by Helen John
Hi, my name is Helen and I am a prop addict. If you’re a photographer like me, you probably are one too. While this can be quite the expensive habit, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to expand your prop collection. Of course it’s easier to just buy something that already looks awesome and is ready to use but there’s a very distinct thrill of achievement in making something yourself on the cheap. And here’s how!
1. fun colored furniture
Did you know spray paint is a photographer’s best friend? I am a die hard DIYer (do-it-yourself-er) but this tip is about as easy peasy as it gets and anyone can handle this level of craftiness. Spray paint (which comes in an amazingly wide variety of colors) can give the most boring, drab, tired, ugly piece of furniture the face lift it needs to become a fabulous prop in your photo shoots. I’ve spray painted a children’s chair antique white for a timeless feel, an unﬁnished little rocking chair bright and bold turquoise, a little bench sunﬂower yellow, and the list goes on and on – vases, buckets, birdcages, stools, frames and crates to give you a few more ideas.
The versatility of a chalkboard in a session is just awesome. You can use them with families, engagements, babies, newborns, weddings and pretty much anything you can think of! And chalkboard spray paint is available at craft stores – genius! I purchased a wood plaque from Michael’s and sprayed the whole thing with black chalkboard spray paint. I always throw this in my bag when heading out to a session, whether I’m writing the last name of a family on it, a save the date for a couple, or number of months old for a baby, the possibilities are just endless. I also recently purchased an adorable little frame from Ross for $2.99, took out the glass and spray painted chalkboard on the back of the cardboard, and voila – a gorgeous, vintage inspired chalkboard!
3. “baby snowball” yarn garland
A fun and easy way to add interest to your next baby session (in studio or outside) is to hang a garland made of multicolored “baby snowball” yarn. I found mine at Michael’s and it’s so easy to drape back and forth across your backdrop stand or hang outside on a fence or from a tree.
4. newspaper hat
These are so adorably nostalgic and great for kid and newborn sessions. Here’s my step by step:
- Begin with a full sheet of newspaper – ﬁnd one with just black and white words for a vintage look.
- Fold the page in half where the crease in the middle of the page was then turn the paper so that the fold is at the top and the paper is horizontal.
- Take the top right and left corners and fold them towards each other so that they meet in the middle of the page – you will have a couple of remaining inches at the bottom.
- Fold up just the top layer of the bottom edge.
- Turn the paper over and fold in the left and right outside edges towards the center of the hat. This adjusts the size, so make these folds bigger or smaller depending upon whose head will wear it.
- Lastly, fold up the remaining bottom edge and use some clear tape to make it sturdier.
If these directions don’t make sense there are tons of great YouTube videos for all the visual learners out there.
5. scrapbook paper bunting ﬂags
Bunting ﬂags are a super popular way to spice up your background. Unless you have mad sewing skills, do not attempt a fabric one and instead just go buy an adorable one from Etsy and skip the fabric bunting project fail. Luckily, it is incredibly easy to make a bunting out of adorable scrapbook paper from the craft store. I buy 2-3 different patterns that go together and work with a theme I have in mind. Use a ruler to draw lines where I plan to cut – each sheet made 4 triangle ﬂags for me but you could go bigger and make two ﬂags per page or go wild and do a different shape altogether! Then I stapled them onto a sheet wired ribbon. When your subject is about 4-5 feet in front of the bunting and you’re shooting pretty wide open you can’t even see the staples or tell it’s paper. Thanks to my best photographer friend in the whole world, Rachel Garay, for sharing this fabulous little tip with me.
6. baby “nest”
I love using “nests” with newborns and older babies because it’s a cute and easy place to contain them. Just plop a little birdie hat on their head and you’ve got an adorable little set up! Simply pile up two or three grapevine wreaths from the craft store and add a small scrap of faux fur from the fabric store inside to make it snuggly for baby. How easy is that?!
7. bird house and painted branch
I found adorable unﬁnished wood birdhouses at Michael’s for $1 a piece. They came in a variety of styles, so I bought about 3 in each and painted them in various pastels. I went into my backyard and found a nice big branch from one of our trees and hung the painted houses on them. Later I spray painted the branch and hung a birdcage on it.
8. ﬂower garland crown
I’ve been making these since I was a little girl. My mom taught me with sweet summer daisies, but you can make them with almost any ﬂower, keeping in mind that sturdier ones work better. My method only requires ﬂowers (with long stems), though there are plenty of tutorials online that use wire, glue, etc. I like the organic, spontaneous feel to mine, so here goes:
- Start with two ﬂowers, wrap one around the other creating a loop right at the head of the ﬁrst.
- Hold the stems together.
- Continue wrapping ﬂowers in the same direction, each one looping around the base of the previously wrapped ﬂower, holding all stems together in the same direction.
- Check the length of the garland around the head you plan for it to go around.
- Once you’ve reached the desired length, ﬁnd a ﬂower with a really long stem and wrap it around both the current stems and tie it with the beginning of the garland.
There is no exact science to this – just tie it all around and the stems will hopefully be hidden by the blooms. Gorgeous ﬂowers you can wear in minutes!
Wow Helen! Thank you so much for all these incredible ideas! Whether it’s an old quilt, using a child’s own crib, or some fun lips and mustaches, what are your favorite props to use in your photographs? Please share with us in the comments below!
Helen John, Washington DC
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Helen John specializes in modern baby and family portraiture and is located in the DC Metro Area. When she’s not busy chasing around her two wild boys, she strives to capture the authentic interactions between families and the precious connections within each relationship. Be sure to check out Helen’s website, blog, and visit her on Facebook or follow her on Pinterest.