“We’ve got some exciting news.” The Manager says with her usual bubbly excitement. “We bought you some new props!”
On the table in front of me is a pile of four foot long plastic crayons, a regular box of crayons, and some white paper. The large crayons are in random colors.
“Nice.” I say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster. “What are we supposed to do with these new props?”
“Oh I don’t know. Your the Photographer. Be creative!”
There is surprisingly little to be done-Assembly Line Portraitwise-with a giant crayon and a box of crayons and some blank paper. I ended up using the large crayon as a background element and had the kids hold the regular crayons as if they were about to jump up and do some drawing. Not surprisingly the real crayons didn’t last too long as the kids tended to draw on every flat surface and the places where we were shooting didn’t really appreciate this artistic improvement to their white walls. Crayons are also pretty fragile and ended up broken very quickly.
I’ve had Assembly Line Studios that were all props-stuffed animals, books, briefcases, zinc wash tubs, arm posers, fake ice cream malts, silk flowers, Grecian Columns, fake rocks, crayons, paint cans and brushes, large foam Years of Graduation Class, drape clothes, hats, and odds and ends of all kinds. Saddles were a great seller, but the initial cost can be prohibitive. Fake Wagon wheels are a lot more fragile than you would think.
The Big Companies had detailed plans for their props. Backgrounds and hats designed to go with the props. Special lighting for the trick shots where the prop was a slide put in front of the camera. These setups often look pretty good when they are new, but looked pretty awful after rolling around in the back of your car for a few months. Most props are not really designed to be part of mobile portrait studio.
I don’t use many props these days. I tend to use people as props. Mom leaning on Dad. Kids standing with their backs against each other. A single person leaning on their knee for a hand pose instead of leaning on an arm poser. The best props are ones the Customers bring into the Assemble Line Studio themselves. That means they actually want to buy portraits.
Customer props I have shot range from stuffed animals to musical instruments to motorcycles. Anything they can fit into the studio is fair game. But props are mostly a gimmicky kind of thing, mostly used with small children for special holidays.
Floor Poses and White Backgrounds are big at the moment, so one of my most used props at the moment is a twenty foot and ten foot white muslin background. Suitable for full length shots, head touching shots, and the ever popular everyone pile on top of Dad shot. All of the Assembly Line Portrait places are doing these kinds of shots now-the Real Portrait Studios are left to do The Outdoor Shots-often with cars or horses or at the beach. It was easy to steal High Key shots, stealing Outdoor shots is going to be a bit more work.
A few years ago there was a fun gimmick called a Scene Machine which projected slides on a highly reflective background. The idea was that you could put your subject virtually anywhere. The problem was that you could never get the perspective right with uber expensive bit of machinery. The same problem exists with Blue and Green Screens. Yes, you can plop any image you want in as a background, but it will never look exactly right. Not to mention that most Customers can’t make up their mind between ten images-the idea of giving them an infinite choice is pure madness.
The Prop that ends up in most of my portrait these days is a bright purple rubber ball from a pet store. I use it to get Baby’s attention and play with the small children. The only trouble is that they don’t want to give it back. So I end up shooting a couple of poses with the child clutching the ball in a death grip. After the shoot Mom pries the ball loose and gives it back to me. The child is often screaming as they leave, but they get over it pretty quickly.
The problem with most Props is that they look like Props-that is to say they look like molded plastic designed to look like something else. Or they are so hokey-like Angel Wings & Halos and Columns & Urns. There are tons of cool props, but they all weight a ton and take up way too much room for an Assembly Line Portrait studio.
Which is why I was not impressed with the large crayons, especially when one photographer had the kids use them like the cannon in that Cher video.