12 props to elevate your food photography game

Mimi Tiu
Mimi Tiu

Food is a multi-sensory experience that’s initially encountered through the eyes. Even before we get a whiff of its delicious aroma or take that first unforgettable bite, we form preconceived notions about how a dish will taste based on how mouthwatering it looks.

Photo by Brooke Lark

The same concept takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to food photography, because people rely entirely on their sense of sight in order to make a decision about a dish. As an amateur photographer or professional food stylist, it’s essential not only to make sure the meal is assembled in an appetizing way, but also to pick suitable pieces that will enhance the appearance of your subject.

Try these prop suggestions to help make your photographed dishes look so delectable, people will want to lick their screens or the paper your images are printed on.

01. Use a neutral background

Photo by Brooke Lark
Photo by Brenda Godinez

Imagine your background as the setting of your story. A white, marbled surface will make viewers think you cooked something in the comfort of your sleek, modern home, while a wooden surface will trick them into visualizing a quaint country house.

No matter what kind of narrative you want to tell, use an understated background that creates contrast but doesn’t distract from your dish. Find one in a neutral  finish (like white, gray, or light brown) that can work with different types of food. You can also go against the grain by choosing a dark background that will make your light-colored grub stand out.

02. Try textured fabrics

Photo by Monika Gabrkowska
Photo by Roberta Sorge

From a frayed proofing cloth to a striped linen napkin, a simple piece of cloth carefully positioned on the side of your setup can add depth to your shot. However, there are many other intricacies to be considered: how the color and texture of the fabric affects the scene, how the cloth reflects the light, and how the camera captures the fabric as a whole.

Stick to neutral fabrics—a bright-colored cloth might give your food a weird color cast. When selecting printed textile, go for one with fine or classic patterns. Always remember to iron folded parts which can divert the eyes from the main focus of the photo: your food.

03. Go for wooden accents

Photo by Natalia Y
Photo by Taylor Kiser
Photo by Mariana Medvedeva
Photo by Artur Rutkowski

Create a rustic atmosphere by picking wooden elements such as a chopping board that has darkened over time or a wooden slab that features a tree’s beautiful concentric rings. Autumn-themed entrées and desserts can benefit from using props in natural materials that exude a homey vibe.    

04. Seek old props with character

Photo by Monika Gabrkowska
Photo by Aliis Sinisalu
Photo by Jennifer Pallian

No need to spend a lot to find great food props. A weathered dining plate, a vintage mug, a neglected wicker basket—these are just some of the possible accessories you can find at home that have been ignored for the longest time. Breathe new life into these items by simply wiping away the dust and letting them work their old-school charm.  

05. Have fun with plants

Photo by Alisa Anton
Photo by Edgar Castrejon
Photo by Ana Tavares

Plants definitely brighten up any scene! Put a floral bouquet or potted succulent as an incidental prop to give your snapshot a fresh and vibrant energy. Use a seasonal flower to establish when the image was taken, or get creative by picking a few petals or leaves and scattering them around the food.   

06. Choose unique flatware

Photo by Sofiya Levchenko
Photo by Kimber Pine

As children, we were taught to never play with our food, but no one said anything about using playful cutlery! Find spoons, forks, and knives in unexpected shapes and unusual finishes that can liven up an otherwise ordinary display. Go for gold utensils, try a set with decorated handles, or buy an odd-looking bended spoon that can perch on your glass with panache.

07. Reuse your ingredients

Photo by Brooke Lark
Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes

You don’t have to look far and wide to find unforgettable props for your next still life portrait. Sometimes, all you need is a dash of creativity and your extra ingredients. Surround the finished product with the raw produce in whole or sliced portions. This works well for recipes with colorful fruits in them, instantly giving people a glimpse of what was used in the dish.

08. Find plates with lovely lip or rim details

Photo by Chinh Le Duc
Photo by Julien Sarazin
Photo by Benjamin Wong

Literally bring something extra to the table by displaying your edible creation on a gorgeous plate. Select one with an ornate painting, a textured pattern, or even a golden rim—accents that don’t detract from the food. Whoever looks at your photo will surely take an extra second to appreciate all the fine details.

09. Utilize trays and pans

Photo by Brooke Lark
Photo by Annie Spratt
Photo by Joanna Kosinska

Experiment with trays in different sizes, forms, colors, and materials to create distinct levels in your photograph. Whether it’s a rectangular steel cooling rack for your freshly baked cake or a circular wooden tray overloaded with appetizers, these props compel people to focus on what’s positioned within the frame.    

10. Pick bowls with interesting accents

Photo by Whitney Wright
Photo by Masaaki Komori

Shot either from the top or at an angle, a perfectly captured bowl entices onlookers to try what’s in it. Find a bowl with personality; an oriental bowl can provide context and character to a noodle dish, while a speckled, pastel bowl can enliven a boring pile of nuts.

11. Select understated dinnerware in white

Photo by Michelle Tsang
Photo by Martin Widenka
Photo by Erol Ahmed

Are you brave enough to showcase your cooked food in its purest form? If so, let it be the star of the picture by displaying it on a white, unadorned container. Hobbyists can do no wrong with simple, medium-sized plates, while more adventurous food stylists can opt for white-tinted bowls in uncommon shapes.

12. Go for matte props

Photo by Wesual Click
Photo by Alisa Anton

Be wary of props with shiny surfaces that reflect light, or you might find your reflection unknowingly captured in an almost-perfect food shot. Save valuable time from post-processing your photos and adjusting your studio lights by selecting dining props with matte finishes.  

Photo by Patrick Browne

When styling and taking pictures of food, it’s always best to just go with your gut. If you hear it growling while you’re busy snapping away, it means you’re on the right track to making it look delicious!

Discover appetizing food stock photos you can instantly use from Canva’s extensive digital collection here.