My dear readers, I am absolutely giddy with excitement to present to you the long-promised guest post from professional prop stylist and art director, Robin Zachary! Just corresponding with her in preparation for this post has been a great experience for me, and you'll know exactly how I feel once you join me in pouring over the tips Robin has so generously shared with us. She may already be familiar to you as the source of the fantastic tip I posted recently for creating a seemingly endless background for your photograph. Please be sure to check out her blog and portfolio for many more inspirational photos, trends, and tips (I particularly adore her "inspiration boxes")! Without further ado, I gladly turn my blog over to Robin's capable hands!
Bridal Guide Magazine and I’m still a contributor so I still have my hand in the bridal world. I also teach at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC and write about my styling jobs and resources on my blog, Prop Closet.
In this post, I’ll focus on propping for food shoots since that is what most of you are interested in. You want your photo to be inviting to your viewers. You want them to be drawn into an alternate universe, get lost in the photo and forget about everything else! Props should create a world that is consistent stylistically with the recipe without overpowering the food.
I always think of layers in a food shot. First you need a surface, which can be wood, fabric or paper. A yard and a half is the minimum size any surface should be. Next you need an interesting dish. I stay away from too strong a color in the dishes and lean towards white, which is the most flattering for food. Next you need something soft in the shot and when it comes to napkins, the looser weave and more worn, the better. It can even be a square of pretty repurposed fabric instead of a finished napkin. This is where I incorporate color and pattern. The napkin should be loosely draped instead of folded. You can also use a wooden cutting board, a tray or a placemat underneath the dish to add another layer. Top the set up off with a fork, knife, spoon or a serving piece resting on the napkin or beside the dish. Lately I’ve been into mix and match vintage flatware with modern dishes. You can throw in a related object that makes sense with the recipe for interest, such as a vintage salt cellar or an old kitchen tool but don’t go overboard with too many items in the photo. Keep it tasteful and simple. Remember the food is the star!
Crate and Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond or West Elm. I always look in the clearance section for incredible deals. There’s a store in NYC called Pearl River Mart which has very inexpensive little dishes with an Asian style. When I go on vacation I browse through antique and thrift shops for the one-of-a-kind pieces. I might find something interesting and store it for several years before I use it. I also love working with organics so I might pick up shells from the beach or leaves and twigs from the ground and store them in plastic boxes with tight lids. Nature has a lot to offer for free! I encourage my FIT students to start by looking through their parents’ and friends’ houses for props and borrowing from them. Just be considerate and return what you take.
Your readers also asked about storage of props. My prized pieces are stored in my tall green painted wood cabinet with glass doors. This is where I keep all my small dishes, vintage flatware, small vases and organic items. I have small props, fabrics and napkins in clear plastic boxes stacked up under my desk mostly organized by color. I have a storage space filled with family vintage items and ephemera. There’s no easy answer to the space issue, but if you have a closet or area you can dedicate to styling that is the most ideal.
Developing your unique style takes time and effort. There’s no one way to do things but experimentation is the best way to learn and grow. I teach a 15-week Photostyling class at FIT in NYC but if you want to take one of my shorter styling intensives in NYC or online email me and I’ll put you on my mailing list to let you know when I have the next one scheduled. Keep checking in with my blog, Prop Closet or follow me on Twitter @robinzachary for my latest inspirations and projects and happy styling!
All photography featured in this post by Kan Kanbayashi and prop styling by Robin Zachary for Essence Magazine. Please see this post on Robin's blog for a more detailed behind-the-scenes look at that shoot!