Here are the ESSENTIAL food photography props you need in your life as a food photographer! This is a great list for beginner food photographers to start building out their collection.
Ahh, a topic I could talk about for DAYS – food photography props. There is something that happens to you when you decide to jump into food photography. Every dish you see, antique store you pass by, and unique kitchen gadget you scroll past on Etsy becomes an opportunity to add something new and dynamic to your scene. Eventually, this turns into an obsession, and before you know it, you’re looking for more storage space in your home to house your food photography prop collection.
Don’t worry. I am right there with you! To fuel your addiction even further, I’m sharing 12 essential food photography props you need as a food photographer, plus stores I love purchasing these items from.
Matte Ceramic Plates & Bowls
You can’t really photograph food without plates and bowls to put your food on! I gravitate towards salad plates, dinner plates, and smaller bowls because you can fit more in a scene and don’t have to make a lot of food to fill your plates. The key is to find dinnerware with a matte finish. Anything with a glossy finish will reflect your light and produce a glare in your final shot. If you end up finding something with a glossy finish that you cannot live without, always have matte finishing spray on hand. This stuff is incredible and really gives anything a more matte finish and dries completely clear. I have used this spray on plates, silverware, cookie sheets; you name it!
PRO TIP: Buy plates and bowls in odd numbers. For some reason, an odd number of elements is more pleasing to the eye, so try to group things in 3’s, 5’s, or 7’s!
Backdrops are another major essential for food photography. I recommend starting with at least four different backdrops to give yourself a variety of combinations to choose from. I prefer backdrops that aren’t too crazy when it comes to patterns or colors so that my food remains the hero of the image. However, when you get further into your food photography career, it is fun to play around with more vibrant backdrops every once in a while. An important tip for choosing a backdrop is to make sure it can be wiped clean. You are dealing with food, so there will inevitably be a spill, or maybe you’ll want to drizzle chocolate or something straight onto your backdrop, and your backdrop should be able to handle the mess and not stain.
PRO TIP: Balling on a budget? DIY your own backdrop! DIYing your own backdrop is easy, budget-friendly, and leaves you with a unique backdrop that no one else has! Two Loves Studio has a great tutorial for DIYing your own food photography backdrops.
Linens provide added texture and can fill white space beautifully in a food photography shot. I place napkins underneath plates, drape them off to the side of the frame, and use them to help guide the eye through a photo. Like backdrops, I tend to stick to more neutral linens that maybe have a detailed fringe edge or something fun. Again, your food should always be the main focus. You don’t want the linens distracting from the hero.
PRO TIP: When in doubt, use a pillowcase! For some reason, I have a hard time finding linens I’m super in love with. However, I do have a lot of pretty linen pillowcases that, if draped correctly, no one will ever know the difference. I bet you never even gave it a second thought that there is a pillowcase in the image above and not a napkin!
Silverware is a place where you can add some personality to your scene. I have a few different sets of silverware that I use depending on the vibe I am going for. A clean, simple set of silverware can be used for a more formal dish, a gold set can be used to add a nice pop to a scene, and an antique set can add a more lived-in feel. Personally, I think mismatched silverware in the same finish (i.e., all gold, all silver, etc.) looks beautiful. You can purchase mismatched sets from places like Etsy, antique stores, or second-hand stores like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. More on where to buy food photography props later in the post!
PRO TIP: Silverware is great for creating lines within a scene that directs the eye to the food. Place your silverware strategically to guide the eye to different parts of your scene!
If you plan on shooting any drinks, you’ll need some glassware. Tall glasses, short glasses, coffee mugs, cocktail glasses, whatever you think you’ll need to cover all the drink bases.
PRO TIP: Light and shadows hit glassware differently. Have fun with it, try different angles, and even backlight your scene until you get the result you are going for. Joanie from The Bite Shot has a great YouTube video about tips for photographing drinks.
P.S. these glass coffee mugs on Amazon are inexpensive and photograph beautifully!
Glass Jars & Bottles
You can use glass jars and bottles in so many different ways in a food photography scene. Mason jars are great for recipes like smoothies or chia seed pudding. You can fill bottles or jars with other ingredients and place them around your scene to add dimension. Finally, sneak in an empty jar or two in the background of your shot to fill the space and reflect light in a dainty and beautiful way.
PRO TIP: Save any and every glass jar or bottle that you use up naturally in your kitchen (mayonnaise jars, jam jars, salad dressing bottles, etc.). Wash them in the dishwasher when you’ve finished them off, soak them in warm water for a couple of hours, and the label will come right off. Now you’re getting a second life out of things in your kitchen!
Cast Iron Skillets & Dutch Ovens
Cast iron skillets are made for food photography because of their natural, matte finish. They are great to use for process shots or as a way to display one-pot meals! Dutch ovens give off a rustic, homemade feel that creates a sense of emotion for anyone looking at your photo. I’ve had my eye on these adorable, mini dutch ovens for a while now and might have to buy them soon.
PRO TIP: Be aware of the direction that the cast iron skillet or dutch oven handles are facing in a scene. Similar to silverware, you can use handles as a way to guide people’s eyes through your scene.
