Use White, Small, Matte, Simple Plates

Plates. Evi Abeler Photography

In food photography the food is the hero of the scene and my general rule of thumb is to use simple props that do not draw the viewers attention away from the food. White, small, matte and simple plates and bowls are my go to choices. If you are not a prop stylist and are just getting started, I would advise you to stick to simple pieces. Once you have mastered the basics of photography and composition, go ahead and play around with patterns, colors, and shapes.

White plates are like a blank canvas waiting to be brought to life with your delicious food creations. They are neutral, have little attitude, and are easy to work with. You’ll find them everywhere-- at home, in restaurants, and cafés. Any department store, online store, or thrift shop will have stacks to choose from. When you are shopping look for white and off-white plates. If you are planning to shoot white food, for example, mashed potatoes, pasta, or white desserts with whipped cream you might want to use an off-white plate to separate the background from the food. Also pay attention to the rim of the plate and choose one that is not too wide or ornate.

In food photography small is better. Large plates invite huge piles of food that will not look appetizing in a photograph. Or, if the food is sparsely arranged will leave too much white, empty plate, which can overpower the image. I know that you will point to a high-end restaurants where you have been served a huge plate with a tiny spring potato, a drop of sour cream, and a leaf of micro greens on top. I bet a couple of chefs and restauranteurs were working on it to perfect the look. It looks precious and impressive on the plate right in front of you, but you would go in pretty close and crop out a lot of the plate if you were photographing it.

Shiny plates catch reflections, which may distract focus from the food or add a lot of retouching work for you later. I am always on the look out for matte white plates and when I find one I celebrate the hours of computer work this plate will save me. Sometimes, when I am in the studio and not planning to eat the food, the food stylist or I spray matte spray on a plate that is too shiny. Your art supply store should carry it.

Keep it simple. And by simple I mean no extreme rims, no unnecessary patterns, ornaments, or decorations. It’s lovely to own your great-grandmother’s flowery 19th century serving platter, and there will be a place for it in your food photography journey. But, when you start out, stick to the basics and leave the frills for later. Also, no complicated shapes. Square plates are very hard to work with,  so stick to a simple round plate, with a clean rim.