Lesson 15 – Use Napkins to Add Layers and Drama

Napkins for Food Photography

Napkins, Camera and Action

Week three is here.. and today is Day 15.

Today we will be continuing the discussion on prop styling.

Kitchen and Dinner Napkins are important props available in most homes.

In today's simple lesson, let's explore how you can use kitchen napkins to tell your food story.

Have you used kitchen towels or dinner napkins in your food photos Have you noticed napkins in food photos of other photographers?

Look at the napkin in the photo below… it is stained with rhubarb. Does it tell you something? Being in the baking tray, does it feel like the napkin was used to bring this out of oven?

Rhubharb Crumble-17

In this photo, what if this napkin was missing? What if the frame excluded the napkin, how will that change the story? Take a look at the photo below.

Rhubarb Crumble Photo

Similarly napkin can be also used at background and give a different feel to the photograph.

Napkins add another element to the story. They give viewers one more clue to solving the mystery in the photo.

The main reason why napkins work is that they add depth to the story. So how can you use them in your own photos? Below are some examples:

Using Napkins

If your story is about a formal restaurant, or the mood of your food photo is more elegant, you could use a napkin to say just that. There could be a folded napkin under your dish tell you that it's a story of classy dinner or fine dining restaurant.

A napkin thrown on the table near a classy half-finished dish, may show an interrupted and unfinished meal.

Napkins can also be used as a background. If you do so, make sure you iron them really well... unless of-course your story doesn't need it.

You can also use napkins to directly place food on them. There are certain food items that can be placed naturally like sandwiches or bruschetta or street food. Yes! there are paper napkins too.

Remember the end goal should be to add props in a way that it looks natural and supports the overall image. Same is the case with napkin. Napkins should be used to support the image and overall story.

Napkins should not distract from the main food. This means the color of this napkin should support the story and same goes for the napkin texture.

This is certainly one prop that you should have in your kit.

Now, let me answer a common question. “Where can I find good props like napkins?” Have you tried finding kitchen napkins online? Take a look whole lot of them here.

Where do you get your props? Leave a comment below.

Let’s move to today’s assignment.

Today’s Assignment

Estimated time: 30 mins (or depending on how organized your prop storage is)

Step 1 – Today again, select the subject. Ideally use the same food subject, you have been using last couple of days.

Step 2  – Set up the food subject as you like, without any napkin in the scene. Take a photograph.

Step 3 – Now depending on your story, add the napkin to your photograph. Napkin could be fabric or could be paper towel. It could be a formal dinner napkin or something else. 

Step 4 – Take a photograph again.

Step 5– Again, compare these photos just like you did in previous assignments. Recall your story and the specific elements we discussed earlier. Which one of these photos compares closely with your story?

Step 6 – Upload the best photo/s in  Facebook Album for Lesson 15. If you are not a member of the facebook group, you will not be able to view the album. Request access from the FB Group page.

  • I never checked amazon for dinner napkins. From now on, will look out for napkins even on amazon

  • E.R

    I think I would want to use very neutral props, or napkins, I want the food to be the star and not the napkin. I feel if I use a dark color napkin it would take the focal point away from the food. What is your advise regarding this?

  • Louise Docker

    I get a lot of my napkins from op-shops and second hand stores, they don’t cost a lot and they sell them seperately unlike some linen shops that try to sell you a whole set of 4 or 6

  • Napkins are so beautiful in a photo. I have always a look everywhere when shopping. In the supermarket, at Butler’s or Depot, flee markets.. just everywhere. I have a whole lot and use them as background as well as napkin. They give sometimes some extra color and sometimes they are just that plus I need in a photo.

  • I am not able to access Facebook Album as I get this message :”The page you requested cannot be displayed right now. It may be
    temporarily unavailable, the link you clicked on may have expired, or
    you may not have permission to view this page.”
    Please tell me what I should do to have permission to view this page?

  • Here are two different shots. the lighting is also a bit different, but the first one I used a napkin and the second one I did not.

  • My prop resource starts with shopping at home. Lots of stuff in boxes that have gone unexplored for ages. Cabinets have yielded new found treasures almost daily as I progress through these lessons. This weekend I went to estate sales, garage sales, and thrift stores and came away with the following:

    2 – Le Creuset 12″ pie plates white and a cream/blue glaze (did not seem to be used)
    2 – Ikea plates black matte, one square one oval approx 10″ dia
    1 – 6″ black matte bowl with geometric incised edge
    1 – Bright shiny red round plate 8″
    1 – Green square platter 10″
    2 – large tart pans w/removable bottom VERY nice aged patina
    1 – 10″ light blue spotted enamel tin pan with rolled edge
    1 – White glazed ceramic french bread basket
    7 – Pieces of fake plastic fruit and veg (very realistic looking) perfect for out of focus background fodder.

    OK all that, how much did I spend? If you said less that $20 US, you would be correct.

    • John Vaillancourt

      Sounds like quite a haul for the money spent. Le Creuset included? Well done!

  • Here’s the best photo of the bunch although I’m not loving the glare on the tomatoes. I think the napkin provides a nice contrast color, while making the tomatoes seem more casual, almost as if I could scoop up the napkin and with it all the tomatoes.

  • John Vaillancourt

    I’ve been buying pieces at Pier One and at antique and specialty shops in Boston. I have to look into finding a nearby thrift shop to do some bargain hunting. Not really one for garage sales, though.

  • Finally got to lesson 15. Just making dinner, so here are my leeks that I am going to cook and serve for myself, my husband and a friend.

  • I made this really easy spicy carrot, chickpea and coriander dip for lunch and decided to emphasize its rustic simplicity by placing it on s small wooden board which I found on the beach and painted white, and using a paper towel as a napkin

  • Bam’s Kitchen

    I have my husband collect napkins/cloths for me on his worldly travels. I have many now but many of them are “too busy” for the dishes as I have found napkins without designs work best. As I like to cook many dishes from around the globe, it is really nice to have a napkin to fit the scene.

  • Here is my favorite picture using napkins 🙂

  • Ambrosia Pardue-Lee

    Here is my picture with a napkin. I buy napkins / dish towels specifically for my food blog photos 🙂

  • Catharina Linkenbach

    we made chocolates in school, so I shot them, of course, without having read the assignment first… I almost always use napkins/fabric, it is one of my favourite props… I add another similar picture without napkin to illustrate the difference…

  • https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/68cf5c6b9cc7272d8956e558c13e4f428dc880559ab5b88ff6434faa5022c608.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4e261dbc30f168e1bee73b8f79a43ce77e823e37b3f4ea7af7dcbcd2611bd31e.jpg

    I agree that napkins can make such a difference. Without it the antipasto mix looks as if it has just been placed on a table. The napkin tells the story better, it looks as if it has been arranged, is more inviting and is and ready to tuck into.

  • Ingunn Løvik
  • karthika krishnan

    I look fro napkins in farmers market, crate and barrel has some awesome collections. Mostly torn shirt and jeans

  • Linda Joyce

    I buy napkins from yard sales, thrift shops and the dollar stores.

  • Anna Zazdravnaya

    I don’t have napkins, just paper napkins. But yes, now I think I should have a lot of them!)