In the eight years I’ve been taking photos of food, I learned how to collect the best props that don’t break your budget which I gathered in these food styling prop tips. What I found is that often, the most used props are not the ones that cost the most.
On the other hand, it’s also very easy to get caught buying cheap props that are nearly useless.
I’ve thrown away quite a few inappropriate props I collected in my beginning years.
To help you avoid that, I gathered my best tips to collect excellent food styling props you can afford which will last you a long time.
1. Shop at thrift stores and flea markets
Secondhand stores and flea markets are my number one favorite places to get affordable, unique props that often have a special character because they were previously used.
When shopping at flea markets, be prepared to haggle. Frequently, the price they offer you won’t be the last. So don’t be afraid to counteroffer what you’re prepared to pay.
My second tip about buying second-hand props would be to use your traveling or day trips to find unique props. I’ve heard from some of my students that there is no place to buy second-hand props in their area. In this case, you can use any time you go somewhere else to hunt down some thrift stores.
There are a few thrift shops and flea markets around my area, but I still like visiting them in other places because I can find different things there. I’ll give you an example. Vintage cutlery here is not easy to get if you want unique, decorated pieces. But in the area close to Italy, people have many more of those. So whenever I am there, I’ll visit a flea market.
2. Declutter and donate food styling props you don’t need anymore
This tip might sound weird, but give away props you no longer use. Maybe they are not your style anymore, or you simply don’t do projects that require that prop.
It is okay to let go of props you have accumulated if they don’t serve you anymore.
You can donate them to thrift stores or a friend who might use them.
Why give them away?
This way, you’ll have more space for either other props you use or more space and better-organized prop storage.
3. Buy props that can be reused in many situations
As you continue building your prop collection, you will notice how easily you can get your collection to full. Yes, you may have the space, but will you remember that you even own every single prop? Most likely not.
Therefore, I recommend building a collection where you can use props in many situations and combinations.
Buy props with a simple shape and texture and a neutral color. When considering color, buy white, off-white, beige and brown, light grey to dark grey, and desaturated blue food styling props.
4. Buy small props
Food and drinks often look better in smaller vessels. I recommend buying smaller props than you would use in real-life situations.
The glassware and tableware you’ll find in regular glassware shops are often too large for drink photography. I prefer buying them secondhand because those props are often smaller. Don’t ask me how that’s possible or if people used to drink less (because especially the glassware is smaller). I have no idea, but I know that most of the glassware I use in my drink photography is second-hand.
5. Don’t buy the entire sets
If you can, avoid purchasing entire large sets of anything. Chances are you’ll only need a few.
Depending on the style of photography you normally do, 3 of each is usually the magical number. Often, even two is enough.
The reason for that is that many compositions look best when you use three of something, otherwise called the rule of threes.
However, that doesn’t mean you need three of the same. Usually, the composition will look much more dynamic and exciting if the props are not the same.
I recommend buying four or more of the same food styling prop if you photograph a lot of carefully curated table scenes. And no other situation.
6. Use props you already have
Looking around your kitchen and dining room, you might spot some tableware that would look nice as a prop. Make use of those.
If you photograph at home, you can even intentionally buy props or kitchen utensils and tableware that you could use in both photography and real life.
This way, you’ll save money and space.
One way to save money and space is to combine different food styling props you already own to make something else. I like doing this with cake stands. I don’t often photograph cakes on cake stands, so it wouldn’t make sense to have a lot of cake stands in my prop collection.
Instead, I combine a plate with a small bowl or a candlestick to create the illusion of a cake stand.
7. Paint your food styling prop
You heard that right. You can re-paint an old food styling prop or new finds to match your style.
In the example below, I bought a new wooden cutting board, which didn’t really have the look and color that would match my style. Instead of using it as I purchased it, I used a kitchen torch to make it appear used and worn out. I would recommend a better tool for that, but it worked!
8. Save the bigger bucks for one-of-a-kind, artisan props.
In my business and personal life, I am a relatively frugal person. I save where I can, and the tips above are undoubtedly helpful.
Where I won’t save are some unique pieces, especially handmade ones, that will bring my food styling from good to great.
I recommend using a part of the budget to scout handmade ceramics in your local area. It is often cheaper to purchase the ceramics locally because shipping for heavy items can be pretty significant.