Let's talk props.......
How’s your prop collection looking? Is it a cupboard, pile, shelf, or boxload of “stuff” that might be on-trend for a season (or five minutes!) and then never see the light of day? Or, have you managed to accumulate useful, interesting and photogenic items that you reach for time and time again. My prop cupboard contains both- although I try as much as possible to create a balance between the two by having regular clean outs and creating a "shopping list" before I head out on a prop shop. While sometimes I just can’t help what follows me home, there are some items that are always on my radar- those everyday, "top-shelf" essentials that I use for both work and creative play!
1. Fabric: A good collection of fabrics– especially linen- is the easiest way to add colour and texture to any image. I have a base collection of linens in solid and neutral colours that are always on high rotation. Other useful fabrics that never go astray for photo styling are hessian and muslin. Linen tea towels, tablecloths and napkins are also handy for incorporating layers and pops of colour into your photos. If you can find crumpled, buttery soft, frayed vintage versions to add extra depth another layer of texture and an added point of interest, even better!
Starting a collection of fabric props doesn't have to be an expensive exercise. You can see here how just a simple, cotton blend, waffle weave tea towel (bought for a few dollars from a variety store) adds another layer of texture and colour to this weekend breakfast story.
* Image created for The Cutting Board Company. www.thecuttingboardcompany.com.au.
2. Cutlery: Whether you prefer perfectly tarnished and vintage, or gleaming and polished, a selection of spoons, forks and knives always helps to add to the “story” you’re telling in your images- especially if you’re styling and photographing food. I also keep an eye out for kitchen utensils with painted wooden handles. The "chippier" the better!
Pieces from my Cutlery Collection
For this image of vintage and antique silverware, I picked pieces with engraved details, varying degrees of age and wear and also combined different shapes and sizes to add texture, tone and points of interest. Layering a dark base with deep blue linen and a contrasting white and blue striped fabric (known as ticking) adds another layer of texture, contrasts with the silverware, and makes the cutlery "pop". I was going for a "dark and moody" vibe here, but you could use this "layering" technique with a light colour palette as well.
3. Natural elements: Flowers (fresh and dried), seed pods, leaves, grasses, fruits, vegetables, farm fresh eggs, feathers, branches, twigs and wreaths made from natural vines are some of the botanical and natural elements that can add texture, colour and interest to your photos. A good collection of driftwood and seashells in every size, shape and colour never goes astray either. I usually take a bag with me when I go for my daily walk so I can collect any windfalls from Mother Nature that might catch my eye. Roadside and farm gate stalls are also great sources of botanical props- just make sure you have plenty of change for the honesty box!
Styling with Mother nature
Botanical elements are a great way to add pops of colour and texture to your photos. Or, they can be the "hero" item- as is the case with this image I created using green coffee beans from a friend's coffee trees.
4. Paper: Without a doubt, paper is the easiest and cheapest way to add layers, texture, or a point of interest to any photograph. My collection includes all kinds:- brown kraft paper, coloured and patterned craft paper, tissue paper, images from magazines, vintage newspapers and sewing patterns, sheet music, postcards, old letters and envelopes, photographs, stamps, maps, luggage tags and book pages. The list goes on! You can use paper items to create backgrounds, you can scrunch, crumple, tear, fold, layer and "hero" it. So many uses and definitely worthy of top shelf status!
Using paper props
This image appears on a notecard I created for my 'Two at a Tea Party' vintage inspired stationery range and features several paper elements. I used scrunched up brown kraft paper as the background and layered postcards, black and white photos and sheet music as points of interest to add to the vintage "story". I then incorporated the heritage camellias to add a pop of colour and a feather for an extra touch of whimsy.
5. Rustic treasures: Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that I love vintage and antique wares. I have little signature items, like a rusty old pair of garden snips, that pop up frequently in my personal photos and sometimes in images for clients, depending on the brief. Anything with signs of age, wear and use (think rust, chips, dents, peeling paint, faded patches) are the surest way to add instant texture, interest and something a little unique and different to styled images.
Where To Find Rustic Treasures
You can start building a prop collection of rustic treasures by visiting your local charity shops and recycling centres where you can often pick up weathered, worn and rusted bits and pieces very cheaply. Also keep your eye on local newspapers to find out when and where garage sales, fairs, markets, and auctions are being held in your region and neighbourhood. You'll be amazed at what other people throw away or are prepared to part with!
So there you have it! My top props in no particular order- fabric, cutlery, natural elements, paper and rustic treasures. I hope this little insight into my prop cupboard inspires you to start- or add to- your own collection. Happy collecting!
All images are ©Michelle Hartnett 2018. All rights reserved.