10 Tips for Choosing Crockery for Food Photos

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You’ll read this often on FBC: there are no rules when it comes to food photography. But there are some tips that can make your life easier when it comes to choosing crockery, especially when you are starting out. Here are my top 10 tips.

10 Tips for Choosing Crockery for Food Photos | Food Bloggers Central

10 Tips for Choosing Crockery

1. Go White –  there are very few foods and props that don’t work with white. I started out with only white plates because I was trying to learn so many things, I wanted to remove as many variables as possible and crockery was an easy one to simplify. The few times I tried to use coloured crockery in the beginning were an outright disaster!

So while it’s easy to get bored of white plates, it’s always safe to fall back onto white crockery. So have a solid collection of plain white crockery.

Nutella-Stuffed-Pancakes_680px_4

Beef with Green Beans

I find this style of dinner plates restrictive on styling and hard to work with for angle photos. I gave up on them pretty quickly!

2. Keep Plates Plain – For plates, start off with plain ones with no ridges, just a smooth surface.

Plates with patterns and ridges are gorgeous, so don’t get me wrong. They can look fabulous and add interest and tone to photos. But it does require a more practiced eye to make sure that bright patterns on a plate compliment, rather than overpower the food.

One thing to be mindful of when a plate has a lip, like in the photo on the right, the food needs to be plated so that it fits within the ridge. These were the plates I was using when I started out and they are actually my day to day dinner plates.

I personally wasn’t a fan of these plates. I found them difficult to shoot on an angle, restrictive for styling (and bland) and also every photo started to look similar. Even today, I still don’t like them.

It really bugged me, to the point that I stopped using those plates completely and headed down to my local supermarket to pick up plain white plates with relatively flat bases and just a low curved edge. These cost about $2 each (from Woolworths, for those in Australia!) and they are the best prop investment I have made to date! I bought 2 small, 2 medium and 2 large ones, as well as bowls (photo below).

The medium plates, shown in the photo below, are my most used plates. They are larger than a side dish plate but smaller than a dinner plate. The size is perfect for meals which is the type of food I post the most.

I typically find full size dinner plates too large for styling purposes – either I have to overfill it, the food is too small so it looks dwarfed and/or it requires a lot of side garnish (e.g. salad) or cutlery to fill empty space.

Too much effort!

Which is why I love these medium size plates so much. They are around 25cm/10″ in diameter. Typically, I will use a full size dinner plate as a “platter” for food, then a medium sized plate as a dinner plate.

Alfredo-Fettuccine_680px_grating

3. Start with plain bowls with vertical or outward turning lips

There are loads of gorgeous soup bowls available. I especially love the ones with pretty etchings on the rim, with handles and edges that turn in. I haven’t invested in any yet because they are quite distinctive so I won’t be able to use them as often as the very generic but versatile bowls below. Think of winter when you’re posting lots of stews and soups!

I also find that the rim of most of those fancy soup bowls turn inwards which means less food surface is visible. Plus you need to think more about shadows on your food because inward turning ridges create more shadow.

Hence why I stick to these run-of-the-mill bowls.

Choose bowls that have either vertical lips or slightly outward turning ones. Bowls with wide outward turning lips are harder to photograph because there is more “bowl” that you need to fit into the frame and less food. It’s the same concept as using large plates for small amounts of food I refer to in point 2 above.

One more tip! Shallow bowls are easier to style than deep ones because there is a higher surface to height ratio.

One-Pot-Bolognaise-Orzo-Risoni_680px_4

All the bowls I use typically have vertical rims rather than outward turning rims which I find are slightly harder to make look balanced in photos.

4. Go small – a large plate with a small amount of food on it looks empty and sad unless you are specific with food placement and create interest in the empty space with a light scatter of garnish or a piece of cutlery.

On the other hand, don’t go too far the other way because if you overfill big plates,  it can look like a complicated mess (think a huge pile of squiggly spaghetti….it’s too much detail to look at!!).

Generally speaking, a small plate or bowl of food is easier to style than a large platter of food, simply because there is less of it so you don’t need to worry about other factors such as:

  • breaking up / adding interest to large surface areas of similar textures/colours;
  • there is less actual food to style – less garnishes required, less food to position in the “best” position to show it off.

