When I first became interested in food photography, I set out to learn as much as I could about how to create an attractive and appetizing food photo. But one thing always bothered me– um, how do I put this . . . I am a Mom, and all my money goes to my kids. Yep. I’m POOOOOOORRRRR. I was worried that without thousands of dollars to spend on photo equipment and props, I could never learn how to create decent food photos. But guess what? You can create gorgeous food photos with materials that you buy or make yourself for just a few cents, sometimes. I don’t know it all, obviously, but I try to learn something new every day, and maybe by sharing some of the “cheapie” food props that I use, I can help someone else. 🙂 I hope so! If you’re new to these photography tutorials be sure to check out our tips on shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to help you know how to get your camera to take the photos the way you want them to be. We have also covered how to make your own indoor light studio for around 20 bucks, and how to create your own food photography backgrounds, with materials you probably already have around your house. Today, we are going to take a look at how to make some great, low cost food props. And I think you’re gonna love it! 🙂
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
One of my very favorite freebie props is a humble brown paper bag. YEPPPPP. This is a simple McDonald’s bag, my friends. All you do is cut this bag into a few small squares and crumple them up. When you smooth the squares out, they will be nice and textured looking. You can stack these squares and make some awesome “picnic feeling” photos . . . I’ll show you.
Check out this Classic Southern Fried Chicken. See how neat that crumpled up brown paper looks? I took 2 small squares, crumpled them up, and then kind of criss-crossed them across each other. I think the brown paper looks very nice in finger food type recipes, like picnic chicken.
I also used several pieces of crumpled up brown paper bag for this shot of the Oven BBQ Ribs. Again, brown paper is MADE for finger foods. Ribs beg for the casual feel of a picnic, and the brown paper goes super well with that feel, I think. Mmmm . . . please pass the ribs! Bonus . . . when you use brown paper as a “plate” for a photo, you can just toss the paper afterward and not have a huge mess on your photo background. Score.
And here is my sweet brown paper trick in action, again, for this Easy BBQ Chicken. See how delicious and appetizing that looks? And look– your brown paper bag trick didn’t cost anything! 🙂 You’re so awesome. I love working with you. 😉
Next, meet my humble friends, the “tiny bowls.” Haha. Sorry, but I don’t know what else to call them. These bowls are about 2-4 inches wide, each. The wooden bowls are roughly 1.5″ wide, and I got them at World Market for about $1 apiece. If you don’t live near a World Market, you can get them on Amazon, here or just keep an eye peeled at yard sales or kitchen stores for a similar replacement. The black bowl was from Crate and Barrel, I believe — I think it was about $2. And the aluminum one is an old measuring cup I got at a yard sale for a quarter. 😀 Don’t fret if you can’t find these exact sizes or colors, though. Amazon has nice little white ramekins here, as well as this adorable set of 6 small prep bowls in gorgeous colors, so that you always have the color you need. And of course, always keep your eyes open for interesting orphaned measuring cups and small prep bowls, because they can really add a little “something special” to a photo. Let’s take a look at my sweet little bowls in action . . .
See? There is my sweet little black bowl, brimming with festive, ruby red cranberries in this photo of my Cranberry Orange Spice Muffins. I like to use the black bowl when doing “warm and cozy” type recipes, because it adds just a touch of classy darkness without taking away from the vibrant colors created by the food.
Here is my little aluminum measuring cup. See it, there on the left, brimming with sweet, luscious strawberries? In my opinion, the best props are hardly even noticeable unless you are really looking for them. They exist to support and enhance the main subject– your gorgeous recipe. In this particular recipe for Classic Strawberry Shortcake, the aluminum adds a brightness and flash of silver color, as well as giving height to the berries. It does all this quietly, gracefully, and with a smile. (Do measuring cups smile? Hmm. Well, if I were holding gorgeous strawberries, I think I’d be smiling. But I digress).
Here is my sweet little wooden bowl smiling sweetly (I thought we already established this fact– bowls certainly MUST smile, holding all those sweet ingredients) in this photo of the Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Muffins . . .
And again in this deliciously dark photo of these sweet Chocolate Peanut Butter Dream Bars with an even sweeter story. (One of my personal favorites). I tell you what . . . for just a few bucks, these tiny bowls have certainly made themselves useful in many, many, many of my photos. 🙂 I use them in just about every photo I take, in some way.
Here is another one of my favorite cheap props: parchment paper. This particular roll of parchment paper came from the dollar store. Yep. ONE DOLLLAHHHH. It’s horrible for baking because it’s cheapie cheapie, but it’s fabulous for food photos (and quilt patterns, too, but that’s another story ;).
Handle the parchment paper in the same way we “pruned” the brown paper bags– cut a few squares, crumple the paper, and then smooth it out. I like to layer a few sheets of crumpled parchment paper and stack things on them, like in this photo of the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles. I find that parchment paper works really well in photos that are mostly dark– because the paper adds a little lightness to the photo to break up the dark colors a bit. And BTW– I can’t help mentioning that there is also a tiny bowl in this photo. Look at that– a bonus prop within the parchment paper’s lesson. You’re so smart.
