Last November, I had the opportunity to work with Costco on a commercial shoot for outdoor furniture. Prop styling for commercial shoots like this is a very different world than editorial styling. Unlike wedding or lifestyle editorials where the focus is on the story or how pretty the elements of the photo are, here the focus is only on the product and how accurately it’s being captured in camera. When I prop style for clients like this, its important to prop and show the “lifestyle,” but at the same time its crucial to not overly stage a scene. For instance, an elaborate cheese display or a huge floral arrangement in this context would distract from function of the photo, which is to: 1. Show the furniture 2. Sell the furniture.
Another aspect that is very different from editorial styling, is that products are shot from one pre-selected angle. Normally, I place props on set where someone would naturally set their wine glass down. But since the angle of the shot is so defined, props may actually get placed where they would never be in reality. For instance, the pitcher of orange juice below. In an editorial, I would place it in the middle of table, here its placed back and further away so you can see more of the table and it also helps to draw your eye further into the photo.
So how do I pick props for each set? First, I like to determine what story the props should be telling in this scene. Is this a breakfast? Just a cocktail by the pool? An al fresco dinner? Once, I have the “storyline” for the set, I pull the appropriate props to show that story unfolding. Props need to be obvious, especially from a distance (note how far away the camera is from the actual product). For faux breakfasts, I like OJ in a pitcher because it reads so clearly, martinis read great for a faux cocktail scene, and iced tea works well for a casual moment by the pool. I also like to use orchids for a pop of color (especially when the product is so neutral like this) and soften sets with blankets and pillows.
A faux breakfast scene with OJ, strawberries, and muffins.
The models interacting with the props.
A mid-day treat, cookies and milk. Here, I used heavy whipping cream instead of milk since its more opaque. The glass I chose features a little pop of color to breakup the otherwise nuetral set.
Orchids and iced tea for the lounge chairs and a table about to be set for dinner.
Commercial shoots like this are always shot “tethered” aka, there’s a screen to show you the actual photo and angel of a shot as you work. I use the test shots to make sure props are placed in the right spot position in camera and not in reality. The lanterns in the background for instance, had to be staggered just so to account for the angle the photo.
And finally, a festive cocktail hour, margaritas (or in this case gatorade mixed with OJ) and chips and salsa.
A special thanks to Keith Sutter for the photos and the amazing team at Sunvilla, Costco and Trustylz Media for a smooth five day photo shoot.