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Make photography props go from cheesy to gorgeous!

This is Part II of a guest post written by the incredible Angela of AMR Photography Studio. If you missed Part I, you can find it here.


Four rules:

Rule #1: the more people in the picture, the fewer props you will need. You don’t want your picture to be messy. In these instances I will add interest through my shooting location and their clothing.

Rule #2: consider your backdrop and don’t try to compete with it. If you are in an urban area (whether modern or rustic) you should be extremely choosy about the props you use. Often times there is so much drama created by the textural elements around you that a misuse of props can easily look too staged. I really feel that nature settings are more conducive to you mixing different styles and a higher number of props than urban ones. I tend to use more accessories than props in an urban setting.

Rule #3: Avoid the “cheese” factor. You don’t want it to look like a department store studio shot.  A few well-chosen and well-placed pieces can make more of a statement than if you set up a scene with eight pieces. The whole idea is to create dimension and to catch the viewer’s eye. You don’t have to tell the whole story…just give the viewer give enough to trigger creative flow and then let the mind fill in the rest. Like in this scene we were going for a 1950’s party feel and there was so much more we could have added to it, but it just spoke volumes more with one well placed record player.

Rule #4: have a vision and make sure you plan it out before the day of the shoot. THIS IS SO CRITICAL! I’m not saying that inspiration can’t come in the moment (it can) but planning it out means you analyze it, which is another way to eliminate the possibility of cheese factor. I take a limited number of sessions per month because I like to put a ton of creativity into each one. I draw my inspiration from vintage ads, magazines, current high fashion publications, and most importantly, my clients. You want everything you use to point to your client, not distract. Your ultimate goal is to take an intriguing portrait that still reflects who they are. About 75 percent of my clientele are high school senior girls, so the bulk of my examples will be using them. I talk to my clients on the phone after we book their shoot and discuss the feel and look of what they are after. Sometimes they have certain ideas and sometimes they want me to plan out everything. I also work with them closely on clothing selection, send them ideas, and have them text or email me pictures of every single outfit they are bringing with them to the shoot. This helps me get all the set design planned out ahead of time and allows me to choose the right props to bring to accentuate their look (or go shop for something, of course). I try to have at least three “scenes” that I set up for every shoot.

Scenes can be inspired by…

…something near and dear to the client.

One of my 2010 seniors, Natalie, is a classical vocalist and is currently pursuing a career in opera. I wanted to reflect her love for music so I borrowed a vintage music stand from a friend, had Natalie bring her favorite opera scores, and then the bird was in there because, in the fantasy world created by this picture, sweet little white feathered birds land artistically on your music stand while you are vocalizing in the forest. Yes, they do. This is what we got:

… or a piece that is absolutely beautiful… this old doll crib….

..or an outfit……

Michelle texted me pics of the outfits she was bringing to her shoot, and one of them was this beautiful peach 1920’s style BCBG dress that she had worn to a wedding. To bring out the vintage vibe we added an old parasol, a dainty chair, and a flower. We shot this look right at sunset for a dramatic lighting effect and got this.

The night before her shoot, Jenny texted me a picture of a 1940’s dress she picked up that day at a vintage clothing store. I freaked out when I got her text and my immediate reaction was, “I need a typewriter, white gloves, desk, chair, old books, and some sleeping pills because I’m so excited I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight but I need to because I need to be rested up for this shoot tomorrow”.  No sleeping pills available but I already had the typewriter and books, the chair and vintage table were borrowed from my sister’s living room, and luckily the next morning, I found these gloves for $11 at one of my favorite antique stores.

Here is the end result:

MMMMMMmmmm. I love this job! It is so much fun!!!


No problem. Purchase small things you could tuck away in a closet and start building up a collection of accessories. Look how something small can add interest to a picture.





and last, but not

Please note to always use fresh flowers and don’t store these in a closet…fyi-they will die.  Be sure to make a statement with either utter simplicity or crazy excess. These shots were inspired by a 1950’s fashion layout and I used three dozen roses to create drama.

