How to Pick the Perfect Props for Food Photography

While a phone and a hashtag is enough when posting about #TacoTuesday on Instagram, if you want to get serious about actual food photography , you also have to think about the camera, the lighting , the food itself and — oh yeah — having the right props to set everything up. These tips will help you choose just the right accessories, so your next batch of pictures serves up nothing but style.

1. Think Small

It only takes a few test shots to learn that smaller is almost always better for food photography. Bowls, plates and other containers generally look best when they're nice and full, and that's easier to do with a small prop. Plus, working on a smaller scale gives you more space to play when fitting everything in your camera frame. So reach for a tiny appetizer plate when plating a dessert, swap full-sized dinner plates for salad plates, and so on.

2. Keep It Simple

Food photography is about, well, the food. So the best props are ones that won't distract with loud colors or busy patterns, which is why you often see crisp, white bowls or dark, solid colors on plates. If that feels boring though, you can still make design elements work — just look for ones that complement the shapes and textures in the food.

3. Treat Utensils As Visual Accents

The utensils in a styled food shot are kind of like jewelry in an outfit — they're the little touches that make all the difference in your overall shot. That's why it's best to stock your prop kit with a range of colors, styles and sizes. Tiny spoons are especially useful, and you can find great ones at thrift shops or antique stores.

Pro Tip

Stores like World Market and Crate & Barrel often sell utensils individually, so you can pick and choose as you need.

4. Glass Jars Are Your Secret Weapon

Not only are they cheap — and sometimes free! — but glass jars also happen to look phenomenal in food photography. They lend vertical structure to your composition, while letting the food or ingredients inside be the star. Plus, they come in different textures for added interest.

Keep your own food jars and soon enough you'll amass a good collection. But if you need some fast, you can pick up glass canning jars in various sizes at most grocery and hardware stores. And don't forget, drinking glasses can do the same job for your shots, too.

5. Don't Forget the Linens

First things first: every image definitely doesn't require a beautiful set of expensive lines. But it's nice to have something in your shot, as even basic kitchen towels can go a long way toward warming up your picture and creating a true-to-life feeling. And just like with dishes, it makes sense to reach for fairly neutral, not-too-distracting props most often — though this can also be a fun place to experiment with bold pops of color or pattern, too.

There are endless ways to put these props to use, depending on your goal: you can make a tidy fold and place it as an accent in your composition; lay the fabric flat to create an interesting surface, or ruffle it up to add a textural element or even create shadows.

6. Collect Surfaces and Backgrounds

You'd be amazed at what a big difference the right surface or backdrop can make. Some people like to use the same wood (or tile, or marble) for all of their photos. It provides consistency and helps develop a signature style. But there are others who want to change things up with each shoot. There is no right or wrong answer, so have fun and feel free to think outside the box — maybe you'd like to work with tiles from home improvement stores, or old fence posts, or lots of cutting boards, baking sheets and towels. The materials you use for your base and backdrop are usually interchangeable, so it's fine to experiment and figure out what speaks to you most.

Photos via edible perspective


Find Your Next Project

Learn essential styling, prepping and propping techniques to craft mouthwatering food photos in our class, Food Photography: From Plate to Photo.

Meet your instructor, acclaimed food photographer Andrew Scrivani, as he delves into the role of light in creating drool-worthy photos! Discover how to create attention-grabbing specular highlights, and why backlights and sidelights accentuate texture to create dramatic compositions. Learn to convey mood and tell a story in your photos as you capture highlights and shadows.

March 19, 2020
More to Explore
Now Reading
How to Pick the Perfect Props for Food Photography