Givin’ You Props! A Tour of the Prop Studio

 

Put a group of food bloggers together and eventually the conversation turns to the plates, surfaces, napkins, glasses, flatware, serving forks, pots, pans, and all the other tools of our trade that we call props.

It’s inevitable.

The real prop geek in me is only happy to chat about it. Luckily I get to work with prop stylists on shoots as well as style some of my own work which means I have an excuse to surround myself with beautiful tableware. And that makes me so very happy, ladies and gentleman.

One doesn’t need to have a giant prop library to photograph food, and in my upcoming book I give a few tips and tricks about the things we use when we shoot food. It can be plain and basic, it can be elaborate and expensive, it can be anything, really, just as long as it helps communicate the message within the frame.

As I was putting some stuff away at the studio I thought I’d do a really quick lil tour of our prop room. Since so many people ask where we get stuff (from all over!) and where we find stuff (I make it!)I thought I’d guide you around which will help me a) procrastinate and b) put off the 80 yards of fabric that need re-folding and color categorizing.

Let’s do this!

The key to finding stuff is keeping it well organized. Martha I’m not (and trust me, I’ve seen her prop room), but keeping napkins folded and coordinated by color helps us find what we’re looking for. We rotate the collection out pretty regularly otherwise images would all look the same. Same for larger pieces of fabric that act as tablecloths and backdrops.

Forks, knives, serving utensils, they all live in here! The cart rolls around which makes it much easier at the studio.

We have many complete sets of cutlery which is organized in these dividers. It makes it very easy to find what you’re looking for and also protects them as many of them are super duper expensive.

We bought these at a flea market outside of Paris a few years ago and they disturb me just as much today as they did back then. We have yet to use them in a photo, maybe something Halloweenish. But they still creep me out.

You might remember that I wrote a book about foods on a stick, so naturally there are tons of options at the studio. However, these are from a very special upcoming story in a lovely magazine, I’ll let you know about it when it hits the newsstands.

We recently expanded our studio, and for good reason. We’ve started collecting tables and they tend to take up a lot of space. Adam built the big giant skateboard that allows the tables to be rolled around with ease.

Oh, Mud Australia! How we love you so! This cabinet holds a lot of our smaller colorful ceramic pieces from Mud along with a few other artists like Rina Menardi down below.

Stacks of old books! I love them!

Lots of colorful glasses, some vintage and some new. While most of the stuff we have is clear, it’s always good to add a pop of color to a scene with these glasses. Many of these came from ebay, thrift and consignment stores in the midwest, and etsy.

More ceramics! This is the very special area that contains the more expensive and commissioned pieces we have. Jan Burtz, Monika Dalkin, Suite One Studio, Caroline Swift, Christiane Perrochon, Elephant Ceramics, and several other ceramicists all live here. It’s my pride and joy.

 

Vintage baking sheets, pans, and tins from all over the place.

Lots of old wireware, a few pieces are over 100 years old.

I bought a big set of pewter serving pieces because I fell in love with the patina. I haven’t really used them for much but I love looking at them. They live in a very old clamming basket I found online.

Need a produce basket? We got ‘em! Since I shoot so many fruits and vegetables it’s always good to have these on hand. The upside down stack came from a farmer in the middle of Iowa; I bought every last old basket he had!

Lots of round cutting boards and things. I need to reorganize!

Plates arranged by color and shape

More pieces from the brown and grey section. We also use a lot of Heath Ceramics, you can see them on the bottom shelf there.

Color dishes and plates, including the set of handmade bright green ceramic plates Adam had made. Such a great green!

You can’t go wrong with all things white. The food stands out, it’s timeless, and always appropriate.

More plates and ceramic vessels. I’ve always loved the irregular edges of Sophie Conran’s sets. More Mud Australia above!

I’m guessing these rusty wire boxes are planters but I’m not quite sure. At $5 each I had to have them, maybe I’ll find a use for them one day!

We’ve amassed quite a cutting board collection as they were one of the few things we began collecting back in the day. Each one tells a story and to me their like fingerprints… no two alike. The ultra modern boards on top came from my recent trip to Australia from an amazing store called Jam Factory.

You never know when you’ll need salt and pepper!

This really old pie cabinet houses more one-of-a-kind ceramic pieces. I removed the bottom doors for easy access and now the doors have become surfaces to shoot on!

More plates and small pinchbowls. Lots of Suite One Studio pieces in here!

