With product photography being the second-most important part of the online shopping experience, you know it’s a non-negotiable. White background shots need to be crisp and clean. And your lifestyle images have to sell the story you’re trying to tell.
Props can make or break a shot, so it’s crucial to choose the right ones and style them so they enhance your photos—not ruin them.
In this article, we’ll show you how to decide which product photography props to use, where to get them, and how to style your shots with them.
Why use product photography props
Props are great for ecommerce product photos because they:
- Create context. You can tell a story or set the stage for how your product is made or used.
- Show scale. Help shoppers understand how big or small the product is in relation to other objects, helping to replace in-person shopping.
- Add visual interest. Props can make your photos more interesting.
- Can be sourced affordably. You can find props almost anywhere at any budget. You probably already own props you can use.
Types of product photography props
Props for product photography generally fit into the following categories:
- Natural elements
- Geometric blocks, shapes, and risers
- Plaster props
- Transparent styling props
- Mirrors Cellophane and tinsel props
- Textured panels and shadow creators
Backdrops can make your product photos look more professional and realistic. You can buy pre-made backdrops or make your own out of fabric, paper, linoleum, tile, or even wallpaper.
But don’t be afraid to bring in a surprising element, such a jeans fabric that works as placemat in this matzo ball soup for Wild Fork Foods.
Lifestyle props add context. These props are related to the setting where your product is made or most frequently used. You could use running shoes for a fitness tracker, a wooden spoon for soup mixes, or a makeup brush for an eyeshadow kit, for example.
Wild Fork Foods sets the stage for its beignets with props of chocolate and crumbled nuts in the background.
Packaging makes a great prop especially if you’ve invested in designing and producing it. It’s also cost-effective as well as sets customer expectations in terms of how they’ll receive the product. In the photo below, we styled the flat lay shot with both the bag of Upside Edibles Fruit Bites and the individual fruity treats themselves.
Nature makes a great prop, especially if your product is made of earth-based materials and ingredients. This can take many forms: leaves, potted plants, rocks or stones, bodies of water, flowers, herbs, coconuts, tree bark—the list goes on and on. This photo we shot for Bare Botanics Skincare uses leaves as props to frame the product.
These props are typically very versatile. You can use them as risers, place them in the background, or have them in the foreground to add depth to your shots. You can also place leaves close to your light source to create shadow and a soft, muted look.
Plus, you can buy them quite affordably from your hardware or gardening store—or you might even source them from your own garden or yard.
Geometric blocks, shapes, and risers
Wooden blocks and risers are super easy to use. They come in different shapes, sizes, and colors—and if the tonalities you’re after aren’t available, you can always paint them.
Geometric shapes are another option to consider. They don’t offer the same tridimensional impact, but can create a subtler and more refined look. You can also use them as a mini backdrop to contrast the shadows created by the products, as shown in the image below.
These plaster props are another great way to turn the spotlight on your product. Their raised, curved lines create an elegant light-shadow effect that draws attention to your product, and add a sleek finish to your shots.
Miniatures are small-scale replicas of real-life objects that allow you to create quirky, original setups effortlessly and affordably. Due to their size, they don’t overshadow your product. Better yet, being so small, you can create an entire setup in a very small space.
You can also shoot a series of these photos, slightly moving the miniatures in each frame, to create stop-motion video or animated GIF.
Transparent styling props
Transparent props offer an array of uses. You can find so many kinds, including clear and iridescent cubes, resin water droplets, simulation ice cubes or snow, and all sorts of boards in different shapes, widths, and finishes.
Here’s a great example of how resin water droplets replicate the effect of water on a mirror:
And this example from Hypop shows how to best employ transparent acrylic props for your beauty smears:
An acrylic splash tray is another great tool to have in your prop toolbox. It allows you to create stunning images with natural-looking water reflections. To use one, place your product inside the tray, add water, and angle the packaging to get different reflections. You can buy a ready-made splash tray or purchase a fish tank instead.
Mirrors are often used in fashion photography and makeup and beauty photography to add reflection, dimension, and uniqueness. They come in all shapes and sizes, and even a number of hues. Silver, for example, adds a touch of luxury to photos.
Cellophane and tinsel props
Other easy-to-use and cost-effective options are cellophane and tinsel sheets. You can use these props as backdrops or as props in the foreground. Just pick the color that matches your product, scrunch the sheet a little and start shooting to achieve a shot like this one:
Textured panels and shadow creators
Textured panels and shadow creators
Let’s say you want to draw attention to the rounded design of a watch—circular textured panels are your friends. If the active ingredient of your beauty product is organic honey, pick a panel with a honeycomb pattern.
Maybe you want to evoke the feeling of a warm summer evening—the sun coming through the blinds—a cool, refreshing drink after a day spent at the beach. The photo below, for example, was shot with a faux venetian blind shadow creator:
How to use props for a product photo shoot
Find and use the perfect props for your shoot while keeping your creative juices flowing.
Know your story
First think about the story you want to tell. Your props should support that story, not distract from it. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Think about the feeling your buyers should feel when coming in contact with your product.
- Imagine a real-life situation that will evoke that sensation.
- From the feeling or situation you’ve chosen, draw in creative elements such as colors, shapes, atmospheres or objects.
So if you sell customizable water bottles, for example, your story could be that purchasing this water bottle motivates you to get to the gym. The props in this photo support that narrative—setting the stage with free weights and a workout mat as props.
