If you’ve ever scrolled through Instagram or Pinterest, looked at a photo and thought to yourself; where does this photographer find ALL these beautiful things? Then this post is for you!
I’m one of those photographers who love to do all styling myself. In fact I think it’s WHY I love photography; so I can “paint” with things and then freeze the moment.
There are undoubtedly a handful of things that go into making a stunning photo; great light, good composition, captivating storytelling and then of course styling with beautiful props.
Therefore, if you truly wish to up your game as a photographer or stylist you must explore the art of prop hunting. And in this blog post I will give you my best tips for scouting and starting your own prop collection.
Starting your prop collection doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re willing to spend some time looking for those little treasure you will be able to find priceless props that will look amazing in your food, still life and interior photos.
Where to Look For Beautiful Props
Props can come from anywhere and it doesn’t have to cost you anything. So take inventory of what you already own, what you have in your kitchen cabinets, in your basement or loft. I’ve gotten some precious vessels, cups, cutlery and plates from my grandma and some handmade table runners from my mother-in-law, so if possible ask around in your family to find charming treasures for your prop collection.
Flea Markets & Antique Fairs VS Second Hand shops
To be honest I tend to avoid big Flea Markets and Antiques Fairs that often happens during the weekends, because I get stressed out with all the people and the higher prices.
I like to shop in a calm state of mind, so I can focus. Therefore, I prefer to go hunting in second hand shops on a weekday morning when the shop is quiet and the dealer is more likely to reduce the price.
Shop in Small Towns To Find Cheap Treasures
I will often drive out to nearby towns – away from the big city. The smaller the town the better the deals – and often they also have better things. A good tip is to do some investigating before you make your trip. Google around and find out where you can find some little-known second hand shops in places you maybe normally don’t shop.
Visit Antique Dealers to Become a Better Prop Hunter
I also like to visit Antique dealers because even though they are in the more expensive end, you can be lucky to find something amazing. To me buying antique props and furnitures are an investment. I can use it as a prop, but I can also sell it again for a good price, because antiques rarely drop in value if you take good care of them.
Another great thing about visiting antique shops is that you start to get a sense of how things are priced and what the real value are on specific things. That means, when you’re out hunting for props in more primitive second hand shops and flea markets you can spot a good bargain when you see it.
Shop Props Online
I also have some favourite places to shop online; Etsy and Ebay. A little warning though; it can be very time consuming because you have to look through so much crap to find the winning props.
Ebay is fun because you can bid on many of the things and be lucky to get a really good deal. Etsy is great for finding handmade things, ceramics, linen and ribbon + it’s a wonderful feeling to support creative makers around the world.
What Props Should You Look For?
You can look for whatever your heart desires. Building a prop collection is very much based on your style and taste. But to make the props look beautiful in your photographs there are two important rules to keep in mind:
1. Avoid props with too much shine. Look for a matte finish because this will be easier to work with when you style. Shiny things will often catch the light and can take away attention from your main subject. If you do get a prop that is shiny make sure to photograph it on overcast days.
2. Stick to a classic Color Palette. When I started my prop collection more than 10 years ago, I didn’t have any plan in mind. I didn’t know that having a cohesive prop collection is key to great styling. I just grabbed what I thought was pretty no matter if it was pink, polkadot red, bright yellow or full of whimsical patterns.
So I had to learn the hard way! Every time I was trying to style a flower image or a food image I struggled. Something was not working. It looked messy and confusing. The colourful props was competing for attention with the main star of the photo.
I finally discovered that if I kept my props in neutral colors, styling was much easier because everything all blended in nicely and the food and flowers got all the attention. I no longer had colourful props that was competing for attention.
How To Store Your Prop Collection
One of the challenges many photographers face is space limitation. I have many students that live in small spaces and are very conscious about what they bring into their home.
The good news is that you don’t need a large collection. Actually, you can have a fantastic prop collection in a box, or you can dedicate ONE shelve to it. You only need a few plates – preferably some small plates because they are easier to style. You need maybe a pretty scissor, 2-3 pieces of cutlery, a couple of vessels, 1-2 cups, a tea towel, and a linen napkin. That’s a great starting point.
You can truly get a long way with just a few pretty props in neutral colors. Keep the styling simple and stick to a strict color palette.
Always take a few test shots to see if your prop is actually working great with the camera. The camera tend to love pieces with texture and calm colors, so if you keep that in mind it will be very helpful.
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