Prop Talk – Tile

Hello, hello! As some of you have very nicely reminded me recently, I haven’t done a prop talk in a while!

(Quick explanation for my new readers: every once in a while I write a post about my favorite props and other behind-the-scenes food photography stuff. This is one of those posts. To see all previous installments just click the Behind the Scenes tab in the menu bar at the top).

Today’s post is about tiles. I’m talking about just regular tiles that you can buy at the hardware store and that are meant to go on the floor of your bathroom, kitchen or anywhere else in the house. I’ve got several tiles and use them as backdrops or surfaces. What’s nice about tile is mainly its texture, a textured background  or surface always looks better than a smooth one. They also tend to come in nicely muted colors that work well in a food photograph. My two favorite tiles are the two you see below.

Using tile as a food photography prop.

The beige tile to the right looks like a concrete wall when it’s propped up behind the set and out of focus, which is a nice look for bright and airy photos. I used it in the hot chocolate with whipped cream photo you see below.

Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream

The gray/brown slate tile works great as a backdrop for dark photos, such as this photo of chicken satay. I have also used it as a surface, for example in the photo of cinnamon sticks below. The colors worked well with those of the cinnamon and the texture kept the shot from looking too boring.

Delicious chicken satay with peanut sauce. Easy, quick and bursting with flavor!

From post Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce.

Cinnamon Bark

From post Next Up: Cassia/Cinnamon.

Do you use tiles in your food photography at all? Do you have a favorite tile? Let me know in the comments! :)

Prop Talk – Metal Surfaces

Hello there! I’ve got another prop talk for you today. (To see previous prop talk posts just click on the Behind the Scenes tab in the menu at the top).

Many of you asked me about my two metal surfaces so I thought I’ll show them to you. I’ve got a rusty table and a zinc-coated tray. I love to shoot on both, they have interesting textures and colors and work really well for food photos despite the fact that no one would serve food on them in real life. (Can you imagine that table with a plate of fresh cookies and a few magazines on it in your living room next to the fire place?)

I have no clue what other uses people might have for items like these and neither did the sales folks in the antique stores where I bought these surfaces; both asked me with a puzzled look on their face “What are you going to do with this?”

Unfortunately I don’t think that there is any quick and easy way to find surfaces like these, you’ll probably have to do what I did and that is visiting antique store after antique store hoping to find one that you like.

Metal surfaces as food photography props.

Metal surfaces as food photography props.

Below are a few photos in which I’ve used these two treasures. :)

Cranberry Sauce Star Anise

From post Star Anise Cranberry Sauce.


Espresso Bourbon Truffles

From post Espresso Bourbon Truffles.


Maple Orange Chicken Wings

From post Maple Orange Chicken Wings.


Bourbon Balls

From post Bourbon Balls.



Prop Talk – Steam

Hello hello and welcome to another prop talk! (Quick explanation for my new readers: once a month I write a post about some of my favorite food photography props. You can see all previous prop talk installments by clicking the Behind the Scenes tab in the menu at the top).

Today I’ll tell you how I produce steam in food photos. Steam is a great prop that makes the food look hot and appetizing and suggests that someone must have just served it and is probably about to eat it. There are many different ways to get steam into a photo and I’m going to show you how I do it but that certainly doesn’t mean that you have to do it this way.

So, from my experience it is difficult to get food hot enough to produce enough steam on its own to be seen by a camera and that’s why I use an espresso machine instead. This is the one:

Food photography – how to produce steam.

Note that this machine lets me gradually adjust the steam output; you can see that the knob goes continuously from “off” to “steam” and I can stop it anywhere in between. That’s absolutely essential, you can’t use a machine that just has a “steam on” or “steam off” setting, that will never work because the steam flow will be much too strong.

All right, so I fill my machine with distilled water and then attach tubing to the steam wand like this:

Food photography – how to produce steam.

I got the tubing from a hardware store years ago and I just asked for the most heat-resistant kind they had. It works well but still degrades a bit over time at the point where it is touching the metal of the steam wand so every now and then I cut a bit of the end piece off.

