Tag Archive for: props

Budget-Friendly Food Styling Prop Tips

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.

In the eight years I’ve been taking photos of food, I learned how to collect the best food styling props that don’t break your budget. 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.

In the eight years I’ve been taking photos of food, I learned how to collect the best food styling props that don’t break your budget. What I found is that often, the most used props are not the ones that cost the most.

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!

In the eight years I’ve been taking photos of food, I learned how to collect the best food styling props that don’t break your budget. What I found is that often, the most used props are not the ones that cost the most.
Homemade ‘vintage’ cutting board

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.

Number One Newbie Food Photography Mistake

We’ve all started and we’ve all made this super easy fixable food photography mistake. Let’s go through my old images and see how to spot the issue.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

Today, I’ll walk you through a few mistakes I see new food photographers make all the time. They are very easily fixable and I’ll show you in my old photo examples. If you prefer following a video, here’s my YouTube video, and below you’ve got a transcript of the video.

In case you’re interested in more mistakes you might be doing and how to fix them, I have an article about that too.

Not making the main subject the hero

So one of the most common things I see food photographers do is not really thinking about their main subject and making it the hero or the focal point of the image. There should always be one clearly defined center of attention in the image. Always!

Actually, the more complicated scene you do, the more chance you have of missing what your hero subject is.

There’s a number of reasons why this can happen.

Let me explain.

Image #1

Let see the image below, for example. This is one of my oldest recipes from the blog. These are some super delicious chewy Guinness caramels. But you can’t really see it, because it’s wrapped in a wrap. I wasn’t thinking about, what about the hero dish is important. It’s not the wrap, it’s the caramel.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

Image #2

So in the image below I’ve opened up a few caramels so the viewers can see them, and the image is a bit better, but everything that’s happening around is still overpowering. The bog glass and can in the back, the big bowl on the side, they all compete.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

Image #3

Let’s see the third photo.

I’ve zoomed in a little and gotten a little more depth of field which is making the stuff around less obvious and less prominent.

Let’s see another photo form the same photoshoot. Again, the caramels should be where our eye goes, but that’s definitely not the case.

I mean it’s far from a perfect photo. I was just starting out. But through showcasing the caramels in the front and keeping distarctions away, blurred in the back I was able to keep the focus on the caramels, not the props and I also kept the storytelling.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

Image #4

Let’s see another photo form the same photoshoot. Again, the caramels should be where our eye goes, but that’s definitely not the case.

First of all the caramels are not in focus. I missed the focus and placed it on the top of the glass, so now what’s in focus is the beer head.

Second thing, I’ve placed the caramel too close to the edge of the frame, so it gets lost in all the things that are happening inside this shot.

And third, the caramel compared to everything else in the frame is very small. So it also gets lost in terms of size.

Number One Mistake Newbie Food Photographers Make

My tip for you if you’re seeing these kinds of issues in your images would be to get good at less busy scenes first, so you can focus on your main subject instead of all the props and an elaborate story.

And I suggest identifying your main subject and keeping it on top of mind all the time during the photoshoot. Always re-evaluate if your main subject is really the hero.

So, this was the number one food photography mistake I see new photographers make. I hope you got some useful tips, let me know in the comments if this is something you struggle with as well.

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 🙂