It is important but oh man the decisions are tough when it comes to deciding what to buy and use in your shoot. While I try to ensure that I have a variety of props in my collection for clients to utilise for their shoots, I do not have an endless amount of space or time or money to buy, organise and use them all. Thus I do ask clients to either provide their own props if they do not see anything they like in my existing collection. If they choose to ask me to source for specific props for their shoot, I charge a prop sourcing fee and all props bought would belong to them after the shoot. Typically the lead time for prop sourcing is 2 - 3 weeks especially if props are being purchased online and have to be shipped over.
Props can be anything that will add meaning, tell a story, create layers, texture, balance and provide visual interest in your image. Props range from the practical such as crockery, cutlery, tools, garnishes or fresh ingredients used in the dish to the decorative such as a vase of flowers, plants, books, paper, magazines to set the scene and create the mood to something special like traditional tools or equipment or fabric that showcases your culture or way of life. Props serve an important and practical aspect in food photography since we cannot serve soup on the table but would require a vessel of sorts to hold it. Another practical prop would be fresh ingredients so that viewers know what the soup is made out of. To set the mood and create a rustic homely dining table scene, decorative elements such as an old wooden board to mimic the tabletop and fresh flowers in a vase can be used as props. Something special could be a traditional pot used to make the soup and including it as a prop would elevate the storytelling element in your photo.
Generally whoever is styling the food would be the one using the props. On bigger shoots, there is a separate prop stylist but for smaller shoots, the food stylist usually doubles up as the prop stylist. On some shoots, sometimes the photographer or chef or marketing staff is doing the food styling thus they will be using the props to enhance the scene and tell the story as encapsulated in the brief or mood board.
Very few dishes look great just on the table or ground with no container or vessel or surface to contain it so functional props such as crockery or boards are a necessity rather than a splurge. An exception is fresh produce or products where you may be able to get away with no props and showcase it on its own for a minimalist look. With the addition of props that compliments your food, you will find that your imagery gets transformed to tell a compelling story about your food.
As we often recreate the outdoors or create different sets in studio, props play a key role in setting the scene, creating the vibes and transporting us to a different world that would evoke emotions such as nostalgia or happiness that are closely linked to our food memories. Props affect our composition as what we choose have an influence of how we are going to compose the various elements in our frame.
Props help to add texture and depth, create layers and ensure balance in the frame which adds much visual interest to the image and holds the attention of the viewer. It is likely that some of your props are textured rather than smooth and that catches the light beautifully. Having props in the foreground, centre and background creates much needed depth and makes the photo look more three dimensional. Layering your props close to or with your food gives it visual weight and draws the attention of the viewer. Props can also act as a way to balance up a visually heavy part in frame so that the image looks more pleasing to the eye.
The million dollar question of how to choose props has been asked and answered by many and here is my thought process of what you need to consider when selecting your props for your shoot. Take a look at your creative brief or mood board or reference images and run through these questions below to narrow down your prop selection for your shoot.
The best place to start is in your own kitchen as you probably have some pieces that you can easily utilise for a shoot. Next, ask family, friends or relatives whether they have any crockery, cutlery, tools, equipment that they wish to give away. Check out vintage or second hand shops, garage sales or car boot sales to pick up unique and vintage pieces at a bargain. Lastly shop at retail stores or online websites for pieces that you cannot find and are essential in your prop collection. Some of my favourite places to shop at for affordable props are Daiso, Iuiga, Carousell, Ezbuy, Shopee and Lazada. There are times whereby I just Google the prop that I wish to buy and see what pops up in the search results. If you are good with your hands as you can make your own props that are project specific and befitting of the brief. Or you may know someone who is a good crafter and can make those props for you.
Props have their place in food and product photography and choosing the right props forms part of the planning process. Drop me an email if you have any burning questions about props which were not answered in this post. Follow along on my Instagram and I would love to connect with you through my email list.