Recently the question came up on the Fine Art America forums “How Do You Decide On What To Take Pictures Of? Do you just take random pictures of whatever you see or do you have something in mind?”. Mostly the answers lead towards purposeful undertaking with serendipitous moments along the way. After all, all the planning in the world is never going to turn out completely as planned.
One of the more interesting notions that came up was the discussion of props. I myself have driven to locations with props especially for going after book cover shots for my portfolio with Arc Angel Images. Umbrellas, suitcases, hats, chairs, bones, skulls, Christmas presents. All kinds of things accompany me on my photography outings. When you are trying to tell a story with your photographs, its a prop that most often can add more depth to a scene. A picture of an old rusty truck tells one story but a child’s stuffed animal on the old seat adds a whole other dimension.
Mike Savad shared a story of a photographer who took a chair around as a prop to take photos with “i remember him telling us how other photographer wanna bee’s would follow him around. one day he was shooting his chair and the lady tapping her foot would ask him – well? are you done yet? i want to shoot that too. so he packed up, grabbed his chair, and left. and the lady looking at him said what are you doing with that chair? he told her – that’s my chair. and he drove away leaving the dock empty and boring again.”
My image above of the two starfish holding hands started way before my trip to the beached of Florida. I packed the two starfish knowing that I’d use them in someway to create a “less than boring” beach scene. The idea of the two holding hands didn’t come to me until I was in the process of setting up the shot. If I didn’t have my props with me, I’d have nothing to shoot but an endless beach in Florida. Nothing too earth shattering there.
To some the use of props is probably considered to cheat. The rigid straight photography crowd, its probably anything done to alter the “natural” landscape is probably some kind of self-imposed sin but for those looking to tell stories with their photography, props can open up a whole new world of possibilities.