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Portrait Props

Every family portrait is different, because every family is different.  Some will be more at home a studio setting, in formal clothes; others will be more at ease in blue jeans outdoors.  Communicating what you want to your photographer is important in making sure you get the type of sitting that suits your personality.

Photographers will often stress wearing complimentary colors; they do this to avoid jarring visual clashes.  One person in yellow polka dots standing next to someone wearing green stripes creates visual clutter.  Likewise,  you don’t want one person in their Sunday best while the rest are in jeans.  Your clothing sets the tone for the shoot.

Recently, people have asked to bring in props for their sessions.  I’m generally receptive to the idea, but there has to be some care put into it.  Here are some things to bear in mind.

Preserve the little moments

Over the years, props have come into the Studio by design or by accident.  Years ago, a woman came in with her son for passport photos.  It was the middle of the summer and he was wearing a dinosaur costume.  His mother explained that it was what he wanted to wear; she would wash it every night so he could wear it again the next day.  After a few minutes of negotiation, we reached a compromise; we would do the passport photo without the dinosaur costume in exchange for taking a picture of him in it.

In a matter of days, it’s likely the child wouldn’t want the costume anymore and it would be forgotten.  Now the family has a keepsake of a moment in his life.

Children often get attached to special toys.  There are occasions where they won’t take a picture without the doll or bear.  It lowers the stress level for everyone involved to leave the toy in and it captures a keepsake that the little one considers precious.

There is also the matter of honoring life long passions.  If someone is a fan of a particular team, or active in a sport, there’s nothing wrong with capturing that within the family photos.  Depending on the nature/size of the props, there are a few key points to keep in mind.


Tying back into clothing, props work best when they’re cohesive.  If the whole family is into hockey, jerseys or skates are easy.  When you’re wearing jerseys, it’s one case where color matching doesn’t have to be as stringent.


Discuss the nature of the props before the shoot.  This allows the photographer time to plan around how to arrange the items.  This cannot be stressed enough; if one item has more sentimental value, it’s important to let the photographer know.  For instance, when you bring in photos for the shoot, have a discussion about how prominent you want the images to be.  Should the photos be in the background, or at the forefront?  If you have a large prop and want everyone posed in or around it, make that clear.  A prime example would be a motorcycle.  Whether you want the family posed all around it, or leaving in the background is a key piece of information for your photographer.


If you have large props such as a motorcycle or kayak, some people may be required to sit on the ground in order to balance out the image.  I would recommend not going with formal clothes.  Wear things where you will be comfortable posing around the prop, or perhaps sitting on the ground.  This will afford a lot more flexibility so far as posing goes.  Uniforms and the like are also welcome.

Props are a great way to make your family portrait stand out and provide some personal flair to it.  Whether it’s capturing a moment between a little one and a special toy or showing off your life long passion, talk to your photographer about incorporating it into your session.

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