Next, I put on a glove so that I’m able to hold the (very hot) tubing in my hand (I actually use Microplane’s cut-resistant glove, which turns out to be nicely heat-resistant too). Then it’s time for steam. The camera has to be on a tripod, of course, and I also like to attach a remote shutter release. I make sure to have everything – absolutely everything – in the photo perfectly ready and the way I want it before I start. Then I turn on the steam, wait until the water is heated up and make sure that I shake out any water drops that may be in the tube. (That’s important, it’s very annoying to have water droplets spill all over the set). I adjust the steam to a medium level, not too strong and not too faint, lock the focus with my remote, then let a bit of steam blow around the food, quickly move the tubing out of the frame and immediately take a shot. I usually have to adjust the steam output a few times until it’s just right and it definitely takes some time to get the right shot but I find it to be a lot of fun.

I used to put tons of steam in my photos (as in the beef stew shot below) but I have lately started to take a more measured approach because I think just a hint of steam looks more natural but, of course, it’s all personal preference, so do what you like!

Below are a few examples of how I’ve used steam in food photos. Do you add steam to your food photos? If so, how do you like to do it?

Beef Stew

Chicken Noodle Soup

Chunky Chili

From post Chunky Chili.

Prop Talk – Beer

It’s prop talk time! (For those of you who are new to this blog: once a month I write a post about some of my favorite food photography props. You can see all previous prop talk installments by clicking the Behind the Scenes tab in the menu at the top).

Today’s post is about beer. Beer is a wonderful prop. It can also be a subject, of course, but I’ve only ever photographed it as a prop, meaning as a supporting character in the background, not as the star of the photo. What I love about beer is the action and immediacy that it adds to an image. When you see beer with a nice topping of foam you know someone must have just been there to pour it. That tiny cue breathes life into an image in a way that few other props manage to accomplish (one exception to that is steam, which I will talk about next month).

Beer isn’t easy to handle though. For once, you have to be ready because the foam disappears quickly. I always have my shutter remote control in one hand, a freshly opened beer bottle in the other and start to snap away as soon as I pour. It usually takes a few tries to get it the way I want it so I always keep a large empty glass next to the set to pour “used” beer into.

Another crucial aspect is the color of the beer. Some beers are so pale they look thin and almost colorless in a photo. To avoid that I use fairly dark beers (New Castle Brown Ale is my favorite). If you want to give the shot extra action appeal you can fill only part of the glass to make it look as if someone had just drunk half of it. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to drink too much “used” beer while still in the process of shooting, it will impact your photographic performance. :)

Below are a few examples of how I’ve used beer as a prop:

Beer as a food photography prop.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

From post Chicken Salad.

Chipotle Shredded Pork with Raspberry Habanero Jam

From post Chipotle Shredded Pork Tacos with Raspberry Habanero Jam.

Prop Talk – Packing Paper

Hi there! It’s time for another installment of Prop Talk! To see all past Prop Talk posts just click the Behind the Scenes link in the menu at the top.

Today’s post is about a great-looking and very cheap alternative to plates: packing paper. I love to use brown or white packing paper in my photos, I find it lends a great rustic and casual feel to the shot. You can cut or tear the paper into the perfect size, you can crumple it up to make it look used, and you can put grease stains on it to give the shot extra appetite appeal. You can even partially wrap food in it and tie it up with a string. It’s very versatile and often works much better than a rigid plate.

Below are a few examples of how I’ve used packing paper in food photos on this blog.

Packing paper as a food photography prop.
From post Raspberry Habanero Jam-Glazed Chicken Burger

Turkey Cranberry Panini
From post Turkey Cranberry Grilled Sandwich with Orange Tarragon Mustard.

Pumpkin Spice Hazelnut Cookies
From post Pumpkin Spice Hazelnut Cookies

Prop Talk – Wood “Walls”

Wooded boards as food photography props.

Wooded boards as food photography props.

Hello, hello! Here comes another installment of my Prop Talks. (To read previous posts of this series, just click on the Behind the Scenes tab in the menu at the top).

