the most important thing in any food photography since it gives you or whoever is photographing the grounds to take a good photo. If you are not familiar with how to form a story or a concept you can get my Free Photoshoot Planning Worksheet and it’ll guide you through this process. Super easy and quick, but I can’t stress enough how important it is.

Second, I draw sketches which I also help you with, in my worksheet. In the photo below you can see a few sketches I made for this photoshoot. I try to think about angles that work for the dish I’m shooting and the compositions that will support my story.

While I sketch, I usually decide on the props, although I change them during the photoshoot if it turns out they didn’t fit the story or they don’t pair well with the dish.

Do I follow the sketches 100%?

Nope. Definitely not! The sketches I make are my starting point and my guideline for the photoshoot. They serve so I can get a great composition quicker and to focus on textures and the story. I change things up a lot during the photoshoot. I start placing the larger objects where I draw them on the sketch and then follow with the smaller ones.

A lot of the times it turns out the smaller ones need to be placed in another position for many different reasons. For example, I don’t always draw the correct size of the props and when they are placed in that position they look awkward. I either change the prop or change the composition.

How Do I work My Time Frame?

As you probably know, photographing food and styling requires a lot of time management skills. I usually make a mental note of a good old paper note about how I wanna time my process.

When does a particular part of the dish need to be cooked?

Which props and food I can place before even starting to cook or while I cook something that takes a long time and doesn’t need me to stand next to the stove?

Which foods need to wait until the very last minute to be placed on the set and how I’m going to keep it looking fresh until then?

How fast do I need to work the camera? Is my food going to melt fast? Is it gonna get cold and unappetizing? How can I fix that?

These are all questions I ask myself before even starting to cook.

So How About Styling This Shrimp Pasta?

I styled this set in three stages.

The first stage was before I even prepped food for cooking because pasta cooks quickly and needs to be served right away. And the type of sauce I used can wait, it needs to be cooked at the same time as the pasta. I only placed props on the set, no food. I set the food next to the set.

Second, was while my pasta was just before cooking. I wanted my props to look as fresh as possible so I didn’t want them to sit on the set for longer than needed.

The third was placing pasta on the set and moving quickly so it doesn’t start to look dull.

Final thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this short food styling tutorial and time-lapse. And remember, it all starts with planning!

8 Cheap Food Photography Backdrops

there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.

When it comes to money I make sure to spare as much as possible for stuff that matters. Don’t get me wrong backdrops matter a lot. But in my humble opinion, there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there’s no need to go for expensive stuff. I’d much rather spend money on quality ingredients or a good photography lens than a backdrop because as you’ll see in this article, cheap backdrops are all around us. You’ll probably find at least five immediately after you finish reading this.

Let’s dive right into it! Where can you find all the cheap stuff I’m talking about? Here are some of the cheap backdrops I use…

1. Reclaimed Wood

We all love the texture of wood. It adds such a nice rustic character and warmth to a photo. I really only have two reclaimed wooden pieces that were used by my dad at his construction job, but I can tell you those are my two favorite pieces. Whenever I have a very homey dish I resort to a reclaimed wood because it adds a lovely story to my images.

The beauty of reclaimed wood is that it naturally has desaturated hues which are perfect for food photography. New wood often has a very orangey saturated colors not very fit for food photography.

Many times people want to get rid of the old wood and they’ll give it for free or a few bucks

there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
My dad’s old construction work wooden board.
there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
A piece of wood we used as a cake stand at our wedding. It’s broken but that adds a nice touch to the shot.

2. Tiles

These days you can get tiles that are HUGE! I’ve seen tiles measure 1x1m!!!

What is more, you can get tiles for really cheap. I paid 10€ (about 11$) for the tile below. It measures 60x60cm and I love working with it because it is very easy to clean, looks beautiful and it really isn’t that heavy.

One thing to look for when tile shopping is matte finnish. Luckily it’s the era of matte tiles so that’s not really a huge issue 🙂

there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
My 10€ 60x60cm tile.

3. Fabric Backdrops

I love how versatile fabric backdrops are. So many options here:

  • table cloths
  • tea towels
  • napkins
  • bed linen
  • old clothes
  • curtains
  • fabric scraps

One thing to look for in a fabric that you use for food photography is texture. Some of the best options are linen, lace, wool or anything with thick weave or interesting texture or pattern.

