If you’ve ever been on a diet, you know this trick. A small plate makes the food look bigger.
In food photography, this trick is one of my favorites. I discovered it pretty much by accident… looking back through my food photography references, no one really addresses the proportion of the food to the plate in detail. Knowing I should be using smaller plates earlier on would have been great information to have. I simply started using small dishes because they were cheaper.
In fact, almost all of my prop dishes, flatware and glasses are small. For plates, I use dessert plates or even saucers (the maroon dishes pictured are my real dinnerware, shown for size comparison). For glasses, juice glasses (and sometimes even tall shot glasses). My flatware, then, must be accordingly small, or the plates will look oddly sized. Dessert forks and spoons (and the occasional baby silveware!) work beautifully.
A small plate allows the food to take the stage, not the plate. Heaping the food becomes simple. Piles stay in place.You can get close, showing the texture of the food, without having to crop out too much of the overall setting. Getting close also changes the perspective on the photo, and makes the food look new and interesting.
Take this example with flatware… most of the time I use the small dessert spoon that’s on the right in this photo. It’s really small… only about 5 inches long.
Here’s what it looks like with a bit of ice cream on it. It’s huge!
Small dishes also allow you to work with smaller quantities of food, plus, as you start to collect a lot of dishes (they pile up fast…), they take up far less space. In fact, I can get all of my prop dishes (at least for now) into a single large drawer.
I’m always keeping my eye out for cool little plates and other props. One of my favorite places that has a great selection of small things is Cost Plus… small soy sauce trays, for example, make great bowls for side dishes. I also found this little three compartment dish, which is only about 6 inches long and great for shots of a variety of appetizers.
I also find a lot of my dishware at thrift stores… because I don’t need matching sets, it’s really cheap to pick up a dessert plate or two for a couple of bucks at Goodwill. Plus, the money given to the store goes back in to helping out the store.
(BTW – here’s another tip. Notice how grainy the photos are in todays post… that’s because I forgot to set my ISO setting back to 100 after shooting in low light. I really should have gone back and reshot everything… but since the post was just to show the size of the dishes, I decided to leave it this time. But, if you change your ISO setting ever, don’t forget to set it back to 100!)