Any food photographer will tell you that taking beautiful photos of food almost always comes with owning

  1. A camera, of course
  2. A selection of props
  3. A selection of backdrop surfaces

In this series, I’m going to share some tips and tricks for making your food photography more environmentally conscious. In this post I’m going to talk about props!

When I first started my food photography journey I had literally no props, nada. At the time I didn’t want to invest in anything too expensive so I needed to be creative with what I could use. After a bit of experimenting and several cringe-worthy photos later… I narrowed down to a couple of select favourites that worked well with food photography. Here are my top 5 favourite eco-friendly (and affordable) food photography props, enjoy!

Why props?

Props help convey the bigger picture surrounding your hero dish. This can include the basics like plates, bowls and cultery as well as less common ones like cake stands, pourers or spice scoops. I can attest that looking for props is an addictive past-time and a true test of self control!

Using props in your food photography can set the scene and help tell the story you want to convey. For example, having a table full of half eaten plates suggests a gathering of people, perhaps at a dinner party. A cooling rack topped with a golden brown loaf cake suggests it just came out of the oven, filling the air with it’s fresh baked aroma. You with me?

The lack of props is also a technique that creates a stark and sterile scene. Alternatively, some luxury or fine dining restaurant photography use minimal props in their food photography.

While I’m all for trying to reduce our environmental impact by reusing existing goods, I’m not saying you shouldn’t splurge on some gorgeous handmade props too. It really is about balance. Investing in the pieces that you know you absolutely love, fit with your style and you can use for a long time are great to have in your prop collection too.

All that said, let’s get down to the good stuff – the props!

1. Quirky household items

hummus bowls garlic flatlay
The centre plate is from a bake-in-the-oven camembert!
1/10 | f/5.6 | 20mm | ISO 100

You know those scratched or slightly uneven plates everyone has at home? Or maybe you have a bunch of hand-me-downs from your grandparents that don’t quite fit with your home decor? If you’re a *cough* hoarder *cough* I mean, collector like me – who keeps the little dishes you get with the camembert or dessert pots…

Those make great food photography props!

Mismatched crockery adds a bit of playfulness and whimsy to your food photography. Vintage patterns or unusual colours can liven up a composition compared to say all-white bowls and plates.

When it comes to patterns, it’s best to try smaller and less shouty patterns to keep the viewer’s attention on the food. Having said that, feel free to experiment! There are no hard and fast rules, it’s about playing and seeing what works for you and your style.

An added bonus is that older crockery tends to be on the smaller size too, which means they’re easier to fill (with less food).

If you don’t have any unusual tableware at home, you can also find a big selection of these in your local charity shop. Charity shops change their stock around pretty regularly, so with a little bit of patience, you’re likely to find some hidden gems, for very budget-friendly prices!

I love incorporating used crockery in my food photography because it adds that little bit of personality while also being a creative challenge mixing and matching colours and patterns.

2. Jars and spice lids

roast vegetables with chickpeas food photography
0.4sec | f/10 | 22mm | ISO 100

I don’t know about you, but I have an embarassing amount of used glass jars under my sink. Peanut butter, baby jam jars, olive jars… you name it! These make excellent props for food photography either to hold ingredients, drinks or even hold up things like ice cream cones or flowers.

A common prop for food photography is the pinch pot. They’re these cute, little, usually shallow bowls, that are used to hold bits of spices, herbs, oils that sort of thing. When I started food photography, I longed for these, but couldn’t really justify spending the money for it in the short term.

Then I discovered spice lids! Or even any lid of a small jar. Turn the spice lid facing up and you have yourself a pinch pot.

My favourite lids are the ones that have a little bit of depth in them, say half a centimetre or so. So that it can hold a reasonable amount inside it. The example above uses a lid from Sainsbury’s spice bottles.

3. Kids crockery

apple cake sliced plated
1/25 | f/8.0 | 19mm | ISO 100

Hear me out on this one! 

Generally in food photography you want the food to be the main hero, obviously. Having said that you need to be mindful about the sizes of your plates and bowls. Too big and it means you need to have either a) more food to fill it or b) the food looks teeny tiny! Unless you’re shooting an avant-garde or fine dining dish, it’s important to get your proportions right.

Kids crockery tends to be smaller and daintier in size, which makes it perfect for food photography. As always, matte surfaces are more forgiving for food photography to avoid overexposed areas caused by shine. 

For those of you who don’t have little ones, there are loads of kids crockery on places like Facebook Marketplace. The teacup in the photo above I got as a set of three cups and saucers for £5!

4. Worn cutlery

mince pie cut open food photography
1/160 | f/3.2 | 35mm | ISO 160

Dull teaspoons and dessert forks waaay at the back of your cutlery drawer make lovely food photography props. 
As with other props, generally smaller is better – you don’t want massive cutlery making your food look tiny!

With cutlery it’s very important that they’re matte, otherwise they’re a nightmare trying to fix in post. If you really don’t have anything without some shine, a good tip is to try to angle the cutlery in a different way in relation to the light. This can help in reducing overexposed areas.

Alternatively, eBay is a gold mine for used or vintage cutlery. Keywords like ‘job lot’ are great for getting a big selection for a reasonable price.

5. House plants and herbs

New Norm plant based shepherds pie
1/125 | f/10 | 35mm | ISO 160

Using plants in your compositions can be used to achieve different contexts in your food photography. From a simple flower in a bottle, to a large palm frond in the background, plants are so versatile in adding another layer of interest in your compositions.

Experiment with the house plants you have at home, to see what shadows they cast, or if they help tell the food story you envision. 

Herbs are not only great for garnishing your main dish, they’re also excellent food photography props. They can either be used in the same way you’d use a house plant, or they can also be used to create beautiful shadows on your composition (the technical term is a ‘gobo’). 

To sum it up

Some would say there are certain essentials that you need in your food photography prop collection. For those, I would suggest investing in pieces you truly love and can see yourself getting a lot of use out of them. Even better if you can support a local maker!

Though for those of you just starting out, finding your style or looking for those one off pieces, I’d encourage you do so some treasure hunting in your own home. Not only is it flexing your creative muscles by seeing things in a new light (pun intended), but also a little better for the planet.

Over to you – I’d love to hear what props you found at home! What were they? Where did you find them? How did you use them?

I hope you found this post helpful and inspiring in looking for your own eco-friendly food photography props.

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