photo shoot

Food Photography: Props

Booking a food photography shoot still gives me butterflies. I absolutely love shooting food & drink, it's been a passion of mine for years and now I get to do it as a part of my business. One of my favorite parts of prepping for a food photography shoot is collecting props. Part of that is, of course, it's a mandatory shopping trip, whether that's retail, thrift shops, around the house...or someone else's house. Lucky for me, my parents have collections of insanely cool kitchen tools. 

Props for a shoot at The Girl & the Fig, 2015

Props for a shoot at The Girl & the Fig, 2015

As a part of this adventure, I wanted to document some of the things I've learned along the way and hopefully help someone else in their food photography adventures.

When prepping for a shoot, there are a million pieces to figure out:

1. Ask the client to complete a creative brief, either on their own or with you. The creative brief will cover everything from placement to usage, branding, style and type of shoot (product, beauty, lifestyle, etc.)

2. Create a mood board. "Light & bright! Dark & moody! Rustic! Modern! Elegant! Fancy! Casual!" What does it all mean! Nothing helps both the photographer and the client like a mood board. Use Pinterest or collect images based on the creative brief and review in depth with the client. You want to be sure what you envision is what they envision - it's amazing how much of a disconnect there can be when using only words to describe a photo...hence the saying, right?

Now to the really good stuff...

3. Props! Now that you know what you're looking for exactly, you can start prop shopping! (Exclamation points are truly necessary here, shopping is exciting.) Assess what you have at your house. You have a lot more than you think you do - even something that may not be the right style could be the right shape, color and height. Grab it. Shop other people's houses: if you're lucky enough to have parents like mine (for many reasons, Mom & Dad, in case you ever read this), you have a treasure trove of props to choose from. Thrift stores & garage sales: visit and visit often. One man's trash is another man's prop. Finally, shop retail. Fill the holes in your prop list with items from discount stores like Ross, Marshalls, HomeGoods and TJ Maxx. Sign up for email coupons for places like Kohl's and Target. When you see something that is neutral enough to fit in many shoots, pick it up! 

  • Collect more props than you think you may need if the shoot is on the flexible side. Nothing is worse than going for another setup and having to reuse props that already had their time in the spotlight. 
  • Regardless of the style of the shoot, bring glass items. The slight sparkle in the bokeh can sometimes be just the thing.
  • Bring a variety of heights. Short, medium, tall - you'll need all of them.
  • Bring a variety of hues in your color palette.
  • Bring a variety of widths.
  • Bowls can be tough - the deeper the bowl, the tougher it will be to get the shot if you need one from the side. Having a variety of bowls from shallow to deep will keep you sane.
  • Use boxes (metal, wood, ceramic, glass, etc.) for risers - sometimes your salad just needs a little lift.
  • Linens: choose the fabric and colors (and patterns) that fit in your shoot. Bring tablecloths, napkins (small, large), and runners. Linens will soften your setup and add texture that can bring it all together.

Do you have any tips to share?

What Makes Up a Professional Photo Shoot

Let's talk basics of a photo shoot. I think sometimes people think that there's a scene, someone snaps a pic of that scene and voila, a photo good enough for your website is born. How did the scene come to be? Where is the light coming from? If there are bottles in the scene, what is reflected in them? Will there be people in the scene? Did you ask to use their likeness? What kind of food is in the scene? Where did it come from? Did you make it? Did someone else? What if there's a rogue vegetable on the table? What if you can't see the label on the bottle? I could go on and on and on here. The point is, there is A LOT of thought and preparation that comes with doing a photo shoot. I'll touch on just a few of those things here.

lifestyleshot.jpg

TYPE: LIFESTYLE

Lifestyle shoots come in all shapes & sizes. The scope can be small production with no assistants or professional models to full production, with photographer, model(s), assistants, hair & makeup, and stylists (food, prop, wardrobe.) 

Small production: 

  • Pre-work: Kickoff meetings, creative brief & shot list review

  • Location: public spaces, places of business that will not charge a sitting fee, relatively empty locations so no other people are in the shots, limited spots

  • Assistant: A photographer's assistant may be hired for these shoots, but not too often.

