How To Find The Best Food Photography Props

March 6, 2020

How to find the best food photography props to create your own distinct collection of timeless items you will use […]

How to find the best food photography props to create your own distinct collection of timeless items you will use again and again. 

There’s no denying that props are an essential part of food photography. Props help to frame the food and a single plate or bowl can make or break a photo. I tend to lean towards a more minimalist photography style so I am very intentional with the props I use. The food should always be the hero of the image so it’s important to let the props help to tell the story, but they should never overwhelm the star of the show. Since starting my food photography business, I’ve been slowly and surely collecting classic and timeless pieces that will never go out of style. When it comes to props, the old saying “quality over quantity” definitely rings true.

I love prop shopping just as much as the next girl, but collecting too many props can be overwhelming and make it difficult to decide which props to use during a shoot. When I stumble across a prop I love at a local thrift store, out of town antique shop, or through my favorite online ceramic maker, I ask myself these five questions before I make the purchase…

  1. Will I use this prop over and over again?
  2. Do I already have something similar that works just as well?
  3. Will it help the food to shine or will it distract from the dish that I am photographing?
  4. Is it classic and timeless or will it go out of style?
  5. Can I live without it or is it the perfect addition to my collection?


Follow the guidelines below to curate your own distinct collection of food photography props that will help you to create beautiful images without breaking the bank.


Rome wasn’t built in day and neither was your prop collection. When I decided to dive into food photography full time, I felt a real urgency to find every perfect plate, bowl, fork and glass right away. What I’ve learned is that curating a collection you love takes time and patience. Some of my favorite props thus far I found only recently {and randomly!} and a few of the pieces I bought hastily on day one are now collecting dust on the back of my prop shelf. My advice? Keep your eyes open and make a running list of items you dream of adding to your assortment. Then take your time building your collection and remember that you really don’t need a lot of “stuff” to create beautiful images


Overly styled and overly propped images are often busy and fail to stand out to the eye. The purpose of props is to help enhance the scene and highlight the food, not distract you from it. Start by adding just one or two props to a photo and then layer in more if needed. When purchasing props – remember, you aren’t looking to purchase a entire set of flatware or a whole box of vintage dessert plates. You want to invest in just one or two pieces of each that you love and that will be versatile enough to use again and again. When shopping for props, think to yourself “if it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a heck no”. Pro-tip: do purchase plates, bowls, forks, spoons, dipping bowls, and glasses in sets of three. Odd numbers are a good rule of thumb in food photography plus you’ll always have a couple of back ups just in case.


Since the food is the hero of every image, it’s important that everything else be secondary. Sure, we need great lighting and a good backdrop. And composition is everything. But we don’t need ten forks, five plates, and fifteen milk glasses to take a great photo. Keep your styling simple instead of overdoing it with too many props. When I begin styling a shoot, I usually start with natural props first. As in ingredients. Think about the dish you are photographing and and use natural props to add subtle embellishments to your photos. Everything from sugar to herbs, to fruit and crumbs can be used to help style the food. Natural props are a great way to make your image look “lived in” without adding anything else to the scene.


To keep your images interesting, choose interesting props that have good lines, beautiful texture, and worn edges. When you photograph these items, the light picks up on those elements and helps to create an eye catching photo. Starting your collection with a range of simple white or neutral plates, bowls, cake stands and linens is a great place to start. Then build up from there and then add in a few pieces that have a more unique shape, size, color or pattern. Steer clear of any items that will overwhelm the food. Ask yourself if the items can be used in multiple ways and repurposed from shoot to shoot so that your viewer doesn’t tire of seeing the same props over and over again.


No double about it, vintage items are my favorite food photography props. Sure, we can find beautiful, brand new pieces at stores like Williams-Sonoma and Crate and Barrel. I shop there frequently and often find just what I need for an upcoming client shoot. But there is nothing like a few worn edges and rubbed corners on an antique serving spoon to really make a photo sing. I’m always on the hunt for vintage silverware, old time ice cream scoops, and antique baking racks. These items are harder to find but searching for them is half the fun! Try estate sales, flee markets, Goodwill stores, antique malls, yard sales, and Etsy shops to find these timeless pieces that never go out of fashion. Keep your eyes open, you never know where you mind find your latest treasure….even your grandmother’s attic can be a gold mine!


