The deeper you dig into the field of photography, the more cool ideas for photoshoots you’re bound to uncover. And the more photos you take, the more props you’ll tend to lug along with you when shooting. Props are common tools among professional photographers who provide portrait sessions for family photoshoots, wedding engagements, and other life events, but they can be useful for everyone — especially if you find yourself in a photography rut.
What counts as a “prop” in photography?
What comes to mind when you think of props? If you’re like most people, you think of the items that actors use on stage during a performance. Props in photography serve a similar purpose. They are used in a photo to tell a story or improve your composition in some way. And while props in photography definitely aren’t necessary, they are fun to experiment with.
Why photo props are important
Props are especially useful for specific types of photography, including portraits. You may not need them when photographing professional models, but you’ll find that props help novice subjects feel more at ease. If your models don’t know what to do with their hands, for example, hand them a bouquet of flowers. Toddlers won’t sit still? Give them a photogenic toy to play with. A prop can be as simple as a small mirror or as elaborate as a fancy sofa positioned under the trees in your backyard. The possibilities are endless!
How to use props in iPhone photography
Now that you know why you should use photo props, it’s time to learn how to do it. If your props are small, you can pack them all up in a bag before heading to your next photography destination. And for type-A personalities, planning your props beforehand is never a bad idea.
Tip 1: Use props to add color to flat landscapes
When shooting landscapes, the goal is to find a composition with depth and interest to create a compelling shot. But sometimes, the natural world just isn’t having it. In a world of endless grass against a gray sky, a colorful prop will become your best friend. On a dreary day, a pop of color can change the mood entirely. Ideas for colorful props include bright umbrellas, furniture, boxes, balloons, or hats (if you’ve got people in your scene). Experiment with colorful props to see what fits your personal style.
Tip 2: Use a prop to create a point of interest
Many beautiful landscapes lack a strong focal point, such as a vast empty sea or an endless forest. Does that mean you should forget about shooting these locations? Nope. Instead, try adding interest with a prop. Drop a toy boat into the sea, or tie a balloon to a distant tree. The creative possibilities are infinite and worth exploring.
Tip 3: Use props to personalize a portrait or group shot
Whether you’re snapping shots of friends at the beach or capturing a portrait to celebrate an important milestone, props can be a great way to add interest, evoke emotion, or tell a story. A graduation cap and tossed confetti let the viewer know that there’s something to celebrate. Marshmallows roasting around a campfire add to the sentimentality that goes hand-in-hand with memories of camping. Often, the best props are items you might bring along, even if you weren’t planning to take photos. (Seriously, does anyone actually go camping without marshmallows?)
Fresh ideas for iPhone photoshoot props
Not sure what to use as a prop for your next photo session? Steal these ideas or use them as inspiration to come up with your own.
Idea 1: Use a simple cardboard frame to emphasize your subject
Adding a frame around your subject works to add dimension to a photo. Use objects within the landscape — like doors or windows — to frame your subject, or bring along a simple cardboard or wooden frame to use in your photo. If you’re taking a portrait, ask your model to hold the item in front of them so that it frames whole or part of the face. Or if you’re shooting a landscape, hold the frame yourself and shoot the image inside. You can even place the frame on the ground to highlight flowers, insects, or other interesting compositions.
Idea 2: Invest in colorful items that can be used indoors or out
Who knew that the hobby of photography would involve collecting fun knickknacks and random odds and ends? But once you start using props in photography, you will see perfect photo props everywhere you go, from the grocery store to antique shops. The right items for you will depend on what you prefer to take photos of. Dishes and tablecloths are great for food photography. Toys, games, and colorful hats are nice to have on hand when shooting photos of kids.
Idea 3: Use mirrors or glass balls to create reflections
Finding great reflection compositions is like going on a treasure hunt because you never know what you’ll come across, and a reflection naturally varies from day to day. If you don’t have time to seek out reflections, you can make your own by bringing along a mirror or a lens ball and planning your composition around it. What makes lens balls and mirrors so useful is that you can use them in virtually any type of photography, from portraits to landscapes and everything in between.
Great newborn photography props
Newborn photography can be challenging, interesting, and incredibly fun all at once. Almost all newborn photos include some type of prop, so if you’ve got a new baby in your life, it’s time to get creative. Here are some creative ideas for props to use during your newborn photoshoots.
