We have a monthly investment program in prop purchase - and yes it can and does hurt the bank!
This is mainly for our food photography studio activity, as so much of the work we do involves the creation of lifestyle images - whether for advertising, product pages or publishing.
In fact, it is very rare for us to simply shoot a 'food' product that is not in packaging on a simple white background (ecommerce) or simply put on a white plate.
That means we have to have the props, the backgrounds and the fabrics to create these images - hence the monthly program of investments. Our flatware ranges from the 1740s to modern day and is both at home in the kitchen and for dress tables. The same for our ceramics, which range from anything we find in car-boot sales to Spode, Wedgewood and glass from Tutbury.
The fabrics range from supporting silks to kitchen towelling and service cloths. These remnants are constantly growing. The backgrounds range from distressed timber to stone, distressed concrete and slate, many of which we make to order ourselves for a style proposed to a client.
Not all our props are tableware - we also have an extensive edible props garden - yes, by this we mean herbs and flowers from our studio gardens - about a 1\4 acre of herbs from thyme to lavender, rosemary, tarragon to bay - so we can simply garnish images or use when we are cooking dishes for client's recipes cards or cookbooks.
All of these props, whilst focused normally on food are not exclusive to food. We use many of these investments and the gardens in both studios for cosmetic products and specialist crafts such as candle making clients.
PLEASE NOTE: WE DO NOT HIRE OUT OUR PROPS. THEY ONLY COME WITH A COMMISSION OF PHOTOGRAPHY WORK.
As said earlier, we make most of our backgrounds from scratch, so it can get a little 'Blue Peter' here at times. Why not look at some of them following this link.
A lot of the backgrounds are distressed timber finishes although we are now building a collection of aged concrete and stone - these are great fun to make, as it requires a load of flexible plaster first and then endless effort to re-create the stains and weathering of stone.
Then we have the fabric backgrounds, which were all the rage some 10 years ago and now only seem to be used by our restaurant clients who like a clean fabric background, depending on their establishments cultural influence - French & traditional restaurants always go for white, Chinese and Asian in general reds or even burnt orange. Again, like the stone surfaces we create, we make these fabric backgrounds ourselves as they are quite simple, the fabric stretched to MDF.
The distressed and crackle paint finished timber backgrounds can be one's recycled - namely we've found an old door that's about to be thrown away or old fence panels and even seas driftwood. If all else fails we distress the timber ourselves and then apply the crackle paint - which is has to be said is no way near as good as thirty years weathering! Last count we had over 200 of these boards.
We are now also trying out some of the made to order boards. Not all of them are on boards - some are roll up images - so we have to mount them and to be honest, whilst they do seem to be popular they are only good for vertical shots as you can see there is no grain or texture at any other angle! The worst I saw was a photographer using a print of seashore gravel for a smoked salmon shot. The photo image behind the dish just looked terrible it was clearly false. You could see it was a picture and not a very good effort for the client involved. So we are somewhat conflicted when it comes to using picture backgrounds!
So, as a rule if we can not build it, it does not come... to the shoot!
Ceramics & Boards.
Everyone dumps them when they get all carved up and stained - which is just how we like them - we've even thought of doing a 'board exchange' scheme. We give you a board and you knacker it for us! Then return it for another.
Distressing modern boards is very time driven - we make the boards from timber planks as using kitchen cutting boards is too expensive. We stain them, leave them outside for a year or two and then bring them in, bash them a bit more.. get the drift? An utter pain but very effective in the shoot.
As for ceramics, we have a real problem in the studio... far too many opinions! On the one side of the team - white and only white, the other Spode, Coalport, Wedgewood...and all the patterns and colours! They do the prop shopping for us... so the 'white' team often looses badly! We have in excess of 500 -1000 pieces of ceramics, bowls, small jugs etc. And it's still not enough, as we seem to go searching each and every commission. We do have favourites and there is always the temptation to over use these - it's only when you start doing the case studies do you see the pattern of over use appearing!
Flatware & Kichenalia.
To be honest an utter pain. This bit costs a fortune because it moves into 'antique land' and so we have to try and drive bargains, otherwise we get screwed. Plus we only want one or two pieces not the full cantina. So we're not liked by the 'pretend Lovejoy's of this world'. Car-boot sales are not really producing what is wanted these days and some of the kitchenalia just doesn't come to light - try looking for old butchers knives without plastic handles!
A lot of the flatware we have such as Briton flatware is the typical shouldered forks and spoons type of 100- 150 years old. We do have silverware and bronze. We also have the napkin rings and other items should we dress some of the more exotic of our images.
As for the kitchen - baking pans in the right shape even if new are purchased. We then use brick acid to age them - it's the shape that is import to us. Most bakingware that is old enough is very rare and then very expensive - we paid over £60 for a single 1950 roasting pan for just one image... We use the same acid process if we cannot get other kitchen implements and make the handles old looking. The issue now is so few modern items have wooden handles!
These mainly come into the product side of the business. We seem to do a lot of artisan soaps and cosmetics so, old loofas, real sponges, linen sheets, perfume atomisers that sort of thing are all in the prop-store.
As said before, it never stops - either we have a new idea and existing props do not match or we have a bad habit of enjoying shopping. The jury is out on that one. So the prop store grows. We have even purchased for one client who made Jerky and did not want a 'Roy Roger's look to the Western Theme shoot 1820 Cowboy belts and buckles, stirrups as well - imported from the US. So we get real serious about the props and some of the edible props used such as plants we have connection in growers that bring the product to us.