July 10, 2010

Food For Thought: Food Photography Props (Or The Lack Of Them!)

What is it that attracts you most about a food blog, and takes you back there again and again? Is it the variety of recipes there, the style in which the writer puts forth his/ her posts or the pictures on the posts?
For me, its usually a combination or even just one of these reasons.

Yet, I feel that food blogs with good pictures do have an edge when it comes to attracting readers. They don’t necessarily keep every reader coming back because written content is as important, if not more.
This doesn’t mean that if your food pictures aren’t good, it is a reflection on your cooking or writing skills or vice versa.

We are just naturally attracted to all things beautiful (the definition of “beautiful” is subjective), including food. In today’s world where people have less time than ever and shorter attention spans, a well written piece just looks like more words to a casual reader. On the other hand, a beautiful food picture would easily catch the eye and induce the reader to continue reading the accompanying piece.
Think about all those gorgeous food photographs in magazines you’ve read that made you go “Oooh!” Remember the number of recipes you have bookmarked, just because they looked so good.

Just to make matters clear, this post is not about becoming a better food photographer to drive traffic to your blog, even though that could possibly help. It is about what one could do, to take good/ better food pictures.

Ideally, when one talks about taking good pictures one usually starts with the importance of light, aperture, shutterspeed and light. Many bloggers/ photographers have already done so and I won’t add to that the little I do know. Instead I’ll point you to the importance of using props in your food photography.

Ilva has a very comprehensive series on what kind of props can be used and how to use them, on her blog. I have long admired her pictures, so while you are at her blog, do check out her her amazing non-food photography too.
She recently asked us if we would like to "show her our food props" and I thought I’d add my little bit as well.

Using props aesthetically in food pictures is one way of adding character or mood, or even telling a story in one’s food photographs. Props add to the overall essence of a picture without being the focus in it. Think of a prop as makeup for your photograph; too little and there is room for improvement, whereas too much can spoil it. I would even go as far as saying its better to have a picture without props that to have a badly “propped” one!

I am still learning how to use props in mine, and prefer my food pictures to be simple and uncluttered. When I look at a picture of food, and there is too much going on it with food elements, colours and props, all I’m left with is a lot of confusion. So in my pictures, I tend to go with the thought that less is more.
To some extent, this is probably because I do not own too many props and so have to work with what little I do have.

Some thing like this would probably be the ultimate prop dream come true, for a food photographer. If not, I guess one could manage admirably with this. But what does one do when without these kind of resources at hand?
Beg, borrow or steal? Or buy!

The first three are not my thing and buying props is not a very great option for me. Thrift stores are unheard of where I live. The 2 or 3 stores where I could buy such stuff are quite expensive and do not sell anything as separate pieces. They’re not exactly bursting at the seams with variety in the stuff they sell, either.

I also have an innate aversion to clutter which is probably as a result of growing up with parents who could never bring themselves to throw anything out. Every 4 to 6 months, I even do a “spring cleaning” type of clearing out stuff we cannot use. My husband even jokes saying that one of these days, I’m likely to throw him out too, with the junk!!

The expense and clutter resulting from buying props just for use in my food photography is not something I’m comfortable with, even though I’m guilty of giving in to the impulse on more occasions than one.

Most of what I use in my pictures is my regular cookware, crockery, cutlery, mats and linen which double up as props when required.
I have a rather meager collection of small sized plates, bowls and such stuff which are not utilitarian but great for pictures. I also tend to use whatever else I have lying around the house if I can.

I do have a store not far from where I live, which is a good source for all kinds of stuff made from hand-made paper. So I have accumulated a collection of hand-made papers of different colours and textures which are great as backgrounds.

This sums up my collection of props for now. I don’t see myself accumulating a lot more in the future, but then you never know.


simply.food said...

Interesting post enlightening us on the use of props.I too have started collecting odd plates and bowls and napkins and tablecloths most are just single items that are useless for entertaining but great for my prop box.

s said...

fascinating post..Oh yes lee is more..and Ive always admired ur aesthetically beautiful pictures..
On a separate note, Aparna didnt u have a search bar on ur blog..cant seem to find it..

Sharmilee! :) said...

U say its a small collection to me it looks like a good big collection....am so addictive these days esp bowls and spoons...Slowly now have started to hunt for fabrics :) Ur pics are always admirable...Keep going and nice post...Keep them coming often! :)

PJ said...

Such a nice post Aparna.I am looking for props where ever I go but the problem is I am on the move most of the times and can't use them.Love ur collection of props..

Veena said...

I love your props, will see if I can augment your collection when I come visiting next! ;-)

Something tells me that your collection of handmade paper is bound to grow...

Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] said...

Lovee those papers!! Now a few pictures of your setup before clicking pictures would be awesome!

Sanjeeta kk said...

Lovely post. Like the thought 'less is more'. Even I like to focus my pictures on the food rather than the surroundings, it kind of mislead the reader. And if your content is good and the recipe is interesting, props hardly matter.
Good read, best wishes.

Susan said...

While we actually dine and drink fr/ many of the props I've purchased, there is still far too much clutter in our small condo. It's pretty funny, too, b/c most of my shots are minimalist, although I admire fussy in others' work.

Your handmade papers are truly gorgeous, Aparna. They would be worth nicking out a corner somewhere to stash. Thanks for sharing your stuff and philosophy.

Jayashree said...