Idea 1: Use something with personal significance
Newborns may not have developed their own sense of style yet, but their parents are their very first influence. This is a great place to start when seeking out props. Ask parents if they have any dreams for their little ones and whether they can bring a few props to a photo session to reflect their ideas. Creative ideas include snuggling the baby in a guitar case, adding a baseball glove to the foreground, or giving the infant her own set of headphones.
Idea 2: Add a bit of color with hats or headbands
Newborns don’t usually put up much fuss when being photographed, provided they’ve had enough to eat and are sporting a clean diaper. Wait until sleep starts to set in, then add a hat, bow, or headband to highlight that beautiful little face. Headbands are easier to work with than hats, as they don’t add additional shadows to the baby’s face. If you are worried about shadows, choose a hat without a brim.
Idea 3: Create coziness with baskets, blankets, and other soft items
Babies long to be warm and cozy, so it’s only natural that they should look warm and cozy, too. Line a basket or cradle with warm, fuzzy blankets and let the infant snuggle right in. Fabrics like merino wool, silk, and faux fur make great props for newborn sessions, as do velour pillows and chenille throws.
Food photography props you should try
Food photography has really taken off over the past few years, and photographers are pushing creative limits with amazing culinary compositions. The goal of food photography is to make the whole photo look delicious, and you can pull that off with amazing food through the use of a few thoughtfully chosen props.
Idea 1: Use raw ingredients to complement a finished recipe
One of the easiest props to acquire for food photography is, well, food. Not just the finished dish that you want to highlight in your photo, but some of the raw ingredients that went into your recipe. Photographing a beautiful cup of coffee? Sprinkle a few coffee beans near the base of the cup. Capturing a freshly baked lemon cake? Put a plate of sliced lemons in the background. If you know that you’ll be photographing a recipe after you make it, set aside some of the prettier raw ingredients in preparation for the finished composition.
Idea 2: Stock up on fun table settings
Every food photographer knows that the actual culinary delights are only half of the equation. What those dishes are served on is crucial to creating mouth-watering images. Plates, napkins, and tablecloths in a variety of colors and textures will help show off the food you’re photographing. Tones of white, gray, and black are great because they won’t distract from the food you are trying to showcase, but it’s also fun to add bright colors and patterns to the mix for some diversity.
Idea 3: Flowers and food always go well together
It’s true! Even before photography was invented, artists often featured vases of flowers next to bowls of food. And if those compositions didn’t work, we wouldn’t continue to see the marriage of food and flowers around every turn. When using flowers as props for food photography, make sure the colors complement each other so your viewer isn’t distracted. You still want the food to be the star of the show!
Creative photo props for portraits
Creative props lend themselves well to portrait photography. When choosing props for portraits, it helps to work with your model. A bright red top hat might not be the style they’re looking for. Before meeting for a photoshoot, discuss prop ideas with your model and see what you can come up with.
Idea 1: Incorporate pets to up the cuteness factor in portrait photography
Does your model have a pet they’re willing to share the limelight with? Photographing people with their pets will make them feel more relaxed during the session, and you often get more natural looks and smiles because of it. Try to capture the bond between human and animal for a beautifully emotional family photography.
Idea 2: Give your subject an umbrella on a dreary day
Don’t cancel that rainy day photoshoot just yet. Instead, grab your brightest, most cheerful umbrella and embrace the rain. Photos taken on cloudy days will be naturally darker. If that’s the effect you’re going for, great. But if you want to up the brightness to match that stunning umbrella, simply hold your finger on the screen to lock the exposure and focus, then use your finger to move the Exposure slider up. Modern iPhones are very water-resistant, so as long as your model doesn’t mind the rain, have some fun.
Idea 3: Use a mirror to capture new angles
Photographing portraits using a mirror creates unusual effects and compositions that are fun to experiment with. Wall mirrors and hand mirrors work equally well, but smaller mirrors are easier to work with outdoors. Try asking your model to hold a hand mirror while you photograph their reflection from behind. You can also try propping a mirror against a wall or tree and then positioning your subject to pose in front of it.
Ready to start playing around with all the new props you’ve collected? Once you start experimenting with props in photography, you’ll be hooked.