Sunday, 27 June 2010

Food props - food photography

Ilva at Lucilian Delights has started a series called Food Props on Sunday and she has invited bloggers to join in her reflections on the props that surround food in our photos. I can’t resist a bit of navel gazing!

I feel that I should start with a disclaimer. I am not in the league of Ilva and her guest posts. I don’t have a studio or an SLR camera or cupboards devoted to ‘props’. I don’t have the time or patience to take photos of breathtaking beauty. Most of my meals are photographed hot in the minutes before eating them.

On the other hand, I have taken so many photos of food in the three years since starting this blog that I have learnt a thing or two. Probably the most important thing for you to know about my food photography is that it is a window into my world. I take delight in the curve of a pumpkin or the sheen on an apple but I find that my personal life can’t help but creep into many of my photos.

The plates and bowls that I serve on are ones that we use in our daily life. When I have time to set up a photo, I usually look around my house for inspiration. Sometimes it is an ornament, sometimes one of Sylvia’s toys or even a suduko puzzle.

So when thinking about food props, the entire contents of my house seems to be my box of props, though first port of call is always my kitchen. First decision is often a plate, a bowl, a casserole dish or a tea towel. I love colour and patterns. I love bold and pretty and funky. Very few of my crockery is white though my kitchen is not as colourful as I would like.

Some plain colour is useful. When it comes to background, I struggle to keep the clutter at bay. Some days I use the back of the oven or white walls for background. Tea towels, pillow slips and chopping boards have been requisitioned at times. Though I often take close ups where only the inside of the bowl is visible. If I do have time, I will often arrange food on one of the rugs, in the backyard or on the kitchen floor. (Unfortunately my kitchen table is in a dark corner and rarely is used for photos.)

Many of my kitchenware was purchased before blogging. But not all. I rarely buy anything for the kitchen these days without thinking about how it might appear in my food photography. No matter how long I have owned a dish or ornament, when I use it I often find myself filled with memories. I remember who gave it to me or where it was purchased, or when we used it in a dinner party in a student household. Occasionally I even take photos at other people's houses when the food is shared or prepared there. It gives some new views but most of all captures the memory of the occasion.

If I have the time, energy and sunlight, I sometimes choose some quirky item to appear in a photo alongside the food. It is often a reminder of that moment in time. A new toy received as a gift, a teething ring that Sylvia has needed that day, a tea towel I have just bought on holidays. I fear that the photos mean much more to me than readers but I hope that we can all enjoy the fun.

As you will have already gathered, friends and family are often present in my photos, whether through gifts or memories. Some are more present than others. I have a blog policy of no faces but I do love hands. They are so expressive. Often Sylvia is around when I am photographing and her pudgy little hand makes its way into the photo. I love capturing the ephemeral in photos - a gesture, packaging, peels or a scribbled list.

So Ilva, you have asked about my food props. They range from anything that will prevent my soup being a puddle on the floor (to paraphrase Bron Marshall), to the ornaments on the shelves in the loungeroom, to Sylvia's toys, to the backyard plants, to a wee curious hand. My food props are full of colour, of fun, and of meaning.


  1. I really enjoyed this post, Johanna. Since returning home and starting to blog recipes, I've realised how little I know about photography, and how lacking I am in the space/light/props needed to take good photos! My new unit barely gets any direct sunlight, and as I'm on the third floor I can't exactly nip outside for a shot. I'm having a lot of trouble with the whole photography bit, but I'm not really in a position to be able to make any big changes at the moment...

    Ah well! Reading about how you create your cosy and inviting photos does give me hope. Maybe in a few years' time I might've progressed a little!

  2. Every time I'm out shopping (thrift shops are my favorite), I'm looking for new props. I'm going to start playing with backdrops soon. I have many single dishes for food photography. Lots of things not meant to be served on/in that I turn into serving dishes. I'm always learning new things about food presentation, styling, and lighting. I'm a work in progress.

