Prop styling is a fun and creative way to add that extra panache to your images. Clients will appreciate a professionally styled shot that utilizes props to illustrate their products’ features and gets customers motivated to buy. If you don’t have the budget to hire a professional stylist, spend some time learning the nuances of prop styling.
Prop Tool Kit
Building up a good prop kit is your first step. Whether you’re shooting fashion or tabletop, having the right tools on hand is immeasurable. For the essential list of items every prop styling tool kit must have, check out Susan Linett-Cox’s book, Photostyling: How to Build Your Career and Succeed.
Mastering the Skills
- Trend Watching – Follow trends in fashion and home décor to stay abreast of what’s hot. Keep a tearsheet file of images for future reference.
- Workshops – Attend a live workshop or watch online tutorials during your next downtime to help you build your prop styling knowledge.
- Studio Visit – Is there a large, local department store in town? Request a visit to their in-house studio to get a look at their styling techniques. As a professional courtesy, they will usually be open to a one-day visit if you are not the competition.
- Production Guides – Most major metro areas such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago offer production guides listing the best sources for prop rentals. Indeed, these cities are a prop-lovers dream! Warehouse-sized spaces are chock full of the hard-to-find and most eclectic array of items from around the world. Check out sites like Props for Today for inspiration. If your area does not have a production guide, try the Chamber of Commerce or your city’s town hall and ask for somebody in charge of film permits. They should have a wealth of information for your prop hunt.
- Thrift Shops & Yard Sales – During the Spring and Summer seasons, devote your weekends to perusing local sales. You should always be sourcing. Invest in a vehicle big enough to haul home curbside finds.
- Online – The Internet is your best source for purchasing the basics such as photo backdrops. Don’t forget ecommerce sites such as eBay and Etsy for collectible and vintage items and unique, hand-made accessories.
- Create Your Own – Be sure to watch Cash & Cari on HGTV with professional Antiques Matchmaker, Cari Cucksey. Not only will she show you educate on period pieces, she gives great demos on repurposing items both on the show and on her website Repurpose.
Prop Styling Tips
Prop styling doesn’t just involve selecting the perfectly hued napkin for your table shot. Working with the actual product takes some prop styling acumen as well. Here’s some basic tricks for some of the most common issues:
- Jewelry & Watches – Armature wire is a trick-of-the trade for getting a watchband to lay just right. If possible, remove the glass face to avoid having to spend endless hours with lighting. Is a slinky chain necklace giving you a backache? Hit the grocery store and find long, wooden kebab skewers. Use the tip to maneuver the chain and get that perfect “S” curve you’ve been wanting.
- Fashion – Steaming and pinning clothes is an art unto itself. Try steaming sleeves by placing the steam head inside the sleeve and slowly dragging along the fabric. Instead of safety pins and straight pins, use professional T-pins, which are much sturdier. The “T” shaped head of the pin makes adjusting garments a snap. Experiment with shooting models sitting on a unique floor drop to create a sense of place.
- Food – Every wonder how to get that perfect curl of steam rising from a cup of coffee? Add the coffee to a few steam chips at your next shoot. Trying to get the perfect mug of frosty beer or soda? Using pre-made cubes eliminates that need to shoot quickly and a few pre-made glycerin drops on the glass gives it that thirst-appeal. For the premier guide to all things food styling, purchase renowned food stylist Delores Custer’s book Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera.