Want to know how to build a prop collection to improve your food photography? Start here…
Just starting out in food photography or looking to up your game? As I discussed in an earlier post about improving your food photography, props make an instant and HUGE difference to the quality of your image and the impact that image has on your audience.
Make friends with Pinterest
First of all get yourself over to Pinterest and set up a new board – I call mine ‘Food Photography Inspiration’. Start to pin all those incredible images of food and food styling that really float your boat. Pin anything and everything that captures your imagination and makes you want to grab that camera and start snapping.
Pretty soon you will start to see some form of theme in the images you are drawn to. It might be that you love, love, love those dark and moody shots that look like paintings by Dutch Masters, or maybe you are drawn to magazine style, light and airy images with crisp linens and clean lines. Your next job is to really start to analyse the images and what makes those particular photographs pop. Nine times out of ten, one prop, one standout plate or spoon will grab your eye. Once you start to recognise the items you love you will find your shopping trip much easier.
In my experience, especially as someone who is drawn to those dark and moody images with vintage props, there is no easy way around it – you need to set that alarm clock as early as you can stand, grab a pair of comfortable shoes and be prepared to rummage.
Car boot sales, auctions, house clearances and charity shops are cheap and plentiful hunting grounds. My standout items have been part of big joblots purchased at an auction or car boot. Admittedly most of the contents of the joblot is often rubbish – but if you can fish out one or two items that transform an image it is more than worth the hassle.
Alternatively, grab a cuppa and head to ebay. The more pinterest surfing you have done in advance, the less painful the ebay process will be. If you can head to ebay with a brief – say “vintage fork with mother of pearl handle” you are much more likely to hit prop gold than with vague search terms. Again, joblots can be a goldmine but with postage on top, that one standout item from a box of trash can be a costly one.
Which 3 items should you buy first?
Food photography is all about telling a story. People want to be able to imagine tucking into that rich and gooey chocolate cake, sinking a spoon into that comfort food or tearing that crusty bread apart to share with friends. With this in mind, I always recommend starting your collection with cutlery.
Forks, knives, spoons
One incredible antique spoon, a rustic bread knife or a crazy cute pickle fork can take that photo from flat and uninspiring to one that gets hundreds of interactions. If your viewer can imagine tucking into that plate of food, you make an emotional connection and people want to connect with you and your food. Cutlery can be relatively inexpensive to collect and you rarely need a full set. Look for interesting handles, dented knives, well used and loved wooden spoons and ladles that have been worn on one side through stirring pots through the decades. I’m particularly obsessed with painted wooden cutlery at the moment. Hard to find but worth the search.
Chipotle en adobo sauce is a red gloopy mixture – not great just in a bow…but in a glass pot against an ancient old baking tray – with a cute little tarnished spoon…
Again you don’t need a full dinner service! One knockout plate or even a totally knocked about plate with an interesting texture makes all the difference.
Take a look at this image. The cake itself was a plain – brown – square cake. Nothing much to look at right? But with great natural light, a battered pewter plate from a charity shop and seasonal styling and this image really comes to life.
I’m a linen junkie. I think I currently have around 2-300 pieces of vintage linen in my storage boxes that I have collected over the years. I collect it because I love it, all those hours spent embroidering napkins, completing beautiful cutwork in tablecloths and just the fact that they have been loved and cared for over generations makes me want to rescue them from the back of the charity shop.
Fortunately for food photographers, most people prefer to use bleached white IKEA napkins on their tables these days. But, place a well-pressed or even a scrunched up vintage napkin in a food photograph and magic happens. Again, it’s all about the story – people are transported to another time and place. They make an emotional connection…
Flowers or fresh greenery
Almost all of my photographs contain flowers or foliage. Flowers lift and image instantly and create that emotional connection I keep talking about- trust me this is sooo important! I’m lucky enough to have a big garden but as we approach the autum and winter months, my garden offers very slim pickings. I recently discovered the wonderful Appleyard London flower delivery service. They have seasonal ranges or you can order by colour. The flowers I have had from them arrive in stunning packaging and last incredibly well. So if anyone wants to order me the annual subscription…
How to look after your collection?
There is no point having a kick-ass collection of props and then never being able to find what you need.
Start as you mean to go on. Even if you only have three spoons and a killer set of measuring cups. Put them into small boxes and label them. As your collection grows, tape a sheet of paper to the box and write an inventory of the box contents. That way you don’t spend hours looking for a particular item.
My collection has outgrown the small box stage so now I have a large shelving unit – one shelf for cutlery, one shelf (well OK two shelves) for linen and the rest of the shelves contain crockery, baking tins etc.
Have you started a collection? What is your favourite item? I’d love to know!