You worked hard to create that masterpiece dish, app, or desert, and now you want to show it off. What can you do to take your food photography to the next level? It’s easier than you might think with a few food photography props on hand and at the ready!
Check out these ideas to make your food photos pop!
1. Cloth Napkins
You might have a few of these laying around the house, perhaps you line your bread basket with them, or maybe you use them with dinner every night. The key is that they should have some subtle design and texture, but not too much to take away from your dish.
The way they are folded can direct the viewer around the image and enhance the overall compostion.
My favorite way to obtain cloth napkins is to hit the clearance rack at Home Goods, TJMaxx and The Christmas Tree. I’ve gotten some beauties for less than $1 each. They are fun to collect and they don’t take up much room. Just remember were you keep them!
2. Plates and dishes
Next, we need something to place your beautiful meal on! Most of the time, a simple dish with matte finish is adequate – you don’t want a super-shiny dish that will reflect light and ultimately distract the viewer.
A simple white dish, perhaps with a little texture, can work wonders. If your dish does happen to have a colored rim, try to accent your linens with it.
Image by Security / Pixabay
3. Forks, spoons, knives
It’s good to have a few varieties of utensils on hand. Depending on the dish, for example, some scones and tea, might look better with an intricate silver spoon. If the dish is already lively, like some stuffed potato skins for game day, a simple appetizer-sized fork will do.
You don’t need a huge collection, but especially if you are getting in close with your shots, a smaller utensil will look normal.
If you are using knives, be sure to select the correct knife for it’s specific purpose. A butter knife will do next to a finished dish or with a delicate appetizer or side dish. Just don’t put it next to steak.
Which brings us to the next point: If you are photographing a big juicy steak, get a tough steak knife. For a slab of meat, try a chef’s knife or cleaver. We’re using a bread knife for this freshly baked loaf. You get the idea!
Photo by Anthony Shkraba / Pexels
Mason jars are always classic and fun. You can build your ingredients in them or use them in the background.
Smaller glassware can hold spices, drink shots, and olive oil. Don’t forget about small clear glass bowls to hold extra raw ingredients, spices, and condiments.
Glassware adds dimension and interest to your food photography. If you are photographing a cool beverage such as as juice or punch, a thin clear glass is your best option. This will allow the viewer to see through to the ingredients.
For specific beverages, cocktails (or mocktails!), the proper stemware is required. Stemware, or the more trendy stemless, glasses are for wine.
Spirits, especially when photographed on ice, can go in an old fashioned glass. This glass will typically be made with some beautiful cuts, showing off the beverage in multiple dimensions.
Photo by Purple Smith / Pixabay
5. Cutting Boards and Rustic Wood Slabs
Cutting boards add an additional layer to your food photography. They add a natural element that goes hand-in-hand when preparing your dish.
There is no need to buy a super-expensive cutting board that looks beautiful and fresh out of the package. A nice old slab of wood or even a used cutting board from an antique shop will do just fine. Besides, the ones that show wear and tear look much more authentic.
Have an old desk collecting dust? Repurpose it as a setting table for your food photography props!
Nadezhda Moryak / Pexels
6. Cast Iron and Cookware
For hearty dishes like chili or some grilled chicken or steak, cast iron looks rustic. It has a naturally matte finish, which allows the details of the food really stand out. Think about fresh grill marks or some sizzling fajitas with peppers and onions. Cast iron also works for darker-themed images.
Homemade soup or chili can look great in a dutch oven. This will also make it look homemade – try shooting it while it’s still hot on the stove with the lid propped open.
Make sure the extras make sense with the dish you are accenting.
Here’s a photo I found that is on the right track, but got a little carried away. What is the main subject?
Where do we focus?
7. Sprinkle in the Season
Herbs, cut fruit and extra ingredients from the recipe will create some added depth, authenticity and freshness to your photo. Try sprinkling some peppercorns around the steak.
Add some extra powdered sugar to the dessert. Put some fresh basil on the pasta. Add some fresh parsley sprigs to your Shrimp Scampi.
Spread some extra oats onto the cutting board of your fresh loaf of bread.
Photo by Lovefood Art / Pexels
Made a dish for a holiday or special occassion? Add some accents! For a birthday, sprinkle in some confetti and candles. For Fall, add some candy corn, cinnamon sticks, mini pumpkins and even some colorful foliage. For Christmas and other end-of-year holidays, add some sparkle lights and choose napkins and other accents to compliment the holiday.
This is a fun and easy way to bring seasonality to your food photography!
Photo by Jill Wellington / Pexels
8. Backdrops and tabletops
Backgrounds can be simple and inexpensive. Craft paper, large floor tiles, rustic wood slabs and craft paper all work well. Or, you can even make your own!
I’ve made a bunch of different backdrops from foamboard, acrylic paint and a foam brush for less than $3/each. The more supplies you have, such as the paint, the cheaper they get!
Here are some background that you can purchase. I’ve used these for larger backdrops:
Of course you can also prepare food on your counter and use part of your kitchen or stove as a backdrop to really emphasize prepared at home!
Just be sure to have adequate lighting, which brings us to the next section:
We’re not going to get too deep into lighting in this blog post, but it is definitely worth mentioning. Lighting will make or break your food photography and it is an essential prop. The best light is natural light next to a window adorned with a sheer curtain. However, if you have limited light only at a certain time of day, like me! then extra light is necessary.
I have the electric light set with umbrella diffusers. There is nothing wrong with them at all and I use them when I know I’ll be shooting for a while. They just take a few extra minutes to set up.
However, if you just made a brand new dish and you want to get a couple of quick shots before it is served, check out my all-time favorite portable LED lights. They offer very natural light, come with different colored diffusers, add brightness anywhere from 20% to 100% and variable color temperature from a cool florescent 3300K to a warm 5600K. I’ve had mine for at least a year, the price increased by about $8 USD since then.
Adding some action can help engage your audience. For example:
- get a shot of hot maple syrup being poured over a hot stack of pancakes
- fork out a piece of cake and bring it closer to the camera to really get that detail
- sprinkle some marshmallows into a steaming cup of hot chocolate
- break apart a fresh cookie with your hands
- get a shot of flames and smoke surrounding freshly grilled chicken
Get the idea? Action adds yet another layer of dimension, just be careful not to get too close to that grill!
Food photography props can really elevate your dishes. Remember to make sure that your props MAKE SENSE and accent your food properly – don’t use the wrong knife, glass, or ingredient.
Use a few of these examples and remember this list next time you hit up a garage sale, antique shop, or even the Salvation Army store. Findings like this are more authentic. And don’t forget to try creating your own painted backdrop – it’s another fun creative outlet!
Have some fresh herbs and fruit on hand to give it that restaurant-quality look. Most of all, have fun!
What’s your favorite food photography prop or tip? Share them in the comments below!
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