Wednesday, 9 March 2016

How To Have A Great Prop Buying Experience

If there’s one thing there’s no shortage of in the photographic community, Prop Vendors come pretty high up on the list of businesses supplying photographers.  There seems to be a new prop maker springing up almost daily.

I am active in a few prop groups on Facebook, and often see the long list of responses to a photographer’s plea for props for a session, which I’m sure must be frustrating when a photographer has tracked down and purchased what they want yet is still receiving endless replies to their post.

Here are a few suggestions on how you can cut down on the task of trawling through all of the props available and find the props, and prop maker, who is a perfect fit for your business.

Be Specific
If you’re posting an “In Search Of” (ISO) comment in a group full of hundreds of prop vendors, give a  detailed description of what you are looking for.  “Looking for rompers” is likely to generate 20, 30 or even more links, replies and images from suppliers hoping to fulfil your requirement.  What age do you need?  Is it for a girl or boy or unisex? Do you have a colour in mind?

Posting “Looking for newborn rompers in neutral tones for a girl, preferably upcycled rather than knitted or crochet” or “I’m shooting a cake smash for a 12m old boy using lots of blue colours” will probably cut those responses in half and provide you with a relevant list of props to choose from.

Plan Ahead
I regularly see a post on a Thursday afternoon asking for props urgently for a session on Saturday.  That’s really going to cut down your chances on a prop supplier being able to help unless they have just the thing you need and haven’t already been to the post office that day.

If you do manage to get something organised, be prepared to pay extra shipping costs to guarantee next day delivery.

Don’t Be Cheap
You know how awkward you can feel when one of your photography clients asks “if I buy all the images / prints, can we get a discount?” and how you have to explain that the price is the price is the price?  It’s exactly the same for prop makers!  We take as much pride, and put as much love into our products as photographers put into their artwork.  The price is the price is the price!

Work the cost of props into your sessions to recoup your costs.  If you want to purchase a particularly expensive item, can you re-sell it on aftwerwards?  Can you hire it out to local photographers to share the cost?

RTS or Made to Order?
When choosing a prop supplier, research whether their items are ready to ship (RTS) or made to order (MTO) - what are their advertised timescales for delivery?  Will the item arrive in time for your session?

Give Us Feedback
As an ex-photographer, when I see a prop, or plan an outfit, I usually picture how I would pose a baby in it, how it is likely to look on a flokati or with a wrap, so I can genuinely, hand on heart, say I love it when I get sent / tagged in images of my props being used!  Not only because I love looking at images of squidgy babies and gummy toddlers, but it also gives me visual feedback on how my clothes look when being worn, how the colour photographs, whether I need to adjust the fit in any way etc.
Remember, photographers get to work with actual real life babies on an almost daily basis - the majority of prop vendors will be working from patterns only.

Don't Post Cheaper Alternatives
Imagine you see a post in a local selling group where a member of the public has asked for a newborn photographer, and you've answered with your details, or even better, someone has recommended you.  How would it make you feel if someone then commented "my mate can do this for £30, don't waste your money on professionals"?

Now imagine you're a prop maker who finds a comment like "you can buy this from China really cheap" under their image?

It's exactly the same.

Yes, there are plenty of people selling cheaper items on China websites, just the same as there are hobbyists with cameras offering shoot and burn sessions.  Buying cheap does not always mean you are getting a good deal.

Don’t Base Your Decision On In-Use Items Only. 
Yes, I know it’s great to see a prop on an actual baby lit and posed beautifully, but a lot of the time, prop makers will be making one-of-a-kind (OOAK) items so it’s not always practical to get a shot of it on a baby. 

Not only that, the photographer who has taken the image of the prop in use may have an entirely different style to you, may light differently, will probably edit differently - all of which does not give a true reflection of how you might make the prop look in your own work.   

I've also spoken to a few vendors who are now wary of sending their props to photographers in exchange for images because they've sent the props off and then never received any images in return.

One thing a photographer should have plenty of is imagination - most prop vendors will take enough images of their items for you to get a good sense of what the props look like.   They will also have images of their other props in use to give you an idea of their sizing.

We Follow Copyright Rules Too
I am often asked if I can make a prop / print a backdrop and get sent a link to someone else’s work, and whilst I absolutely don’t mind seeing what look a photographer is trying to achieve, I never ever want to be in the position of copying someone else’s work.  I deliberately only follow a few other prop vendor’s pages on Facebook to avoid being influenced too heavily by anyone else’s style.

It’s a slightly different situation when it comes to printed backdrops, as a lot of the designs are readily available to purchase from stock image websites, but I would still try to avoid directly copying someone’s range of designs.

Another copyright issue is Disney themed props.

Many vendors will avoid making Mickey Mouse or Minnie Mouse, Toy Story, Frozen etc themed props because you need to purchase a license from Disney to sell anything Disney related. Yes, really.

Next time you want to advertise a “Frozen mini session”, or if you’re a prop maker thinking about advertising a Minnie Mouse outfit, you might want to read what happened to people selling any Disney related items on etsy a while back here

Every single prop you buy will vary in size from vendor to vendor. 

Some will be making items to their own patterns, different yarns produce a different tension making knitted / crochet items slightly different even if they are made from the same pattern.

Just like no two babies are the same size, there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all solution to photography props.

Be prepared to tuck extra fabric behind the baby when posed, or even use hair grips around the back of a hat that might be too big a fit - nothing distracts more from a sweet newborn face than a badly fitting hat.

Also understand that props made for newborn babies are made for babies under 14 days old.  They will generally be smaller than shop-bought newborn size clothes, and not likely to fit a 5 week old baby.

Clothing is also designed to look great in photographs and in some cases may present a choking or strangulation hazard (long ties on a bonnet that look great curled on a baby’s back for example).  They are not intended for every day wear and babies should never be left unsupervised wearing props. (I’m really aiming these remarks at non-photographers here.  I know a few prop vendors who have had their items purchased by parents as going-home in outfits.)  With this in mind, any outfits or furniture designed to be used by photographers as a prop will not necessarily comply to normal regulatory quality standards.

I hope you find this article useful - I spoke to lots of other prop vendors to help write it, and generally, we're a pretty helpful bunch who love making pretty things to enhance your images.