How to Make Photography Props look Amazing

I am so excited to introduce you to today’s guest writer. Her name is Angela of AMR Photography Studio and I am tickled pink to have her on Go{4}Pro because she’s positively amazing! Can I just tell you that I am so glad that she decided to add an image on the homework assignment a couple weeks back!!?!! As soon as I clicked her image I was ecstatic. I was on the edge of my seat just dying to see more of her work and I immediately just had to get her on Go{4}Pro! That actually happened twice! There were two gals who’s work just blew me away and really stood out. I sent them each an email asking them to guest on Go{4}Pro and they happened to be friends. I love it! See what having friends in the industry does? It makes your work look like this! Okay – I’m not promising that but after today’s post you just might be a whole lot closer! ~Thank you Angela!!

Say you are taking a walk one day, enjoying the beauty of nature and you happen upon a little trail winding through a forest (provided, of course, that you WERE walking in an area that would have a forest). If you are like me, you are constantly on the lookout for new places to shoot and you get really excited over your ‘find’ and can’t wait to bring a client there to shoot. You now have two choices. You could bring your client and take pretty pics of them walking or sitting on the trail OR you could set up a scene to get something like this:

So what makes this more compelling than just a girl in the woods? Is it that she is stunningly gorgeous? Well, yes, my eye is drawn to her immediately…but it is also the dimension created with the chandelier, the tufted chair placed just at the right angle, the subtle shine from the beaded headband and the glint of her earrings and ring. Everything together gives depth and interest and creates a dramatic layered image…one in which you might notice something new each time you look at it. I love to take pictures that make people look twice…whether to make them wonder about the subject, wonder about the setting, wonder about the “story” or wonder if I’m crazy. It really doesn’t matter which one it is as long as I make them stop and think! Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been obsessed with story telling, fashion, drama, set design, pictures, and antiques, so photography has been a way to for me to meld together so many art forms that I love into one amazingly fun career.

I use props and accessories in the majority of my sessions. I know this is not original or new, but I wanted to go beyond just having a few sweet little wooden chairs and truly have a collection to choose from. Last summer, I started out my collection with a beautiful 1930’s wingback chair and a sweet drippy crystal chandelier. My dream was to one day have a storage facility full of wonderful items that I could go choose from for every shoot. Now, a year later, before every shoot I visit this:

Cue angels singing when the doors open. This is my baby…my 10×8 climate controlled facility that I add new items too…oh….well….I shouldn’t say how often because it would make me sound like I’m addicted to buying props. Let’s just say I add to it quite frequently! {It looks a little empty right now. There are two chairs out being reupholstered and a settee is on its way. Might need to go shop some more, too…..hmmmm…} I love how my clients have fallen in love with using props and how they request to have certain pieces incorporated into their shoots. It makes me very happy! When chosen well and utilized correctly, I feel that props and accessories can add so much depth and meaning to your photography.

OKAY, I’M INTRIGUED! WHAT IS A PROP/ACCESSORY?

My definition of a prop for photography would be anything that the subject holds or touches and/or something near the subject that adds to the story and dimension of the picture. An accessory would be something worn by the subject (hair pieces, jewelry, hats, even flowers).

WHERE DO I BEGIN LOOKING FOR THINGS LIKE THESE?

You can find stuff everywhere! Obviously, I tend to favor antiques or vintage inspired items but it doesn’t have to be vintage to make for a cool picture. I was in Stein Mart one day and they had a floor to ceiling wall FULL of gorgeous ruffled pillows in a variety of shapes and colors. I grabbed one thinking it would be great for an upcoming newborn shoot. Sadly, the newborn kept slipping off the pillow so it was a bust for that shoot. On my way to a senior shoot I grabbed the pillow, thinking maybe I could incorporate it somehow and it wound up being the perfect final subtle touch for these pics….

As small business owners I know extra time is something we have very little of, but it is worth it to take an hour or two every now and then and search for fun things. If we can’t make time for shopping, then we are just too busy!! I am fortunate enough to live in a large city and have about seven large antique shops that always seem to hold some treasure for me.

