Blogging 101: Food Styling Prop Library On The Cheap

Posted by Dani on May 20, 2014

cheap food styling prop library
Cheap is the key word here.

As a blogger, I’m always trying to improve my photo skills and styling is a big part of it, especially with food shots. One thing I’ve learned is the value of a good prop library. It’s amazing how great a simple photo can look with the right dish and the right backdrop. And I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be pricey!

food styling prop library

Have a look at the photo from my recent Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie post. I snapped this pic in seconds because I happened to have the perfect backdrop handy. In this case, the backdrop was the top of a raw wood cabinet I had just purchased for the dining room that was temporarily sitting in front of a bright window. This colour of wood makes a great neutral background for a lot of dishes. And it’s easy to replicate this look if you can get your hands on some old wood planks, or stain and distress some new ones. I have found some great wood boards at the cottage and in the trash – all for free.

chocolate peanut butter pie

The best sources I have found for my food styling props are thrift stores and hardware stores. The photos in this post show my latest score – a giant pile of dishes from Goodwill. These gorgeous plates, in various shapes and sizes, cost me a grand total of $27!

build a cheap food styling prop library

I have a small cabinet that I like to load up with these types of odds and ends, so I have lots of choices when it’s time to show off my latest dish. Have a look at a few quick snaps I took. It took seconds to set these up, since I had the right plate handy.

cheap prop library for food styling

build a cheap food styling prop library

The easiest thing you can do to improve your food photos is to build a great prop library. Want to do it on the cheap?

how to build a cheap food styling prop library

Here are my top 5 sources for cheap food styling props:

1. Thrift Stores, Flea Markets, and Garage Sales
These are a gold mine. Keep your eyes peeled for great tableware, cutlery, table linens, and fabric remnants at a fraction of the cost. Pick up some versatile wood cutting boards and some fun vintage accessories. You never know what you might find!

2. Home Improvement Stores
Look for building materials that you can use for backdrops. Large tiles, wood planks, and white foam boards are all great choices. Cut a large wainscoting panel into 4 sections – use the back for a smooth background and the beveled front for a different look. Buy some sample pots of paint and paint the front and back of each to give you 8 different colour options. Try to include some dark colours like charcoal to really make your dishes pop. Get some clamps to hold your boards up, and some daylight bulbs and cheap lamps to use for lighting your shot.

3. Marble and Stone Suppliers
Look for marble and stone offcuts. What doesn’t look better on a slab of white marble? This is a super trendy look, so keep your eyes peeled for an affordable piece. If it’s out of your budget, look for imitation stick-on vinyl or ceramic. You’ll be surprised at how real they look in your shots.

4. Dollar Stores
Here you can pick up 12”x12” sheets of scrapbook paper, cheap poster board, plain white dishes, tea towels, trays, and even fake greenery for the background to add an outdoor touch. Get some cheap new kitchen tools like measuring cups and spoons to accessorize your pics. And don’t leave without some aluminum foil to reflect light, and parchment paper which always looks great with food.

5. Discount Stores
You can find everything else you need at places like Target, WalMart, and Ikea. Look for nice platters and serving pieces. Cheap melamine dishes will often look great in photos. Find some fun vinyl drawer liners? Stick them on a foam board to make a backround. Look for discounted place mats and linens, mason jars in various sizes, and vintage-look accessories. Even fun plastic baskets and tableware can look great in a photo.

use thrift store plates for food styling

build a cheap food styling prop library

61 Responses to “Blogging 101: Food Styling Prop Library On The Cheap”

  1. Great tips! I’m always looking for good dishes, napkins, plants etc.

  2. Great tips for styling Daniela! That wood serving board is soooo beautiful, I have a soft spot for woodenware as Kent makes some pieces for our own and client projects!

    • Dani says:

      I know your Kent is very talented, I have seen his work. I think we’d all like to borrow him if we could 😉 But in the meantime, thrift stores are the next best bet 🙂

  3. These are terrific ideas! In fact, as I was reading it I remembered the marble slab I have sitting in the workshop – it will definitely come out for my next shoot.

    • Dani says:

      That marble slab is on every bloggers wanted list! I’m on the lookout for one myself, and making do with imitations for now.

  4. GREAT ideas here! Thank you for sharing.
    I have my fair share of placemats, now I need to buy some dishes!

  5. These are great tips, and I love those dishes! So pretty!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Katie! I thought those dishes were very pretty too. Luckily I have the blog to justify my dish buying habit!

  6. Just hand over that pie and I’m good! I get tons of dishes at yard sales and the reuse centre at our dump. I love clearance sales at Superstore for cheap dishes that look sweet.

    So much stuff, so little storage…


  7. Corinna says:

    Great ideas! I mostly use fabric and old rolls of wallpaper for backdrops, but think I need to switch over to wood panels/boards — the setup time would probably be much faster.

    • Dani says:

      Rolls of wallpaper are another excellent idea. I don’t have any of those, but I have some wrapping paper I sometimes use. And I have a feeling you might have a bit of that lying around yourself 😉

  8. Great tips! I might have to pop out and see if I can find myself a nice slab of marble!

    • Dani says:

      I think these days marble is like blogger gold. A close second is raw distressed wood. Add a mason jar or 2 and you have a sure fire winning photo 😉

  9. Fabulous tips! Thanks so much for sharing Dani!

  10. Great roundup Dani. You really scored with that stack of dishes! They’re gorgeous!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Andrea! I do think they’re gorgeous too. I was tempted to start collecting a mismatched vintage set for myself to use, but I held back. Wise choice probably, given that my cupboards are already overflowing!

