The last thing you wanna do as a photographer is disappoint your client or, more importantly, your client’s mother! If a bride or a senior or a mother of one of those two, spent time thinking about, purchasing, and then packing up props for the shoot, take heed. Would she understand if you didn’t use any of her props? Nope. Would you? Neither would I. I was once the mother of seniors–although I took their photos. And, I was once a bride–although I was scared of my photographer (read about that in my post Wedding Day Coverage: Photography).
If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve stood up for my props–most client’s would. As a photographer, you’re expected to know how to use props, use them well, and keep your client happy. This can create what I call “prop pressure”. Here are five tips on using props in your photography sessions and avoiding prop pressure.
Don’t delay when you know props are in the wings. The sooner you audition them, the sooner you can move on from them. I hate to keep props waiting (yes, I know props aren’t people, but bear with me). Think of your props as actors who are trying out for a production.
As a theater director, it’s my job to run the auditions well. I make sure that every actor has a chance to get on stage and read from the script. The process should go quickly. Part of this process includes deliberating with my assistant director about what we saw and who we think should play what role. But, I usually have my cast chosen before we get to the deliberation room. However, if I veer off of my initial vision, or we delay too long, the casting choices suffer. Something’s just off. It’s the same when choosing props. Get them out right away, try them out, then go with your gut, your keen eye, and your lens. That’s step one to avoiding prop pressure. Don’t delay.
Even though I just told you to get those props out of the bag or the basket right away, you still need to take some time placing them. The carefully placed prop can give you some great results. Arrange it. Then take the time to adjust anything or anyone else affected by the prop addition. If you don’t, then you’re almost guaranteeing that none of those photos will be deliverable to your client.
At an engagement session shoot in December, it was both chilly and windy. The bride’s hair kept getting blown out of place and she was cold. One of the props she’d brought was a blanket, so I thought it could help with at least one of those issues. After the first shot, I realized that the blanket wasn’t evenly distributed around the couple. So, I adjusted. But, I was nervous! I was rushing! I didn’t take enough time to place it. Prop pressure had gotten to me! It’s your job to get the props in the shot, but also to help them to put their best foot forward.
Here’s some basic props you might use and things to look out for:
Blankets–no tags showing; each person is evenly covered; make sure the color of the blanket compliments the client’s attire
Flowers/Bouquets–best petals forward; no squished flowers or dead leaves in the frame; don’t block anyone’s face
Glasses (clear)–make sure there’s something inside of them and the color looks good with the colors you’ve got going on in the shot
Signs–Don’t have the client hold the sign if you can avoid it. Stand it next to them or behind them, but holding a sign means also dealing with hand placement
At a recent photo shoot, I knew the mother of the graduating senior wanted a picture of her daughter in her cap and gown AND wearing a mask and surgical gloves. Because mom was there, she was able to help her daughter put on the items and arrange them a lot quicker than I could have. If you’re photographing a couple, have them assist each other. You might even get a romantic and natural shot of them while they’re helping each other.
If no one is there to assist you, then it’s up to you. Try and remember rule #1 of people photography, though. Don’t touch your client! But, if you need to adjust a prop that’s on his person, always ASK permission first! Always give your clients the option of adjusting themselves first–you just direct them.
In my blog post, Using Props in Photography for Amazing Results: Knowing Why You’re Using Them, I discuss three ways you can know if a prop isn’t working or is simply unnecessary. Evaluating it’s purpose, it’s authenticity in the shot, and being honest about whether or not there was any real forethought put into it’s selection, will help you to use props efficiently in your photography sessions, avoid prop pressure and stay in control of your session.
Even if it seemed like the props worked in the moment, that doesn’t mean you have to keep or deliver ANY of them. In the end, you are the creative eyes behind the camera–and Light-room, or whatever editing software you use. Once you are able to look at the photo on your screen, you’ll know right away if it maintains the visual appeal it had on site. And, honestly, you’ll have so many other great photos to deliver to your client. They’ll never even miss the shots with the props, so don’t be afraid to remove those photos from your gallery. Don’t let those props pressure you into keeping those shots.
The bottom line is this–you’re the boss. If I’ve learned anything from my courses with wedding photographer, Katelyn James, http://katelynjames.com, it’s that. And–no matter where you are in your photography journey, you know more than your client’s do about photography. No cell phone photos here, thank you very much.
The five tactics I gave you will help you to maintain the flow of your session, and most importantly, avoid prop pressure. The biggest thing to remember: treat your props like people. First, treat them like actors and give them their auditions. Then treat a prop like a client and ask what his best side is. But, instead of waiting for a verbal answer, consult your viewfinder. And, while you’re looking through the view finder, keep giving him much needed direction and care.
Using props in your photography sessions can be pressure free, my friend. You’re in charge. Not the prop. You got this.