a guest post by Carol Hart.
Hello! So good to be here.
Before we begin, I’d like to say how grateful I am to everyone for all your kind words and well wishes in regards to Brian’s stroke. I am happy to report that he is making excellent progress. He is able to swallow without difficulty already…to the amazement of his doctor. He has also been walking everyday. I surprised him with a new bicycle a couple of weeks ago and he has been adding that activity in the afternoons. He is heading in the right direction! Again…thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your kindness and support mean to much.
So, on with the current subject!
Props! We all love them..admire, acquire, even covet the props of another. Any still life photographer, especially those focuses on food, can go on and on about the importance of props…and we all have our favorites.
Personally I have a fair number of props…not nearly as many as some, but certainly enough to effectively put together a still life image…whether the subject is food or flowers.
And yet, with all that I have, there are still times when I see something and think…that would make a great prop…and in the shopping basket it goes! I’m always on the lookout for unique pieces, something I might not see in other photographs I admire.
However, I also try to look at all that I already have and think, how can I use this differently than I have in the past. I also try to think a bit outside the box. Just because an item was designed to be a jelly jar, doesn’t mean I couldn’t use it as a serving dish
Flowers also make effective props
Food elements as props can help tell more of the story about a particular food
The right prop(s) to use in an image is such a subjective thing. We all have different styles; rustic, elegant, colorful, vintage, contemporary, etc., and your props become a reflection of your style.
However, I have found that in food photography, for me at least, there are some guidelines that help in creating a pleasing food image: Size, color, shape, texture, as well as its prominence in the image. These elements are what make a particular prop perfect for it’s main job…to act as a frame to show off the main subject…food.
Let’s start with size
The bowls in the image above are quite small…only 4 5/8″ in diameter and 1 1/2″ deep. I love them because just a small amount of food in the dish looks quite abundant and the color is neutral, which keeps the focus on the food itself.
In the image above, the inner plate is really the size of a salad plate. I often use this size as the “dinner” plate because a small portion of food looks abundant on the plate. In this particular image I am also working with color. The plate at the base is dinner plate size and I just love the design and color and really wanted to use it in the shot. However, its large size was not the only problem, the food would not have looked good right on top of that color. Using a neutral color plate for the food and then stacking that on top of the colorful plate worked to add a bit of color and help frame the food even more.
Speaking of color… In food photography I generally go with neutral tones; white, off-white, grey, brown, black. The neutral notes help to bring focus on the food and help support the overall look of the image that I’m trying to achieve.
I chose to work with plain white bowls in the image above because I wanted a rather high-key image that would focus attention on the color of the soup and all its ingredients.
The image above is a rare example of my use of a rather bold color for a plate. This is a dinner sized plate. My intention here was to accentuate the blue tones in the fish and yet keep the overall image as uncomplicated as possible.
For the image above, I wanted to focus on the beautiful color of the fish so went with props that were not only neutral in color but simple in its design. The old cookie sheet makes a great base and helps frame the fish as well.
With regard to shape, I am drawn to more irregular shapes, elements that give a sense of being hand-built
The unusual shape and irregularity, as well as the color, of this hand-built ceramic bowl add intrigue and interest to these Thai peppers.
Of course, I am also a fan of geometry
The perfect elliptical shape of this platter helps to frame the food and allow for a strong composition. This is a small sized platter…again, smaller is better.
Texture is always a fun element to play with and can be added in a variety of ways. when I want texture I usually go for a bit of cloth
There’s not a lot of the old tea towel shown in the image, but just enough I think to accentuate the texture in the pasta and provide a bit of framing with the vertical green line.
Of all these elements I work with; size, color, shape, texture…the one thing I spend the most time with is the prop’s prominence in the image. Sometimes I can get so excited with a particular prop that I lose focus on the fact that the food is my main subject!
I must have re-arranged things and shot these elements 100 times! It took me hours and though I came away with several images I liked, this one conveys the one thing I was really trying to focus on, the heart-shaped strawberry chocolate chips. The cup is a neutral color and an irregular shape, which adds interest but doesn’t take away from those chips. Though the wooden spoon and bowl of chips are out of focus in the background, I think it too adds interest, causes the eye to linger awhile. The flowers also speak of the time of year… this image was taken in February.
Though the little colander above takes up more of the image than the cherries, I think it becomes a great pedestal, if you will, to offer up these cherries and focus attention on their dark color and whimsical stems.
Final thoughts in working with props: What is your overall style and what style are you wanting to achieve in your image…rustic, vintage, colorful, high key, dark and moody? How do the prop(s) you choose help to create that style and frame the subject matter…food in this case? Is there a certain prop you have on your wish list to add to your collection? What do you already have in your cupboard, drawer, closet that can be used as a serving vessel or utensil, even if that wasn’t its original intent? Remember, things you have had for a long time are not likely to be seen in another person’s image so that element can become part of your signature style.
Links you might be interested in exploring
Thanks so much for stopping by and allowing me to share my experiences working with props in food photography. As always, many thanks to Kim for providing this lovely platform for us all.
Thank you Carol. It’s wonderful to have you here.
To see more of Carol’s beautiful work pop over to her blog. You can also find her on Instagram @carolhartseattle.