Props for Food Photography – Tutorial #1

The popular subject among food bloggers is props. I got ton of emails with questions about where I buy them, how I handle them etc. I have decided to make today’s post about pots and spoons, crystals and silver. For starters, I must say, there can never be enough props, not for me, nor for any women on earth. We would like to have more beautiful things even if we got endless shelves already filled with them. So, let’s talk about it.

I am constantly on the outlook for new backgrounds with interesting textures. Anything can go – old windows and doors, wooden boxes, ceiling panels, even very old wallpaper. I have a story to tell you about one of my favorite green background. While driving through my neighborhood last spring on a rainy day I have noticed a gorgeous pile of old fence wood in someone’s trash. I’ve stopped and tried to put it in my trunk, but it was way too heavy. I have rushed home and as soon as my husband got home from work I have dragged him to see it -“Please come with me, I found it, it is perfect!” He was not too happy about the idea to begin with, but as soon as he has seen it the immediate response was “no way this junk goes to the car and definitely not to our house!” However, after some nagging he has reluctantly agreed to take it home. All the way back he grumbled and grouched how foul this old wood stinks and why we need to haul this trash around. However, at home this turned into fabulous wooden panel, rustic and beautiful as you can see here:

Photo Class 2

If you are looking for rustic backgrounds you may ask some farm owners for leftovers of wooden cases used for vegetables. I did. That is how I got another amazing rustic panel.

Whole Wheat Maple Graham Cookies

Also, I have painted some plain wood panels I have purchased from Home Depot for $20. Painted crackle is simple but beautifully looking effect.

Cranberry Curd

Every time I go to local farmers market I look for old used wooden cases. They are usually free, you just need to ask.


One of the best backgrounds I have is very old baking sheet I have for about 10 years. Over time it has turned brown with perfect rust. If you really look around there are plenty of backgrounds everywhere and they don’t cost a penny.

Another good idea is to buy very inexpensive artwork in Home Goods stores, next time check it out.


I use fabrics of different colors and textures. It is always helpful to have them washed and ironed before use. I never buy fabrics online because I must touch them first. You don’t have to spend a lot or buy many yards. I shop at Craft stores and Thrift shops. Again, use your imagination, if you have an old sweater, you may cut out a peace and use it in your compositions. Old linens are perfect, any cotton fabric or silk, whatever fits your mood.

Props 6

Another story I like to share with you, this time about very old coffee sack, it has become a perfect decadent accessory for my photos. Some time ago we went to small nearby artsy town of New Hope (historic Bucks County) to check out iron work and stone statuary for our front porch. In the local garden decorations shop we have met the owner (who happened to be major of the town) and his assistant, lovely 85th year old lady, who after a long chat has invited us for a cup of tea. Anyways, at the shop we have picked sneaky dragon statue that prior happened to decorate grounds of some old English castle. The owner has wrapped it in some old ripped coffee bag assuming we will just throw it away once we bring our purchase home. However, my husband who knows me really well, said “Oh no, my wife will surely use it for her photo shoots”. Voila, here it is:

Photo Class 1

Search around your house, I am sure you can find few treasures in far corners of cupboards or in old drawers chest.

Thrift stores and garage sales are real goldmine. For a very small amount of money you can get huge variety of items. Try to look for unique things reminiscent of your country, traditions, interests or the food you make. Do not buy every item you see, try first to imagine how you may be able to use it. Don’t buy large quantities of the same item, most likely you’d never end up using it. I am lucky to have Thrift store nearby where I am regular customer. Most of my stuff is from there and I have never spent more than $5 per store visit.

Here are a few shelves with my props. And yes – there’s more -))

Props 1
Props 2
Props 7
Silverware 1

I also love to use in my compositions all kinds of garden finds. Twigs, leaves, berries, feathers, small stones – anything can go. These elements animate your picture, give it depth and make it more interesting, closer to nature. They grab viewer’s eye, add mood and define the season. For example in spring when everything blooms it is nice to add some yellow flowers and green branches, in fall red and yellow leaves, acorns and nuts make your picture warmer. Next time you walk in the park just look around!

Props 4

Your opinion is very important to me. Let me know if this post was helpful at all and what would you like to discuss next time. Happy hunting!

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  • Reply
    January 2, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Love this! So fun to see behind the scenes. Thanks for keeping me inspired.

  • Reply
    Rebecca Subbiah
    January 3, 2013 at 12:42 am

    awesome tips you have such talent kind of you to share

  • Reply
    Merry Graham
    January 3, 2013 at 3:59 am

    Your artistry amazes me ~ so inspiring! Keep up the masterpieces ~ candy to my eyes!

  • Reply
    January 3, 2013 at 5:46 am

    Really great post! Thanks, Yelena! One thing that I need is my own home with big kitchen and a little room to keep all the props 🙂

  • Reply
    January 3, 2013 at 6:39 am


  • Reply
    January 3, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    Wow – beautiful collection. I used to have a post on my blog a few years ago about my props, but since I moved recently and updated many of my dishes, I removed that post. I'm planning on writing another one soon. Your vintage cutlery is fantastic!

  • Reply
    January 4, 2013 at 3:54 am

    Oh my, I really want to move in with you, my friend! 🙂 All those props are a true treasure, especially well organised like your's. You have an amazing taste, and each time I see a reflection of St.Peterburg in your photos, sometime I have a clear association with specific place. Isn't it funny?! 🙂
    On New Year Eve I was wishing you and your family all the best! 🙂 Алена, С Новым Годом! Надеюсь ваши праздники были веселыми! 🙂

  • Reply
    La Table De Nana
    January 4, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    The story about the fence:) My husband rolls his eyes too..I adore him..but never bring up the idea of lugging home anything big..Plus I am trying to simplify myself for us..I know we won't be in this home forever..and the idea of sorting..etc..is overwhelming..
    So I have put tight reigns on myself:)

    How generous of you to share your ideas..and to let us into your privacy.
    I loved this tour..and thank you..You have some charming unique pieces/props.And you use them to their highest and best use!

  • Reply
    January 4, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks to every comment, it's very important to me. I am happy if I can help a little and give you some ideas.

  • Reply
    Nami | Just One Cookbook
    January 5, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Happy New Year Yelena! I'm sorry my comment has been very slow but I've been reading your post as soon as it comes into my inbox. I especially appreciate this post and now I see what you meant by the "shelf" storage you talked about! LOL. It's my dream to go shopping with you. You have different eyes to catch things that I probably think they are junk. Heheheh. I need more artistic talent to see things. It was such a fun post, Yelena. Thank you for writing this!

  • Reply
    Heather Smoke
    January 15, 2013 at 1:33 am

    I really like this post – I am always trying to find things to use for more interesting backgrounds on my blog. 🙂 I especially love your photo of the cranberries – beautiful!

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    February 22, 2013 at 2:57 am

    You wont believe it..I found this article today and already read it 3 times 🙂

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    February 22, 2013 at 3:02 am

    I am so glad you liked it-)) Thank you lifescoops-)))

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    August 8, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Thanks for sharing. Some great ideas there.

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    Sofia Clara
    September 12, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    I LOVE this post! I started my blog a little while ago and am learning lots about food photography and loving it. I am slowly collecting props, cutlery, pretty backdrops, napkins and the like but it's great to hear other people's ideas! Thanks for sharing. x

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