I really struggle to photograph large platters of food – like a huge roast with all the trimmings. It requires a lot of effort, thinking about angle and then if you need to make a change, it’s A LOT of bits and pieces that can be impacted and needing adjustment.

So my preference is to “go small”. I like small plates and bowls of food, and to shoot close up and style in detail, because it’s easier – less space and food to style. :-) And I like small props to match!

Sausage-Egg-Potato-Skins_Main_680px

If I had this potato on a large plate, it would look sparse. By using a small plate, I avoid the need to fill the rest of the plate with other things. It let me concentrate on the key element of this shot – the sausage spilling out of the potato and capturing the runny yolk.

4. Keep it Simple…for now – I know points 1 to 3 are boring. But they are practical. And keeping your crockery colours simple means you can concentrate on other aspects of photography. Like getting more familiar with your manual settings. Or lighting. Or composition. :-)

5. Dark is good too

Second to white crockery is very dark crockery. Dark crockery looks especially fantastic when plated with light or bright coloured foods because it really makes the colour of the food pop and/or look very elegant. I also think it does wonders to create atmosphere, whether going for dark and dramatic, rustic autumn evening, or an exotic ethnic spread (which is what I was aiming for with the Butter Chicken feast photo below).

I personally think that dark dishes for dark foods (think coq au vin and dark curries curries) is hard to make work without it looking like one big black blob. It can look incredible, but it does require more fancy footwork with dramatic lighting to angle it in a way to make the food stand out more.

Butter-Chicken_680px_2_SQ

 5. {KEY TIP} Matte Crockery

I have long since admired the soft glow that Nicole Branan from The Spice Train manages to capture in her “light” style photos. She creates photos that are worthy of high end glossy magazines. Like this one – her Star Anise Poached Pears. Such a simple composition and styling set up, but a stunning photo. Notice how soft and “glowy” the photo is, and the mood it creates.

Nicole Branan | Spice Train | Star Anise Poached Pears

This Star Anise Poached Pear by Nicole Branan from The Spice Train is a classic example of a stunning photo with a “soft” glow.

She is highly skilled at moulding light to make it do what she wants. So she manages to create photos without harsh lighting reflecting off her crockery even if she is using shiny crockery by creating extremely soft lighting.

For ordinary folk like myself who haven’t mastered the skill of creating and photographing in incredible soft light, a key tip to create photos like this is to use what I refer to as “Matte Crockery”. By this, I mean earthenware crockery that light does not reflect harshly off.

Here’s an example. I swiped some of my mother’s earthenware bowls to shoot this cauliflower soup. I was thrilled with the “softness” of this shot which is largely attributable to the bowls. Compare it to the chowder soup shot beneath it – notice how the bowls have got harsh light reflections on it whereas the cauliflower soup earthenware bowls do not.

Creamy-Cauliflower-Soup_MAIN_680px

The soft glow of the bowls in this shot is aided by the matte earthenware bowls I used.

Ham-Potato-Corn-Chowder-Soup_680px_Bowl1

This shot is not as “soft” because the bowls are shiny so the reflections on the bowl are harsher.

6. Colour and patterns are FABULOUS…..if you know how to use it.

I haven’t mastered the art of using bold coloured plates for my shots. But others have. And it can create incredibly eye catching photos that really stand out, especially on social media. John from He Needs Food uses bright coloured crockery fabulously. This is a great example of how he does this. The bright orange plate he uses for his Mušule na buzaru {stewed mussels} draws the viewers eyes straight to the mussels without the plate overpowering the shot.

And I love how the orange plate picks out the juicy orange meat inside the mussel shells.

John | He Needs Food | musulenabuzaru03

A stunning photo by John from He Needs Food. The bright orange plate picks out the orange of the mussels without clashing or overpowering the image. It draws the eye to the mussels rather than distracting the viewer.

7. Shooting Square Plates

This is not so much a tip about choosing crockery than shooting it, but I thought it was worth slotting this in because it’s a very crockery specific point. :-)

Square plates are actually quite hard to shoot. They tend to look a little warped and unbalanced if you try to shoot them with the plate placed on an angle, no matter what camera angle you use.

It’s because I find square plates hard to shoot that I don’t have any in my prop collection. But I do have rectangle ones which I actually use for serving and have used on occasion for shooting.

Though the examples below are rectangle plates, I would shoot square plates the same way. Either:

a) shooting them with the plate placed directly straight, and preferably shooting from a low angle with the whole plate in the centre of the shot; or

Karage Wings

b) capturing around 3/4 of the plate (still shooting low with the plate straight).

