I’m so happy to finally share my ultimate prop guide: what and where to buy, and some common mistakes to avoid. Since I’ve started in food photography, I believe I’ve been at the every stage regarding to buying props. Not knowing what and where to buy, buying the items that doesn’t really do the job, and of course buying too much. I’ve put all my knowledge in words and in the article bellow you will find my recommendations and sources. I really hope it will make your food photography journey much easier and will help you find pieces you love and will use in your images over and over again.
Props are here to tell your story
There is a common saying in food photography industry (and I guess it works in any photography industry) that props can either make or break your photo. And as cliche as it might sound, it is true. Think about your main dish as the star of the show. And the rest, including the plates, backdrop, linen, cutlery etc. are like supporting actors. They aren’t the most important, but they definitely play an important role in backing up your main subject.
Let’s play a game of imagination. You’ve just baked a beautiful, rustic apple pie in your little cottage kitchen. And now you want to capture it, so you can share the image with the rest of the world.
Therefore, you take a bright pink backdrop, put some plastic yellow plates, some shinny golden cutlery, when sliced and served the cake. Do all these props share a vibe of a little country cottage? Not really. But, if you choose a wooden rustic backdrop or a linen table cloth, and serve you pie on a vintage plate or use handmade and unique ceramic pieces, and maybe add some wooden, worn off knife somewhere in the scene, then the whole mood changes immediately. I bet you see how important props are in helping you to convey your vision to the visual concept.
Alright, enough talking. Let’s move onto the prop guide to find out what and where to get.
Remember this and let it become your mantra: “not every pretty plate looks same pretty in the picture.” I’ve been there and done that, when seeing a gorgeous plates and spontaneously buying it. And never using it later on. Some was off in colour and some was off in size. Because you see, these things really matter when it comes to using them in food photography.
There are three most important things to look for when buying plates. They are size, texture and finish. Smaller plates look better in pictures, so I recommend 16-18 cm plates for dessert plates, and 18-20 cm plates for the main dish plates. There are some exceptions of course, but if you mainly stick to this sizes you won’t regret. Your camera is always looking for some texture, whether it is on food, backdrop or ceramics. Find a unique pieces with some nice texture. It will look much better than a plane white plates. (Alright, sometimes you need them too) And the last but not less important is the finish. Choose matt pieces as shiny plates give you reflections. Sometimes this is fine, but i’m sure you don’t want LOTS of reflection on your plates what you have to edit in post-production after.
I own pieces from these pottery brands and I love it:
Nom Living (UK)
Jess Jos (UK)
Every Story (UK)
Mouse Works (Netherlands)
Olifer Ceramica (Spain)
A Chair and a Table (Lithuania) – The pieces I own are custom made.
Other brands to look at:
Zielony Słoń Ceramika (Poland)
Valdas Studio (Lithuania)
Pophams Home (UK)
Senz Ceramics (Germany)
Ursi Ceramics (Slovenia)
Ursula Pottery (Slovenia)
Aku Ceramics (Scotland)
Her Clay (UK)
The Freaky Raku (Italy)
The same rules you apply to the plates go for buying the bowls too. Not too large, rich in texture and matt finish. Also, look for the bowls that aren’t too deep. Otherwise you will need a lot of food to fill it in, and the edges might cast an unnecessary shadows on your food too. Best sizes are somewhere between 16-20 cm, as you can use it for porridge, granola, soups, stews, and various salad bowls.
To sum up, look for neutral, handmade pottery with some texture and interest that aren’t too large and has a matte finish. It is also handy to add a few little jars and pinch bowls to your collection. You can use it for spices, herbs or sauces. Find these at Jess Jos and Nom Living.
There is a secret I have to confess. I may have a bit too much of vintage pottery. Last summer I had a little obsession, and it led me to buying every single piece I could find. But I love the old English pottery, thus zero regrets.
Since the pottery is from the previous times the best places to look for it, of course, are the thrift stores. You can find some on Ebay and Etsy too, but the prices are way higher. Some other places to look is car-boot sales and Facebook marketplace. I’ve got all my pieces from the thrift stores or the small vintage boutique stores I’ve found on Instagram. Try look for any accounts on IG, that are selling old, pre-loved tableware and ceramics.
Look for brands and names such as: Royal Art Pottery England, Staffordshire pottery, Ridgway Ironstone England, Villeroy & Boch, Spode England. Most of them are from the 18th- 19th century. (Those were the times!)
Instagram accounts who sell in Lithuania:
Rich Corner (they might ship internationally)
Mirror mirror on the wall what’s the best linen to go for? Well, there are a few, actually. But the answer is to buy a linen fabric pieces ALWAYS. Cotton one works is some cases too, but if you want that nice texture and fold, then no doubt linen is your choice.
I personally own linen from two brands, but my current favourite is Magic linen. They have this cute tea towels with ruffle trim, I love it. Another brand that I came across first, was Linen tales. They got nice pieces too, such as French style kitchen towels what got more texture, and many more. The selection of both brands is wide, but again think about neutral tones when buying. Greyish, nude or not too bright and “loud” tones compliments the food and blends within the scene best. Most of mine are in grey or brown tones, but I also own some in purple, lilac and green too. I do not use it often, but they are nice to have in case I need some pop of colour in my scene.
They both are Lithuanian brands, but as far as I know they ship worldwide.
You can also find linen pieces in stores such as H&M or Zara home for international finds, and check Crate & Barrel if located in USA. I never bought there so can’t really comment on quality.
Then it comes to backdrops there are two types – vinyl backdops and solid plywood ones. Vinyl is much more easier to store and transport, and they are way cheaper. Also the selection is really wide as there are plenty of stores to buy it from. The solid plywood usually has more texture and look more realistic, but also is much more expensive. There are two shops to get it from – Texture and Woodville backdrops.
