One of the challenges (or joys!) of food photography is finding food photography props. Let's be honest, as much as we all drool over Martha Stewart Living's prop room, the reality is most of us don't have the space for all the props we covet not to mention the budget! Here are five great ways to find food photography props on a budget as well as tips on how to get the most out of each place you shop!
I'm known for being thrifty when it comes to food photography props. It pains me to pay more than a dollar or two for an item that will mainly live in a photo. So I've gotten good at finding the best spots to stretch my photography dollar!
1. Big Box Stores
Places like Homesense, Ikea, Target and even Chapters/Indigo all offer up great home decor items these days without the need to shell out department store prices. The beauty of them is that they also usually let you buy in singles instead of boxed sets or place settings. If all you want is one blue plate from Ikea, then that's all you have to buy!
Homesense is also great because their inventory turns fast and they bring in lots of new items weekly that are often deeply discounted, like their sister store, Winners (also a great place to look if you don't have a Homesense near you).
The downside to shopping at these spots is, everyone shops at them. Odds are good you'll see that one blue plate in quite a few other food bloggers' photos!
2.Garage Sales, Moving Sales & Flea Markets
You know the saying, "one person's junk is another person's treasure". If you want something out of the ordinary or intriguing for your photos, then garage sales and flea markets are great. Here's a few tips on shopping these types of sales:
- Spring, summer and early fall are the best time of year for these sales
- good stuff can go early. You'll need to be a morning person to get a jump.
- don't let a late start stop you from taking a look if you pass by one while out for a stroll. You can still find great stuff for a quarter!
- if you like to haggle, these are the places to do it. You're dealing directly with the seller and they want to move their product, especially if they're moving!
- Garage and moving sales tend to be more prolific in the suburbs or in parts of the city that have single family homes.
- knowing your city's neighbourhoods well will often give you an idea of the kinds of treasures you might find (older subdivisions often yield up the best discoveries!).
- A great place to look for sales is to check out telephone poles at major intersections on a Friday afternoon - that's where you'll find lots of hand made signs posted advertising sales
3. Thrift Stores, Second Hand Shops & Charity Shops
So many people overlook this option and I don't know why because it is a gold mine of inexpensive, funky food photography props! They're not always found in the nicest parts of town but don't let that stop you. Here's a few tips
- keep a mental (or paper) list of items you're looking for so you can do a quick search whenever you come across a thrift store
- be patient and don't be afraid to dig - especially if you're looking for cutlery or kitchen utensils, which are often tossed together in one big bin. You will have to wade through a lot of garbage to find a gem
- keep your eyes open for unique items - ignore things like patina, small dings, cracks or knicks... these all add character to your photos.
- don't just check out the kitchenware - check out clothes, bedding and anything with a uniquely textured fabric or print. You can cut them up for dishclothes, tableclothes or napkins for a photo
- I've found these to be the best types of stores for finding cutting boards, serving trays, platters and interesting backdrops for photos
4. Friends & Family
I raid my mom's house regularly for food photography props and if my grandmothers were still alive, you can bet I'd be raiding theirs as well. If retro is your thing, then they are definitely worth a look.
It's the same with friends - who better to ask than a friend if they've got something you've been coveting?
- if it's something valuable, ask if you can shoot at their location - this has worked really well for me
- if you borrow something, return it
- make sure it's in the same condition you were given it
- you get to give it back - meaning you don't have to store it!
5. Sale Tables
Some of my absolute best scores have come from shopping the clearance sections at places like Michaels, Chapters and Homesense.
This is where you will find one of a kind, often seasonal (think about next year!) and heavily marked down items. Look at them with fresh eyes. You're not buying an item here to fit into your home decor, you're buying it to use in a photo. And if the price is right, it doesn't matter if you'll only use it once or twice. Once you're done with it, continue the cycle and donate it to a second hand or charity shop for somebody else to get some use out of it.
Other great spots to shop are dollar stores, farmer's markets (herbs, mini squashes etc), kitchen supply stores, craft fairs, Etsy and even hardware stores!
More Food Photography Prop Tips
If you're looking for more help with food photography props, here are some more in depth posts I've written:
And here is a great post from Brittany Stager on propping for a summer food photography shoot!
What about you? What is your best source for really inexpensive food photography props?
Five Places to Find Food Photography Props That Won't Break the Bank was written by FBC co-founder and Managing Director of editorial, Melissa Hartfiel. By day, Melissa wrangles content for Food Bloggers of Canada while also working as a freelance web designer, writer and photographer at her own studio, Fine Lime Designs. By night she writes Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach, her very niche food photography blog. She hangs out in Vancouver with chocolate and her dog, Sam.