If you’re a budding food photographer looking to build your prop collection on a budget, this post is for you! We’ll explore 10 kinds of props you probably already have at home as well as some low-cost DIY options.
When you’re just starting out on your food photography journey, it can sometimes feel like you need to buy ALL the props.
After all, all the other food photographers have these cool props… And where do they find the time (and the money) to get all these cool things??
I know when I started out several years ago I struggled with the idea of dropping a lot of money on props and, quite frankly, I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of everything I thought I needed.
The good news: You don’t need to spend all of your time and money hunting down props.
Don’t worry, you’ll accumulate some amazing signature pieces over time, but in the mean time, here are 10 props I bet you already own to get you started.
1. Wrapping paper, wallpaper, scrapbook paper… All the paper products!
When I first started out with food photography, I realized very quickly there were only two surfaces in my home that had adequate natural light, and consequentially, all of my food photos were starting to look the same.
Sure, you want some consistency in your photos (particularly within each post), but you definitely don’t want monotony.
A really easy and cheap way to change things up is by using wrapping paper, wallpaper or wallpaper scraps, or scrapbook paper as a backdrop or under your food.
Pro tip: If you don’t have this sort of thing lying around, you can buy some very nice pieces on websites like Amazon, Home Depot and Lowes (I got this 2ft x 4ft piece of concrete wallpaper on Amazon for about $20). It also wipes down and rolls up nicely for storage.
2. Other foods
Seriously, some of the best food props money can buy are actually other kinds foods.
Just made a delicious blackberry cherry jam? Showcase that fruity goodness with some real cherries and blackberries! Or maybe you made a delicious sweet potato cake and your star ingredient doesn’t exactly lend itself to being a cake topper. That’s ok, you can top it with other seasonal flavors that fit the color or flavor profile, like figs, blackberries and grapes.
Fresh fruits and veggies, candies, egg shells, herbs and all sorts of other foods make amazing food props.
Pro tip: I like to keep cookies, crackers and cereals of various colors and textures on hand for crushing. These make great additions to a messy food scene if you don’t want to sacrifice one of your baked goods to make crumbs.
3. Cupcake liners, parchment paper and other baking products
So, maybe you noticed, I kind of do a lot of baking on this blog. I also own a ton of cupcake liners, rolls of parchment and sprinkles (Can you ever have too many? I think not!!).
But even if you’re not making cakes or cupcakes, these things are great for adding layers, texture and visual interest.
Place an open cupcake liner under a cupcake or a layer of crumpled parchment on top of a baking sheet to add another layer. Or use sprinkles to lead the eye around the photo.
4. Baking sheets
Admit it, you probably have at least one well-loved, dirty-looking, stained cookie sheet. And you’ve probably been thinking about throwing it away and replacing it with a shiny, new one, right?
Well, I’m just going to stop you right there.
Old, stained cookie sheets make a wonderful, dark, textured background for shooting food, particularly if you’re shooting light colored foods. Moody, brooding food photos anyone? (Seriously, it’s all the rage right now)
Pro tip: Don’t have a well used cookie sheet on hand? Create your own with this great tutorial on aging baking sheets for food photography.
5. Hand towels and napkins
Like cookie sheets and parchment paper, hand towels and napkins can add all sorts of texture and layers to your food photos.
They’re also great for adding spots of color or for lightening the whole photo if you use a plain white napkin or hand towel.
Pro tip: Sometimes it’s hard to get napkins and hand towels to fall in a way that looks natural. Here are 5 tips for natural looking napkin styling.
6. Dishware and cups
I imagine most of you have a cupboard in your kitchen full of plates, bowls, cups, and glasses. You probably have things for eating and things for serving.
Maybe things are even a little mismatched because, hey, you have to start somewhere with dishware accumulation, right?
Whatever the case, the stuff you have sitting in your cupboard right now is perfect for food photos.
Do you have white plates and bowls? They’re perfect for highlighting colorful or dark food.
Do you have small salad or dessert plates? Those are easy to fill up and make your food the center of attention.
Got colorful dishes? They’re perfect for adding a spot of color to an otherwise bland photo, or for color coordinating with your food.
Whatever the case, you’ve already got some great props to work with!
7. Things you can find outside
Are you struggling to find food photo props in your kitchen? Sometimes all you need is a walk around the neighborhood!
Things like branches, leaves, and flowers can make great props for seasonal dishes, or for adding a touch of color to your photos.
Just be sure that whatever you use is washed and non-poisonous if it’s going to directly touch the food.
Pro tip: Decorating cakes with flowers is all the rage right now. If you’re interested in putting flowers on food, check out my tips on safely decorating cakes with flowers <–bottom of the post
8. Kitchen utensils and silverware
Just like that cupboard full of dishes, you probably have a drawer somewhere full of kitchen utensils and silverware. Don’t underestimate their power in adding some life to your food photos!
Kitchen utensils are great for process photos and silverware can really tie everything together and lead your readers’ eyes around the photo. I mean, you wouldn’t eat that cereal in your picture without a spoon, right?
9. Seasonal decorations and props
If you’re anything like me, you have a box or two (or ten if we’re talking about Halloween) of holiday decorations.
Maybe you have some Christmas ornaments, swags and stockings tucked away somewhere, or some vintage Halloween decorations.
Things that you put out to make your home festive for the season double as great festive pieces for seasonal food photos. Also, it makes a great excuse to get that stuff out of storage even earlier.
Pro tip: Whenever possible, think small decorations. While seasonal decorations can play a great supporting roll in your food photos, you want to make sure the food remains the star.
Sometimes we forget about the most obvious photo prop: Ourselves!
You may not see me very often in my photos (there’s a grand total of just two posts were I’m more than just a floating torso and pair of hands), but you may, on occasion see my hands.
Using your hands in photos is a great way to show proportions and the process of making whatever it is you’re making. And it’s also a good way to make your blog a little more personal.
Do you have any favorite food photo props? Maybe something I totally missed out on covering here? Share your favorites with us in the comments below!
Update Notes: This post was originally published in March of 2015 but was republished with updated photos, and tips in August of 2019.