We're Erica + Jon, professional photographers, Mr + Mrs and Mom + Dad. We like to share insights into our industry, behind the scenes and stories about our life and chips + salsa obsession.
There are very few questions we field more regularly than questions about our props. We’re not sure if it’s because of how fun they are or how pretty they are, but we constantly hear questions from you about how we source props, where we find them, and how we charge for them. So today, we decided to hook you up with a little more free education all about PROPS.
We won’t lie to you, over the years we’ve Erica has developed a pretty prolific prop buying habit. That’s partly because her inner Joanna Gaines stylist can’t resist and partly because we’ve acquired clients that we create stock imagery for and need fresh props for on the regular. We currently have an entire shelving unit in our office that is haphazardly stacked with different props of all kinds (<— just ask our house cleaners…it’s probably technically a job-site hazard).
But those are just the props that are obvious and visible. We have them in our kitchen, on our counters, and in storage totes. They’re everywhere. So if you’re wondering how we built such a quantifiable collection, let us break it down for you.
Sometimes our clients will require prop styling was a part of the brand photoshoot. Maybe their business is product based and they need elements to style and reinforce their product and brand with in the photos. Or maybe they are a lifestyle brand and need homey elements in their photos to make them cohesive with their branding.
In those situations, our clients will send us out to source props for them! We love this process as it allows us as the professionals to really focus in on props that will complement each other well across the entire shoot. Plus, Erica LOVES shopping, so it’s like retail-therapy without the therapist’s bill!
We will source props specifically for our client and bring them prepped and ready to the photoshoot for them. Many times, the clients have no use for the props afterwards and we get to keep them and add them into our collection! Woohoo!
Another way we source props is by having our eyes open for the deaalzzzz!We can’t resist scoring deals on one-off products, mismatched sets, clearance items, or even partially damaged goods that we can still repurpose for a shoot. This felt a little vulnerable at first as we weren’t guaranteed a return on those investments, but we’ve found that we usually come out far ahead of the cost of the item, especially if we buy them right!
Additionally, since we shoot a lot of stock photography, we are always looking for fresh props that we can use to create images for our clients. We try to find things that are unique and that we can use in more than one application. For instance, maybe a table linen can be used in a stock photo that we sell and also used the next time we work with a restaurant.
Ok, so naturally you are thinking, this sounds great! But where the heck do you find your props?!?!
Guys, there’s not magic solution here. It’s really a matter of keeping your eyes open all the time for unique things and most of all – deals! We’ve sourced props everywhere from retail stores to antique shops, but here are a few of our favorite spots.
We love Target, of course! The ‘not-so-dollar’ dollar section usually provides prop items $5 or less! And you know we love the Magnolia partnership with Target as well via Hearth + Hand! We also shop sales at places like Anthropologie and Nordstrom. These are hit and miss, but we can usually find a few gems. Retail chains like Home Goods and Marshalls are always great places to look as well! We usually make a quick stop through just to see what’s new was their inventory turns very quickly. Finally, prop sourcing has given a whole new, fun reason for stopping into antique stores! We especially love consignment stores because of the variety you can find and the low price points!
Now that we’ve talked about how we source props and where we find them, the natural question is how do we charge for them and recuperate our costs, right?
We’ll be honest, oftentimes we don’t directly charge! We’ve grown to a point of considering it a cost of doing business and view them as a necessary part of our business.
If a client does commission us to course props, we of course charge not only for the physical cost of the props we source (usually within a predetermined budget) but also for our time spent browsing and shopping for what’s needed. At the end of the day, we’re saving our client a precious limited resource – time – while providing our professional experience and sourcing expertise.
If you haven’t started to build a prop collection, that’s ok! As you grow into the brand photography space, you’ll notice that in no time you’ll start acquiring items you can hold onto and repurpose either in a shoot or as decor around your own home. And if you choose to start coursing props just to build your collection and to have on hand when you need them, start with a small monthly budget, even as low as $20 per month, and start keeping your eyes open for deals! $20 per month can go a long way when you are shopping smart!