Product Photography Props: A Complete Guide

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The difference between a good photograph and a great photograph boils down to a few key factors.

First, you need a keen eye and good subject matter. Knowledge on how to shape light is a must, and having composition skills when incorporating props can really set a photo apart.

Props are used in product photography to add character, meaning, and establish a mood/tone for a photo. They can enhance the main subject, add context, or tell a visually interesting story that encourages shoppers to purchase provided they aren’t overused.

Whether you want to set the scene, draw the viewer’s eye to a specific part of the image, or add a unique element to a photo, props can be one of the best tools at a product photographer’s disposal.

Let’s dive in and take a look at the specific types and uses of product photography props and how they can make or break your image.

What Are Props In Product Photography?

Ever hear the saying, “one mans trash is another mans treasure”?

Similarly, household clutter that you would normally dump off at a thrift store will magically become useful props when you move them into a product photography studio.

One of the most common props in photography is furniture. Chairs, stools, and couches are frequently used in photography to useful effect. Not only do they allow for creativity and more unique shots, but they can help your subject feel more natural and comfortable.

This makes for better photos.

Furniture is by no means the only prop photographers use, however. Depending on the type of shot you are trying to get, your subject matter, and the location of the photoshoot, there are many various props that can be utilized.

In product photography, using props can help tell the viewer about your subject and draw out the brands character, creating a unique and meaningful image.

Props can also set the scene and allows the photographer to tell a more significant story than a simple product on white. 

Props can be tricky sometimes, though.

If not used correctly, they can diminish a photo rather than enhance it. It’s important to know what meaning you want to portray in your photo and select props that will get that meaning across without stealing focus away from the product or confusing the viewer. 

A rule of thumb when it comes to product photography props: you’re usually better off using no props than using props poorly or ineffectively. Always take a set of photos with and then without the props so you can make a final decision in editing. 

What Are Good Props For Photo Shoots?

The kind of photoshoot you are conducting will determine what specific props to use. Since the possibilities with product photography are vast, what props you can use is nearly unlimited.

There are a few basics to keep in mind when figuring out what props you should use, though.

Some props work better for different styles of photoshoots. Not every prop will be effective in the various types of photography or photoshoots that exist today. Common types of photoshoots and props that work well in them include:

Simple Product shoots 

These kinds of shoots are meant to provide a clean shot of a product that can be used online, in print ads, or anywhere you want to showcase a product. Product shots can include a singular item on a solid white or color background, or could use props or models to present the product. 

Use simple props that will help provide context, provoke an emotional response, and keep the focus on the product.

Lifestyle Product Shoots  

A kind of portrait shoot, these are meant to show people in unposed, real life situations. They also can be a part of product shoots, but instead of showcasing just a product, people are also incorporated. 

What kind of lifestyle shoot you’re doing will help you choose props. For commercial (product) lifestyle shoots, props relevant to the product are a good choice.

Still Life Product Shoots  

These can consist of in-studio shoots, location shoots, and more, focusing on an individual product or with a group of props in unique ways.  

What props to use depends heavily on the subject of your photo: items that show the interests of the subject or brand are styled in a way to draw out desire from the viewer.

Fashion Shoots 

With the model and fashion being the main aspects of these shoots, it’s usually best to keep the use of props to a minimum. This is an area where furniture can be utilized, as well as a simple, subtle props to enhance the photo without being distracting.

Props are one of the best creative tools a photographer has, so don’t be afraid to try out new ideas and use different types of props in photos to get the look you’re after. Have your subject interact with different props, or try out different positioning of props in product shoots to get the shot(s) you need.

How Do I Style My Product Photography?

Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

Product photography is a little different than “regular” photography. In order to capture an attractive, meaningful image, you need to understand your subject matter. 

In this case, that will involve at least some research into the product or brand you are photographing – but you also need to know your target audience. That’s where styling comes in. Understanding who will be looking at your photos will allow you to more effectively cater to their style. 

Once you know who will be viewing a photo or who you plan to market a product to with a photo, you can determine how to style it. Props are an excellent way to help style product photography, but other important aspects include lighting, color scheme, background, composition, and balance. 

For starters, creating a “mood board” will help you decide the specifics of styling your product photography. Pinterest is an excellent source for this, though simple Google searches work, too. Anything to help inspire you or provide ideas for backgrounds and props can go on a mood board.

A more difficult aspect of product photography styling is composition, or more specifically, creating balance. Familiarizing yourself with the Rule of Thirds will help immensely in any type of photography, particularly in the area of composition.

The Rule of Thirds is based on the idea that the eye is naturally drawn to an area about ⅔ up from the bottom of a photo. It involves breaking an image down into equally-spaced thirds vertically and horizontally, resulting in nine “parts” of an image that provide guidelines for the subject or prop placement within the frame.