Photography is a true art form so be creative. It will make your work stand out from everyone else’s around you!! Sometimes I think we get so caught up in how many sessions we can cram into one week and billings and editing/ordering/etc., that we can easily lose sight of the art of our craft. Have fun, look for inspiration, and strive to create portraits that future generations can look back on with wonder and appreciation.

Thank you so much to Angela for this incredible guest post! Please make sure you leave a comment and let her know how much you enjoyed it! It’s a lot of work and can even be nerve wracking to guest write so let her know you appreciate it. I know I loved it!!!

Also, I’m excited to let you know that next week is going to be awesome! The entire week is dedicated to newborn photography! With awesome tutorials, articles and a bunch of giveaways! I’m so excited!! See you back here on Monday, I hope you have a great weekend! I’m going to be packing (which I despise doing) so if you’re in the neighborhood feel free to come do it for me! 😉



  1. PaveiPhotos says:

    ohhh Newborn!!! cant wait!!

  2. Amy says:

    I have a loved reading these posts! SO inspirational! I admit I have never dabbled with props before, but after reading these posts I am going to try! I like the idea of starting small, like an umbrella, or headbands, or a few hats. Incorporating these small details can alter the feel of an image, creating a huge impact. These photos are perfect examples of how it’s done, and done right! Thank you so much Angela for guest writing on this blog, I have enjoyed reading and your images are breathtaking.

  3. Kim says:

    I have a couple of senior portrait sessions scheduled for this weekend, and this series of posts is really making me want to go in search of some new props to use!

  4. awesome post ….
    great inspiration and great tips !!
    love your last 4 sentences !!! so true .

  5. Sharee says:

    Wonderful guest posts!!! Her images DO draw you in!! I’m so inspired!

  6. Suzi says:

    Thanks so much for sharing Angela! I have just recently started trying to utilize more props to make things more interesting! I loved reading your tips and ideas!!!!

  7. Kathy says:

    These are so amazing….I’m totally inspired and as soon as I have some extra time and cash am totally visiting the hundreds of great antique shops!

  8. Carrie says:

    Oh, my goodness! Angela’s work is INCREDIBLE!!! I absolutely LOVE her style! What an inspiring two posts on her work! Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Angela says:

    I love the idea of taking senior photos. It’s such a memorable time of coming of age. I think one must treat the shoot with such tender, loving care. You’ve represented these people beautifully through the portraits. Thank you for the inspiration!


  10. Natalie says:

    Angeal thank you so much for sharing your amazing work here. You have changed my opinion of props! I’ve never been a fan of them thanks to all those travelling ‘kiddie photographers’ you see in the middle of shopping malls. It’s always hard to see the subject through all the fruit, hats, wooden trains and flowers 🙂
    Your images are truly timeless and extremely elegant,
    Thank you also to Leah for creating this amazing website to share.

    • Angela says:

      Yay!! Yes, It’s time to bring back props to a positive light. All owners of antique booths out there are cheering knowing that many sales are coming their way. HAHAHA!!
      Thank you for your kind words, and yes, thank you Leah for having this forum for all of us!

  11. Morgan says:

    Awesome post! All of your ideas are incredible. It makes me want to watch Coco Before Chanel.
    I’m excited for newborn week! I am hoping you got an interview with my favorite photographer!
    Thanks Leah and Angela!

  12. Ajia says:

    Angela, thank you so much for your guest blogs! I am obsessed with props, but still fine-tuning my usage of them so that I create drama without clutter – something you have clearly mastered! I am so inspired and can’t wait to try new things.

  13. robin says:

    I really enjoyed and appreciated this post! i don’t think i have ever had the opportunity to hear someone wax poetic with such enthusiasm about their props 🙂 I loved having the inside perspective on how you make decisions when styling and setting up a shoot. Well done and Leah you have some fabulously inspiring posts here on your blog!

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