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Have you ever looked at a photo and thought to yourself: how did they take that?! Admittedly, it happens to me all the time. I love seeing how creative people can get because it makes you realize the possibilities truly are endless when it comes to creating an eye-catching photo for your brand or business. From the way it’s styled to other intentional details—these are just a few elements that can 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
In the photography world—especially in niches like food, maternity, bridal—props are oftentimes considered another character in the bigger photo story. However, when it comes to shooting lifestyle photography for a brand, props may be considered but generally overlooked.
In order to create relevant lifestyle content, there is some strategy involved in choosing what props to use. You can 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 or would resonate with? What would they respond to? Make a list of objects you can use to enhance your visual content that will speak to your customer on a few different levels.
But hang on. Before you go down a rabbit hole and start buying props up left and right to style your 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. Lean into 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 transform into 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, that visual story and lifestyle you are selling as part of your brand experience will really begin to take shape. You’ll get your audience to pause and think differently, 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 for my brand and for 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
Using a lightbox used to be super popular with lifestyle and mommy bloggers because it is such an easy way to add in some typography into the mix. The look 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, 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.
The Prop: The Letter Board
Good for: Lifestyle, Interiors, Announcements (Sales, Promos, Collaborations), Motivational Quotes, Recipes, (Longer) Sassy Sayings
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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 letter board has definitely had its moment thanks to the mommy blogger. But even so, it’s still a great way to get your messaging into your actual photo content. Honestly, who knew the letter board would be cool again? I used to associate this thing with conferences and boring elementary school announcements.
The letter board has a similar effect as the lightbox but it’s a better fit 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. I’ll take them over flowers any day! Plants are great to use as props because they have a knack for adding life to certain shots while still maintaining a calm and zen-like vibe about the image.
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 likely 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 positions your product or offering in a way that makes it easy for your ideal customers to envision themselves either living the lifestyle you’re selling or using your product in their own lives. 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 service provider (like a coach, creative services, or consultant), 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 position your business card casually in the shot. If you have a product-based business and 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 checking around your house or sourcing things 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 brand’s personality into 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 can be super effective in showing them how much they need your product or service!
If you’re planning an upcoming content shoot or are looking to start a prop collection of your own, you can use my Props Stylist Tracker. It’s an interactive tool that’s like a shopping list, expense tracker, and planner all in one. I created it to help keep my team and I organized and it will make things much easier for you to keep track of everything.
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!