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What’s around your finished recipe is often just as important as your product itself. Flip through any food magazine next time you’re waiting in line at the grocery store and you’ll see that food is rarely displayed in a vacuum. Food is often surrounded with props, such as cutting boards and raw ingredients. The careful arrangement of these props in the background of your completed recipe can evoke a feeling: summertime freshness, wintertime coziness, the comforts of home, the excitement of a new restaurant.
To help your food photos look their best, here are 30+ thrifty props for food photography backgrounds that you can use yourself!
Food & Baking Photography Backgrounds and Prop Ideas
Placemats and tablecloths – try ’em rolled up, laid flat, stacked in the background, carefully folded or delightfully messy.
Ingredients from your recipe – a handful of chocolate chips, a serving or jar of uncooked spaghetti, a scoop of flour, a couple of eggs. Including raw ingredients is often done even by mass producers to evoke a “homemade” look, and it’s a great way to fill the shot. (Good raw ingredients example)
Layers of texture – No need to keep the background simple if you don’t want to. Lay a placemat flat and on top of it, build your scene using additional napkins and plates. It’s not unusual for staged and styled tables to feature multiple plates and napkins stacked high. (Good texture layering example)
Plates of all sizes and colors – your local Goodwill or World Market is a great place to find a variety of plates. Glass plates can look upscale or old fashioned; bold bright colors often look summery, dark and rich colors often look warm and wintry.
Wooden spoons – wooden utensils are another one of those “look, it’s homemade!” props. I find my wooden utensils often photograph better than my shiny ones, but which you choose really comes down to the effect you’re going for.
Shiny utensils vs. dull utensils – shiny utensils have an easier time looking upscale. If your recipe is for a formal dinner or get-together, go with the shiny. If your recipe is meant to look more rustic and “comfort food”-y, then you might like the look of duller utensils.
Dough/batter – I’m one of those people who likes the dough more than the finished product. Include a bit of dough in your shot and you’ve got my attention. This “prop” works better with things made in batches, otherwise you’ll end up making one bowl of batter for the finished cake and another for the photo (not that I would complain in that situation!). I’ve seen it done really well for cookies – one batch on the sheet, one batch still in the bowl. Yum!
Butter & knife – Goes great with bread and things made with butter. Let it soften a bit for best results – butter fresh out of the fridge tends to have harder edges and look like, well, butter fresh out of the fridge. (StoneSoup’s great “butter as a prop” example)
Trivet (hot plate) – If you’re showing your recipe off in a dish, setting it on a hot plate can give your photo a pleasing sense of dimension.
Fresh sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon – Have you ever ordered carrot cake at a restaurant and have it arrive with cinnamon sugar dusted in stripes or zig-zags across the plate? It’s a somewhat upscale look and can work really well with desserts and cakes.
Fruit – Adding something like a lemon slice, a cluster of grapes, or a few strawberries can help fill out a plate and make your recipe look even fresher!
Glass jars – Is the mason jar trend over yet? 😀 Glass jars probably got so popular partially because of how nice they look in photos.
Place setting utensils – Rather than a giant spoon or cooking utensil, how about surrounding the plate with an old-fashioned place setting?
Bag of flour or sugar – If you’re looking for ways to fill up a background, a big bag of raw ingredients might be suitable.
Herbs and spices – Some spices do this better than others (and some brands, too – I don’t know if I’d put my Safeway brand spices in the shot, but some jars are very pretty!)
Measuring tools – Glass measuring cups and plastic dry measuring cups and spoons (with or without ingredients inside!) can look very nice.
Oven mitts – Worn, new, or whatever – oven mitts instantly invoke a memories of hot homecooked meals.
Jar of jelly – For extra cute points, tie a ribbon around it. Try it open or closed, with and without spoon inside it. (Great example of jelly jar prop by JacquelynClark)
Cast iron skillet – Instant “old world” and “rustic” appeal (Lovely cast iron skillet example by Sarka Babicka)
Autumn leaves – You know when the weather starts to turn to autumn and you feel like making a particular dish? A few autumn leaves (fake or real) might suit that dish! Pumpkin pies and cranberry banana bread, I’m looking at you. 🙂
Stone or brick mantle – Pretty much the quintessential place to photograph cookies you’d leave out for Santa. 🙂
Gift wrapping paper – Might make a great background for some holiday season foods
Cocoa mug – A wonderful prop for many wintry foods (perhaps even better if you can get some lovely steam rising out of it)
Stones, pebbles, beach sand – I wouldn’t want to eat these things, but they could look good next to or underneath something meant to be prepared and/or eaten at a beach, picnic, or barbeque
Crisp white tablecloth – Elegant and romantic. If your dish is for someone special, you can let them know with a white tablecloth! (Valentine’s treats photographed by Kimberly Davis)
Candles – Another good way to communicate romance with your food photography.
Cookie sheet / griddle / frying pan – Why wait until it’s done? Photographing your food in its original container can look very good, too – and possibly fill in the background nicely, depending on the angle you’re working with.
Fancy drinks – There’s too much possibility here to list! Beer in a mug, milk in a little glass, wine in a glass, a sports bottle – drinks are a wonderful way to add color and interest to a shot.
Wooden table or cutting board – So much possibility here, too! Wood grain, seams between boards (Wonderful weathered wood backdrop example by CannelleVanille)
Fire – Lucky you if you can place your food in front of an active fireplace, cooking pit, or barbecue!
Accent foods – What goes great with your recipe? Show it, too! (Check out the milkshakes and corn bread in this adorable example by Sneh Roy)
More of the same food – What better to fill the background with than more of the same thing? (Good “more of the same” examples by OhSheGlows)
Everything! – If it suits your recipe, show the whole table! (Great “full table” example by Dylan Swart)
More Great Food Photography
These are just a few of the great food photographers and food photography blogs out there. Leave a comment and let me know who your favorite food photographer is!
- Edible Perspective
- Desserts for Breakfast
- The Tart Tart
- Lovin The Oven
- Pinch of Yum
- Greg Dupree
- Yossy Arefi
- What Should I Eat for Breakfast Today
- Sarka Babicka
- BuzzFeed’s 50 Best Food Blog Photos of 2012