Voyage + Heart

How To Use Props To Tell A Story

BusinessVoyage + HeartComment

Throughout my years as an art director and photographer, I’ve worked with countless brands to create beautiful photographs that tell a story. Styling has always played an important role in the emotions the final images evoke, and it isn’t always done right.

Today I wanted to share a few things to think about before you style or photograph an image, whether that’s professionally, or simply for your blog or social media account.

Doing justice to the beauty of artisan work isn’t always easy, but implementing todays tips will help you understand where to start and (more importantly) why.

Voyage + Heart - Food Photograpy - Food Styling - Cookbook Photography - Cookbook Stylist - Bright and airy food photography - White background food photography - Clean food photography styling - Recipe photographers.jpg

What is the purpose of this image?

The items you style and the way you arrange it need to tell a story.

Why do these pieces need to have a conversation with each other? How do these textures, color, shapes, or mediums line up?  How does this image peak your interest?

Next time you pair props together, ask yourself: Why are you putting (x) with (y)? Why do these pieces need to have a conversation with each other? How do these textures, color, shapes, or mediums line up?  How does this image peak your interest?

You need to know why these specific pieces belong with each other. Don’t just style them in a specific way because someone else did, but understand why a certain pairing or combination makes you excited, or why it makes sense. Style with purpose, in a way that speaks to you, and makes you want to keep looking.

The objects incorporate into a photo — from the wheel thrown ceramic dishes you use, or the delicate paper twine wrapped around an antique wooden spool — all interact with their surroundings in one way or another. The props you choose to tell a story with need to work with the environment and space… not independent from it, but as if they just naturally fell into place.

The final image should evoke a feeling in the viewer. It should feel complete, not cluttered or chaotic. Whatever your main subject is (in my case, this is often products for a brand), draw the eye to it by arranging the props around it in a way that they don’t detract or steal the spotlight. Less is more, and every single piece should serve a purpose. Remember that props are meant to act in a supporting role. They shouldn’t overpower the main subject, but elevate it.

Essential styling pieces

Knowing which pieces to use and when will add visual interest. The key is to do this without detracting from the main subject. There are a few props that I keep going back to, over and over again, and that work particularly well with my style of photography. Below are a few of those items that I’ve deemed “essential” when curating a prop collection. Try them out and let me know which ones you keep reach for!

  1. Beautiful surfaces. From a simple sheet of white pasteboard, to textured European linens, to an antique wooden table, or a handcrafted plaster background, almost anything can be a surface used to style your products! When choosing a background, keep in mind that the color and tones will play a large part in the overall feel of your photo, so be intentional about which you are using.

  2. Vessels. This is a vague term, and can encompass so many things — little pinch dishes, vases, jugs, plates, bowls, cups, etc. My favorite vessels are matte, ceramic, personal, imperfect, handmade, not machine-made or bulk produced. Find something that peaks your interest, that makes people want to touch it, feel it, look at it, and of course, wonder the story behind it. 

  3. Layering pieces. Flowers. Olive wood cutting boards. Wrinkled napkins. A cozy cotton sweater. Any small, textured accent piece that you can layer to help tie the story together. 



Did you find this post helpful?

Let me know in the comments below! Or tag me on Instagram in a photo you took implementing these tips, so I can see how you’re using props to tell a story!