The impact of props on your photo campaign

Tip 12 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“Think about the images’ effects you want to cause on the viewer”

PART 8: Do I need props for my campaign shoot?

First of all, let’s clarify what really counts as props (short form of properties). According to the film dictionary of Uni Kiel, props are all objects on set including small items like e.g. telephones, food, plants as well as bigger ones like furniture, etc. Additionally, animals are called props too, even though they obviously require special treatment. Before we clarify, if you need one or more of these props for your imagery, please take in what I claim to call classical props at fashion shoots. You can then decide, if these are an option for you or if you certainly won’t use them. 

1. Furniture, especially chairs

Chairs are especially helping the model to adopt different poses besides standing ones. This adds a few variations to your images, which you should not underestimate. Some models really flourish when they sit down because they get the possibility to interact with an object that feels very natural and comfortable. Although an isolated chair or stool is taken out of any context (e.g. on plain backgrounds), it’s still very usual to have it in studio shoots. However, when it comes to outdoor, you can create a surreal and eye-catching effect with them (or other furniture), e.g. when you have them in the middle of a field.

2. Pieces of nature, e.g. flowers, plants, wood

It’s proven that plants and wood have a calming effect on humans. On top of that comes the fact that nowadays sustainability is becoming more and more important – and this is mostly symbolised by nature’s colours green and brown or respective materials (read more on hues in my #tip no. 9). As a brand, using them proves you to be modern and eco-minded, or in other words: trustworthy. Additionally, flowers and plants are able to mellow pictures to be more playful, soft and feminine. If that fits your brand’s identity, you might want to use this kind of prop.

3. Food & drinks, e.g. a glass of water, fruit, candy, fast food

Depending on the type of food or drink, these props can add a certain something to your campaign and define the whole look. While a glass of crystal clear water in the model’s hand is creating a pure and minimalist appeal, lollipops or bubblegums are quite a must when it comes to a colourful, cheeky or girly scene. Fruits as props are a classic due to ancient paintings and their crucial role in stories like Snow White or Adam and Eve. However, fruit can be used in many different ways – e.g. citrus fruits can create the perfect summer vibe, or be used in a colourful and refreshing context. Some fruits happen to be hyped for a while, as it was the case with pineapples recently. Then it’s up to you to decide if you like to swing aboard the train, or not. Fast food is another topic that is often used in fashion images, maybe because it contrasts the rather skinny ideal of beauty. Moreover does fast food and it’s packaging add colourful accents to a photo, or the model shows her- or himself in an edgy way of eating.

4. Cats, dogs, farm animals

Animals as props are great for emotionalising the viewer. They can also add a funny note or, if they have e.g. a special colour or pattern, a certain style to the fashion looks. You should also take account of the effect on the model that they can cause. Ensuring beforehand that the model has neither allergies nor phobias of the type of animal you have in your shoot is crucial. If that’s not the case, an animal prop can tickle out a new and unique attitude and emotion of the model that comes naturally.

5. Geometric objects, e.g. cubes

Oftentimes in studios, simple white cubes are used just like chairs. They don’t distract from the model or fashion look, but they still allow to have more posing variations resp. interactions of the model and the seat. Other ways of using cubes are to just subtly break the infinite white background by placing one or more cubes behind or around the model. The symmetry of these objects adds a minimalistic impression to your photos and they can compose an exciting location to be rather calm and neat. Needless to say, it is possible to use coloured cubes and accent whichever aspect you want to show by that.

6. Mirrors

Mirrors are symbols for (self-)reflection and cognition. They are also helping to create an impression of a deeper room sometimes. Depending on the angle of photographing the mirror and its surrounding, surreal duplications may evolve and make the image very interesting. A doubled model is another beautiful stylistic device, however, you should be aware of the fact that the time for retouching doubles as well.

7. Vehicles, e.g. cars, bikes

Besides constituting a status symbol when it comes to luxury cars, vehicles in photography can imply a feeling of freedom and dynamics in general. Staging a model inside a car (and taking the photos from the interior as well) pictures story-telling “insights” of a scene. The focus is then very much on the person. A model posing next to or on top of a car is often connoted with sex appeal which should be therefore used cautiously and sparingly. An exceptional case is antique cars which have their very own aura and authenticity. When it comes to bikes as props, they bring in a certain easiness and they state a youth- and playful lifestyle.

8. Fabrics, e.g. curtains, plastic foils, special backdrops

Curtains and foils can be a welcome change to “normal” backgrounds. They have their own structure, fall off and they can be used dynamically when wind plays a part in the shoot resp. an assistant moves it. Transparent materials can be used in front of the model as well. They create an instant filter on the photo which admittedly lowers the recognizability of the fashion but stylises the image very much. Altogether fabrics and foils have a much more organic appeal than paper backgrounds or built-in infinity coves. Used outdoors they can combine the impressions of a studio and an on-location shoot to a bigger whole. However, this setting has been used very much recently.

9. Cigarettes

Increasingly unpopular due to better health awareness in society are cigarettes as photo props. However, I would still number them among this list, because they have been very common in fashion shoots until this day. The reason, I would say, is that cigarettes resp. smoking models tend to be very photogenic. They display a certain attitude – sexy, yet cool and casual – and the smoke itself can form interesting shapes. Nevertheless, more and more magazines reject to publish pictures with smoking models, which is surely legitimate due to their role model position.

Should you use props for your campaign?

pros

Props are giving you the opportunity to hint at a topic and create the right atmosphere in your photos. They’re distinct excerpts of the lifestyle that your brand represents and they are helping to inspire – firstly the model on set and thereafter your customers. In addition to that, you can break the ground with new ideas about how to combine different props that seemingly don’t belong together or props on other locations than usual. This way you can create eye-catching campaigns and prove your brand to be modern and innovative. For the model, it can be easier to find her- or himself in the right role when there are props that require a certain posing or attitude to tell the story right. 

cons

In some situations, some props can turn out to be obstructive or flow-stopping for the model for different reasons. If this happens to overlap the following cons too, you might want to remove the prop and rely on the motto “less is more”. Too many props or things that are too trivialised can quickly go beyond the scope of your initial idea. They might distract the viewer from the most important – your fashion. At the end of the day, you want to make sure your pieces are staged profitable. Another aspect that’s worth checking is if the prop of your choice is polarising, like e.g. cigarettes. It’s true that bad advertisement is still advertising, but on the other hand, you probably want faithful customers who don’t feel offended by your campaigns. The last counterpoint isn’t a real one, but you should be aware of the fact that you can’t reinvent the wheel – everything has probably been used before you do so. But knowing this, some research will help you find your very own way of using that property that you want to have on set.

Epilogue

If you enjoyed reading this article, or you found it helpful in one way or the other, I would love to know (reach out)! You are also welcome to support my work and writing by donating whichever amount this is worth to you. I will thank you with lots of telepathic love and more interesting journal entries. Cheers!