More than 25 Food Photography Props you probably already have
It might seem overwhelming to add food photography props to the long list of equipment, software, backdrops, education that you are looking at purchasing when starting a photography business. But it doesn’t have to be. Despite the fact that you don’t need super fancy equipment when you are just starting, you also don’t need to invest in expensive props right off the bat. In fact, you might just already own most of the food photography props you need… You don’t believe me? Check out the 25+ food photography props listed below, I guarantee you already own at least half of them.
1. Other food / ingredients
My favorite food photography ‘prop’, by far. Just adding other foods or the ingredients from the recipe you are photographing can be enough to create a great image. Choose fresh looking ingredients with bright colors and experiment with placement and composition. Check out my 30 food styling tips for inspiration.
2. Simple plates and bowls
Everyday bowls and white plates work very well for food photography, especially if they are white or off white, made with some sort of ceramic or porcelain. I find matte plates much easier to work with and I love the modern, minimalist look they have. As much as possible, I try to stay away from busy patterns on the plates, as I find that it takes attention away from the food. As you become better with your food photography, you will probably want to buy dedicated dishes, but to get started, what you already have is a great start.
I LOVE to use napkins and fabrics in my food images. It brings movement, fluidity and and an extra touch of colors to the images. In this case again I would recommend staying away from busy patterns and sticking to plain colors. I prefer to use linen, as I find that it catches the light beautifully, but if you don’t have linen napkins, you can always pick up some at your local fabric store for a very reasonable price. Now, getting the fabric to do exactly what you want can be a real struggle (I am serious), so here are a few good tips to style the napkins…
4. Cutting boards
I have a thing with cutting boards… And so I have quite a few. I find that they are really easy to use and are perfect to create a frame for food like avocado toasts, tartines, etc. They also add another layer between the backdrop and the food, and we know how much layers are important in food photography.
5. Sauces and dressings
This is a very easy way to add to your story: incorporate dressings or sauces that would naturally go with the food you are shooting. It will help the reader picture the taste of the food in his mind, add colors and compositional elements to the image.
6. Tiny bowls
Now what are you going to put the dressing in? A tiny bowl of course! I actually us to have a lot in my kitchen, to hold garlic, herbs, salt, etc. while I am cooking but they somehow all made it to my food photography studio… I use them a lot as they are great props to add repetition to your composition.
Cutlery is a great food prop to add to your images. Not only does it add the idea of a human element (the hands who are going to be holding these), but it also helps defining the feel of your image. Think about it: if you choose to use your grandma’s vintage silverware, your image will tell a very different story than if you decided to use your everyday ones. Start by using the ones you already own, and keep an eye for interesting silverware next time to stop at an antique store.
8. Glasses, mugs
Glasses and mugs are one of my favorite prop to add to an image. They can add to your image in so many ways! First, by choosing what you add to them, you can really add a lot to the story: coffee for a breakfast shot, tea for an afternoon snack, water for a healthy meal, wine for a dinner in town, cocktail for a fancy date! You can even add garnishes in the drink to add yet another layer: lemon or lime slices in the water cup, rosemary, mint, sugar ring to your cocktails, the possibilities are endless! Finally, and that is my favorite thing to do, you can play with the light that shines through the glasses to create interesting patterns on your backdrop. All that, just with a glass!
9. Crumbs and spills
I am definitely a photographer of the mess. Once I have found the composition of my image and I am happy with it, then I usually a bunch of crumbs, spills and general messiness. I find that it adds a “lived-in” quality to the images and makes the viewer feel like somebody literally just finished preparing this dish.
The same way that you would use glasses in your images, you can also use bottles to tell a story or create connections in the viewers mind, like in this image with the cake and the milk bottle.
11. Measuring cups and spoons
Everybody has measuring cups and spoons. Add them to your images for a process shot or to showcase some of the ingredients you are using in the recipe. I usually stay away from plastic as I find it gives a cheap feel, but I have a lot of different set, whether in stainless steal, rose gold, or even black metal.
12. Mason / Le Parfait jars
Great props to display smoothies, parfaits or chia seeds pudding, you can also use them to coral silverware, straws or kitchen utensils in the background of your images to create a kitchen feel and add interest. Plus, who doesn’t have at least 2 dozens Mason jars (Oh. It’s just me?)
