Thursday 25 February 2016

How To Prepare For Photography Photo Shoots in 3 Steps (incl. 50+ Cheap Prop Ideas!)

Ah, photography, both the bane and the beauty of the blogging world. People love them, but most people despise taking them. It's not the actual clicking of the camera in the process, it's the staging, the look, the feel, the overall execution of how it looks against your other images. Put bluntly, it's all about the aesthetics, and that's a problem, because many of us just can't do it. It doesn't have to stay that way for long, as with preparation, planning and attention paid to the time and weather, (yes, the weather!) you can get yourself all set for a really good photo shoot.

First though, you need to prepare, and that's where these steps come in..

1. Decide on photoshoot layouts in advance

I quite like coming up with different shoot ideas days in advance, which works in conjunction with my use of Lategramme to schedule those posts days, even weeks in advance. In terms of Instagram prompts, it's easy to prepare different shoots in advance for monthly challenges, so if you're looking to show off some rainbow books and want to get a few different options out of one shot, decide in advance what you want the main scene to look like, and the different ways you can shoot the scene, and incorporate it in others.

You could sketch out the scene you want to achieve, or even just make notes on the books you want to use, the shape or the colours you want to focus on, what the actual focus is, whether you want to soften the look, make it bright or bold, black and white, simple and whitespace, full to the brim, just having some sort of the idea on the kind of overall look you want before you even come to get started is always worth doing.

2. Take note of natural light at different times of day

You've heard the professionals talk about it, and even the beginners, but natural light is almost always the best option when it comes to photoshoots. Additional lighting can help, but you want your main source to be natural. Mother nature and her light can however be a pain the backside. If the light is too bright, you'll get a lot of shadow.

When I first started out with daylight photography, I would spend a few days taking practice shots at different times of day, with different coloured props, in different weather scenarios, and through that, I've established a pretty reliable system which mean I know what times of day will produce the best lighting for the photo at hand. I'll be aware of shadows, I'll be aware of glaring brightness vs no brightness at all, I'll be aware what colours show up best with different lighting and so much more.

Now I have that system, knowing when to take photos is a doddle. I take note of the weather reports in my local area, but because in Britain you're almost always prepared for rain, I never let a slightly sunny day go to waste. Just because the weather report says it'll be sunny tomorrow doesn't mean it won't piss down, so it's worth grabbing the time while you can and making the most of it. Generally, I tend to get the perfect amount of light between 1pm and 3pm in the afternoon, just after the glaring brightness has gone, but with enough brightness to get some nice colouring and deep blacks when editing. Knowing when the perfect time to shoot is, will make the shoot even better.

3. Gather your props all in one place

I have a rather medium sized make-up and travel bag that I feature in a quite a few of my Instagram shoots, and when it's not being used as a prop, it's where I keep around 80% of my other props used, which is not only so much better in terms of organisation, but it also means I never have to spend hours looking for the perfect prop, only to lose my light, forget my set-up and cry over other people's shoots instead.

In terms of props, I tend to keep my small ones together all in one place, everything from pens, notebooks, sweets, nail polish, you name it, it's all together, while some of the larger pieces; ornaments, notepads, and the like tend to be kept on the bedside table, or in a larger box next to my bookcase. The props themselves vary in colour and style, and when I'm deciding on the overall excursion of the shot, I tend to choose the props that will accompany them. Doing this means I can have the shots all planned out and ready to roll, right before I take the photo.

Then there's only one thing left to do. Take those damn photos.

It's important to remember that, contrary to popular belief, your photos don't have to be, or look perfect. I tried the perfect white background, whitespace style and not only quickly went off it, but it didn't make diddly difference to my likes or followers. What matters is how your photos make people feel, what mood they create, and how many eyes they get in front of.

Your #hashtags matter, as does your posting time, but taking the perfect style of photo for yourself takes time, patience and a lot of practice. You won't always get the lighting perfect, or that photo you loved might look a little fuzzy and out of focus, but it's not the end of the world, because you're trying, and you're working hard on being recognised for your photography, and that's awesome.

But what kind of props can I use in my photography?

In the end, the type of props you use come down to the type of photography you're trying to create and the kind of topic for you're going for. No matter what kind of shoots you're aiming for, or the type of blogger you are, there are so many cheap prop ideas you use in your photography. In fact, here's over 50 for you to browse and try your hand at using..


  • Books, Notepads, Notebooks, Writing Pads, Sticky Notes, 
  • Pens, Pencils, Markers, Highlighters, Gel Pens, 
  • Staples, Paper Clips, Small Sellotape
  • Folders, Small Storage Containers,


  • Cups, Saucers, Mugs, Plates, Bowls, Cutlery, Utensils, 
  • Dish Towels, Chopping Boards, Lap Trays,
  • Variety of Cheap Foods: Fruits, Sweets, Chocolate, etc.