Speaking of vinyl backdrops there are plenty of places to buy those located all over the world. Personally, I have some which I bought in Europe only.
Capture by Lucy (UK)
Fondos para Fotografos (Spain)
Black Velvet Styling (UK)
https://blackvelvetstyling.com/ (they can also be wood-mounted)
Creative Backgrounds (Poland)
https://creativebackgrounds.pl/en/ (they can also be wood-mounted)
Poppy Bee Surfaces (USA)
My Lucie Backdrops (Netherlands)
https://www.etsy.com/nl/shop/Myluciebackdrops (you can also purchase a digital file and print it yourself)
Solid plywood brands:
Woodville backdrops – currently stopped doing plywood backdrops, and will be producing only vinyls.
Think outside the box:
There are plenty of objects which you can use as a backdrop too. Linen table cloth works just perfectly fine, same as a piece of some nice fabric. I personally even got myself a lacey pair of curtains, but just did not use it yet. Old metal trays, old and worn pieces of wooden planks, bed sheets, gift paper – they all can be a wonderful backdrops too. You just need to get creative!
I love how my friend Edita used the old fabric she found back home. Edita’s image on Instagram.
You can also make your own backdrops too. Bea Lubas has a great tutorial here. Or if you need a tutorial from me too, just drop a comment in the comments section below.
From my own experience I don’t recommend buying wooden like backgrounds printed in vinyl. In some cases they are still reflective and doesn’t look realistic. Of course not every background and brand is the same, but I try to avoid wooden ones, unless it is a real piece of wood.
Wooden props can be such as various boards, utensils and even cake stands or bowls. It can add a character to your scene.
Wooden boards: Etsy, Ebay and Flea markets for more rustic style. Check Rich Corner on Instagram as they had some nice rustic wooden boards too. (you can see a fraction on this board in my first image at the top)
In H&M and Zara home you can find more modern ones. But also check with your parents, grandparents and aunties. Sometime the best props are hiding in the cupboards of your relatives. 🙂 🙂
Cake stands: again, H&M havs a nice and inexpensive mango wood cake stand. For something with more character and class, you can check Medzio istorijos . They are located in Lithuania.
Most of my wooden utensils came from Søstrene Grene. I got it from UK, but they do have some shops in other countries in Europe. The stuff is really cheap, and you can find pieces such as wooden butter spoon, pastry brush, small spoons and honey wand (if you call it this way).
Søstrene Grene (all over the world)
Another nice prop is a wooden lemon juicer. You can find it in some homeware stores, I can’t remember where mine came from. I know in fact that Zara home has one at the moment. It is called wooden citrus juicer.
Nothing screams more rustic than an old and worn metal tray. These you can either find at your home (or your Mum’s) or Ebay and thrift stores. The metal cake tin piece you see below is actually made by my late Grandfather long time ago. I cherish it a lot.
A lot of good metal props, such as cake racks, cake tins and baking trays etc can be found on AliExpress.
There are a prop store called Fodory.com which sells these too. They are 3-4 times more expensive, but if you don’t want to wait longer for delivery, you sure can try and buy it there too. Texturit.com also has the same vintage props which, again, originally came from AliExpress. (I attach a screen shot from the AliExpress page with just a few items you can find there. Apex.1.)
I guess a glassware is kind of the easiest props to find. Because opposite to the ceramics they don’t need to be in matte finish! 😀
You can find glassware in almost every homeware store section. Again, H&M and Zara home are your international go-to places, or Crate & Barrel and World Market are good source to check if located in USA. Also you can check some wholesalers who supply restaurants or cafes, because sometimes they also sell in small units.
Sangaida does that in Lithuania.
You can also re-use some small and cute jam jars, for example Bonne Maman has nice ones. I use it for yoghurt pots, chia pudding or even smoothie photography. Again, some nice vintage glassware can be found at your local thrift stores too. I bought the six vintage coupe shape glasses (right image below) for 8 euros in my local thrift store. What a bargain!
Silverware and cutlery
When it comes down to cutlery remember that smaller size and matte finish is ALWAYS better. I’m sure you don’t want to get a weird reflection on your spoons, for instance.
Vintage cutlery again can be found at your relative draws, thrift stores, Ebay or Etsy.
Some nice ones in silver or rose gold/gold can be found in various homeware stores. Zara home has a quite good selection and you can check on Amazon too.
Some other pieces that food photographers go crazy about 🙂
There are some common pieces that some of the photographers own but not everyone knows where to find.
Pallares Solsona – I’m sure everyone have seen the beautiful vintage knife with a wooden handle. These beauties are being made in Spain. But I’ve found a few places to buy it from:
Tea and Kate concept store in UK
Damplank shop in Netherlands
Scharferladen shop in Germany
Vintage potato grater – I’ve seen many photographers referring to this piece and not knowing how to call or find it. Even though in food photography we use it as a ‘tray’ it is actually a potato grater. 🙂 Find it on Amazon.de or look for your local Amazon stores.
Think outside the box
There are of plenty non-food related items what you can use in your scene to help you tell the story. But of course they need to make sense too.
Old books, letters, cards, newspapers, candles, flowers and even raw ingredients. Everything adds that special element in your photos. I love this old binoculars that I own. It belonged to my late Grandfather so it makes it super special to me.
By the way using a human element or your pet in photos is also kind of like using a prop. I love to include human element or my dog (when he is up for it). The scene feels more natural and “lived”. Of course, it might not be relevant to you depending on your style. But still don’t get so hung up on using food and plates only. There are plenty of other elements to add to help you craft a beautiful images!