My favorite images mix old, vintage props with shiny new ones. They all have one thing in common however. They are all “neutral”. Sticking to tones of grey, tan, white, off white and even pale pink can help ensure that your props will compliment the food being featured. Think about using unmatched sets in your images to really draw the viewer’s eye in and keep the image interesting. Maybe use an old rusted muffin tin and pair it with a more modern, stainless steel table knife. While curating your collection, be sure the props you purchase will photograph nicely alone but also work well together in a scene. Knowing that your props play well together will keep your photo shoots running smoothly and your collection cohesive.


In keeping with my philosophy that less is more, sometimes the best images are those that use no props at all. Often if I’m feeling frustrated with a shoot and just can’t seem to style a napkin to save my life, I take everything off the backdrop and start over. Then I keep it simple and bring in items like crumbled wax paper, sheets of parchment, crumbs of cake, drips of chocolate, and dusts of powdered sugar. All of these props are easy to find and inexpensive to use and can create a really powerful image that draws the viewer’s eye in to the details.


Keep your props in plain sight. Once you have started a collection of food photography props, it’s important to keep them accessible so that they are within arms reach during a photo shoot. I keep my props stacked on shelves in my photography studio, right next to the window where I shoot. I can easily swap props in and out of a scene without leaving the room or having to rummage through cabinets or drawers. This really helps to keep my photo shoots running smoothly and efficiently and just seeing all of my favorite props displayed nicely keeps me inspired.

Don’t forget the backdrop. You can have the most beautiful, swoon-worthy collection of food photography props but we can’t forget that it all starts with the back drop. Before anything else, we choose a back drop to determine the look, the feel and the mood of our image. Once you have determined your unique photography style, invest in some well made, high quality backdrops that you will use again and again. If your style is light and bright, use off-white, marble and light gray and backdrops as your go-to’s. If you gravitate towards a darker, moodier style, then you’ll want to look for back drops that have darker grey, black and dark blue tones. My favorite back drops are my marble slab from Crate and Barrel, and my large custom surfaces made by Backdrop Woodville. I also have a few lighter weight back drops from Capture by Lucy and Replica Surfaces which are great for on-site photo shoots outside of my studio and for restaurant photography. Like the rest of your prop collection, curating an assortment of backdrops you love takes time so don’t feel compelled to rush out and buy one of everything.

Linens matter. Linens add a personal and lived-in touch to a photograph. While I often dread folding the napkin just right for a photo, when it’s done well it can really add so much warmth to a scene. That said, I find that it’s much easier to work with real linen, rather than cotton napkins or other polyester fabrics. Linen has great natural texture and folds nicely while not looking too stiff or contrived. My favorite linens are from my travels to little specialty boutiques overseas, Sur la Table, and Crate and Barrel. Pro-tip: buy two of each style and color because trust me, you are bound to drop a spoonful of chocolate on it eventually.

For more prop ideas and inspiration, visit my Pinterest food photography prop board here. And check the list below for some of my favorite online prop resources:












  • Reply
    Julia Green
    March 19, 2020 at 4:51 am

    Thank you so much for posting this! I have been trying so hard to figure out the best places for backdrops. I love your photography so so much! Probably my #1 favorite to get on my instagram feed. You go girl! Keep up the good work!

    • Reply
      Heather Mubarak
      March 19, 2020 at 7:59 am

      Thank you so much!! I really appreciate your kind words and I’m so glad that you found this post helpful!

  • Reply
    March 8, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    Heather your collection is so beautiful and so you!!! That ice cream scoop us a must!!!!! Love it all!!

    • Reply
      Heather Mubarak
      March 16, 2020 at 7:38 am

      Thanks Dee! It’s been so much fun finding my favorite pieces!!

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