As far as I am concerned, it is the way of writing and content that keeps me going back to a blog. If that blog has good pics, it is a bonus, but not a necessity.

BangaloreBaker said...

I agree with pictures attracting, but it is only first impression. I used to be attracted to one blog before I started blogging because of pictures. I tried couple of recipes and they weren't anywhere near what that picture represented. Don't get me wrong, but I am a very good cook. I have had no major failures in the kitchen. I stopped looking at that blog completely. There are some blogs where the writing fails to keep you reading the entire post. I would rather have a well written post with moderate picture than a badly written post with beautiful picture. I am no writer and I understand that, but all I expect is writing which has a nice flow and there aren't major grammatical mistakes. (I am not english major either)
Your props are great. I haven't collected anything just for this yet except for couple of dishes.

Priya (Yallapantula) Mitharwal said...

really true, pictures do attract to a blog or a recipe as when we google certain recipes, we look for good pics to go with, but I agree with Champa, only pics do not attract you, but the writing is also important.

Jaya said...

Very interesting post.I generally like to visit or revisit a food blog with good recipes and write-ups and if that blog has some nice pics ,then it's a bonus.For me "less is more" , as I am not that comfortable in using too many props.
I ajust adore your hand-made papers ..wish I too can get some of it here.
hugs and smiles

sra said...

when i started blogging and for a while later, i was buying a few things specifically for the blog. then it turned out that for my non-existent photography skills and patience levels, white was the best solution, and I often go with white or whatever I possess.

Recently, though, I visited a handicrafts exhibition, and fell in love with some mats I saw there, and bought some. I've used two of them so far - one came out beautifully, and I'm yet to upload the other and see it on the screen, but it appears to look good.

lynn said...

I'm very lucky that I have quite a lot of charity shops nearby and I scour them for interesting bowls and cloths to use in my photography. But I must admit that I return again and again to my plain while porcelain plates, so that there's no distraction from the food.

Asha @ FSK said...

haha... I always had a sneaking suspicion that i don't have that many props.. reading all the prop posts I finally have the ammo to prove my hub wrong abt the overflowing clutter in the house.. haha...

I love the way you use (or don't) props in your photos Aparna. I find your snaps so clean with the focus entirely on the main subject.

Jaya Wagle said...

What makes one follow a blog? That is a question I am still trying to solve. I like visiting blogs with beautiful pictures but they can hold you in for just that much time. It is the writing that matters to me but I am guessing it is different things for different people. Some like it for the recipe, some for pictures and some just visit for the traffic. I think the comments say it all, when a post is appreciated for the writing, pic or just a formality with some inane words like "nice post, thank you for sharing."

As to my props, I did buy a few in the beginnning but now I try to make do with what I have. But in the end, if your camera is not steady when you click or the lighting is bad, no amount of props are gonna help.

I think, in the end what matters is the passion of the post, the practicle aspect of the recipe and the clarity of the photo.

Spice said...

Nice writeup....Love that collection of hand made papers....I'm so big fan/buyer of hand made paper...just love it, back in India everytime we use to be at Khadi gram udyog my friends would buy clothes & me...paper, paper & more paper....

& yes for props, I haven't bought anything yet but yes I one black chart paper......

Divya Vikram said...

I like this post. Lovely props.

anubhavati said...

Hi Aparna,

Lovely pic and I loved your props. I especially love the handmade paper scrolls....do you hve so many??? I rememebr those days when I was a student I would go to Landmark and lovingly feel those bales of hand made paper...They would be so pricey...


Miri said...

Thanks for that informative post - made a lot of sense. I too hate clutter - mainly because of my Mom who used to spring clean quite obsessively! Its also the expense and the guilt of buying things with no "use" - again from Mom...

The handmade paper is a very good idea and I am going to try it.

What attracts me most about a blog besides the pics is a well written post.

Soma said...

Beautifully written post Aparna. Makes me feel good, for I am with you. I use the regular things in my kitchen tho' I have started exploring a bit of the thrift store. I LOVE the handmade papers and besides the backgrounds I would make a zillion cards with them.

Aparna said...

Thanks for all the comments, once again. I did enjoy doing this slightly different post. :)

Sheba, I don't have a separate search bar though I will be putting one in soon.
Right now you can use the one that's at the top of the page on the Blogger bar.

Sharmilee its is a small collection in comparison to many out there. :)

PJ, that's another reason why my collection is small too. :)

When are you coming down next, Veena? :)
I'll happily let you add to my collection, but I hope its not all going to be paper!

Thanks Avanika. Shall do a post on that too.

You're right, Sanjeeta.

Oh yes, I do admire fussy in others pictures a lot too, Susan. It just doesn't seem to work for me though.

That's true, Jayashree. Pictures alone are not enough unless its a photography blog.

I do agree, Champa and Priya that it is the "right mix" that makes a blog and sometimes that's not the same for dfferent people.

Maybe you could shop for them on you next visit here, Jaya. :)

Sra, white is really the best bacground because it doesn't clash with your food and it actually adds to your picture.

Exactly, Lynn.

Thank you, Asha. I have the same suspicion too. :)

YOu're absolutely right, Jaya.

Black is a good bacvkground to shoot with but a little more difficult than with white.
Love the mood black gives a picture, Spice.

Anubhavati, I do have a few. They're the cheapest props I have and mine aren't expensive. :)
My daughter and I also use them for craft projects.

Thanks, Miri. My thought too.

Soma, we do use them to make cards and other paper crafts. :)