Today I’m making fun of myself and those moments when I take this blogging thing way too seriously. For those times when I look around the house and see the amount of space and the massive amounts of stuff dedicated to creating twee food scenes that no one in their right mind believes are real. (For instance, in “real life” I would never sift cocoa powder all over the counter or leave drippy spoons on pretty wood surfaces or place 10 cookies one on top of the other in a slightly precarious yet charming stack.)
But…this list is also kinda true. Especially Number 9.
White Dishes*. Lots of White Dishes.
Early on in the blogging game, I assumed that my own small stock of dishes, bowls, cups, mugs, and flatware was more than enough to carry me through countless food posts.
Now I have shelves and cupboards filled to capacity with “props,” a.k.a. items that I’m loathe to use for “everyday” meals. They are reserved solely for photographs. By nature, I am neither hoarder nor pack rat. Outside of the blogging world, I am a purger, routinely going through my belongings and culling out the neglected, the unworn and the unused. So, having stacks and stacks of fabrics, pretty bowls, platters, wooden cutting boards, and tarnished silverware makes me very, very jittery; a supremely uncomfortable position for someone like me who is afraid of one day being interred under the weight of her own belongings.
The fact that you’re not answering leads me to believe you’re either (a) not at home, (b) home but don’t want to talk to me, or (c) home, desperately want to talk to me, but trapped under something heavy. If it’s either (a) or (c), please call me back. – Harry to Sally
But for now, I don’t see a way around it. Someday, perhaps a year from now, five years from now, or shortly before breathing my last, look for a massive garage sale.
If you are bound and determined to amass your own pile of clutter, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, Target, and Walmart are all great places for finding a variety of white and/or colorful dishes – and of course, garage sales, flea markets, and antique stores can’t be beat.
*Colored stuff is good, too. I tend towards orange and green, which is odd because I despise cooked peas and carrots.
Old (or made-to-look old) Bottles & Glassware.
This past winter as I was walking down our driveway, I noticed something sticking out of the pasture, something bright and glittering in the weak afternoon sunshine. I squeezed myself between the barbed wire of the fence and went to get a closer look. The shiny object appeared to be part of a drinking glass. As I dug around it, I realized it was complete – not a chip or crack on it – though it had some wonderful, soft scratches. My happiness at this find was completely unwarranted – who gets excited about an old glass that had been buried in the dirt for who knows how long?! (And why, exactly, had it been buried?) A blogger, that’s who. Old, faded, beat up – it just photographs better. Even when it’s glass.
Of course antique stores have the real old stuff – but you can find knock-offs at Crate and Barrel, Target, and TJ Maxx/Marshall’s.
If old things photograph beautifully, textured things – fabrics, wood, rocks – are like Super Models. The camera just eats them up. Textured surfaces can really make a photo stand out, especially when paired with smooth, plain objects. Look for placemats and table runners.
But you don’t have to have things that actually have texture to get texture. Huh?? Take a look at the scrapbooking aisle in your local craft or big box store. You’ll find reams of paper printed to look like feathers, pebbles, flowers – you name it. They make wonderful backdrops. (For examples, see this post and this post.)
Small, Interesting Shit.
That pretty much speaks for itself, doesn’t it? I’m not a tchotchke kind of person and I’m not a collector (except for the inordinate number of metal Japanese tea pots I own…), but the blogger requires wee things here and there to add interest to shots. Chances are, you already have lots of interesting little shit that make great props. If not, borrow from your favorite old auntie, grandmother, or geriatric neighbor down the street.
Fabric in Every Color & Pattern Imaginable.
Long ago my mom sewed. And she had a cupboard filled with thick bolts and pieces and scraps of fabric. I had absolutely zero interest in either sewing or this cupboard and when my parents moved out of their home of over 30 years, the yards and yards of fabric were sold in a garage sale. More fool me, as my dear husband would say.
Now, ironically, I have my own piles of fabrics, painstakingly collected over the past several years. Some from antique shops, some from big box stores. The right fabric can bring an otherwise plain photograph to life. Patterns help tell a story about a certain dish. Worn and faded cloth makes us feel as if we are snug in a cozy kitchen as we pull muffins or biscuits or cookies from the oven. Starched white linen adds sophistication to a table setting. Raid your mom’s sewing cupboard or scour flea markets, garage sales, and the kitchen section at Target.
Tarnished Flatware. The More Beat Up the Better.
Whenever I purchase a particularly dented, scratched or stained piece of flatware at an antique store, I imagine that the clerk wonders why on earth I’m shelling out my hard-earned dollars for an item that is one step away from the scrap heap. (Then again, they make their living out of selling old crap, so who are they to judge?)
But just like old glass and textured surfaces, forks, spoons, knives, and serving pieces rich with the marks of a life well-lived just work in photographs. They don’t shine too much. They don’t whine for attention. They just blend in to their surroundings while adding a bit of dignity that only age and experience can bring.
Etsy offers a treasure trove of flatware and silverware from really-really vintage, to recent vintage – and you can buy in bulk which means you can get many different kinds of patterns.
R.I.B. (Rustic is Best) Backdrops.
Rustic backdrops and surfaces are the faded, worn-out, favorite-pair-of-jeans of the food blogging world. They’re comfy, make us look and feel good, and with the right accessories, complement just about anything. The camera picks up the fault lines, the scratches, the poor paint job, the chips, and turns them into something beautiful. I once dragged a 10 foot long sheet of rusted roofing metal across the pasture through snow (hosed it down and then snipped it into 3 pieces) because it had the most beautiful patina (see photo at bottom left of collage). Old tin ceiling tiles are wonderful (I got mine via Etsy), cork is cool, check Lowe’s or Home Depot for large marble and ceramic tiles, or pry off pieces of your neighbor’s old fence (did I say that out loud?!). You just never know where an interesting backdrop may turn up.
Full on sunshine, rainy-day murk, high wattage florescent or halogen bulbs, fancy-schmancy photographer’s high beams – you can’t take a photo, good or bad – without a source of light. 98% of my photos are shot using beautiful, south-facing Oklahoma daylight that pours into a pair of sliding glass doors. Worth its weight (so to speak) in gold. But, for those times when I absolutely positively need to take a photo and that daylight thing just isn’t cooperating, I put protective eye gear on the dog, fire up my flotilla of photography lights and turn nighttime or an overcast day into brilliant fake sunshine.
Yep. Blogging is the hugest time-suck on the planet. And if you’re a blogger, you never, ever have enough time and I have no suggestions on how you can get your hands on more of it.