How to Pick Food Photography Props

The right food photography props can be an amazing addition to any picture. They can help make the food stand out or they can add a little bit of extra to an empty space in your photo. But the wrong props can ruin the whole image!

Props for food photography - cups, plates, spoons and forks.

Are you looking for the right props or wondering how to pick the right props for your food photography? This is something I wish I knew more about when I first started my food blog.

I used shiny plates and even plates with overpowering designs because I thought my fancy plates that are almost 100 years old would add class to my photos. Yeah a few people did compliment those plates, but looking at them now they are quite distracting and took away from the food.

I didn’t think much of it, they are fancy and we use them as everyday plates. They hold value to me as they were my grandmother’s and they were passed down to me when she passed away.

Now people laugh look at me funny in the stores but I know what I want and what to look for in my props! I have the whole family trained in what to look for too.

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Plain and simple is best

You will notice in the picture above that the food photography props shown are pretty simple and plain. The reason? Distractions! If your plates have a bunch of fancy decor on them, they will look nice to your dinner guests but not in pictures.

The more you have going on when it comes to decorations on the plates, the more the attention goes to the plates designs and away from the food. You really don’t want the readers attention on what you plate looks like, you want them to like what your food looks like!

You know what is even worse then the plate getting the attention? The design on the plate clashing with the colors of the food. Nothing ruins a picture quicker. I know this from experience!

Plain and simple food photography props help to ensure that your props will enhance the look of your food.

Matte or non reflective

Small serving plate with a matte finish to show it is not reflective.

This plate is from one of my favorite collections that I have for my food photos. It looks slightly reflective here but that is because I used to flash on my phone and held it about 1 foot over the plate.

I NEVER recommend using your camera or phone’s flash for your pictures, but I did it just to show you that even with a flash it is barely reflecting any light. A shiny plate would have produced a horrible glare in your picture. Possibly even a blinding glare in the picture.

This plate is matte. Matte is a dull and flat finish with no shine. This picture with the flash is the most reflection I have ever seen from it.

The best food photography props are matte by far. This goes for everything from plates and forks to cups and serving spoons.

When in the store I like to move the plate (or the prop I am looking at) around in their bright fluorescent lights to look for possible reflections. This works great at stores with very bright lighting, but not so great in stores that are a bit darker like possibly an antique store.

If you are in a darker store, take your camera out and use the flash light on it. Some stores have policies against taking pictures but you are not actually taking a picture. You are simply using the flashlight to see if it has too much reflection on it.

Now a little bit of reflection under your flashlight is ok if it looks similar to the picture above. Bright lights will create a reflection on almost any surface. If it has a strong glare when moved around in the light, it will not work with artificial light.

Finding the right silverware and serving utensils

2 forks that are not shiny with no reflection and one antique spoon that does have a reflection of my phone in it.

I actually found these 2 forks at Target. I find a lot of great food photography props there, it’s a great store to walk around but we do live dangerously close to one. I mean I can be there in less the 10 minutes, yeah that kind of dangerously close!

But onto the silverware, do you see how the 2 forks are not really reflecting much light? They are perfect! There is not much light, the silver doesn’t have any. The other thing is that you don’t see me or my phone in the picture.

In the beginning I was using my silverware that I use everyday and it is shiny stainless steel. Editing photos I would see my hands in them or my phone. Just like the fancy spoon on the right in the picture. See my hand and phone?

For serving utensils I like to use wood or a matte stainless steel. I do not own many plastic utensils and think they kind of have a blah look to them. Wood serving spoons can be great in pictures!

Do I have to use only matte props?

You are probably thinking “but I love that dish!” I get you, trust me on that! I have a couple food photography props that I just love but are not as matte as the plate above. And you know what? If it’s not too reflective – as in it didn’t hurt your eyes to look at it while doing the light test, you can probably use it in natural lighting if you diffuse the light.

The spoon in the picture above is one of my favorite spoons! It is from an antique store and is from probably the early 1900s. I have to be careful when using it because it will reflect the surroundings as you can see. But with the right angle, that reflection goes away and it is a nice fancy spoon for my pictures without taking away from the food.

Using stainless steel

Silver dessert dish close up showing the reflection of my hands and phone inside.

Stainless steel is one of my favorite things next to cast iron. I have a lot of stainless steel, but not much for my food photography props. I do have these nice classic dessert dishes that I love to use.

They are slightly tarnished as they are old and I got them at the antique store so they don’t reflect a lot of light. Can you see the only problem with them? Yeah you can see me and my phone on the edges of the dish and on the inside as well.

Don’t be discouraged by that tho. The inside will be filled with something yummy and you can move the camera on an angle where your hands are not showing.

I do use my stainless steel pots and pans a lot in my process shots and videos. I do not like non stick so I don’t show my readers anything in non stick pans, except my one griddle. Usually the only time the pans are a problem is if I start the video before placing anything in the pan. In process shots I don’t worry as much if my hands show as I do in my finished meal shots.

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to stick to white dishes for food photography props?

No, not at all! I have seen some pretty amazing pictures in pastel colored dishes too! Be creative as long as it enhances your food. I just struggle with color matching, was never great at that. For me it is best to stick with a few basic colors.

What color props do you recommend everybody start with?

This is going to be more of a personal preference because you may love pastel colors and be amazing at matching them as compared to me who cannot match things very well.

But I do think that everybody should have props in white, black, dark blue and brown. With those colors, you can definitely have one to match your food.

What size props should I start with?

This depends on your recipes and what you will mostly be shooting. For me I love to have a serving platter (for roasts), a dinner plate, a small dessert plate, a serving bowl and a dinner bowl. Now I don’t have all of the above in every color that I own. But I do have a white set with all of the food photography props here. Some dishes don’t have full sets and that’s ok.

Summary

  • Most important is to check for glare. If you see yourself in the prop, move the camera a bit.
  • Stainless steel can be great but reflective, use cautiously.
  • Wood is always amazing in pictures, especially serving utensils.
  • Matte is the best dish you can have for props.
  • Try to have a couple different colors and don’t buy the 4 place setting sets. Look for dishes that you can buy just one of each that you like.
  • Have fun with it and happy food photography prop hunting!

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