Chocolate Peanut Butter Slice_680px1

8. When you’re shooting low, using a plate with a LOW ridge

There are some foods that are just crying out to be shot at a very low angle. Think a towering, fully loaded burger. Or a pile of pancakes. Or a crazy invention like a savoury Mille-feuille. :-)

So whenever you are shooting a food at a low angle to show off layers, make sure you use a plate with a low lip so it doesn’t obstruct what you want to show off about the food.

Breakfast-Mille-feuille_680px_5-Main

9. Wood, metal, cast iron – mix things up!

When you are ready to start expanding your crockery collection (and move away from white!), mix things up! Vessels for plating up your food don’t just have to be ceramics. Think cast iron (like in the Buffalo Wings photo below), other metals (especially rustic!) and wood.

Buffalo-Wings-3_Pour-Shot

I am extremely jealous of Amanda Michetti’s rustic copper plate collection. I’ve been hunting for these for ages but the ones I have found tend to be quite pricey. I know they are much better value in the US and Europe if you scour online marketplaces like Ebay and Etsy.

Here’s an example from her portfolio – this Fettuccine Aglio e Olio looks stunningly rustic on the tarnished metal plate.

Pasta-AeO-1

10. Paper!

Paper is a fabulous alternative to crockery for shooting your food. Because my crockery collection is not very extensive, when I was shooting 40 types of wings for my Wings cookbook (you can see previews of most of the photos here), I was seriously running out of things to plate the wings on.

So I shot quite a few of them on paper instead. Parchment paper, tissue paper and brown paper bags. I really love using paper, especially when it’s been crumpled because it’s like plating the food on patterned or coloured plates in that it is much more interesting than a plain white plate but there is far less risk of the plate dominating the image.

Korean-Wings_680px

Here’s another example where I used paper to create a much softer photo.

Italian Wings_680px

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So there you have it, my key tips for choosing crockery to show off your amazing food. This doesn’t cover vessels that food is cooked in, like skillets and casserole dishes which I think look authentic, relevant and stunning for food photos. I really love shooting food in the actual pan or pot it was cooked in, but that’s another topic!!

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What have I missed? What are your tips for choosing plates and bowls? What type of crockery do you find challenging to style or shoot? Leave your thoughts below and I’ll respond!

– Nagi

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Comments

  1. says

    Your food photography shows incredible craftsmanship. Your attention to detail is impeccable! I feel immersed. I especially liked the lighting in the Mille-Feuille recipe. Did you use just natural lighting or did you use some supplemental front lighting? Do you ever recommend any type of lighting, such as a ring light? Do you use any special accessories to scatter light? Thanks for answering my questions.

  2. manish says

    Hi, i am manish from india. I am a budding food photographer and also learning food styling. Your vnice tips are very useful.

    Do you also a have tips on how to setup various crockeries like plates, bowls, glasses, jugs, knife, spoon spatula, etc etc. How to arrange them to complement each other or the overall shot.

  3. says

    Hi Nagi,
    You truly have a gift for breaking down and explaining in things in such an easy and applicable way. I’m used to shooting weddings and people, but when I transitioned into food photography, I found that it had a whole differnt set of challenges. Your article is super helpful. I can’t wait to go and try out some of the things I just learned.

    • Nagi says

      Oh wow! I totally get what you mean – I’m the total opposite, I am not used to shooting people at ALL! It is completely different, isn’t it? I really want to move into shooting people soon. :) I would love to see some of your work, do you have a portfolio? N x

  4. Marlene says

    Nagi, these are wonderful tips. I’m getting ready to launch my food blog (it’s not ready for viewing yet) and so will head to Ikea for plain white dinnerware to start my prop collection. My photos are pretty amateurish right now as I learn what to do; hope my early readers will bear with me. I’m loving your Recipe Tin Eats and Food Bloggers Central blogs. (Also, in the US most plates labeled dinner plates are c. 10″ and side plates are 8″, for the most part. So that should help!)

