How to Build Your Perfect Prop Collection
Good props are essential for great food photography. I have spent hours and hours looking for picture-perfect tableware, and I've stumbled upon some great items.
I've am proud to say that I've curated a beautiful prop collection over the course of my time as a food photographer, so today I'm sharing some tips to help you build yours.
Experiment with what you already have.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret… you probably already have some food photography props in your house just waiting to get in front of the camera. Before going out and buying new props, take inventory of your kitchen. Do you have plain white plates or bowls? Maybe a simple wood cutting board or a white dish towel?
If your answer is yes, then you’ve already started building your prop collection without knowing it! Start experimenting with the items you have before you go and buy more.
I had this cooling rack in my kitchen for years before I even started with photography, and I love the way it looks on camera!
Start your collection small.
You do not need to drop thousands of dollars on props when you first get started in food photography. Start your prop collection small! You will figure out what you need as you go along your food photography journey.
You do not want to go waste your money on a bunch of bright white props only to figure out that you actually gravitate toward a dark and moody style. You also don’t want to waste your money on really niche props (like cake stands or honey dippers) only to use them once a year.
When I started out with photography, my prop collection consisted of just 4 plates, 2 linens, a set of cutlery, and a cutting board. I experimented with that small collection for a few months so that I could figure out what I really needed before buying more.
Keep it simple.
Simple props are great because you can use them over and over again. You can never go wrong with some neutral off-white bowls or plates. They will definitely give you the best bang for your buck.
When I’m prop shopping, I am always on the lookout for simple dishes with some detailing that makes them stand out. Maybe some texture along the edges or a speckled pattern.
I absolutely love these simple dessert plates. They have some nice speckle detailing, but they are still very neutral so I can use them over and over again.
Smaller props are better.
When we are photographing a dish, we want it to look full and abundant. Just like we want to see large portions when we eat at a restaurant, we want to see large portions in food photography. One way that we can create a feeling of abundance is by styling the food to take up the whole plate.
My prop collection consists of many salad plates, dessert plates, and dip bowls. I rarely buy dinner plates because they are really large, and that means you need a lot more food to fill them.
Watch out for reflections.
Shiny dishes may look really nice on your kitchen table, but they will not look as nice in front of your camera. Shiny props reflect their surroundings, and reflections can be really tricky to work with in food photography.
I can’t even tell you how many times this scenario has happened to me… I come out of a shoot with some really gorgeous photos. I go to edit in Lightroom. As I’m editing, I zoom in a little closer and… is that my face reflecting on the surface of a spoon? Yikes! I highly recommend buying matte dishware and flatware if you can find it in order to avoid this issue.
On a budget? Shop vintage!
Antique stores are a great place to start when shopping for props, and they happen to be very budget-friendly. Some of my favorite props are vintage.
If you don’t have antique stores in your area, you can also try searching for vintage props on Etsy. I highly recommend buying vintage flatware because it tends to be a little worn and therefore less shiny and reflective.
I got 3 of these pearl-detailed white plates at an antique store for only $4!!
Here are some of my go-tos…
Etsy: Etsy is a great place to find small businesses with beautiful props. I buy a lot of ceramics on Etsy as well as vintage flatware. Here are some Etsy shops that I love:
- This is the shop that I turn to when I need a prop that’s unique, something other than the usual white plate or bowl. I love LifeFilm because they have specialty props like sifters, cooling racks, and cheeseboards that will supplement your prop collection perfectly.
- Artisan Artifacts
- This shop has gorgeous ceramics at a very reasonable prices.
- Lovely Heart things
- This shop has absolutely gorgeous cheesecloths that can elevate any photo.
Crate and Barrel: I love Crate and Barrel for the basics. They have great linens, glasses, and simple dishware, and it’s all very affordable! Here are some of my favorite items that I own from Crate & Barrel:
Wilbur & Wolf: WIlbur & Wolf has gorgeous linens in a wide range of colors as well as curated collections of tableware. This shop is unique because it is actually created and curated by a food photographer. Their products are unlike anything you can find at a more general store like Crate & Barrel. They are made specifically for photography, so you know that anything you buy will look good on camera.
Anthropology: Anthropology has great statement pieces for your collection. I love their serverware, colorful dishes, and detailed glassware.
Goodies LA: Goodies LA is a small shop that is great if you’re balling on a budget! They have great wooden, marble, and ceramic props and everything is under $25!
NOM Living: I am obsessed with NOM Living. They have dishware that is neutral with beautiful detailing. Unfortunately, I don’t own a lot of products from them because they are based in London and shipping to the USA is expensive, but the few items I do own are some of my favorite props in my collection.