No matter how you choose to style your product photography, the most important thing to keep in mind is not to distract the viewer from the product. The product is the main focus of the image, so any styling or props you use should enhance the product, not overwhelm the image. 

Although a good photo, can you tell me what the subject/product being sold is? Photo by Mike Kenneally.

Using textured backgrounds, simple embellishments to frame or accompany an object, experimenting with different lighting, and sticking to a color scheme are common but effective product photography styling methods.

Using Landscapes in Product Photography

Incorporating nature and context for the product.

It may not seem like it, but landscapes can be quite useful when photographing products. They can add depth, intrigue, and perspective to an image. In most cases, product photographers use landscapes to draw the eye to the foreground of a photo.

If you’re trying to capture a more artistic shot, non-traditional props can help create a thought-provoking image: a chair or bench placed in a natural landscape can add a splash of color to an image while creating a path for the viewer’s eye to follow in the photo. 

Having an object in the foreground, such as a stone, leaves, or even something as simple as a brightly colored string, and utilizing the camera focus to emphasize the product while including a natural background can make for very unique and artistic photo.

Then there are the more obvious but still effective landscape uses. If you’re photographing an outdoorsy product, consider placing it in a campsite and adding a tent or campfire.

Including a sunrise, sunset, or even a starry sky will also significantly enhance your product image, and other things found in nature, like raindrops, snowflakes, waterfalls, forests, etc., can be considered “props” if used for context.

As with most product photography, this is an area where you can let your imagination run: experiment with different props, angles, focal points, contrasting colors, and lighting.

Things found in nature, such as trees, bodies of water, stones, caves, etc., make excellent props. They can serve as “natural” furniture for a subject, provide a focal point for an image, convey an emotion, or simply enhance a photo or product.

Nature can also serve as a beautiful background in an image, as discussed above.

When it comes to using nature as a prop, as with most props, it’s a good idea to keep it simple.

Using nature as a prop in photos is also very useful in seasonal photography. Looking to capture Christmas photos? A snowy outdoor scene is perfect if you can access one. 

Summertime photoshoots are great at the beach, in a grassy field, or in a bright, wooded area. Even simple objects such as twigs, branches, and stones can make for interesting photography props.

You will likely be happily surprised with some of the results you get when you use out-of-the-box thinking.

What Props Do I Need For Newborn Products?

Newborn photography is a very popular trend these days.

Sure, photographing infants and children has been popular ever since photography was invented, but in the last ten-plus years, products for newborns have really gained momentum.

Most useful props for newborn products are hats or headbands. These can be hand-made (knit or crocheted, for example) or store-bought. Simple, gender-specific, or themed designs are common, though people have gotten more creative with the accessories they use.

Another common prop for newborn products is a non-traditional cradle, such as a basket, bowl, nest, box, or fabric wrap.

This is a particularly adorable area of photography, and it has seen many changes and innovations throughout the last several years. 

Many times, a specific theme will be used in these kinds of photoshoots, which makes for beautiful and artistic photos that will be cherished for years. Consider using other toys or stuffed animals as well.

What Are Good Props For Fashion Photography?

While it is important not to distract from the subject with props in any kind of photography, including fashion photography, there is also an opportunity for creativity in this area.

Fashion photography is a specific type of photography, but it can be greatly enhanced by the use of simple, relatively inexpensive props.

Some good props to use in fashion photography are:

  • Accessories – Some photographers don’t consider accessories as props, but in fashion photography, they are. Using accessories on a model can accent the main focus of the photo, add color, and enhance the overall image. These might be the least inexpensive type of prop you will use, depending on the accessories.
  • Shopping bags – These are a good way to include a brand name in a fashion photo without taking away from the main focal point. A model carrying a shopping bag or an image that includes a shopping bag with a store or brand name on it near a model can be very effective.
  • Antiques – Using vintage items such as cars, cameras, and furniture can make a fashion photo stand out and add a timeless, unique element to the image.
  • Seasonal props – Sometimes fashion photography is centered around a seasonal theme, whether it be Christmas, Halloween, or simply fall, winter, spring, and summer fashion. Choosing props that are appropriate for the season help to enhance the theme of an image.
  • Umbrellas – Rain or shine, using an umbrella in a fashion photoshoot is a creative way to add color or character to an image.
  • Plants – A simple way to incorporate an element of nature or subtly complement a model or overall image, plants can make for a useful prop. Whether it’s a bouquet, flowers in a vase, or a potted plant, there are many ways to use plants as props in photography.

As with most photography, using props in fashion photography is important, but not the most important aspect of an image. Always make sure to keep the focus on your main subject matter – props are merely tools to enhance the subject.

What Creative Product Photography Props Can I Use?

One of the most appealing things about props in product photography is the opportunity for creativity and personalization.

If you want to create a truly memorable photo, you’re going to want to use that out-of-the-box thinking mentioned earlier – along with unique, creative props. Editing also plays a part in this, but in order to have a good photo to edit, you need a good photo to start with.

