Have you ever looked at a photo and thought to yourself, this picture is EVERYTHING. It happens to me all the time. There are undoubtedly a handful of things that go into making a stunning photo. But the way it’s styled and other intentional details are always among things that get you to do a double take. So what exactly is the secret behind how to style photos that are memorable? What makes those perfectly crafted images — the kind that make you stop mid-scroll on Instagram or want to pin on Pinterest — so inspiring?
How To Style Photos Like A Master Prop Stylist
When it comes to other photography niches – food, maternity, bridal – props are considered another character in the bigger photo story. However, when it comes to shooting brand photography, props are oftentimes considered but generally overlooked. In order to create relevant lifestyle content, there is some strategy involved in choosing what props to use. Start by thinking about two things: 1) your ideal customer or client, and 2) unexpected function.
What are the other interests of your ideal customer? What are some things they like? What kind of things would they respond to? Determine some objects you can use that are in line with these questions as well as your brand and you will speak to your customer on a few different levels through your content.
Before you start buying things up left and right for how to style photos, don’t forget that sourcing props can come from anywhere. So take inventory of what you already own, what you can borrow, or check first if it’s something you can rent. This brings me to the second thing I normally think about when it comes to props: the concept of “unexpected function.”
Just because a mug is normally used for drinking doesn’t mean it can’t be used to hold pencils for your shoot. Old jars can be succulent pots, wine bottles as flowers vases, scarves as blankets, crystals as bookends – the list goes on. By thinking outside the box and using your props for things that they aren’t normally used for, the lifestyle you are selling will really begin to take shape. Your content will standout from others, your photos will create new inspiration for your customers, and your creativity will be stretching the possibilities for future clients.
Creating visual content both for my brands and my clients means I’ve built up a pretty robust collection of props over the years. When it comes to how to style photos, here are some of my favorites as of late:
Prop: The Lightbox
Good for: Flatlays, Lifestyle, Night Light Messaging, Short & To-the-Point Sayings
I saw a couple of bloggers and Instagram accounts feature a lightbox in their photos and thought it was such a great way to add in some typography into the mix. I especially love it because it reminds me of an updated take on marquee lights (and reminiscent of the kind of signage you see at movie theaters). If you’re looking for an easy way to infuse some more personality into your visual content or set the tone (i.e. how @thepinkdiary gives some context to her packing here with the words “Next Stop Italy”), this will definitely do the trick. This is the one I have and I really like it because I’m able to prop it up on a tabletop or hang it up on the wall.
You make time fly, you make sleep and showers overrated, you turn my hair white, but when I take a moment to see how far we have come, I see the strongest and happiest little toddler and that's all a mama needs. You go girl 🖤 and thank you for making me grow 🌿 Happy Mother's Day 💪🏻💅🏻 #whphomesweethome
The Prop: The Letter Board
Good for: Lifestyle, Interiors, Announcements (Sales, Promos, Collaborations), Motivational Quotes, Recipes, (Longer) Sassy Sayings
Who knew the letter board would be cool again? I used to associate this thing with conferences and boring elementary school announcements. But now I can’t get enough of them. It has a similar effect as the lightbox but it’s better if you want to display longer sayings and messaging. Also, if you’re shooting interiors, the letter board is flatter (as in depth) and can double as wall art (i.e. how @brookandpeony has it displayed here). I personally have one hanging as part of an art gallery layout surrounded by other framed photos and prints. There are also a ton of options to choose from when it comes to board size and colors. Check out letter board brands Three Potato Four and Letter Folk for other gorgeous ideas of what you can do. On a budget? Get the (slightly more affordable) look here.
The Prop: Plants
Good for: Flatlays, Lifestyle, Interiors, Workspace, Brunch/Coffee Shots
Plants are like an instant mood lifter for me. Maybe it’s because they’re so natural or they convey more life. Or that they are the epitome of minimalism. Whatever it is, they have a knack for making images more compelling and engaging. So they are definitely things worth having on-hand when creating custom imagery. And if you’ve ever wondered how plants (along with bowls of fruit) always look so perfect in photos – nothing wilted or bruised – it’s because they’re not real. In fact, they’re as prop-py as you can get: 100% plastic and 1000% perfect when photographed. Of course, not all artificial plants can pass for the real thing so be careful of overdoing it. The kinds I’ve come to use frequently as props are monstera leaves and tiny succulents. They won’t overwhelm your photos and, as you can see here, are the perfect accent for all types of shots.
The Prop: Zipper Pouches
Good for: Flatlays, Lifestyle, Travel, Beauty/Fashion, Workspace, Brunch/Coffee Shots
Great visual content gets the consumer to imagine him or herself in your photos either living the lifestyle you’re selling or using your product. Pouches like these are something that both product-based and service-based businesses can both use. They’re beyond easy to incorporate into your photos. If you’re a coach or consultant that helps entrepreneurs, you can use a utility pouch in your workspace pictures. Create a flatlay with your “work kit” (passport, laptop, phone, moleskin notebook, pens, etc.); you can even get your business card casually in the shot. If your product is small or an accessory, use the pouch as part of a styled look and give your product some context. I have a few different zipper pouches in my arsenal of props depending on what color, size, or look I’m going for. These are great, particularly because they are unisex, have a bit more character to them, and are super affordable since they come as a set of four in different colors.
Where To Find Props And Ideas
In addition to around your house or through rental companies, you can also source props on your travels, thrift and vintage shops, flea markets, craft stores (like Michael’s), boutique shops, as well as bigger e-tailers and retailers (like Amazon, Target, etc.). If you’re working with a photographer, ask them if they might have specific props that you’re looking for. If so, you won’t have to lug around more than you have to for the shoot. When it comes to inspiration, Instagram and Pinterest have no shortage of ideas for you to peruse through.
Props are a great way to infuse more of your (and your brand’s) personality in your visual content. They can help to make your product shine or turn an otherwise basic photo around by adding layers of interesting details. And when it comes to creating lifestyle imagery for your brand, you can use props to associate your offering with other products that resonate with your customer or client. This will reinforce how well-suited you are for their interests.
If you’re planning an upcoming content shoot or are looking to start a prop collection of your own, start by downloading our Props Stylist Worksheet. It’s like a shopping list, expense tracker, and planner all in one. I created it to help keep my team and I organized. I promise, it will make things much easier to keep track of.
Are there certain props that you use when creating custom imagery for your brand? Drop us a line in the comments and share some of your other ideas. I’m always on the lookout to add to my growing collection!
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