  • Vases, Ornaments, Paper Weights, Money Jars
  • Flowers, Pebbles, Stones, Candles, Candle Holders


  • Make-Up, Make-Up Brushes, Facepaint, Nail Polish, Bags
  • Hairbrush, Hairclips, Headbands, Ribbons, Bows, Jewellery 


  • Free Wallpaper Samples, Posters, Patterned Paper/Card
  • Stamps, Stickers, Scissors, Glue Sticks/Packets
  • Cotton/Wool Wheels, Straws, Paints, Paintbrushes

As you can see, many of these are just simple little nik-naks you'd find around your home, and even some of those less likely of items could make clever props, like an unused teapot, or a phone you no longer use, fairy lights and earphones, or even your cat, (and yes, I have used Simba as a prop before, he's actually rather good at keeping still when I want him too!) so it's never difficult to stage a really good-looking shoot.

With the right tools, the right preparation, and the right scene, you can succeed in taking the best photography shoots you can with focus, and with some editing tricks and tips, you can make them even better. You can take great photos, even with a phone camera, and I promise you it's possible, just take a look at my Instagram if you don't believe me..

How do you prepare for photography photoshoots?


  1. OOH THIS IS FABULOUS. I use a lot of office supplies for my photos, and some flowers. *nods* But omg I used to take all these outside ones?! AND THEN SUMMER CAME, DANGIT. The summer light is harsh and awful and all of my "nice" places because horrible because of light and shadows and things. Bleh. So the only thing I'm looking forward to about winter is reclaiming them. xD I basically do only inside photography now.

    Ohh, maybe you might know the answer to this. Is it better to put your tags in the post itself or in the comments on instagram? I see people doing both and I don't know what the difference is and I'm curious. :P

    1. THANK YOU! I know how you feel though Cait, we're coming into Spring (albeit slowly!) and the light is starting to change and I don't want to it to ruin the types of photography I can do.. *cries*

      In terms of tags, I tend to put them in the first comment, not for any reason other than that, with versions of the app, the entire description can show, and on some, it doesn't, and the bigger the description, the more it can be annoying, but generally, I don't think there's a difference. I've not see any for myself at least :)

  2. These are so helpful! I definitely struggle with props when bookstagramming so this list = THE AWESOMEST. I should raid the kitchen more often, since my mum adores pretty cutlery and there are some lying around that I'm sure she won't mind me, ahem, borrowing, for a photoshoot. I actually use money ALL THE TIME as a prop, just because it's Hong Kong money and looks less familiar to people I guess? Hopefully? And origami paper = the best background!

    This is SUPER HELPFUL, Amanda!! I love it!

    1. Aw yay, so pleased I could help! I think props are something a lot of people struggle with, and it's a shame because there's so many different options available, you can use almost anything! I love that you use money, because it's a really good prop to use, especially with different currency around. Origami paper too is too great :)

  3. Once again you post this just when I need it!!! I have been desperate to start a bookstagram or booklr for quite some time now, but had no idea how to set up my photo shoots! I have a DSLR I have books, yet I had no idea what to do! This post has just made my day, because this weekend, I swear I will use some of these tips to finally do a photo shoot!!

    1. Sometimes, you just have to have a go, get started and see where it takes you! Hopefully this helps you get the shoot you want Maya :)

  4. Big thank you goes to you because I was struggling with props for a long time now. A LONG TIME! I didn't know what to put in the photo and it stressed me out but your blog post gave me ideas and hopefully, taking photos will be even more fun for me. And hopefully after this I will be able to come up with my own props. :)

    1. You're welcome Simona, I used to struggle myself too, but you can use almost anything really, it's just about taking the photo you're happy with and that shows you off in the best way :)

  5. I love the list you supplied at the bottom for props to use! I never know what props to use, and sometimes just end up picking something that looks kindaa aesthetic, and somehow has relevance to use in my photos, but it takes ~30-40m to complete a shoot for just one photo then. -sighs-. I'll definitely try the tips you have here though - they're seriously awesome! Thanks so much, Amanda! :)

    1. That's the exact reason I recommend having props all together so you can grab, place, and snap away without worrying over the perfect picture. You're welcome Geraldine! :)

  6. I like Instagram.... but man, people be getting all SERIOUS about their book photos!! Like everything has to be perfect. IT SO DOESN'T!! Also they are all starting to look the same. A white back ground, a book, a bunch of color related or theme related items scattered around. I mean, yes it looks nice... but if everyone does the same thing, I get so bored.

    1. I like your tips BTW. Don't want to come off like I didn't like the post :) Definitely love the natural light aspect and I love when other people post tips!!

    2. Oh don't worry Michelle, I totally understand how you feel. I couldn't agree more with you actually, the photos don't have to be perfect, and it's fine to not have perfection. I don't aim for it myself, I like having spontaneous photos too, but it's nice to share help for those who do want to really nail their feed or create a good looking experience. I'm glad you liked the tips! :)

  7. I am always surprised just how many things I have found around the house to use as props for my portraiture photography, and the light is just fun..... But for me in Australia the best light is the two ours before the sun sets otherwise there is just to much glare.

  8. I agree with your comment on always getting white background. It's so exhausting. I don't pay so much thought it white background. If it happens, then it happens.

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