There are a few ways that you can experiment with props in order to capture that image in your mind that you initially set out to get. You might even capture an image you didn’t know you needed until you photographed it.

Some of these include:

Mirrors 

A tricky but highly impactful prop when used correctly, mirrors can add a creative perspective to a product, portray multiple angles within a single photo, or create an incredible layering effect in an image.

Magnifying glass

This is also a tricky prop to use properly, but it can create a truly impactful image. Particularly useful in landscape or nature photography, a magnifying glass can provide a one-of-a-kind, artful, and thought-provoking photo.

Crystal ball  

A less commonly used, multi-functional item, a crystal ball can be used as a prop in a photo or as a tool for creating multiple perspectives within a single photo. These are usually used in images as a way to flip the subject so that the background and the foreground (the part visible through the crystal ball) are identical but opposite. These are great for abstract, artistic, or surreal-looking photos.

Antiques 

Because antiques come in all shapes, sizes, and varieties, they make great props for several types of product photography

Posing a subject with a vintage car or truck, placing an old, rustic barn or building in the background, or having your subject interact with an antique object like a phone, camera, or typewriter creates an image with character.

Antiques add a touch of class and sophistication to a photo that can be difficult to capture with other props.

As far as knowing what specific props to use for a certain photoshoot, it depends on your subject matter and brand. The more experience you gain with photography of various types, the easier it will become to determine what props, lighting, backgrounds, and angles to use.

Do Product Photographers Provide Props?

Most product photographers worth their salt will have props available for photoshoots, but it’s impossible to be prepared for everything. At the very least, they will know how to utilize the objects around them as effective props in a photo.

With that said, clients are encouraged to bring their own props if they desire to use them, and if they request certain props that the photographer doesn’t have then they will need to pay for them.

While almost anything can be used as a prop, there are some commonly-used props that you can find in most photography studios: a vintage couch or chair, an old, artsy door or door frame, and stools and boxes for posing and positioning subjects, for example.

For on-location shoots (that is, photoshoots that happen outside of a studio), the props a photographer can provide themselves are much more limited, which is why knowing how to use your surroundings as props and backgrounds are important in capturing a good photo. 

Being aware of what you want to portray with the image will help in deciding where to place your subject and what, if any, props should be used.

What Are Some Ideas For Inexpensive Photography Props?

Unlike the camera equipment required for high-quality photography, the props used in photos can be obtained at little to no cost. Every day household items – furniture, coffee mugs, pillows, flowers, food – make for good props, depending on what kind of photoshoot you are doing.

Some great sources of unique, versatile props in product photography are:

  • Thrift stores – There aren’t many better places to get a truly one-of-a-kind item than a thrift store. They have everything from furniture, decorations, clothes, jewelry, and hats to vintage games and collectibles – all of which can be used as props.
  • Craft and hobby stores – While the prices may not be as low as those you can find at a thrift store, craft and hobby stores provide many more options for customization when it comes to finding props. You can also buy things to spruce up props you already have or create props out of ordinary items.
  • Online – With sites like Amazon, Etsy, and eBay, finding the perfect props for your style of photography has never been easier. You might have to wait a bit longer for the props to be shipped before you can use them, but there are also some great deals to be found online.
  • At home – Sometimes, the best props are right in front of us – or packed away in the basement, shed, garage, or attic, just waiting to be rediscovered.

Get creative with your props – try different items, poses, and angles, and make sure to take plenty of shots. Not every shot is going to be great or even usable, but by taking more of them, you give yourself more photos to choose from to make sure the client is happy. 

You might find that some of your best shots aren’t what you expected or planned, which will help give you ideas to build on in future shoots.

Conclusion

Props, when used well, are a great tool for product photographers.

They can turn a bland-looking product photo into an attractive image that will help showcase or sell a product or add elements of fiction to an image.

Again, props are not meant to be the main focus of the photo but to help enhance the subject or add context. 

Planning ahead before photoshoots can be helpful in choosing the right props, as well. If you’re doing an in-studio shoot, you are likely to have more choices for props, lighting, etc., but great props can also be found nearly anywhere. Objects and elements in nature can make for good props, too.

Finding the right props for your photography, understanding the multiple uses of props for different effects, and helping to make your subject feel more at ease by using props are important aspects of good photography.

The more you practice, the better photography you will be able to produce. 

Remember, when using props in photography, keep it simple. Choose props that enhance or complement the subject, help add context or perspective, but don’t distract from the main subject of the photo.

Benjamin

Benjamin

Hi, I'm Benjamin, Digital Media Strategist and product photographer for Skyline FBA. I have been involved in content creation for over 10 years and love helping people develop strategies to grow their business. My wife and I are Product Photographers that are experienced in Amazon FBA, eCommerce, Lifestyle, and Advertising photography.

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