BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Tammy Comer

What Props to Start With?

I am starting out in my home and am looking for some props to start with for portrait photography. Most of them are very expensive in the catalogs. I am mostly interested in photographing children. I plan to look at antique shops, yardsales, and even walmart to come up with less expensive props. Also, my dad and my husband play around with carpentry--is there anything they could build for me? And for small children, do I need a table to put them on? Thanks!

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2/14/2004 10:18:53 PM

Kristen J.    I have recently begun to collect props. Actually a great place to start is craft places. I just bought a mini white picket fence at Hobby Lobby in the Garden section for $10. Also Michael's craft has great unfinished wood items like a rocking chair or stools or benches. You can stain them the color you like. You can usually use a 40% off coupon or they often go on sale. Look around and think as a kid what would be cute. I've actually found too many cute things for cheap that I've had to cut back. yard sales and antique mall's are also great. Think vintage!

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2/16/2004 2:26:18 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  For small toys, games, and other playthings of interest to children, check out a nearby Dollar Store. (This is also a great source for still-life props like glassware and vases.)
I occasionally walk through these shops and I am amazed at the stuff which can be found for practically nothing.

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2/16/2004 3:03:50 PM

Wing Wong
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2004
  Hi Tammy,

Hmm... off the top of my head:

- Step blocks

These are great for people to stand on to even out height or to seperate a back row of people from the front row for group shots. They are also great for children to sit on when they are posing in front. Just be sure to round the edges of the blocks/boxes so that the wood is smooth to the touch.

- Simple stools

This is the so-called "portrait" stool. Think slightly shorter than normal barstool. Good for people to sit on for single or multiple people shots. Make sure the stool is padded for comfort sitting on the edge or at an angle.

- Curtain/backdrop hanger

Something that can hang a 8'-10' tall and about 6'-15' wide curtain or background for an impromptu background. Not required if you are shooting in the environment of a living room or library. :)

- "Antique" table or chairs

Something to add character to a group or solo shot. You can "antique" something by distressing it and then oiling the wood to give it a deep "lived in" look.

- Throw rug, Vases, and "antique" metal light stands.

Various items to add to the richness of the scene or as props for people to lean against/stand next to.

The items above can be had at just about any WalMart, IKEA, Home Depot, Michael's Art and Craft store. Don't skip over places like KMart, BigLots, and other "Storage bin" places as they tend to have great deals on cheap items that can really add character to a shot.

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2/16/2004 8:56:06 PM

Robert Bridges   get a mirror! that way the kids can look at themselves and not worry about you.
btw works for adults too!

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2/17/2004 3:56:33 PM

Jen Hernandez
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2003
  When it comes to backdrops, I found the best and cheapest for me is sheets! A queen size flat sheet fits perfect across my studio wall and I put one on the floor. A king size is great if you have the space. I buy them at liquidation type places for cheap and now have at least 30 colors. I like having the option to play with color.

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2/17/2004 4:37:12 PM

Kris Lingle
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/10/2001
  I saw some baby shots done with the child sitting in a flower pot, metal washtub, bushel basket. They were adorable.

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3/24/2004 1:16:34 PM

Dawn E. Lorey   Please don't put children on a table ! This could prove to be a huge liability issue for you. Trust me Moms don't pay attention and children fall. Consider vintage clothing, hats & dress up items for 2 to 5 year olds, pretend birthday cake, baby carriage, vintage baby doll(or suggest they bring a favorite toy).Avoid items made of shiny plastic or metal.They can reflect light and tend to look cheap. Look for items that look expensive and wont fall apart in the hands of a toddler. Hobby Lobby and the wholesale catalogs are my favorite places to shop.
As far as the most useful backgrounds go, I would suggest Black fleece or muslin,white muslin, a warm brown muslin with some tonal variations, and maybe a scenic on closeout if you can afford it. This will give you a nice variety to accomadate those unpredictable wardrobes. Keep in mind less is more and the props should not be the focus of your image. However if you want a reputation for fantasy imagery thats a whole other discussion!

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4/21/2004 6:38:27 PM

Pat Worster
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/21/2004
  i also use sheets and drapes, material from Joann Fabrics, I have spray painted backgrounds and I have made a lot of props, my husband is in the process of making me a Jack-In-The-Box for my next new prop. Yard sales and antique shops.

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4/29/2004 8:16:59 PM

Carol J. Guernsey
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/15/2004
  Netting or tule with some artificial flowers (daisy flowers in soft pastel shades) hot glued or sewn to the fabric looks amazing -in B&W & Colour. A wicker hamper with the netting added is a fantastic setting for a diapered baby or small child.
The netting can also be placed on the floor.
A cheap squeek toy is a great way to get someone's attention!
Good luck!

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5/18/2004 5:56:03 AM

Cindy K. Bracken
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/8/2004
  You don't have to spend a fortune on props! For babies I use alot of tulle netting and silk flowers. Definitely get a mirror...I use mine all the time! For more ideas visit

Thanks and good luck!

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6/28/2004 8:59:34 AM

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