First, I want to let you know that I am going to reduce the frequency of the Prop Talk posts to once a month from now on. (I need to pace myself a little better…). Today I’ll show you some of the rustic wood boards I use in the background of some of my photos as wooden “walls.” I often like to have a horizon line in my photos with a table and a wall in the background behind it. Since I don’t have actual antique wood walls in my studio nor in the rest of my house (and I would venture to guess that few photographers do) I just prop up antique, textured wood boards either directly onto the table or against the back of a chair behind the set. Above are three pieces I use frequently, a wooden board, a wooden tray and a wooden shutter. They all have great texture that looks nice (and, in my opinion, authentic) in photos. Below are the three pieces in action:

Herbed Orzo with Grilled Zucchini

From post Herbed Orzo with Grilled Zucchini.

Roasted Chicken

From post Roasted Cornish Game Hen with Homemade Seasoning Salt.

Shrimp Gumbo and Rice

From post Shrimp Gumbo.

What about you? Do you use rustic wood surfaces as backgrounds? What are your favorites?

Prop Talk – Nutshells

It’s a prop talk Wednesday! (Quick explanation for those of you who are new to this blog: every second Wednesday I write a post about some of my favorite food photography props. You can see all previous prop talk installments by clicking the Behind the Scenes tab in the menu at the top).

Today I’ll talk about nutshells, which can make very simple but very effective props. I have used nutshells in many photos, one example is the Thai curry ingredients shot below. The coconut shell and husk shards add some texture and, since they are brown just like the wood surface, they break up the plane without being distracting. The shards are reusable, I washed and dried them thoroughly after I took the coconut apart and now I just keep them in a paper bag for future use. (Note: I live in a very dry climate and it’s possible that long-term storage is not an option in humid areas, I’m not sure).

Nutshells as food photography props.
From post Next up: Thai and Indian Curries.

I went a step further in the photo below and used the entire half of a coconut as a prop, in this case as a bowl.

Coconut Curry Soup

From post Coconut Curry Soup.

Another beautiful nut I like to use is hazelnut. I just crack a few of the little guys until I get the size and shape I want. (I personally really like the shards to be tear-shaped like the ones in the examples below).

Hazelnut Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Trifles

From post Hazelnut Pumpkin Spice Trifles.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

From post Hazelnut Pumpkin Spice Cookies.

That’s all for today, next time I’ll tell you about some of my wood surfaces that I use in the background of photos as “wooden walls.”


Prop Talk – Fabrics

Fabrics as food photography props.

Today on Prop Talk: fabrics! More specifically, I’m going to show you small pieces of fabric that I like to set plates and bowls on. (For those of you who are new to this blog, every second Wednesday I write a post about some of my favorite food photography props. This is one of those posts. You can see all previous prop talk installments by clicking the Behind the Scenes tab in the menu at the top) .

Small pieces of fabric can visually anchor tableware to the table. I find that a bowl or plate sitting directly on a “naked” surface can sometimes look disconnected from it, almost floating, depending on the angle of view. Whenever that happens, I turn to my collection of small napkins and fabrics. These can also help single out the main subject in photos that show multiples, such as several jars of trifle, for example. Setting the one jar that is your main subject on a small piece of fabric will elevate it ever so slightly and mark it as the most important.

I picked out my four favorite pieces to show to you.

Let’s start with the burlap ribbon. This material comes on a roll and you can buy it by the yard. I bought a large string of it at a local store but I’ve also seen it on Amazon. The one I have has a nice wide mesh and very thin metal wires (that can be cut with regular scissors) run on either side of the ribbon. The wires make the material nicely bendable and you can easily make nice waves that stay in place.

Here is an example of the burlap ribbon in action:
Mushroom Risotto with Cracked Black Pepper

From post Mushroom Risotto with Cracked Black Pepper.

Next, I’ve got a small lace table topper I found at an antique store. It measures 7 inches by 7 inches and fits perfectly underneath plates and bowls. I’ve used it in the beer cheddar soup photo below:

Beer Cheddar Soup
From post Beer Cheddar Soup.

Lastly, linen cocktail napkins (10 inches by 10 inches) that I bought at Crate & Barrel. They can look very elegant, especially when a nice crease is ironed into them. I like them a lot and have used them in the example below:

Star Anise Poached Pears
From post Star Anise Poached Pears.