Using props to tell a story


Using props to tell a story

I was once asked, “What is the part of blogging that you prefer: writing, cooking or taking photographs?” I thought about it for a moment and then I replied that I couldn’t choose between them, as each of the three aspects served a higher purpose: to tell a story.
Storytelling, now such a fashionable term, is nothing more than engaging the reader with a story. It is one of the most ancient and deep-rooted human activities, right back to when the earliest men gathered around the fire to tell each other stories: there were words, there were images on the cave walls, there was very likely real food, cooked on that fire around which they came together.

This is why, today, every part of a blog post or an article tells a story. If this is not the place in which to talk of words, food writing and elaborating a recipe, it most certainly is the place in which to gather together those essential elements that are required in a photo to tell a story.
As well as lighting, framing and composition, props play a fundamental role in food photography, and are both a blessing and a curse for every foodblogger.
Props are saucers, cutlery, plates and bowls, trays, tea towels, tablecloths, chopping boards, backdrops, coffee makers, sugar bowls, fruit stands, but also vases, flowers, chairs, old and worn tables, white marble slabs and rusty baking trays.
Each element that you add to your photo around the main player, which is the food, will contribute to the story that you want to tell. Their presence or absence have a meaning.
Let’s take an apple sponge; a cake that is versatile, simple and homely. In how many stories can it take part? Depending on the props you choose, the two slices of apple sponge can tell various stories and play different moods.


The absence of props, focusing on the sponge, has its own meaning. Without distractions, the attention is focused on the grains of vanilla sugar on the top, on the light that falls languidly on the freshly-cut slices of cake, on their spongy texture. The story is all about the cake: perhaps an analysis of the ingredients used, or maybe an in-depth study of the recipe in its Italian version of torta pesata, its French version of quatre quarts and the English pound cake.


The same cake can, however, also be part of a countryside story, with the pound cake as a traditional rural recipe. The background of a worn table has more importance in the photograph. The cutlery is old style; it has lost its splendour and is marked with rust. The crumbs dirty the frame but they are not messiness, but instead the real signs of someone having taken a slice of cake from the plate on the table and eaten it. The tea towel is a coarse, kitchen one, placed in a deliberately random fashion. The plate has seen better days but is classical in style.


Instead, here above is the more traditional context of an afternoon coffee break. The table is wooden again, but is cleaner and varnished, although still worn over time. The plate, fork and coffee cup have a very classical, almost English feel. The pewter sugar bowl reawakens memories of the past, of teatime at grandma’s house. If you look closely, you can see it is the exact same cake but that it already has a different flavour, even though the ingredients remain identical.


Another change of scene. Here, the scene is modern vintage, a very American flavour, with a stripy straw and a mason jar for a glass, lots of white, in both the plate and the tablecloth, as well as in the draped piece of cheesecloth. The sugar dispenser is vintage but it belongs once again to the contemporary style of many photographs that seek to recall years gone by, whilst still maintaining a modern feel. Again, the cake is unchanged, but here there is a different music in the air.


Here, the scene shifts again. The early hours of the morning, breakfast in bed for two, a white woollen blanket and a cushion, a tray to carry a few cups, a slice of cake and some coffee. The cake hasn’t changed, but who would think it?

And what sort of cake was it, after all? An apple sponge that changed in flavour, texture and fragrance in every frame, changing in nature according to the props used.

Giulia Scarpaleggia

Giulia Scarpaleggia, teacher of Tuscan cookery courses for tourists, Tuscan food blogger, writer and photographer, 33 years old, from Colle Val d’Elsa (Siena).
I started my blog in February 2009. In January 2012, I began working full-time as a food blogger and teacher of cookery courses.
In December 2012, my first book ‘I Love Toscana’ was published by Food Editore in Italian and English.
In September 2013, I won the Macchianera Food Award for best Italian food blogger.
In September 2014, my second book, ‘Cucina da Chef con ingredienti low cost’ (Chef Cooking with Low Cost Ingredients) was published by BUR.
Blog: www.julskitchen.com
Twitter: @JulsKitchen
Facebook: Juls’ Kitchen
Pinterest: Juls’ Kitchen
Instagram: JulsKitchen

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