Choosing Props For Your Product Photography

Feb 14, 2023

Are you a photographer who has been stressing about how you can make your product photos stand out from all the other photographers and get more business?  

Today we will talk about a simple secret that you can use to spice up those shots, make them pop, and book more clients.
Usually, photographers believe that the toughest part of shooting products is to pick a niche and ensure that they have the right cameras, lenses, and lights to capture the highest quality images, while also spending hours upon hours to get the shot and then spend even more time editing it to get the perfect shots. Yet, many of them often come out of the entire process feeling that either something is missing or that there was more that can be done.
A lot of photographers just starting out, they just can’t seem to figure out that even if they place a product the same way, and get the lighting close, their photographs still do not look like the photographs taken by professionals.
Certainly, if you pick up any magazine or catalog, you will find that items are shown and advertised in all types of product photos. Though primarily, they center around stylistic individual shots of products or products in their natural packaging.
Then there are product photographs which are referred to as “lifestyle” shots. In these images, products are seen in their "natural" settings or some glamourous models can be seen handling the products or putting them to their intended use, or just generally fawning over the products.
However, in a highly digitized economy, you are more likely to come across products in very different and comparatively “boring” photographs. Visit any e-commerce website like Amazon and the photograph of a product that you buy is likely to include individual shots of products focusing on the finer details. 
These images usually show the products placed before a plain white background showing the different cuts, colors, and contours of the machining that went into making the product.
Whether you are shooting a lifestyle product photo, a table-top stylized product shot, or just individual shots of products, adding simple items or props can really help accentuate your photograph, making it stand out from the rest by adding depth, and context, character, and even intrigue. More importantly, it will reinforce the authenticity and promise of the product.
Simply put, it can help make viewers of your photographs better informed and more interested or eager to make purchase decisions.

What are props 

Props are supporting items or elements in a photograph. For example, you want to take a photograph of some hot, piping tea. The mug you use to contain it in is a prop.  
At the most basic level, props are used to literally support the product, the hero of the photograph. But at advanced levels, props can add nuance and help convey feelings and emotions, translating complex abstract messages into an instantly communicable visual image.
You can find props being used in just about all types of photography, even in portrait photography. 

How to choose props 

The simplest answer to this question is: “it depends”. 
It depends on the type of product you are shooting, the type of product photography you are going for, it depends on the purpose of the photograph, it depends on the overall style which you intend to convey in the photograph. 
It also depends on your product photography setup and what you can accommodate based on your budget, equipment, and deadline.

Product photography props 

Commercial photos of individual products have their uses. Even those images taken up against a white background may seem boring, but some would argue that they are crucial for e-commerce product photography, helping customers make the final decision before clicking the “add to cart” or “Checkout” button.  
But a prop in that space can elevate a photograph.
For example, suppose you are trying to shoot a picture of a perfume bottle. Adding elements that relate to the scent – such as fruits or flowers of which the perfume smells - can convey the sense of fragrance via an image. 
Moreover, simply adding pieces of colored paper layered over one another can also set up a scene that speaks to your visual senses to tingle your olfactory organs.
Other times, props can really help build texture for a photograph – either complementary or contrast. Let us take another example to explore this. Suppose you are shooting a classic black shoe. You can shoot it against a white backdrop with some very controlled lights but it does not bring out the texture of the shoe. To do that, you get some small bits of charcoal and spread it over a cloth or aged leather and place the shoe against it. It will now help you create an image full of texture.
When you are shooting still products, try to use props that help accentuate the salient features of products, their loudness, their quality, their texture, durability, function, and such. Some product photography props to buy, which you will end up using almost all the time are some glitter, some wooden planks, some stone and marble slabs of different colors and textures, some colored paper, some boxes of different sizes, a few prisms and even a glass ball. Get some small plants – like the ones you see in the home store - as well as some medium-sized ones. A few classic and unique lamps with those old-school light bulbs won’t hurt either, especially if you are carefully building a scene they can be indispensable in creating a mood.

Food photography 

Food photography is really where props shine. In fact, unlike other types of commercial product photography where the product can stand on its own, props are essential to food photography to even keep the food from rolling off the set. 
Can you imagine looking at a picture of a can of soda but without any ice cubes or frosted glass with some water droplets running down its side? Or waffles without any fluffy whipped cream, berries, and maple syrup on top? Or cereal without the milk.
Indeed, styling and setting up scenes to shoot food is a whole subject, even when shooting those boring shots for e-commerce. Largely, though, props for food products come in a couple of categories. 
They come in the shape of “hardware” and “software”. 
The ‘hardware’ props include anything and everything from pans to plates to cups to cutlery, even the accompanying tabletops or stone tops to bottles. 
If you want to buy hardware photography props, you would want to get a basic set of plates, pans, and serving dishes in different textures such as porcelain or ceramic, glass, metal, stone, and woodware. Don’t forget to stock at least one turnstile and a few variants of coffee mugs, drinking glasses, and cocktail glasses. Also keep small containers to fill with sauces and such, along with scoops and wooden sticks and picks.
Picking up a few pans and waffle irons along with tea and coffee pots with carafes along with unique and standard bottles for various liquids – like those small ones for oil - will always come in handy. \
You will also do well to get some fake props such as good quality plastic ice cubes so that you can keep shooting that cold beverage without worrying that the ice will melt and ruin the drink.
The more unique props you have, the more of an edge you can develop over competitors. But you have to be careful because you can end up with storerooms full of props and not be able to either use all of them.
The “software” side is a little simple and can be bought from any grocery store just before a shoot. It includes accompanying food items that can be used as condiments like milk, parsley sprigs, spices, tomatoes, chocolate, hills of ground spices or whole spices, fruits and creams. I mean you cannot shoot a pumpkin-spice latte without putting a pumpkin and spice in the picture, can you?
So, buy some spices and fruits and bread. Other kinds of props you should almost always have in your prop cabinet – depending on how frequent you have to shoot these types of images – small sacks of jute with coffee beans, cocoa beans, barley and wheat sprigs, grains of various kinds such as rice, pulses and such.

Secret props 

If you made it this far, I have a little surprise for you that will help you get the edge over your competition. 
Oftentimes, when shooting a product, you would open your prop room or closet (it is ok if your prop collection is just a few random items), and think to yourself how you could elevate your photograph if you only had a very specific prop.
Or if you have a product but are stuck on how to stylize it with your existing set of props not helping unlock your creativity.
Well, you can cure both your need to add style to your photo, get a leg up on your competition and unlock your creativity by building your own.
Yes, you read that correctly. You can build your own props and you absolutely should. And it is easier than you may think.
All you would need is a pair of scissors, some string or thread, some glue, a staple gun, rubber bands, some art paper, and a load of imagination. 
Remember when we were small and in art class, we would make all sorts of things, well, we will be revisiting some of those “lost” skills here and making something that you can use in your photos to create scenes.  \
Collecting knick-knacks such as old jewelry boxes or interesting packaging can serve as props for your photography ideas.
This is also how Peter Jackson started his filmmaking career at the age of 10, by building his own props and shooting movies in his backyard. 
There are a ton of videos online that can help you make anything you want using a few simple ingredients.
There you have it, how to select props for your product photography and make clients sit up and take notice.
If you have anything to add to this list, comment below. 
Happy shooting!

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