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Putting props to practical use in your pictures

If working with color is not your “thing” or if you want to take it a step further, using props can be very inspirational and can help to spice up your imagery. It doesn’t matter if you photograph babies, seniors, weddings, or fine art, props can be the key to creating more inspiring imagery. Whether serving as an aid for a model to pose with or telling a story, a prop is a helpful agent in your picture.

In a world of greater mortals (2011) This octopus was my biggest investment to date when this picture was created, and I used it to create an entire story for my picture. The octopus was the star of the show, allowing me full creativity and imagination when planning for the image. When I shot the picture, I ended up using vegetable oil all over the subject and octopus to give it a more realistic effect.
In a world of greater mortals (2011)
This octopus was my biggest investment to date when this picture was created, and I used it to create an entire story for my picture. The octopus was the star of the show, allowing me full creativity and imagination when planning for the image. When I shot the picture, I ended up using vegetable oil all over the subject and octopus to give it a more realistic effect.

Often when a model is being photographed, it can be difficult to know what to do with the subject. Questions of where his or her hands go or how to position the body will undoubtedly arise. after all, in every photograph of a person, the subject has to be doing something. A prop is an amazing way of allowing the subject to interact with something. the more that the person can naturally interact, the more he or she seems comfortable in the frame. the goal of the photographer is usually not to photograph someone who looks out of place or stiff; we want people to look immersed into their surroundings as if they are meant to be there.
In my work, I want each character to blend into the scene. I want to create characters that mesh with their surroundings. This is where props can come in very handy. It is great to have a subject interact with a prop in some way to help tell the story, so that the subject is not carrying the weight of the entire image on his or her shoulders. If you are photographing someone who loves football, it makes sense to put a football in the frame. But if you take that love of football one step further, why not have the subject actively throwing the ball? that gives the subject something to do and makes the prop relevant, rather than being too obviously placed in the frame.
Props need to blend into the scene they are being used in. I often come across props that are placed in photographs— but without being used in photographs. If you want to make a statement in your image about recycling and you decide to place plastic bottles and packaging all around the frame, it is easy to make that look forced. It might be instinctive to place the props at equal distances apart and all over the frame to cover the space. you might get your point across, but the image will look staged and the props will look like props, rather than a natural part of the scene.
Adjusting oxygen levels (2011) This self-portrait is one of many I made using orbs, which are actually Styrofoam balls found at a craft store and spray painted. They give a surreal effect, and I often get asked what my intended meaning was. To me, these are thought bubbles that circle the subject as if physically displaying what is in her imagination.
Adjusting oxygen levels (2011)
This self-portrait is one of many I made using orbs, which are actually Styrofoam balls found at a craft store and spray painted. They give a surreal effect, and I often get asked what my intended meaning was. To me, these are thought bubbles that circle the subject as if physically displaying what is in her imagination.

The believability of props is very important to the scene. Does the prop truly go with the scene in which it has been placed? Is there a way to make it seem more natural? How is it going to interact with the subject? These are questions that i ask myself when using any prop. I try to always have some sort of interaction with the subject and prop to make the scene more believable, while at the same time always making sure that the prop has a place in the picture rather than seeming to be placed arbitrarily.
I find that using props is an amazing place to start finding inspiration. They are very easy to come by, and you do not need an extravagant prop (or budget) to create a dynamic image. Sometimes the cheapest props are the most fun to use. When I am feeling stuck for inspiration I love to start with a prop, because it is a natural storytelling item. It is a more concrete starting point than color in that it exists physically as an object and therefore was created for a reason. Take a chair. There are many ideas that can come from a chair, and most of them stem from why the chair was created in the first place. A chair offers a natural way for a model to interact with it, is easy to come by, and just might spice up your image. So if you are stuck for inspiration, why not challenge yourself by walking in to your local thrift shop, giving yourself a $5 budget, and getting yourself a new prop?

Practical pointers: get the most out of your props

  • Being great at posing and directing models will help you a lot when using props, so try to improve your skills in this area prior to taking on an ambitious shoot. Your model (or you, if you shoot self-portraits) will need to pose with an unfamiliar item, so try to determine the angles that work best for your scene first.
  • Use the prop to enhance the connection the character has with his or her surroundings. This is where they can come in very useful.
  • Integrate your props into the image without making it obvious that you placed them there. Don’t force it; you want the props to look like a natural part of the scene and not like props.
  • Don’t limit your use of props to portraiture; still life features props as the subject in many different ways. Treat a prop as a clue for the viewer to understand the story of the image better. You can even try the effect of adding one to a street photography scene.

Inspiration is not a far-flung concept, out of reach to all but a few great artists, and nor is it a matter of chance; as a photographer it’s possible to train your mind to see the creative possibilities in any situation. Featuring the pioneering work of author Brooke Shaden and a selection of carefully chosen contributing photographers, Inspiration in Photography book provides the perfect balance of insight and instruction to help you find inspiration whenever you need it and capitalise on it every time.
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Inspiration in Photography, Brooke ShadenInspiration in Photography by Brooke Shaden.

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