Why You Should Invest in Unique Props to Shoot Portraits That Stand Out

We live in a world where everyone has access to a camera in some form or another, and the content we create is often viewed through a phone screen. So it’s no surprise that so many people have learned how to take and edit cool photos that will get them likes on Instagram.

The problem is, all of these new tools can feel like they’re creating cookie-cutter editors who are just copying one another.

But what if you could take those same tools and use them as a starting point for your own unique style? What if you didn’t have to just “do the trend” or “copy this technique” because you can build on the foundation of what other people are doing?

Portrait with a gun. Model: Akiel.

It’s Time To Push Your Creativity And Stop Copying Others

Let’s be honest, we all know the market is flooded with the same 10 photos, photographed on the same 6 cameras, edited with the same 4 presets.

And that’s just the beginning. All of these photos are taken by an endless sea of humans who are all complaining about why they haven’t made it big yet. And this goes for literally any idea you can think of: food, fashion, photography—you name it!

But let’s be clear: being stuck in this cycle isn’t going to help anyone. It’s time to stop competing for 47th place straight out of the gate and start thinking about what you can do that’s truly unique and different from everyone else.

Portrait with Tulle. Model: Elizabeth TenWolde.

Investing in the Next Level of Props

So here’s one thing that can really set a single portrait image apart from the millions of selfies being shoved down your throat every day: invest in props.

It might sound silly, but props can help you make your picture look like something more than just another selfie. And you don’t even have to spend much money; I’ve seen some great pictures with nothing more than a banana or a water bottle.

When I say “invest,” I mean, actually invest.

When you’re looking for props, you can’t just buy a cheap swimsuit on Amazon and hope for the best. You need to go above and beyond—you need to find something that’s truly unique and will add a personal touch to your photos.

As an example, let’s take a look at my own prop collection. When I first started out, I would go to garage sales and thrift stores to find interesting items that could be used in multiple photos. For example, an old Vietnam-era duty belt can be the perfect added touch to someone sitting on a black foot locker with combat boots and a drab crop top. And a set of books can be a perfect match for someone sitting up on a steam trunk in a “school girl” outfit.

Portrait with Tattered Books. Model: Carri Fairbairn.

Over time, I eventually filled up each chest with visual themes from “tactical” to “rustic” – depending on what my shoot was for the day. Now when I’m planning my shoots, I grab one of these chests from my car and suddenly have options for adding unique one-of-a-kind touches that will stand apart from the same generic Spirit Halloween store discount buy “cosplay” photos everyone is calling “their concept”.

Make Your Portraits Stand Out From The Rest

I wanted to take a moment to remind everyone that when you’re creating a piece, you don’t want to think of it as a single photo. You’re purchasing textures that will be used repeatedly.

I myself have a collection of skulls by world-renowned sculptor Jack of the Dust, and an authentic skull purchased from an auctioneer of museum re-consignments. These items appear in many of my works both subtly and as the true subject, but they are always used differently to enhance the overall image.

Another thing I use a lot are decommissioned firearms that have turned into props—they end up costing more than just buying a $1.99 Halloween decoration and spray-painting it black! But that’s exactly why I call them an investment: they’ll completely enhance your photos to the next level and make your portraits stand out more than any current TikTok trend.

About the author: Bryan Wark is a USMC Veteran and an award-winning portrait photographer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Wark’s work on his website, Facebook, and Twitter. This article was also published here.