If you’re a new photographer, you’ve probably heard some differing opinions about whether or not to give your clients props to incorporate during their sessions. A “prop” in photography would be any object that isn’t naturally occurring in the location of your shoot. Honestly, for a while I was against using anything other than my clients and their posing abilities. Then a bride showed up to her session props in hand! Or “in bag,” I should say. What was I to do? It threw me off, to say the least. But, being thrown into that situation forced me to come up with some criteria for using props in my photography. The carefully considered prop can give you some amazing results if you understand why you’re using it.
In this post I’m gonna cover how you can evaluate your prop usage on a case by case basis. I’ll give you three basic questions you can ask yourself that will help you determine the answer. Because if you know why you’re using a prop, you can confidently proceed and get great photos.
That’s the first question you should ask yourself as the photographer. What’s the message? Is there a mood you’re going for? Are you advertising something? For example, are you trying to sell champagne? Then you must have champagne glasses! Is this a senior portrait? Then you’re probably gonna need a cap or a gown. Because of the pandemic right now preventing graduates from having a ceremony, the mom of a senior I just photographed wanted her daughter to don a mask and gloves. A mask and gloves are props! And, in this case, kind of funny ones for a graduation photo! But the current situation calls us to include them. They speak to the mood of the times. The message communicated: this graduation year is like no other. ENTER: mask and gloves (looking unassuming)
In theater, the right prop choices can be crucial for the telling of a story. The actors have something to hold, swing around, gesture with, destroy–whatever the script demands. Not only can it add to the scene, but it can also give the actor some direction. How he handles the prop, in some cases, demonstrates who his character is. But what about in photography? Does the prop help your client to be himself? Is using a prop helping to convey the authenticity of the moment? You know, the moment you just happen to be capturing in your camera? You’ll be able to tell right away. If you give you’re client a prop, give him directions on how to use it, and he still looks awkward, chunk it. Move on.
*Looking “natural” also includes hand placement. You might enjoy reading a post I wrote about that topic*: Is Determining Hand Placement for Photographs Your Job? Yes!
During a stage production, props are carefully managed. Props must be labeled and categorized depending on where they need to be on the stage. During rehearsals, the path of the prop is analyzed so that at the end of every show the stage manager isn’t running around looking for a missing key, a watch fob, or a passport (all things I had to search for when involved in a stage production). Much thought goes into the choosing of props as well as their protection. If your props aren’t warranting that kind of care, they might be unnecessary.
You’re in charge of your photography sessions. That means you get to say what stays and what goes. The clients don’t have a mirror in front of them to see if they look awkward or natural. You’re the mirror. Be the mirror. Then be honest. And, if there wasn’t much pre-thought put into prop choices and their use doesn’t convey a particular message, re-calibrate. Asking yourself the three basic questions (message, authenticity, and thought), can help you decide whether to use or to discard a prop. If you’re still confused, look at it this way: props are just objects waiting to audition on your photography stage. Give them a chance. If they’re not right for the part, they’ll try again another time. Such is the life of a prop.