How to start and source your prop collection.
I often get complimented on certain props and people ask where I get them from… so I thought I would share some insight into the goings on in my prop cupboard, with some tips and hints to get your collection off the ground.
One thing to start you off collecting is that you will always have a transient population of props. They will come into your life and leave also. There will be some that are perennial favourites and others that will maybe stay only for one particular shoot.
Where do I start, I hear you ask.
A good starting point is for you to do a stocktake of what you already have in your life – those odd things at the back of your cupboard, maybe a long forgotten box of things that was meant for the charity shop but never got there.
Assess your colour palette and take it from there. Keep it simple.
When you are out and about, keep your colour palette in the back of your mind and choose texture over shiny.
When you are looking for props stick to your chosen colour palette, don’t worry about chips and dints in ceramics and metal and also consider how shiny an item is. No matter how beautiful that plate is, in the right colour for you, if it is glossy you will battle with reflections. There is some Anti Reflection Spray on the market, but you will need to assess how often you will use it – at more than £10 in the UK if you’re only use it once, then it may be wiser to look for a matt plate in the first place.
Building up your core collection of props can be a lengthy business and good fun at the same time. You will find yourself refining it as you go along – bringing new things in and selling other things on or giving them to charity.
Where to look for your props.
This is where you must get creative – start at home and spread the word that you are looking for props. Ask around the members of your family and friends. Tell them what colour palette you are looking for and that old and well worn is just fine. People will be thrilled that you will happily take on some treasured junk that belonged to an old Aunt or someone.
Flea Markets, Antique Dealers and Antique Fairs are good places to do your homework to get inspiration and also to learn what prices things are. They will more than likely be more expensive as the dealers need to make their profit.
Second Hand shops and Charity Shops are really good sources for the Prop Hunter – get to know when they put their new stock out and once the volunteers get to know you, they will happily look out for things for you as it will help both sides.
You would giggle if I told you all the stories that I have had about props with other creatives. I have friends that will stop their cars when they see the right branch fallen by the the road side, or barter for that tatty door from a skip.
How To Store Your Prop Collection
Storing you Prop Collection obviously depends on what space you have available. I have an old wardrobe with shelves in for mine. Space is at a premium, so clever organisation is key. Each shelf is full of open topped cardboard boxes that are labelled on the front side. The five shelves are well organised so I can access them easily. There is a drawer too in there where I keep cutlery and a box for random wooden tools.
My best secret is that I keep my neutral props divided in two – cool tones and warm tones. I am really meticulous about this and not only does it save time, but I also find it inspiring when it comes to styling a scene.
Beyond my wardrobe, I have an old toy box (from that well known Swedish flat pack company :)) that’s also used as a lower stand for shooting on. In there I keep my collection of papers for backdrops – old wall paper, painted watercolour paper, wrapping papers – there is all sorts of things in there. This is where I keep my small collection of pieces of fabric for styling – mainly linens, but also some voile that I like to dye with natural things for muted colours.
The bits and bobs department
I must tell you about the other, odd and often dead and drying things that are dotted about the studio. Once I had a dried pink peony in my tiny studio for a Winter. I had finished with it, but couldn’t bring myself to pop it in the bin as its colours reminded me of old faded chintz curtains. I can tell you that at the moment I have some dried Artichoke heads, dried wild oats, hydrangeas, poppy seed heads and the inevitable dried hydrangea head. There is also a lovely fragrance in there too at the moment that’s coming from dried oranges and limes from a recent shoot. Ooo and there’s the remains of a young Silver Birch tree that died, so I saved the broom like stem of it…
You really don’t need a large collection of props – just a well chosen ones – that’s the secret. If you really don’t have the space a prop box will suffice and you can use it to shoot on top of. Take inspiration from the rule of odd numbers for styling and use say three pieces of cutlery, three bowls and a piece of fine fabric and take it from there.
Finally, if you need help with styling and composing your props into a beautiful scene, do sign up to my newsletter in the side panel. You will get a copy of my free 33 page eBook for immediate download – The Little Book of Photography: adding that little EXTRA to make your photographs EXTRA ORDINARY. Once you are subscribed to the newsletter, then you will be the first to hear about releases to my courses and eBooks that have more about composition and styling. You will also get access to The Still Room for even more goodies…