Let’s talk about another cheap and ADORABLE food prop– the mini cast iron skillet (like this one here). You can usually get a 5-6 inch cast iron skillet for under 10 bucks, and you can use these little guys for so many things. I mean, seriously– even vegetables are more fun to eat when you have your own little cast iron skillet!
Here is my skillet in action (and yet ANOTHER tiny bowl) in this Skillet Cinnamon Roll. I mean, seriously. Is there anything cuter than a huge cinnamon roll that you cut in wedges, pie-style, at the table on Christmas morning for breakfast? Nope. I don’t think so.
Well . . . maybe a Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie is a little cuter. And look how adorable that looks in the photo! Yum. Please pass the forks! Yep. I totally see that tiny bowl in there. You’re so observant. Are you sure you haven’t done this before? Smarty pants. 😉
Another great food prop is odd, vintage, mismatched silverware. You can find interesting pieces at yard sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. Usually when I see an interesting piece I can get it for around 25 cents. If you find a piece of real silver that is tarnished black, no worries! Grab it and shine it up with silver polish. You can find silver polish for about 4 bucks here, and it pretty much lasts forever. That’s a lot of interesting silverware to spice up your food photos! 🙂
You can use those cool silverware pieces to accent your Copycat Cracker Barrel Mac and Cheese. Oh look! Another tiny bowl!
Or as a corner prop for your Lemon Poppyseed Scones . . . (and another . . . yeah. I know).
Another must-have tool that any serious food blogger should have in your prop arsenal, in my humble opinion, is a cupcake decorating tip set (like this $6 cheapie here). The cupcake decorating tips (make sure you get a coupler too if you don’t have one already– they cost a dollar or two but can be used over and over) really take your food styling game to another level, because now you won’t be using the “cut off ziploc bag method” for decorating. Your photos will thank you.
With this decorating set, you will be able to transform your Cherry Limeade Cupcakes into bakery-quality treats with gorgeous frosting swirls.
Your Lemon Meringue Mousse will be oh-so-much prettier. Seriously– did you ever get swirls like that from a spoon or a snipped off ziploc? Nope. Do yourself a favor. Spend 8 bucks and get a cupcake decorating set. I reuse mine again and again– if you’re careful they pretty much last forever. And your photos will really come to life.
Another cheap and easy “prop” is a pack of paper doilies (like these cheapies here). Doilies can add a little bit of lightness to a dark photo. They also add just a touch of elegance when you want to channel your inner “tea with the Queen” feeling in your pictures. haha.
Check out how cute that doily looks underneath this Copycat Mocha Frappe. Ahhhhh. Doesn’t that just make you want to grab a straw and take a sip right now? Yessssss . . .
And here is another doily adding a little class to these Old Fashioned Pulled Butter Mints. Look how sweet and adorable these things look. Look at the little touch of old fashioned beauty that the doily adds to an antique recipe! I just love it. BTW– you can reuse the doilies for many photos, like this one where only a glass jar touches it. Make the pennies stretch and improve your photos at the same time. Win/win.
Another amazingly fun and useful prop that doesn’t break the bank are these fake ice cubes, here. Unlike “real” ice, which is kind of cloudy looking and also “fogs up” glassware in photos, fake ice cubes are crystal clear and don’t make the cup cold and cloudy.
Which means you can get photos like this. Ohhhhhhh yeah, baby. These things are so fun that sometimes I make up recipes that take ice, just to use them. They’re that cool.
And that only leaves one more thing to say.
“Props to you.” haha.
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which just means that we get a few pennies if you purchase through our link. I never recommend products that I don't personally use and love. Thanks!
Hahaha! I had so much fun reading this post! Thank you for sharing this. I had actually found this through pinterest. I came here to learn something about food photography. So I have kind of hit two birds with one stone! You are funny and you are so knowledgeable.
Thank u! I am a follower of your work from now on!
Thanks Sakshi! Your sweet comments have made my day. 😀 Thanks for stopping by!
Hi Emilie — your new Canadian friend, Joan, here. Great blog and beautiful photos….my mouth is watering. I’m kicking myself right now — I gave up sweets for Lent and there is a little devil on my shoulder that is saying — “go on — just one chocolate chip muffin won’t hurt you.” If I’d know how to put in a crying face emoticon, I would:>)
Thanks for sharing your blog.
Thank you so much, sweet Joan! 🙂 Even if thousands of miles separate us, we can still be friends from a distance. 🙂 Thanks so much for taking time to stop on by– and remember– Lent doesn’t last forever. 😉 hehe.
I loved this post so much! also I am totally ordering the acrylic ice cubes!
Hahaha. Yessssss!!!!! I may or may not have also used these for April Fool’s jokes . . . *innocent face* 😉