For accessories I frequent Nordstrom Rack, Forever XXI (for those of you who don’t have those, try H&M), and online stores such as Nicole Moore Vintage Headbands, Dolce Mia Vita, LaRose Couture, and Gracylu Designs. I would love to have a collection of truly vintage headwear but the ladies of yesteryear had really small heads and something has happened between then and now and well, our heads are larger. I have found it more economical to look for vintage inspired pieces when it comes to accessories.

WHAT DO I LOOK FOR?

Look for things that have texture, that are random, that have interesting lines, or that are just plain beautiful!! Sometimes I have an agenda when I shop, sometimes I don’t. The most productive trips have been those where I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I have an obsession with chairs, parasols, and suitcases so those items jump out at me first but I also scan for fun, unusual items. I have my six year old daughter trained now too on what works for a picture and so I take her with me and she has found some great stuff for me, like this basket and this ladder which alone were just “okay”, but together added great texture to this picture:

And this amazing old paint splattered ladder:

Ask yourself too, when you are about to make a purchase, if it will photograph well (with or without sprucing up). I found this fabulous rusted chandelier for $20 but there is no way it would have shown up in the woods in its original state. I sprayed it lightly with some matte white paint and it gave it just enough contrast to be a nice textural element in a pic. It is now my most requested prop by senior girls. The chair in this picture was upholstered in a dirty peach velvet and the wood was painted peach (yuck!). Repainted in a dove gray and upholstered in a textured velvet tone on tone gives it much more interest now.

I fell in love with the tufting on this little French chair but the upholstery was a hideous shade of pale green and there was no way it would photograph well. I had it recovered in a cobalt blue crushed velvet and….. wah-lah!! Now it is a gorgeous pop of color.

Speaking of chairs, look for ones with intriguing upholstery, carvings, shapes and lines.

You can’t go wrong with suitcases. They work perfectly from newborns to teens.

Also look for things your clients can interact with. It really helps them to relax and to get those beautifully candid shots.

One little side note…I bought this bicycle off of Craig’s list three hours before the shoot. I just really REALLY wanted a bicycle and felt I needed one for this engagement session. What I didn’t know is that my clients are avid cyclists and they were SO excited to have this incorporated into their shoot. Don’t you love it when things work out like that??

Just remember that you are going to be hauling these things around and pulling them in and out of storage and the car. Your props need to not only be of interest and quality, but sturdy as well, and not so valuable that if it breaks (or your client breaks it) your world comes to an end.

… I am literally holding my breath I am so excited to see each of these images! Isn’t Angela’s work incredible?! I am dying to shoot with her! And guess what… There’s more! Stay tuned, cause tomorrow Angela will be covering what to do once you’ve found your amazing props! I can’t wait!

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  1. PaveiPhotos says:

    love love love all your props!

  2. Kalli says:

    Love, love, love! I absolutely was drawn to every image! GREAT post!

  3. brooke V says:

    I love this post! I have been looking for a chair for a while- hope to find the right one soon

  4. Wendy Norman says:

    I love props too!! They definitely give an otherwise ho-hum shoot that bit of spark to turn it into an amazing shoot. I even let my clients help pick their props, with “The Prop Shop” on my site. They can “shop” for their props and then tell me what strikes their fancy. Someday I hope I have a storage unit like the one in this post…made me drool a little!! 🙂

  5. What a fabulous post! I’m a prop freak too but have had to “make-do” on a limited budget but I love scouring tj maxx and hobby lobby for unique items….thanks for sharing so many inspiring images!

  6. Kathy says:

    Oh my….I am just….wow! In heaven! These are amazing and SO inspiring! What a great idea! Can’t wait for the next post!

  7. Stephanie says:

    Love the guest post and Angela’s photos! I can’t wait to try out some new props! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Kim says:

    Love the guest post! I wish we had more antique shops in our little town!

  9. Spanki Mills says:

    LOVE it sister! can’t wait to see part 2… way to go my friend!

  10. ness says:

    Wow, these are amazing pictures and the props add something special. It has inspired me to think about props, and I love antique shopping, thank you for the suggestion )))

  11. Amy says:

    Wow, such great ideas! I’m off to scour Ebay now!

  12. Linda says:

    Thank you so much! Love your prop room!

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