    • Nagi says

      How exciting that you’re launching your blog!! I can’t wait to see it :) Please be sure to leave a comment somewhere on FBC or in the Facebook group so I can visit! N x

  5. says

    Great tips Nagi! The non-glare or matte finish discussion is a problem I have with my current crockery. I wish I made more pottery when in Japan with a matte finish. Do you know if there is a spray or something one can put of plates to reduce the glare…until we get new crockery? Take care

    • Nagi says

      Well! Apparently there is something called anti glare spray or dull spray. Can’t find it here but maybe in HK??

  6. says

    I’m learning things from you constantly, Nagi! You are an absolute gem – thank you for your generosity.

    I was happy to know that I’m not the only one who struggles with shooting food on square and rectangle plates. I can’t wait to try your tips!

  7. says

    Another masterpiece, Nagi.. Loved the square and rectangular plate tip. I have been tearing my hair apart trying to shoot it.. Thanks a lot for that tip.. Saves my day

  8. says

    These are great tips! I personally always stick to white, because it’s safe and I’m lazy. But I do find colored crockery turns a photo more interesting, if using properly. I’d love to try out the antique looking plates too. They look so fabulous on the photo. Will definitely look around after moving!

    • Nagi says

      Eerm, you are just about the last person in the world I would ever describe as “lazy”! I wan antique plates too :)

  9. says

    These tips are all super helpful to keep in mind when I go hunting for new props for my shots. :) I only have white crockery or with simple mute designs right now so I want to venture out to make my color palate for photos a little more fun! But not too wild of course! 😉 I love the paper idea to put the food STRAIGHT on! I have a piece or 2 in some photos underneath a plate or bowl, but not directly underneath! That’s a new idea! I feel like even if you stick to simple place settings, you can always dress it up with some texture from a towel, cheesecloth, paper or something else lying around the kitchen! Thanks for sharing Nagi! :) Getting my creative juices flowing!

  10. says

    Excellent tips – love the idea of shooting on paper!! One tip I have for learning how to work with colored props is the website http://www.design-seeds.com. It is a site full of color palettes – you can search by hue, season, etc., etc. A great way to get ideas of colors that go together!!!

  11. Jane says

    Thank you Nagi! As I’m just at the beginnings of my food photography, this post is so helpful! Thank goodness most of my plates are white! I can’t wait to try some crumpled paper. I think my most difficult photos are light foods and any type of beverage. Mugs and glasses are hard to photograph.

    • Nagi says

      I agree Jane re: drinks. I have a post planned around that :) Light foods look fabulous on dark plates. Like the cauliflower soup in the post in the dark bowls :)

  12. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef says

    What Byron said – in spades. These are all such good tips. i like white plates (obviously) but I need to be more creative in using all the stuff stacked on shelves around here.

    • Nagi says

      Ha ha!! I’m so glad you found this useful. :) Shout out if you have any questions about shooting with a specific type of crockery, I’m happy to help! Just leave a comment on this thread. :)

    • Nagi says

      :) Glad you found it helpful! Though I must say, you use coloured plates wonderfully. I remember a recent post you did with a fabulous blue dish that really showed off the food!

  13. says

    Nagi, there is just so much knowledge oozing from this post! What may seem common sensical to you is actually not very obvious to some of us food bloggers (although it may be intuitive, it’s often not easy to put it down into words just like you did!). Thanks so much for this amazingly detailed post! I basically stick mostly to white and wood in my shots – so far I haven’t been able to find pretty and rustic ware for good prices. But that’s something I want to explore in the future.

    • Nagi says

      You know, it’s great for me too, to write it down! Really helps with the focus and makes me think about WHY I choose certain plates. :) I’m so glad you find this useful! As for rustic plates etc, scour the 2nd hand and thrift stores and markets!! Oh and my tip has a recycling centre where I often find great goodies, especially back boards!! :)

      • says

        I’ve got a few questions that has nothing to do with crockery.
        1) I currently only post a recipe once a week.. And am planning to start increasing to 2 times a week. Do u think the posting frequency will increase traffic??
        2) I recently launched an e-cookbook last week and I’m wondering if u have any tips on how to keep sales up even after the initial launch boost?

        • Nagi says

          1) Yup! Without a doubt, as long as you spend the same amount of time and effort promoting each post :)
          2) I’m figuring that out myself with the ebook I just launched. I will share everything I figure out (or not!) in a post soon! :)

          • says

            Thanks Nagi!! Looking forward to that ebook post! And yes definitely starting 2 posts per week from now on!! And when I can get that down to a pat, I’ll think about 3..

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