My Favorite Places To Find Budget-Friendly Props For Food Photography
As a food and cocktail photographer, the one thing that shouldn’t be expensive is your set of props. We spend enough money on camera equipment, lenses, potentially booze, and rare ingredients - that the dishes, glasses, shakers, and sprinklers are places where I found I can save a little money. I’ll admit, I have a few nice dishes from West Elm that I bought at full price and a gold shaker I just couldn’t pass up, but the rest of my props I was able to get for a reasonable price or for free even.
If you’re just starting out and looking for a few ways to save money - look no further than a few of the options I’ve listed below.
1. Thrift Stores, Estate Sales, and Garage Sales
This is my all time favorite place to grab new things (well, at least new to me). Especially with Marie Kondo helping people get rid of the stuff they no longer need, these places are starting to get a new plethora of stock that we typically don’t see. You can find unique silverware (its ok - you’re not actually going to eat off it), ice cream scoopers, pourers, mugs, glassware, etc as low as 50 cents a piece.
2. Antique Shops and Ebay
If you can’t quite find exactly what you’re looking for at a thrift sale, local Antique Shops and Ebay (also Etsy) are great places to find one of kind pieces too. I’ve dabbled on Ebay a little bit, but only when I needed something pretty specific - a vintage apricot colored plate or some ombre teal glassware to fit a certain look. You can find deals all the time and if not, prices are often times negotiable. Plus, one great reason to grab items from an Antique Shop is so you can get that “lived in quality”. These aren’t brand spanking new items. They’ll help you get an authentic “I just made this at home” vibe.
3. West Elm and Crate & Barrel
I love a modern, contemporary touch to my images. So yes, I will sometimes grab a pretty, new item from West Elm or Crate and Barrel… but I typically wait for a sale. They have them all the time! For each glass shown below (this one, this one, and this one) I spent under $4 a piece. I don’t need a whole tablescape of them, so spending a few extra bucks goes a long way for me. I will grab anywhere from 1 to 3 depending how versatile I think it’ll be.
Plus, these places have great options for natural and white linens, props, and dishware. When you’re really trying to highlight the food or beverage, creating texture with minimal color around the focal point is a great way to add depth to an image. You’ll often see these woven napkins sneak into the corners of my pictures and underneath plates.
4. Hardware and Craft stores
DIY is affordable, if done right. I can create my own backdrops for half the price rather than buying it because backdrops can get expensive - quickly! I splurged on my first one, but have recently grabbed the parts and pieces to make more on my own. It can be as easy as buying some cheap wood/backing and painting it gold, white, or neutral gray OR grab an old tray to refurbish with new paint. These don’t have to be fancy because most the time they’re out of focus and just there to add color, texture, and depth.
Hitting up a fabric store is a great place to create backdrops too. You can easily pick up small (as in a yard) quantities of fabric for low cost. If you’re handy with a sewing machine (shoot - even just some iron-on hemming tape) you can whip up ‘fake’ napkins, linens, and backdrops for all types of styles and looks. This deep green velvet backdrop was a sample order we grabbed online and was under $10.
5. Event Rental Companies and Local Businesses
This is where “thinking outside the box” will also help you score free props, but usually only for a limited time. If you didn’t know already, I also work in the events industry. I help set up decor, draping, and floral here in Colorado during the summer months. So I’ve luckily gained some great connections in the catering and dishware rental department. I recently reached out to a local place to see if they’d loan me a few dishes and silverware. I was working on building my food styling portfolio, and didn’t want to spend the money on new items, just for portfolio building. Since its the off-season, they happily lent me a few pieces to play around with for a week.
Now, I know that’s not the case for everyone, but hopefully this helps you think about sourcing props differently. Do you work in a co-working space that has awesome mugs and glassware? Does the cafeteria use really cool flatware? Or does your office kitchen have an eclectic collection of plates? Would any of these places let you borrow them for a bit, just to add some variety to your images? I bet the answer will be yes.
I want to know
Where have you found your most favorite props? Do you have further recommendations? Leave them in the comments below.