When I tell people about my profession, a lot of curiosity builds up in their minds. What is the role of a food prop stylist and how do they go about building a shot? What is its importance?
Well, a food prop stylist would require a basic understanding of the crockery, cutlery, fabrics, designs, look and feel, color palette, etc. He/she works towards creating an environment surrounding the product that is inviting, warm, relaxed, contemporary and natural, while still letting the product be the main focus of attention.
Let's explain the role of a prop stylist with a few examples.
If we are shooting a beverage, in this case coffee. Our aim here is to make the coffee shot look its best. A lot of questions arise out of this. How do we want the coffee to look? How do we want the image to feel? What mood should we achieve in the picture? What’s the purpose of shooting the coffee? What is the application of the image?
To answer all these questions, the client, creative agency, photographer, food stylist and a prop stylist meet up and brainstorm to gain clarity before designing the shoot. Ideas and options are put forward and broken down. Pictures of the product, list of shots and a rough drawing of the shots are created. It gives you a fair idea at the zone we are looking to achieve, how the product will look and type of props that will have to be sourced.
The prop stylist gets into action and begins to source for the crockery, cutlery and other props that compliment the hero prop. For coffee, I started with looking for cups and saucers, glasses of different types, base platters, trays, french press, coffee grinders, pourers, spoons, small dip bowls, etc.
Different types of background options are provided or created based on the brief. All these are compiled to form a prop documentation with my suggestions for each shot. For example, if it is a shot for a Turkish coffee which is a hot beverage, an ethnic looking cup and saucer is suggested. (Mind you, a cup and saucer for serving a coffee are very different than that for tea.)
Sourcing of props - They are usually rented out of a prop shop and if something is not available it can be purchased. The most important part of sourcing the props is to have options. A prop stylist wouldn't just buy one glass or cup and saucer, but at least two of each type. This is a whole different kind of shopping. For this particular shoot, I had to buy at least three different glassware options, flatware options (different patterns, finishes, etc), French Press (shapes, heights), different kind of coffee filters, fabrics, etc. They all have to work with the napkins/fabrics/cutlery/side props.
I shop for days and nights, making sure I have
1. my favorite amazing risky things that will impress everyone, and
2. the safe backup options – you never know how it's going to play out.
On the day of the shoot
Once at the location, all the props are laid out and it’s like a room full of stuff for a few shots.
As the shoot progresses, a lot of ideation happens and changes take place before getting to the perfect shot. That's why it is always worthwhile to have options. For example, if the client loves the dark wood background, but the texture is too busy, taking the attention off the product. Or the prop which was agreed upon overpowers the look of the image, etc. This is when prop options come in handy.
Once an angle is decided by the photographer, the focus is on each and every detail, the angle of the spoon, switching the patterns of the coasters, the placement of the cookie / spice (or any other accompaniment that can go with a coffee) the composition and position of the flower, etc.
Everything is different when seen through the camera lens. A prop stylist has to make sure that there aren’t any major wrinkles in the fabric for instance, but enough small ones that it looks natural and effortless, not stiff.
After the shoot everything is packed and segregated. The rented props are returned. Then we move on to a new shoot, a new product, a new concept and lots of creativity and fresh ideas.
So which is my favorite part?
The creativity, for sure. Even if we are shooting a similar product, something is always new, which is the fun of it all. And who doesn’t like shopping? Whether it’s a plate, a type of glass, fabrics or flowers. It entices me and gives me a new high.
Let me get going with my next shoot, which is ICE-CREAM! So until next time, keep reading, keep shopping and let your creativity be the essence of it all.
Happy styling :)