Although fabric such as linen is not cheap per se, you can get smaller pieces such as teatowels or napkins for a very good price.

there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
Lace table cloths are perfect for creating a feminine look.
there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
Some very cheap IKEA tea towels.

4. Old Metal Trays

If you were thinking of throwing out your old baking trays think again! They are one of the most beautiful and most inexpensive backdrops. The more scratched and stained the better 😀 I bet your grandma has a bunch of them just waiting to be photographed. Second-hand shops are perfect for buying metal trays. Look for vintage trays with scratches, patina, and textures that are not too shiny. One extra plus is that metal trays can be used from both sides and chances are the two sides look completely different. So you got two backdrops in one. WIN!

But here’s the trick. You can make any new baking tray look used. With a bit of experimenting, some baking and scratching you can make your own old metal tray. Stay tuned for a tutorial!

there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
My old white baking tray. It changes whenevre I’m using it 🙂

5. Paper

It doesn’t get cheaper than paper. Look around your house and try to find paper like:

  • baking paper
  • paper bags
  • scrap paper
  • newspaper
  • wrapping paper
  • old photographs

I love to crumple up baking paper or paper bags to add some texture oherwise they make look a little flat.

When using newspaper, old photographs or wrapping paper with a very distinctive pattern, make sure they are in line with the story you want to portray and don’t overshine our main subject.

there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
Using newspaper instead of a plate to make it more interesting and feel more like street food.
there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
Baking paper just as it came out of the oven.

6. Vinyl Backdrops

Even though I don’t use vinyl backdrops, I have a few good ones. My absolute favorite is my vinyl marble backdrop. Marble is SUPER expensive and not to mention it’s also very heavy.

When you’re buying vinyl make sure they are matte because they can cast strange reflections when shot from the side. I mostly use them for flatlays, because I like my backdrops to have some sort of texture and shooting from the side makes it quite obvious that the vinyl is flat. For marble that’s not really important as it is flat anyway. But I’m careful about using vinyl backdrops with motives that scream texture but are otherwise flat.

there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
My favorite marble backdrop. Did I fool you? It’s not real marble, it’s vinyl. Can you tell?
there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
Another one of my vinyl backdrops. I love using it for flatlays!

7. DIY Backdrop

Making your own food photography backdrop does take a little time, but you can have whatever you need in the size that you need. And it’s really cheap!

All you need is some plywood or some sort of similar wooden board, some paint, a brush or a sponge and maybe some tile grout for extra texture. If you’re interested in making your own backdrop but not sure how to start, keep an eye on an article in the near future. I’ve got you covered! But just to show you a few of mine that I made using different techniques.

there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
My favorite black DIY backdrop!
there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
This one is slightly blue-ish 🙂
there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
And a light grey one…

8. Food and Unusual Objects

I’m pretty sure that you can find some unusual objects around the house that would make perfect backdrops. Look for interesting colors, shapes, textures, patterns, anything that would make your food pop.

And food! Food is a great backdrop for food. When it makes sense. Think about the dish you’re shooting and if there are any ingredients that would look great placed under your subject. Some ideas are greens, sugar, flour, spices…

there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
I used sugar to mimic snow.
there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there's no need to go for expensive stuff.
Another thing I found around the house that my dad used at his construction job. I have no idea what it is, but has a nice texture.

Now go off and find some cheap food photography backdrops

Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to look for new interesting backdrops that don’t cost a fortune. In the flood of perfect shots, we (including me!) tend to think ‘Oh, I don’t have enough backdrops or enough fancy props’ but the reality is that you can use what you’ve got already. When you’re feeling constrained and challenged the most beautiful things will come out.

When I’m writing this in May 2019 I own a total of two reclaimed wooden backdrops, two two-sided backdrops that I made myself, a tile, a small wooden backdrop that I made from new wood and colored it and three vinyl backdrops. This is not a lot, but I can get so so many different styling with them when I’m combining them with other cheap backdrops that I mentioned in this article. I also don’t have a ton of props, but I can manage. What’s gonna make you a good photographer is understanding the light, your subject, composition, styling the dish… not the props you own!