  11. Heather says:

    This is such great advice. I’ve seen bloggers really improve on their shots, then I see some food shots taken with fluorescent lighting, instead of natural light on a counter full of dirty dishes….what is that about? I love setting up the scene with my photography, even if its just with my smartphone. You’ll be amazing how much better it is with props, the right angle and proper lighting.

    • Dani says:

      I think that is so true Heather! You can take a great photo with your phone if the set up is good. I like to keep a few props handy – it makes it so much easier to take a nice pic. Now if I could only get the sun to cooperate 😉

  12. Tara says:

    What beautiful pieces, Dani! I love the platinum-edged china… and those crazily patterned plates! I agree – thrift stores are where it’s at!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Tara! I am always amazed at the great things you can find in thrift stores. I guess it’s so true about one man’s garbage being another man’s treasure. And I think on this trip I did score some nice treasure 😉

  13. Erica says:

    Love this! I never even thought of getting a prop library. Thank you!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks for visiting Erica! I find I take a lot of food pics, and the more handy tools I have, the easier it is. Anything to make life easier, right?

  14. Jenn says:

    Great tips! I suck at food photography! These are some simple, yet beautiful ways to take food pictures!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Jenn! I have learned mainly by watching what other people do. There are so many great bloggers out there that it’s easy to pick up ideas. I find the simpler I keep the photo, the easier it is to get a good shot. Lots to learn, that’s for sure!

  15. DeBalino says:

    Wonderful tips! Who would have ever known that your props were vintage finds and discounts! Amazing! I love how your key word is cheap. And all your food photos look beautiful and elegant!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks so much for your comments! And cheap is the best, don’t you think? With all the great thrift stores around, there’s no need to blow your budget. I am always amazed at the beautiful things I find.

  16. So many great ideas! I am always on the look for props on sale!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Mary! Prop hunting is the best. If I can’t justify the purchase for me, I can always say the blog needs it 😉

  17. Olivia says:

    I LOVE those silver edged dishes! I’m always on the lookout for interesting dishes/props in an attempt to improve my photos. They’re kind of meh, right now, but I’m working on it. Thanks for the tips!

    • Dani says:

      Those dishes are my favourite! Luckily they didn’t have a whole set, or I would have been really tempted! Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  18. Chasity Boatman says:

    I never thought about purchasing dishes for food props in photos. I always just use my plates.

    • Dani says:

      I used to use my plates for a long time, but most of them are coloured and they often didn’t work very well. This has made it much easier to get a good pic. Thanks for visiting!

  19. Ashley M says:

    These are great tips, especially since I struggle with food styling and plating.

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Ashley! I have often struggled too. The thing that has helped me the most is paying attention to what some other bloggers do. And then I just play around a little until I get something I like. Sometimes there is a lot of trial and error, but it is getting easier. Thanks for dropping by!

  20. Very good tips.

    I keep it to the simplest of them all:
    – 1 plain plate.
    – 1 plain surface (wood, mat or surface)
    – 1 piece of white thing (t-shirt, bed sheet, cardboard)
    – source of natural light (white, plain sheer curtains preferred)

    I guess once I have more space in the house, I’d like to get props. Great idea of the thrift stores. Didn’t think of it.

  21. Thea says:

    This is a brilliant post full of great ideas and possibilities! I have been trying to build a collection of props including linens and dishes by stopping by the thrift store. But I had never thought to go to a building store to pick up wood, stain and paint. I have a dresser in a guest bedroom where I can store the props. Thanks for making it so doable and budget friendly!

    • Dani says:

      Thanks so much Thea! The dishes are a big part, but so is the background, so the painted boards really help. I’m trying to get my hands on some old barnwood planks – that should really make for some fun shots. Thanks for dropping in!

  22. Liz Mays says:

    I’m going to make it a point to hit some garage sales this summer and see what I can find. Thanks for the tips!

    • Dani says:

      I love garage sales! I have found some great things over the years. The hubby is relieved that I’m hunting for dishes these days, which don’t quite fill up the garage like some of my other finds 😉

  23. Jen says:

    Great tips! I knew there was a reason I had to shop the thrift stores 😉

  24. Mary says:

    What great ideas! I can see this beyond food.

    • Dani says:

      So true! I’m sure many of these things will come in handy for photographing some of my DIYs and crafts too 🙂

  25. Kathryn says:

    You forgot one of the most important places, your parent’s basement or storage area. I got some of my favorite pieces from there! All your suggestions are great. I especially love the boards!

    • Dani says:

      So true – good point! My mom has all kinds of great things, and she doesn’t mind if I “borrow” them 😉

  26. Thanks for sharing and your photos are fantastic especially the berry one.

    • Dani says:

      Thanks Vanessa! My photos have been slowly improving. I often have to take lots to get one I like, but it’s getting easier. Thanks so much for dropping by!

  27. Lindsey says:

    A great resource! I need to up my prop tools stash! I agree that thrift stores are great for that stuff. And certain dollar stores have great plain serving trays! Thanks for all the info!

    • Dani says:

      You’re totally right – thrift stores and dollar stores are my first stop for things like this. And the thrill of the hunt is an extra bonus!

  28. Shauna says:

    I’m always on the hunt for food styling props at thrift shops. The food is one thing and styling is what makes the photos come alive. My mom has so many great dishes that she thinks are just old, and why would I want to use them? Vintage, to me, is the best!

    • Dani says:

      You’re so right – your mom’s stash is probably awesome! I love vintage things – I wish my mom had held on to more of her old things over the years as she cleaned up. Thanks for dropping by Shauna!

  29. Great tips and what a lovely collection of plates you picked up at a good price!!

  30. Genius… really good. I shared all over the place. Thanks Dani!

  31. Tia says:

    Love the vintage dinnerware! If we ever get our dinning room built-ins started, I’m planning to so a little stockpiling 🙂

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