Finding The Best Food Photography Props
Prop shopping is serious business, and perhaps the most exciting part of being a food photographer/ your own stylist. To really understand prop shopping, you need to really understand the story you are trying to tell. Food photography is not a deep, substantial subject within the photographic arts, non-the less; the goal of the photographer in any subject is to tell a story. If you don’t know what that story is, you’re just rambling. Both Sky and I keep idea notebooks on us wherever we go. I write down stories that I want to tell and ways that I think I might be able to tell them well or ways that they might be told interestingly. This is a creative process exercise, which has helped both Sky and I focus our photography greatly. An idea notebook can be as basic as writing down a few lines when something comes over you, or as intricate as a large sketchbook with text, drawings, and clipping from various sources. The beautiful thing about it is that it’s for your eyes only, so whatever inspires you is what it will contain. Outside of art school, people rarely mention the creative process. Forums rant and rave about the latest specs and technical doodads a camera boasts of, but buyers rarely think about what story they are going to tell once they are able to afford the camera, provided they eventually learn how to operate it. Don’t get me wrong; in this field it’s crucial to know what technology is changing the game, but only in order to tell a story more clearly. Since this is my first contribution to We Eat Together, I thought I should add in that my contributions will focus on more “creative thinking” exercises, and Ill leave the tech stuff to Sky.
So what story is our company telling now? Sky and I are working on a small promotional, which we will send to potential clients who we are currently fishing for. A promotional, or promo piece as it’s called, is a body of work usually created for photo editors, art buyers and any other potential clients. They can range from a post card, to a whole book, sent to introduce you as an artist to potential (hopeful) clients. There are a number of great blogs about creating promotional material, as well as awards for promos and books showcasing outstanding promos. My favorite blog is http://blog.noplasticsleeves.com/. This blog is to accompany the phenomenal book, No Plastic Sleeves.
Our small promo will be a cookbook showcasing the recipes we have been cooking our daughter, Ciela, for the last 2 years. We have always cooked Ciela’s food from home, and tried to make her food both healthy and flavorful. Since she was born in the Middle East, and at only 2 has been to half a dozen countries, her palate is mature beyond her years. Even though we think the recipes are fabulous, the purpose of the promo is to create 10 well thought out / shot pieces that will represent our style and ability as photographers. Hopefully our promo will last longer than a few minutes on photo editor’s desks before being covered in the thousands of promo pieces they receive daily.
So in search of the best food photography props we headed to the Muttrah Souq with our idea notebooks, which are now overflowing with ideas, some for the promotional book, and other bits of randomness we have wanted to work on. The best food photography props should have character and a back-story. For really textured and interesting props, drive past the main shops in your town and head to the second hand shop, the antique shop or the flea market. Of course some stories require modern kitchenware, such as images for new five star restaurants, but when shooting for ourselves, we really dig kitchenware that contributes to the overall story of the picture. For a long time, we focused only on the photography in our food images, but we improved our portfolio greatly when we started concerning ourselves with the whole picture, including the props. Since we don’t have a stylist, A-Z of the picture is created by us. This is where the idea book comes in handy. At first you might write down just a food you would like to shoot. Then you might build upon that with what props you are going to use, or props that reflect a certain feeling or era. If you don’t have those props, you’ll have to source them before making the picture. It’s a bit more intense than just using your own kitchenware, but without a stylist, your images will be lacking a clear direction, and the level of perfection that professional images are able to achieve. So become your own stylist and start concerning yourself with the best food photography props you can find.
Muttrah Souq is the most famous souq in Oman, as it is in the heart of Muscat. It’s an indoor souq lined with shops selling pashmina, frankincense, oud, dates, and other Arabian necessities. But we didn’t go to the souq to buy frankincense; we headed straight to the back of the souq where a few shops sell really old bowls, cups and randomness that just might tie a picture together. Along the way men shout from the perch of every storefront “pashmina scarf my lady,” “my friend have a look inside,” and “best price for you my friend.” It’s frustrating and exhilarating all at once. We finally made it to the shops that we were looking for and started scouting. We had a fixed budget, which can go quickly looking at antique items. I once shot an Arabian food scene, which I have always wanted to reshoot with more “authentic” props. I saw a bronze coffee pot and immediately started bargaining. From 28 rials (72 USD) to 18 (46USD), not much of a bargain but I still felt proud of myself when I left. Having nearly blown my budget, I started looking for more economical props. I found an old tin from India and knew it would work perfectly for the samosa shot I have been planning which is a part of our promo book, and it was only 5 rials (13 USD). Sky ended up buying an awesome antique mini pan and we both decided on an antique bowl that was around 20 Rials, but so beautiful. After nearly three hours of hunting and bargaining and after spending double our budget, we decided it was time to head home. Each of the pieces we bought are for different ideas we already had in our minds, and so they were easy to spot. They each have character to them and must have a back-story so rich that if I sat and thought about it I could make up pages of interesting fabrications. The perfume tin was brought over as a wedding gift when an Indian merchant and an Omani girl ran away to wed against their parent’s wishes. After her wedding she kept her jewelry in it for more years than she can remember and every time she looked at it, she smiled remembering how madly in love she still was. Or maybe not, maybe it was a run of the mill perfume box that ended up in the souq by chance, maybe I overpaid for it and it can be found in any shop in India to this day. But it has enough character to it that it has the potential to add to the story, and that’s really cool.
That afternoon I was able to work on another shot for the book, which I used the Indian tin for. I make butternut, spinach and feta baked samosas that we all love. They are a fusion of samosas that we eat regularly here in Oman and samosas we had in Zanzibar full of rich feta. Below are the recipe and the photos. I paired the photo with a texture I had photographed a while back and wanted to use. I’ll talk about pairing diptychs in a future blog post; it’s a subject that I am fascinated by.