Food is a great vehicle for bonding and conversation. How many of us are always meeting up with friends to catch up over lunch? How many first dates do we go on that include dinner? Which major holidays are considered the most important for family time? Do they include food?
Some of the best stories are told over a meal. I can remember some great memories that involved food with friends. For this reason, I think it's important that food styling should convey those emotions evoked from lasting friendships and family bonding. The props you choose in your food styling should tell a story. They should support the main act, which is the food itself.
When I first started photo styling, I worked with food almost exclusively. It was such an easy medium to style! Food doesn't move, there's lots of prop opportunity (prop-ortunity! ha!), and you gotta eat so why not just style and photograph the food before eating, right?
If you're looking to improve your food photography with some good props, here is a list to get you started in the right direction.
Note: I've used a plate of pasta or spaghetti as my food example to keep things simple, but these prop tips can be applied to any kind of food or beverage.
1 | Small Plates
Trick the eye with a giant serving of pasta by using a small plate. When you use a salad plate as opposed to a dinner plate, you use less food and it makes the plate look fuller. A full plate is heaps more enticing than a large plate with a few strands of spaghetti swimming in it.
Using small plates also takes up less surface space. So if you have a background that is rather small, a small plate of food will make your background seem larger than it is.
2 | Vintage Silverware
There are few dishes in life that don't require silverware, so why would you not include them in your food styling? Plate a dish of pasta and place a fork and a spoon next to the dish. Or twirl some spaghetti on a fork. It all tells the story of delicious pasta being enjoyed.
I like using vintage silverware or those with patina so you don't catch reflection or glare in them. You can often find them in antique shops.
3 | Linens
Using linens as props is along the same lines as using silverware. We all need to wipe our mouths or hands when we eat, right? Then adding linens in food styling will not at all seem out of place. Place a napkin on the side of the your (small) plate with a fork or spoon on top. Voila, you have a styled food shot. (It really can be that simple! There is no need to over-prop.)
Linens are also great to use as a backdrop to make it look like the food is sitting on a tablecloth. I love using colorful linens to give my food styling a bit more interest. Choose your colors and patterns with discretion as too much can distract from the food.
4 | Ingredients
Styling the process of cooking is an excellent way to tell a story. When doing this, lay out all the (good-looking) ingredients you would use in your main dish. Show off the herbs and spices that will go into the pasta. Then use those same herbs and spices to garnish your food when it's ready to be eaten. Garnishing really helps to bring that plate of spaghetti to life.
5 | Cooking Utensils
If you're showing the cooking process, then you can't leave out the cooking utensils. A wooden spoon to stir the pot or a knife to chop up the herbs. These are wonderful uses of props for food styling.
6 | Cutting Boards
Cutting boards can be used as a backdrop as well as a cooking utensil when chopping up herbs. It can also be staged in the background with a chopped up onion just to look like you slaved over that pot of mouth watering pasta!
7 | Baking Pans
Like cutting boards, baking pans can be used as a backdrop. I love a well-used baking pan with all the stains and tarnishing. Those imperfections make for a very interesting background.
8 | Mason Jars
You've just made a pot of pasta. Now save that empty pasta sauce jar and reuse it as a prop for your next styled food shoot! Mason jars make great props for a variety of things. Use them as glasses for drinks or fruit parfaits. Fill them with homemade sauces and place them in the background of your main dish. Or use them as a container to hold silverware, straws and the like to give that casual country vibe in your photos.
Use these props wisely and you'll have beautifully styled food images in no time. What kinds of props do you like to use in your food photography?
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