  3. What a great post! I am actually 'banned' by Mr BBB from buying any more plates / dishes etc UNTIL we move into our new place. When we were packing up the old one I think I filled over 6 HUGE boxes oops ;)

  4. Thanks Hannah - my kitchen gets great sunlight and I have a fluoro light above the kitchen - I have also seen others buy a little desk lamp to light corner - I have considered this - and I found when I bought my new camera that it took better pictures in the dimmer light areas. But it is all a learning experience - it is amazing watching new bloggers develop their photography skills - and I am sure you will

    Thanks Michelle - I have considered backdrops but the odd tea towel, or chopping board is as much as I have done - I did take a tray from my sister that she got some food on and I intended to use it once and it is still in the kitchen

    Thanks Lisa - If I had a bigger place I am sure I would buy more - but your comment reminds me that I have always had a lot in my kitchen and loved quirky bits and pieces - so I can't just blame blogging!

  5. Loved this post, Johanna! We all worry about food styling...can't help it. And there are so many really talented people out there. I really scramble around my cabinets for something different, but I am really NOT very good at styling! I should see if there's a class around here.
    Love your picnic offering too. Nutroast looks and sounds like a fabulous addition to our basket!

  6. I really enjoyed reading this post! I always love your photos - the way you include items from your home, along with your lovely dishes and settings, is always stunningly beautiful! I can always feel the love, care, and memories in your photos... Thank you for the glimpse into your world.

  7. I love your collection of props - they are fabulous. Thanks for letting us take a peek.

  8. Great post. I'm so useless when it comes to food styling, I do buy props especially for food blogging, but rarely use them and stick to my white plate, lol!! Yours are lovely and you use them very well.

  9. Coincidentally, I just popped in after visiting where I happened upon an article titled How To Take Pictures of Food. It had a few good tips, but, I need a lot more than tips. Classes sound good:)

    I have a mishmash of what nots that I hope to someday incorporate into my posts. I also collected many dishes through the years in hope of using them as shards on mosaic furniture. Sometimes, I grab for them when posting but I just don't have the umph to get all stylish.

    Thank you for letting us take a gander at what props up your world, Johanna...

    I'm with Barbara on that Nutroast of yours, yum!

  10. Gosh, what a lovely little post, Johanna! So much of you in these pics, your world and loved ones. Style comes with practice - and you've done a lot of that here!

    I saw a show in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, the work of uber-famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and he too found hands incredibly expressive. Lovely post - also pleased to see how your garden grows. XX

  11. Wow Johanna, this is the post I wanted to write.

  12. Thanks Barbara - there are some really useful posts and blogs about on photography - they might help you identify a good course or just give good tips - I always find it amazing how much work some people put into photography but I guess it is a labour of love for some

    Thanks Astra - how kind - I am pleased you enjoy a glimpse into my home

    Thanks Cakelaw - you are welcome

    Thanks Nic - your photos are lovely - I just often use dishes to give colour because it seems like the easiest way to perk up a photo without having to go clearing all my clutter

    Thanks Louise - stylish is not my way either - had a look for the article and couldn't find it but found all other interesting pieces - your collection for mosaics reminds me of places I have seen on documentaries where people decorate their backyards with old plates along the walls - now that would be amazing

    Thanks Lucy - "style comes with practice" indeed - probably why some amazing photographers take so many more photos than me - and am enjoying all the rain for my garden this winter

    Thanks Tanna - too kind - I loved your food props post and keen remembering that cheeky chappie in your garden

  13. Our personal lives will creep into our blogs. Hence Sylvia's hands making an appearance now and again on your. Like you I try hard to keep a low blog profile (not easy in Scotland), but I do and like you have a no face policy.

    I have always appreciated your photographs and like you always use props in the home. Many of the things I use were purchased well before I started blogging, as I enjoyed cooking, gadget and so on. But i rarely go the chance to showcase some of these things: plates, cups, bowls etc. Blogging has allowed me to indulge a little. Now and again, I do see something at a charity shop and purchase it, but not that often. My experimental photographs and food styling have over the last few months got better with the encouragement of my husband, but also by being inspired by fellow bloggers - you being one of them. This is all a way of saying, I enjoy looking at your photographs: food or not.

  14. I love how your food props are so personal. :) It looks like you have an amazing collection of plates (in that first photo). If only I had more room to keep dishes...

  15. Love those plates in the first photo. I am much like you--tea towels, sheets, etc (but pillow cases! brilliant!) or whatever I can get my hands on. I also go looking for "blog dishes" when I'm out and about. And I remember your sudoku photo! :)


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