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How to Level Up Your Portraits Using Simple Props

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An easy and effective way to increase production value to your images is by adding simple props. Not only do they add additional visual interest, but they can also add story to the scene. Today, I’ll be starting with a basic “walk-up” shot and working step by step to make changes until we get to our final portraits using props.

Our model today is my friend Kiara so be sure to give her a follow on Instagram here. I’ll also be using my favorite camera setup: The Canon EOS R5 with the RF 28-70mm f/2L. Later on, I’ll be switching to my Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens. Let’s dive right in.

The “Before” Shot

Let’s begin with the basic “walk-up” shot. We captured this image under direct sunlight on Kiara with basic center framing.

Step #1: Backlight Your Subject

The first change I made was to change the front-lighting to back-lighting. The translucent nature of Kiara’s dress would create great highlights so we simply switched spots and got this image.

Step #2: Find a Foreground Element

Now the last shot wasn’t bad. However, I did find it quite uninteresting and bland. To add to the image, I stepped behind this plant to create an out-of-focus foreground element.

Step #3: Fill the Entire Frame

In order to fill in the empty area in the sky, we moved underneath an overhanging tree. Now the composition is good enough to begin adding in our props.

Step 4: Add In Your Creative Photography Props

Prop #1: The Chair

One of my favorite props to add to a scene is just a piece of furniture. If you don’t have anything around the house, you can rent great pieces of furniture from local event vendors. A day rate for renting chairs such as the one I used here can be quite inexpensive.

I placed the chair where Kiara was standing and had her sit in this pose.

Let’s see the image so far compared with our very first “walk-up” shot.

This is where I switched out my lens for the 35mm Sigma. Here are some of the final images from this location edited with Visual Flow’s Pastel Preset Pack.

Prop #2: Palm Frond

For our next prop, I wanted to use this palm frond. I wanted to use the leaves as a gobo to create a shadow pattern on Kiara’s face. To do this, I shot in the direction of the sunlight and held the palm frond out to create the right shadows.

Here are some of our final photos edited with Visual Flow’s Black and White Mixer.

For our final scene, I used the palm frond as a foreground element. I turned to have Kiara side-lit by the sun and catch the highlights on her dress. Then, I increased my depth-of-field to keep more of the frond in focus. I held it up and composed so that the frond wraps around Kiara from above.

Check out the final shot from this set, edited with Visual Flow’s Mood Preset Pack.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this video/article. Next time you’re out on a shoot, try following these tips and adding some creative photography props to your scene! Not only do they add production value, but they can also add story and help create an overall dynamic image.


P.S. Be sure to check out Visual Flow for intuitive lighting based presets to get similar looks as we did here. In addition, for complete courses on all things photography, be sure to visit SLR Lounge Premium Library. See you next time!


About the author: Pye Jirsa is a wedding photographer based in Southern California and the co-founder of SLR Lounge. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Jirsa’s work on Instagram.

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