Camera ... Lights ... Action! Wait! Where are the PROPs?!

PROP - one innocent four letter word that sends shivers down mine and Mr. FSK's spines for completely different reasons! I look forward to the thrill of hunting, owning and using them. He looks on with dread as our tiny apartment slowly gets overrun by my various mismatched acquisitions! :)

To a food blogger, styling is integral to the presentation. While, one may argue that the dish should sell on it's own merit, I am firmly of the belief that subtle accessories are but an expected part of the process of making food look better! Towards that end, I have recently started hoarding stuff as also putting what I already own to more than utilitarian uses.

When Ilva of Lucullian Delights asked us to share our prop stories for the Show Us Your Food Prop event, I jumped on the opportunity. If you haven't been by her blog yet, I would say head there as soon you finish this post. She has been running a fabulous series, Food Props on Sunday, of guest posts from awesome food bloggers around.

Cherry Clafoutis on table

One thing that is important to me in my various prop hunts is to keep the expense to a minimum. I see no point in shelling out $$ for stuff that is used occasionally even if it is the finest bone china. It took me a while to figure out places where I could buy props without emptying my bank account.

Eventually, I found very good resources for cutlery, dinnerware and other odds and ends. Fortunately, I live just a stone's throw away from those bred in affluence. So, my neighborhood is dotted to congestion with thrift stores dedicated to various causes. I make it a monthly routine to do a round of all of them. Month ends are good times to visit because these stores usually have sales going on to clear inventory. Other places include the usual list of high end and middle end home stores; I keep a look out for any sale going on in these stores as also flea markets.

I also raid fabric and paper stores for backdrops. While a piece of cloth such as a napkin may look innocent, it can add much color, aesthetic and perspective to the photograph. Some of my best finds have been back in India and stores here, selling quilting fabric. I do buy material by the yard and then use them as table cloths or as makeshift napkins.

Now, when it comes to the actual styling, I typically start thinking about how to present and photograph as soon as I decide to make a particular item. As I cook or bake, I mull the colors of the product and try to marry it with the cutlery and backgrounds I have and imagine in my mind the picture I want to put out on the blog. It doesn't always turn out how I imagined it to be. Then, I start improvising; playing with colors, arrangements etc.

While, food looks pristine and fanciful in white, sometimes a bold background can make things pop. I especially like to layer my colors, so the eye can wander around and take in the colors and textures.

Croquembouche start

One of the key things to having an alluring photo is to get the lighting right. I always shoot in day light for two reasons. One, it is natural light and is the best one to show off the colors of the food as artificial light can alter the colors adding an unwanted yellow tone. Two, I don't have a proper studio set up and my camera (Nikon D5000) does not really take good photos in artificial light. Find a spot in your house/apartment that lets in the most amount of sun light. I take most of my shots in the living room by one of the windows. Since, I don't have much room, my "studio" is really a makeshift space.

The intensity of light varies throughout the day and you'll need to find the best shooting time or adjust the light flowing through. You can use rice paper or light curtains to control the light or if you have blinds, adjust the shafts. Also, you can use simple foam boards to use as reflectors to light up the subject evenly.

Chocolate Olive oil cake with mallow frosting 2

I also use flowers to accessorize. They add a touch of color, bring the different elements photo together and also set the mood for the photo. It is so easy to send a message of romance or seasonal notes with tactical placement of flowers, fruits and other such items.

In the end, styling is all about using what you have in the best way to make the subject most appealing. Everyday things around your house can make excellent props if you just stop and think about they would fit in.

Potato Onion & Goat Cheese tarts

And, that wraps my two cents on the topic of Food Styling and Lighting. I hope you enjoyed this post and do head over to Ilva's. She will be posting a round up of all of our "Prop" posts on July 11, 2010.