Portrait photography masterclass Part 3: Incorporating props into portraits

Watch video: Portraits with props

Here we are focusing on including accessories in your portraiture. Accessories can add huge amounts of style and personality to portraits and are a useful addition to any photographer’s bag, you may even already have some around the home. 

Portrait masterclass

There’s no end to the amount of accessories and props you can use to add personality, create a set or even add a narrative to your picture. Gather inspiration from things around you and objects you have spotted in shops. The trick is knowing how much accessorizing needs to happen before it becomes too much, as it’s easy to overdo.

For our main portrait photo, we decided to keep things simple and demonstrate how a small piece of red fabric can be used in different combinations to achieve a variety of looks. Keeping both hands free allows the model to truly express herself through her poses and facial expressions. Let’s jump in! 

01 Headwear

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)
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Headwear can add loads of extra personality to your shots. There are many types to try, from traditional, cultural, fashionable and custom-made headdresses.  Keep a few hats and colourful scarves handy in your home studio to create new looks fast.

02 Flowers

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

Flowers are elegant and versatile. They can be used to add complementary colours to your photograph. You can use them in your models hair (ask first, of course), have your model hold a bouquet or single stem, or decorate the scene with flowers in a vase.

03 Play with hair and makeup

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

Hair and make-up should suit the style of the portrait.  A make-up artist can add precise application for creative themed shoots. If you prefer to keep it simple you can try things like the red lipstick and nail varnish we used here which work well to grab the viewer’s eye.

04 Lighting

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)
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Pay careful attention when lighting highly reflective items such as jewellery. Diffuse the light and start with your lighting positioned at a 45º angle towards the model. Check to make sure details and textures are visible and not overexposed.

05 Holding props

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

One way of including props in your scene is to have your model holding the object. Direct the model to make hands look delicate and vary the height in the frame to make the position look natural, as well as achieving a good composition photographically.

06 Make a mood board

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)
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When planning your shoot, put your ideas together and share them with the model. It helps explain the mood and style of the images you aim to achieve. Gather images that inspire, or sketch ideas you have in your mind. Pinterest is a great place to collect ideas, share and collaborate.

07 Start collecting

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

Look around and see if there’s anything you could incorporate into your portraits. Think of things to hold, or wear, or to have as part of the scene. Collecting props and accessories like scarfs, fabric and jewellery and they will spark your creativity and give you ideas to try out. 

08 Switch up your style

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

Instead of trying to fit everything into one shot, take lots with different looks. Ask your model to adjust what they’re wearing if it seems distracting and try using props in different ways, with different lights and backgrounds that will maximize the variety of styles you can get from one shoot.

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