I love using props in my photos to help tell the story of the food and prop shopping ( or propping as I like to call it) is one of my favorite things to do. You never know where you might pick up a treasure when your eyes are trained to look for them. Having a base of good props that you love, but that you can also use over and over again is really important in food styling. Don’t get too hung up on props though. Focus first on honing your photography skills and making the actual food look incredible. You also don’t need to spend a ton of cash on props. I’ve compiled my top tips for propping on a budget.
- Start with a base of plain white plates and bowls.
You can’t go wrong with classic white crockery. They are readily available in budget homeware stores like Target and they are easy to style with as they allow the food to stand out AND you can use them over and over without anyone noticing. Buy 2 or 3 bowls, side plates and dinner plates. They don’t have to be the exact same shape, but the white colour should be the same. A creamier white plate will look out of place next to a bluer toned white plate. When it comes to bowls and plates, round shaped are much easier to style with than square shapes.
- Try propping at Opshops
When I first started my blog I lived in an old suburb of Melbourne with an ageing European community and the opshops were full or amazing props. I bought old school champagne glasses for 50c each and stocked up on tarnished silverware. I would take a little roller trolley (perfectly acceptable in Melbourne) and walk the length of Chapel street, coming home with a big smile and a bag full of treasures every time never spending more than $50
- Church Sales!!
These are gold mines let me tell you. I have been to a couple of really good church sales and each time I walk away with bags full of old baking trays and pans which of course aren’t the best to cook with, but they look great in photos. I recently went to one and came away with about 12 incredible old knives that the lovely ladies running the church sale wanted to charge me 10c each for. I gave them $10 because I didn’t have any change and they kept putting more things in my box to take home because they thought that was incredibly generous. I tried to explain that the knives were invaluable to me, but they couldn’t understand how
- Borrow from friends and relatives
If you like having a variety of props to style with or get inspired by good props then have a peek around your relative’s cupboards I’m sure they wouldn’t mind you borrowing (yes borrowing) serving dishes or plates to style with.
- Antique Stores
You can often find amazing old utensils and cutlery at antique stores which make brilliant props. Antique stores do tend to be more expensive than opshops and church sales, but you’re more likely to find some key pieces that you’ll use over and over and are valuable additions to your collection. Antique stores are also the best places to find great tarnished silverware.
Etsy has some great shops that sell vintage cutlery, crockery, props and gorgeous ceramics. Prepare to lose time though once you type in Etsy.com to your browser!! Etsy can consume you and unless you already know what you’re looking for it can take a while to find good pieces.
7. Buy from cafes
I have often asked a cafe if I can buy a bowl or just one mug when I like what they serve their food in. Trendy cafes often use local ceramic artists to make their crockery and you come across some beautiful pieces. I get some strange and confused looks when I ask to buy a piece, but I haven’t been refused yet.
- Rent Props
Sydney and Melbourne have a few incredible prop hire shops. I’m so jelly we don’t have anything like this on the Gold Coast. Google “food prop hire” in your city – you might be amazed at what you find.
Instead of throwing out empty glass jars from the pantry just soak off the labels and you have perfect props for salad dressings, and condiments. One of my favorite jars that I use for things like syrup in a shot was once home to sardines in my fridge. Oh and that juice cleanse you just did? – those glass bottles are gold. Don’t throw them out.
10. Find a local ceramic artist
I use Susan Simonini’s ceramics in a lot of my photos. I initially contacted her to see if I could borrow some of her pieces for my workshops in exchange for some photos and she agreed. I loved her work so much I commissioned a few pieces of my own. It was well worth the investment.
- Buy off cuts of textiles
I have a few linen napkins that I adore and I always only buy one or two – seriously if you come over to my place for dinner nothing matches!! What I also do though is buy 30cm of linen then cut it up and wash the pieces a few times so they are nicely frayed and its much cheaper than buying actual linen napkins. Also while you’re at it, have a good rummage through the offcuts bin. I also bribe my mum to crochet napkins for me – nothing says warm and cozy like a crocheted napkin.
12. Use food as props
Not only is using food as props really effective in communicating to viewer what the recipe is all about, but chances are you’ll already have some left over from making the recipe anyways. Using food as props adds vibrancy and colour to images.
13. Always keep an eye out because you never know where you might find a hidden gem. – I was having my hair done at a new salon in this really out of the way little laneway and next door was a photo developing shop. In the window I saw these gorgeous ceramics for sale. I ended up buying a few pieces for my collection. – SO random and I love how perfectly imperfect this bowl is.
A NOTE ON PROP STORAGE:
In the two years I have been taking photos of food, my prop collection has grown!! What can I say, I just can’t resist a good prop. I always justify that “you never know when you might need it”. Corey and I have been living with his parents for the past year while we have been building our dream house. I store my props in their garage in closed plastic containers. At first I thought this would be limiting as I was used to having them out on open shelves where I could see them easily, but it actually works really well. I separated them into categories like breakfast props, baking, bowls, plates, glass jars, etc. so now when I’m setting up for a shot I go down to the garage with my basket and pick the props I need and they are all organized well and easy to locate. This totally prevents excess clutter in your house and the boxes stack really well so they take up less room.
Have you got any great tips for finding good props? Join the conversation and let me know in the comments below.