Did you know that professional food photo shoots typically involve an experienced food photographer and food stylist? Food styling is an art form and a specialized practice in and of itself. It often can be an intimidating or overlooked aspect of food photography because it’s complicated enough to learn how to use a camera correctly. However, food styling is an aspect of communicating how healthful and delicious a recipe looks through media, and it’s a great way to help brand images so they have a consistent look and feel to them.
When it comes to props and backgrounds used for food styling, I’ve found it best to keep things simple and natural. Taking a minimalistic approach to what you place around the food lets the recipe you create be the star of the show. Below are some favorite background and prop items that are budget friendly and easy to find. My guess is that you probably have some of these laying around your kitchen already.
- Wood or bamboo: A simple cutting board or pieces of old weathered wood placed side by side or nailed together never fail to provide an attractive, rustic background for photos. If you come across some pieces of old barn wood, this would be the perfect material to create a one-of-a-kind background that’s unique to your photography.
- Slate tablets: Black matte backgrounds can make the dish pop. Slate is a perfect choice for achieving this effect. I love using slate in the fall and winter to create dark, moody shots.
- Porcelain or ceramic tile: Plan a visit to a nearby wholesale or discount store that sells flooring (eg, Floor & Decor), and buy one or two squares of a bright white ceramic tile for a clean and crisp background. Some of these can have the look of an expensive marble and are a great choice for spring and summer shots.
- Baking sheets: Large baking sheets are a great way to make use of what you already have on hand. The more weathered the baking sheet, the better. Dents, rust, and discoloration all add texture and interest to the photo.
- Parchment paper: A simple sheet of naturally hued parchment paper can serve as an inexpensive background to create a clean, minimalistic look for your photo.
- Cast iron skillets: A 10-in skillet, a griddle pan, and a mini cast iron skillet make great vessels in which to style your food. This texture adds richness to the photo without detracting from the food. Use mini cast iron skillets in which to style sandwiches or burgers, or pancakes, cookies, or muffins.
- Ceramic dishes: Ceramic pottery dishes are my favorite vessels for food photography because of their matte finish. The matte finish reduces glare and makes it easier to achieve the best lighting for the photo. Bonus: It can remove a few steps during the photo editing process.
- Marble or granite cheese boards: Layering boards of various shapes and sizes on top of your background is a great way to create an interesting photo composition and a pathway for the eye to follow.
- Antique utensils with a matte finish: How many times have you taken a picture with a utensil in it, only to notice your reflection in the photo later on? I’ve definitely been there, which is why I use tarnished, old utensils with a matte varnish. If you have utensils with a matte patina, avoid washing them in the dishwasher, as this can destroy the finish.
- Linen towels or flour sack towels: The pliable, soft nature of these towels makes them easy to fold and swirl around your food props, creating an easy-going, laid-back feel in a photo. Choose natural tones in shades of grey, tan, white, and blue to avoid competing with the colors of your food. Avoid harsh shades of red, orange, and yellow, as these can create unnatural color tones in your images.
— Whitney Reist, RD, LD, is is a culinary nutrition consultant living in Columbia, Missouri. She’s author of the blog www.sweetcayenne.com, where she loves to share her passion for food and fashion. Her favorite things about food blogging are the photography and, of course, the eating.