The Juliska shelf!

Various ceramic pitchers that I keep near to remind me of drinking rosé in Southern France with David and Adan. I need a repeat, Mr. L!

We keep a variety of chairs around the studio as well. I pulled this out in case Clint Eastwood needed it for something.

Never know when you’ll need to recreate a diner.

Old baskets, including two really old picnic baskets from Iowa. They have all their original pieces inside, too! They are gorgeous.

Coffee mugs, random jars, odds and ends.

Small white things? We got ‘em.

I’m not even showing you the dozens of drawers filled with fabric and linens. There are too many! But here’s a quick snap of runners and textured mats from our travels to Korea and France and a few other places, too.

Adam found this old scale and I love it!

Tons of empty bottles in every shape and size just waiting to be used in a scene.

Pitchers, goblets, mugs.

Here’s another glimpse of our cutting boards.

Colorful skillets and pans. One of my favorite pieces is that mint green skillet from Wisconsin.

The Kobenstyle shelf!

Really gorgeous wooden cake stands from Herriot Grace and a few more pieces from Jam Factory in Australia.

Beautiful old roasting pans full of character. Most likely from the midwest.

Let’s make some muffins!

This is a rather large table I purchased from the Long Beach Antique Market. Although a great table, it was the top I was after which is why I removed the legs. And not to worry, the legs became a surface that I shoot on now!

Here’s the table as a wall. Look at that texture! LOVE.

Various benches, stools, and lil tables.

My surface library is completely out of order and in disarray, I apologize. I usually keep it in order according to size and color. But here’s where they live.

I dismantled a very old produce box and nailed it to a board so that I could use it as a shooting surface. Here I am repairing it after a small piece came off.

And lastly, here’s one of my favorite pieces, a small porcelain bowl from Caroline Swift. It’s as thin and light as an eggshell and it’s gorgeous. And yes, it’s insured. Everything is :)

I hope you enjoyed the studio tour! Now come over and play!

Comments

  1. says

    Wow, quite a collection. We would be happy to send some pieces from our range if anything takes your fancy. Drop me a mail, most of the ceramics, coco wood and such can be seen on our site.

  2. says

    what a collection! damn I am so incredibly jealous. My favourite place to get pretty pieces is from the kempton antiques market in london. where do you get all this stuff?!

  3. says

    Wow, you’ve amassed a serious war chest. Very cool to see you share your world with readers. Those pig hoof utensils are disturbing. Did anybody from TSA say anything during bag check from Paris?

  4. Jen says

    Stunning. Thanks so much for sharing. Am soooo jealous. was pleased with my 2 plates! This makes me green with envy

  5. says

    Oh lawdy lawd, can we talk about some mega prop envy here?! Too bad space is at such a premium here in Singapore, would love to have even half your collection! Thanks for the grand tour, one can always dream ;-)

  6. says

    That is seriously one of the greatest food prop collections I have ever seen…and I have seen a few by people who don’t even have a website or blog!!!

    I have a friend everyone calls Grandma Linda with a full 3 story house of food stuff collected and sent to her by her husband when he was in the military (vintage le creuset, pyrex, etcetera…lots of silver, crystal, and cast iron) her downstairs pantry and laundry room walls are lined with her finds! She lets me come by and pick out what I want to use when doing upscale personal chef or catering services…I never thought about using them as props to help build my non-existent photography skills!

    Thanks for the ideas!

  7. Chris says

    Thanks for the tour; it’s an eye-opener and really gives a sense of what it takes to be among the best, even if, as you say, one can make great food photos with less.

    I love your header image; it’s absolutely delightful, a work of art, for sure.

  8. says

    I thought I had become a little obsessed with collecting props but I feel better now. Wonderful collection. Especially like the things you have no idea how you will use them. Talk about creativity inspiration.

  9. says

    Love your boards Matt and the fact that you are so organised. I will definitely be showing my other half who says I have too many props as I have taken over one of he rooms, half the pantry and a hallway under-stairs cabinet. Need o re-organise my linens though and might just use your idea. :-)

  10. says

    What an absolute delight! Reminds me of Muriel’s cave in ‘The Little Mermaid’ but without all the water, luckily. Very inspiring to see your props and has made me want to run out and find more of my own. In my case, the prop often inspires the dish, not the other way round. Thanks for the ‘through the keyhole’ moment.

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