2. Create a moodboard
Once you’re clear on the story, you can start to visualize it with a moodboard. A moodboard is a collection of images, text, and samples of objects in a composition that convey a specific aesthetic or feeling.
This is a key step in the process, because it helps you confirm if colors and shapes work well together to convey the story as you intended. Plus, you’ll come across new ideas and inspiration.
Your moodboard sets the stage for your shoot, so you end up with images that are on-brand and true to your story. Keep in mind a moodboard isn’t a prescriptive visual reference to replicate. Instead, it should include elements about the atmosphere, colors, and feelings you’re trying to get from your shot.
Look at the food styling moodboard below. Can you guess which type of food photography will be shot? It’s hard to tell. The main purpose of the moodboard is to show morning light, bright colors, fresh goods, and wholesome ingredients.
3. Create a shot list
Make a shot list—a detailed list of all the photos you’ll need to take—before any shoot. This will save a lot of headaches along the way, as well as ensure you have all the props you need for each shot.
You don’t need to start a shot list from scratch. We’ve created an easy-to-use shot list template you can download and customize for your next photoshoot.
Start with your product and variations, as well as what shots you need of each product and how many. List the prop ideas for each shot which requires them.
You might also include where the photo will be used: for example, you’ll style and shoot a flat lay website banner image differently than a white background hero image for your Amazon listing. This will also help you understand the orientation of your photos—portrait, landscape, square, etc.—and how much space you have for props.
Optional: Draw a layout sketch
This is optional, but if you want to ensure you’re covering all the bases, draw a quick sketch of your setup. This is particularly helpful if you suspect your props might be too big and could overshadow your product.
Like your moodboard, your layout sketch should be a rough guide. If you come up with a new idea while shooting, go for it.
Below you can see a layout sketch, including a pair of sunglasses as the only prop.
However, during the shoot the photographer decided to try another angle and add a book underneath the glasses.
4. Purchase your props
When selecting props for product photos, consider the following:
- Color: Go beyond basic colors and consider tones, finish, transparency, reflectiveness, and more. The colors should be on-brand as well as complementary to the product. Don’t be afraid to use some paint if you can’t find exactly what you need.
- Quality: In most cases, higher quality props lead to better-looking photos.
- Size: Consider your product dimensions in relation to the props you select—you want realistic scalability and to avoid overshadowing the product with props.
- Cost: The cost of product photography is always a factor—you need to find props that won’t suck your budget dry. You can always reuse them—durable and sturdy props could be a good investment for your business.
- Logistics: You may have found the perfect props, but will they arrive in time for your shoot? Don’t forget to look for fast shipping and where the prop is coming from. International shipments are more susceptible to delays, for instance.
Where to get product photography props
You can get product photography props pretty much anywhere, though some great places online include:
- Prop Face $$: self-proclaimed “world’s largest product photography prop shop” specializes in exactly that, so expect to find objects tailored to ecommerce shots
- Prop Club $$: specializes in design-forward, modern, and trendy props
- Etsy $: find a range of props as well as handmade or vintage items you can use to style your shots from makers all over the world
- Amazon $: beware of quality but expect to find budget-friendly prop ideas here
- Hypop $$: Australia-based product photography supply company with props, lighting, and other accessories
- Moodelier $$$: modular objects, blocks, shapes, risers, and similar items
- Spectrum $$$: another supply company that sells props as well as lights and backdrops
- Prop Shop $$$: a full collection of props specifically for product photos
While quality differs from manufacturer to manufacturer, some props are specifically designed with photography in mind, which will help you achieve the look you want with less time and effort. If you’re after a specific or unique look, you may need to spend a little more. High-end finish, artistic shapes, and durable materials are often worth the additional cost.
If you’re on a budget, you can also find props at:
- School and office supplies stores
- Art and craft shops
- Textile stores
- Party shops (look for tinsel sheets in the backdrop section, or blocks in the food riser area)
- Hardware and gardening suppliers (for wooden surfaces, rocks, pebbles, and stones)
5. Style your product photos with props
Now it’s time to use your props. Here are some prop styling tips to keep in mind:
- Quantity: Use enough props to set the stage but not so many that the focus detracts from the product itself. Don’t be afraid to play add, remove, or rearrange props until you get it right.
- Lighting: Consider how lighting affects both the product and the prop(s). Think about their material and finish, and use lighting to your advantage. Transparent acrylic props, for example, can create atmospheres with lights, shadows, and colors—like this shot for Clinique.
Product photography prop ideas
- Tissue paper
- Aluminum foil
Get ready to bring your product shots to the next level
Props are critical for product photos. They add visual interest and context to your shots while allowing your product to shine. The possibilities are quite honestly endless, as you can use virtually any object to set the stage for your shot. It all comes down to the story you’re trying to tell, where the photo will be used, and your creative vision.
If you’re not shooting the product photos yourself, find a studio that will style shots with props for you. We offer props and styling for POW clients, so we can bring your ideas to life.
Product photography props FAQs
What are product photography props?
Product photography props are objects, elements, or items in a photo in addition to the product itself. Product photography props add visual interest, context, and scale.
How much should you spend on product photography props?
You should spend whatever your budget allows on your product photography props. Many props can be sourced for free, while specific or technical props may cost $100 or more. It all depends on your photoshoot needs and what’s available to you.
Are props necessary for product photography?
No, props are not always necessary for product photography. You can’t use props in your main listing images on Amazon, but you can use them for your own website or Shopify product photography, social media, secondary images on Amazon, and other channels.