  • Models: The photographer may know someone who would be willing to sign a model release, allowing them to use their likeness in perpetuity, with no royalties or time limits. Usually these models are friends of the business, locals, volunteers (paid in goods) or friends of the photographer. Someone who is not a professional model will not be able to do what models do. They will not always stand the correct way, their facial expressions will not always be "on" and they tend to be a little self-conscious, even though they volunteered!

  • Hours: The shoot may need to be done outside of normal working hours due to the model's work schedule

  • Styling: All styling (food, product, clothing, hair/makeup) will need to be done by the photographer and/or the model and/or the client.

  • Props: Usually collected at the place of business or from people you know. Few props are purchased.

  • Food: Will need to be purchased.

  • Post-work: Photographer will need time to process the images, even for a lower production shoot. This will usually include clean editing only.

Mid-Level Production:

  • Pre-work: Kickoff meetings, creative brief reviews, shot list building, shot list review, prop lists

  • Location: public spaces, places of business that will not charge a sitting fee or charge a low fee, relatively empty locations so no other people are in the shots, limited spots

  • Assistant: Photographer's assistants are hired for these shoots but could be with limited hours.

  • Models: The photographer or the client may know someone who would be willing to sign a model release, allowing them to use their likeness in perpetuity, with no royalties or time limits. Usually these models are friends of the business, locals, volunteers (paid in goods) or friends of the photographer. Someone who is not a professional model will not be able to do what models do. They will not always stand the correct way, their facial expressions will not always be "on" and they tend to be a little self-conscious, even though they volunteered! If there is room in the budget, professional models can be hired.

  • Styling: All styling (food, product, clothing, hair/makeup) will need to be done by the client or a professional stylist can be hired.

  • Props: Most of the props are purchased to get the exact look you want. Choosing props in the very beginning is very important to creating the proposal & shot list.

  • Food: Will need to be purchased.

  • Post-work: Photographer will need time to process the images, even for a mid-level production shoot. This will usually include clean editing, plus heavier post-production on the select hero images.

High Production:

  • Pre-work: Kickoff meetings, creative brief reviews, shot list building, shot list review, call sheets, prop lists, food lists, team information

  • Location: Anywhere that fits with the creative brief, fewer limitations because sitting fee/location booking is part of the quote.

  • Assistant: Photographer's assistants are hired for these shoots, at least one if not two.

  • Models: Professional models should be hired for these shoots. For 4 hours, model rates run from $1000-$3500+ plus an agency fee. There are also limitations on placement, usage terms and duration of use. For example, the low end of $1000 will get you a model, but you have to then pay royalties every time you use the photo, and you can only use the photo for a set amount of time, like 2 years.

  • Styling: Food/prop stylists should be hired, hair and makeup artists should be hired, wardrobe stylists should be hired. Rates for 4 hours for stylists run about $1000+ to start.

  • Props: The prop stylist will handle renting/purchasing all props.

  • Food: Will need to be purchased.

  • Post-work: Photographer will need time to process the images. Post-production will focus on the hero shots from the shot list, with heaviest editing on these select shots. B-roll images may be provided with clean editing.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

When you know you need to do a shoot, think about:

  • How many images do you want (do you just want one hero? 150 for social media purposes?)

  • Where will the images be used (print ads, print editorials, signage, digital ads, social media, marketing brochures, sales presentations, website, mobile apps, etc.)

  • How long will you need to use the images (one time campaign for one month, forever, etc.)

  • What production level do you want (you want professional shots, yes. But think about what goes into making a Real Simple magazine, for example. They have chefs, food stylists, prop stylists, hired models, assistants for all of those people, studio space, rented space, plus the photographer of course.)

  • What's your budget and how can you get the most out of it realistically.

There are VERY powerful reasons to do this the right way. Your images will be spectacular, your shoot will run smoothly, everyone on set will be professional experts, and the relationship for future projects will be strong. If you need to cut options because of budgetary constraints, know that most of this then falls onto your photographer.  Be frank with your photographer - have a detailed conversation about what you want to happen on the shoot, how many images you want, and what it will take to get there. When a photography proposal comes back and you get the wind knocked out of you on pricing, it's probably because of all of the reasons above: location, images, usage rights, hired models, assistants, stylists, etc. It's fine with us if you need to keep costs down, but understand that the shoot will take longer as the photographer will need to do the styling which means coming out from behind the camera to move a tomato with tweezers. In the end, you'll get a gorgeous photo, but the road to get there will just be a little slower.