4 Reasons Why You Should Use Props In Portraiture


Props can be an important part of portraiture, product, and even landscape photography if you know how to use them properly. The main function of props is pretty much straightforward – they should improve the composition and add a certain visual interest to the main subject.

Many professional studios have typical props such as stools, pedestals, costume props, potted plants, blankets, hats and so on. However, you should know that almost any object can be a prop – you don’t have to buy specialized props for studio photography. Even everyday objects such as lamps, books, balloons or pillows can make your images more dynamic and contribute to the storytelling potential of your photo shoots.

The following tips will help you understand why it’s useful to include props in your photo shoots!

1. Props Can Make A Posing Routine Easier

One of the most common issues in portraiture is not being able to make your model look and feel relaxed. Especially if your model gazes straight towards the camera in a formal pose, chances are the photo will look tense and overly posed.

In order to pose your subject in a more natural way, you can use props such as stools, tables, books, or flowers.  These objects can give your models something to focus on, which will make them less fidgety and easier to shoot. Using props is also very helpful when you have shy models – they will be less conscious of the camera if they have something to do (hold a book, sit on a stool and so on).

Of course, don’t include props if they aren’t necessary – certain photographs will definitely look more effective and more powerful without any distractions.

2. Props Can Impact The Overall Mood

Another important thing to remember is that props can affect the overall mood of your images.  The placement, color, and function of props you use can be as powerful as body posture or facial expressions of your model. For instance, a model that is surrounded by bright or colorful flowers can make the viewer feel cheerful and happy, while old furniture and dusty books can enhance a nostalgic atmosphere.

You can also create a quirky and whimsical mood with unusual props, such as large hats or flamboyant glasses. Don’t forget that the props you choose should enhance your model’s look. For instance, if your model has green eyes, a green-colored prop (such as a green chair or a green balloon) can emphasize this feature.

You can also use a light source as a prop by including it in the composition. This can work beautifully especially if you have an artsy looking table lamp.

Photo by Evan Dvorkin

3. Props Can Help You With Storytelling

There are two different approaches when it comes to enhancing storytelling with props. You can use obvious props for costume-themed and holiday-themed photo shoots, such as Santa’s white beard,  witch hat or angel’s wings. These are ideal props for kids – they will love them!

On the other hand, props can also be more subtly used to tell a story of your model’s job, interests and hobbies. In this case, you can include a musical instrument, headphones, ball, empty canvas and so on.

4. Props Can Make Regular Backdrops More Engaging

If you plan to use a backdrop in your photo shoot, it’s a great idea to coordinate your props with your backdrops.  For instance, you can use an assortment of white balloons in front of a white backdrop – this will create an ethereal and soothing atmosphere. On the other hand, for more dramatic effects, you can use blue chairs on a yellow backdrop – this will add a powerful visual weight to your photograph.

Always remember to choose your props wisely – the bigger they are, the more distracting they may become. The same goes for colors. You probably don’t want your props to be more important than the model, so make sure you don't overuse vibrant, highly saturated, colors in your props.

Since props should be optional fun elements in your photography, feel free to experiment, improvise, and be imaginative with them.  You will learn that there are many ways you can use an ordinary object as an engaging prop for your model.

In case you want to learn more about portraiture, feel free to check out the following links!

Further Resources:

  1. Bite Size Tips – Capturing Classic Portraiture Compositions
  2. Bite Size Tips: 3 Free Ebooks That Will Bring Your Portraiture Up To Scratch
  3. Take These 4 Steps To Successful Available Light Portraiture
  4. How to Boost Your Creativity By Including Props In Your Photography
  5. Top 3 Props Portrait Photographers Should Have
  6. Shooting Portraits With Weird And Wonderful Props

About Author

Jasenka is a photographer with a background in web design. You can find out more about her on her website, see some of her newest images at 500px or get to know her better here.

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