13. Cooling racks
If you are shooting cookies, then your cooling rack is your best friend: it is just the perfect prop to display those yummy treats and create a feeling of ‘just out of the oven’. It also creates an opportunity to add another layer (add a tea towel and a wooden spoon and you are golden) and provide an interesting frame for your subject!
14. Paper straws
Although I don’t use plastic or paper straws in my personal life (as a personal quest to reduce waste), I do use (and reuse) them a lot in my food photography. They add color, leading lines, and a festive touch to your images.
15. Cast iron and Dutch oven
Yes! I love to include them in my images! They give a rustic, homemade, family heirloom (yes, all that!) feel to the images. They also usually bring back memories to your viewers and therefore create emotions, which is exactly what we want! I tend to think that the older and more beat up the better and I always keep an eye out for them at the antiques stores.
16. Baking trays or muffin tins
If you have ever searched in Pinterest for ‘cheap food photography backdrops’, then you know that we all swear by old baking trays, the more texture and burnt grease the better. You might have one that is just perfect in your baking drawer, or you might want to keep an eye out for one in… wait for it… antique stores of course!
17. Sprinkles, and other baking supplies
If you are photographing baked goods, chances are, you already have all the props you need: you can use sprinkles, muffin tins, piping bags, powdered sugar, to add interesting elements to your image. All that with props you already own!!
18. Depression glass
Okay, who doesn’t have a box of depression glass in their basement that their mom (mother-in-law in my case) has been collecting and wanted to pass it on? No-one? Well, I do, and I love to use them to add color, creative reflections on my backdrop (see #8) and a little nostalgia in my images. And if you don’t have any, well, you know where to go to find some 🙂
19. Serving trays
I use serving trays a lot in my house to carry things, group items or create small vignettes. They come in an infinity of shape, size, material, color (and price!). And therefore, I use them a lot in my photography as well. They are ideal to add layers to your images, group items together, add color, repetition and framing your subject. All that with one item!
I love using twine in my images. I find that it gives a farmstead, homemade feel to goes well with my style. It also very effectively add movement in your images and can be used to create leading lines and direct your viewers’ eye to the main focus of the image.
21. Seasonal decorations
I know you have a whole box of Christmas decorations in your basement… What? You have three? Okay, I am guilty too. So next time you shoot that perfect Christmas cookie recipe, make sure you include cookie cutters, maybe some Christmas themed ribbons or a branch of Christmas tree! You can adapt this tip for all your seasonal images: in the fall, pumpkins, colorful leaves from your yard, straw; fresh flowers, pastel napkins and tableware for Easter, etc!
22. Teapot & teacups
Adding a teapot and teacups in the background of your baking shots is a great way to give add to the overall story you are telling. They can also add color and add a certain type of feel to the shot, depending on whether you are using a vintage set, or a sleek modern one.
23. salt , pepper, spices
Another thing to add in your tiny bowls (#6)! A lot of spices are very colorful (think curry, paprika, cardamom) or have interesting shapes (star anise, cloves, cinnamon), so don’t hesitate to use them in your food photos to add color, texture, and a bit of exotic flair.
I love to use coasters in my images, most of the time under the glasses, but sometimes as tiny little trays for garnishes, or lemon slices. I have a few sets that I bought or were gifted and I use them to create layers and texture. There are so many different types of coasters, from marble, to stone, to ceramic and even cork, and most of them are very inexpensive.
25. Vintage dishware from your grandma
Most of us have a pile of vintage dishes or cooking utensils in a box under the stairs. I don’t typically use the plates a lot because they don’t necessarily fit my style, but I do love to use the old cheese graters, colanders, tea strainers, and of course all the silverware. They must be used sparingly though (unless you are going for an all vintage look) and must be matching with the rest of the image!
26. Cooking utensils
Your kitchen drawers is full of food props treasures like a whisk, rolling pins, wooden spoons, serving spoons… Go explore your drawer, you will be surprised how many of those you use every day and never even thought about them as potential props!
Yes hands! You always have them with you and including them in your images is the best way to create movement and life to your images. Obviously you will need to shoot using a tripod (which you should anyway) and you might need to practice a bit before you can get the perfect shot, but you can get some great results! If you are up for an adventure, you can even stitch several images together to create busy food scenes using Photoshop composites.
I hope this article has made you realized that you already have most of the props you need to get started with your food photography journey! If you need a little help to set up your first shoot, head over to my food photography workflow quick guide and tag me on Instagram @frenchlyphotography with your food photos!