Cutting boards are a MUST for food photography. They are great for layering, adding texture, and bringing warmth into your photo. I have cutting boards of all different shapes, sizes, and textures. Wood boards add a more rustic feel to a shot, while marble cutting boards offer a clean layering piece. I like using cutting boards to frame my food and bring the viewer’s eye straight to my hero plate. Also, cutting boards are great to use as a base for any process shots for your recipe.
PRO TIP: Purchase cutting boards strictly for food photography. Try not to use your cutting boards for food photography to cut on. Doing this will make knife marks on the board that will distract from your photo.
Pinch bowls are probably one of my most used food photography props. First of all, they are just so darn cute. Second of all, pinch bowls allow you to add to your photo’s overall story. Use them to place some ingredients you used in the recipe in your shot. And finally, pinch bowls are perfect to have on hand if you plan on shooting an ingredient photo.
PRO TIP: You can use pinch bowls to lift certain elements in your photo as well as prop things up that aren’t sitting quite right.
Bakeware & Serving Utensils
Bakeware like measuring cups, cooling racks, and cookie sheets are perfect additions to food photos. Likewise, serving utensils such as a cake server, wooden spoons, and salad tongs can be layered into a photo to fill white space or used to add implied movement. Both bakeware and utensils add more layers to your photo. This will allow viewers to feel as though they are right there with you!
PRO TIP: A lot of bakeware and serving utensils can tend to be on the bigger side. Keep an eye out for mini bakeware items and smaller serving utensils so they don’t dwarf the other elements in your photo.
A Human Element
Something I always like to include in at least one shot within a photoshoot is a human element. A hand pouring syrup over French toast or reaching to grab a millionaire bar brings a food photo to life! A recipe doesn’t just whip itself up, so adding a human element shows the role that people play in creating a dish. My favorite part is that you don’t need to have the person’s entire body in the photo, which is good news for all my photographers that prefer not to be in front of the camera like me! Upclose on hands or from the wrist down is perfect for adding the human element into your food photos.
PRO TIP: If you are struggling with your hand looking awkward in a photo, shake out your hands to give them a more relaxed, natural look.
My final essential prop is seasonal items! Holiday recipes are so fun to create, and adding small touches to your scene that bring in that holiday feeling can really round out a photo. Think things like bottle brush trees, jingle bells, and wrapping paper for Christmas, or hearts and rose petals for Valentine’s Day. You also could have a few specialty dishes or cooking utensils that are more themed towards whichever holiday you are shooting for.
PRO TIP: You don’t have to spend a lot of money in this department and can find adorable budget-friendly seasonal items. Many of the seasonal props I’ve found are from Target’s dollar section or from buying items after the holiday is over, so they are on clearance.
Where to Buy Food Photography Props
Now that we’ve talked about all of the essential food photography props, where do you source them from? Below are stores I’ve found that stock plenty of beautiful props and backdrops. Many of the stores below are very budget-friendly!
Small businesses to buy props from:
- Ala Carte Prop Studio: Find any serving utensils and cutlery you are looking for at this adorable Etsy shop.
- Bessie Bakes: This shop is on Amazon and has inexpensive backdrops that ship super quickly!
- Food Photo Prop Shop: An Esty shop that has pages upon pages of unique antique props.
- Nanibroc: Another Etsy shop with one-of-a-kind items from dishes to old-school kitchen gadgets and everything in between.
- Table Threads AU: This shop is also on Etsy and has simple linens in every color imaginable.
- Tagliaferro Ceramics: A ceramic shop on Etsy that has dishware that feels very natural and organic.
- Woodville Workshop: This is a European company that has very high-quality backdrops that are double-sided. You can choose from their pre-made backdrops or custom make your own!
- Local Antique Stores: I highly recommend checking out antique stores in your town because they always have great stuff at even better prices!
Big retailers to buy props from:
- Anthropologie: On the expensive side, Anthropologie has dishware with a more boho, lived-in feel.
- Crate and Barrel: Every food photographer, I’m sure, has a least one prop from Crate and Barrel. They have wonderful, basic ceramic dishware, neutral linens, and lots of kitchen accessories.
- Creative Co-op: Many small shops source from Creative Co-op, but you can also purchase directly from them on Amazon. They have everything you need to stock your prop closet!
- Goodwill or Salvation Army: You’d be surprised how many great props I’ve found for a couple of bucks at secondhand stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army.
- Homegoods/TJ Maxx: A great option for budget-friendly props!
- Target: Who couldn’t spend hours in Target going through the Hearth & Hand, Studio Mcgee, and kitchen sections at Target!
- West Elm: Another store that is in most major cities that stocks a lot of pretty kitchenware.
- World Market: This is a great store to head to if you need accessories like cutting boards, cake stands, and pretty serving bowls.
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There you have it for the essential food photography props you need as a food photographer as well as stores to source your props from. Let me know in the comments if you have any stores you love that I missed. Also, make sure you are also following along on Instagram and Pinterest for more vegan food inspiration!