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Prop collecting is a sickness

It doesn't matter if you are a portrait photographer, a still life photographer or a commercial product photographer, props are an essential part of your world. For the most part props are purchased on an "as needed" basis. Other times it's when opportunity presents itself.

I have come to a point in my career that I subconsciously keep an eye out for items that may be useful as a prop. The funny thing is I never know when or where I'll find them, or what, for that matter.

Recently I was at the supermarket and I happened to walk past a shelf loaded up with those classic mass produced Coca-Cola glasses. As they were on sale and I could always use glasses like these I decided to pick up a set of four... and here is where the sickness starts.

I picked up a couple and was ready to just place them into my basket when I noticed a defect on the lip of one of the glasses. It was just a little excess of glass that made a noticeable lump on the lip of the glass. "This is no good," I thought to myself. That'll never photograph well. Then i noticed the seam line on the other glass. A very hard and very obvious seam line where the two halves of the mold come together in manufacturing. While I could not avoid a seam I could find glasses with a minimized seam. That's when it started.

I went through every single glass on that shelf looking for a set of four "suitable for photography" drinking glasses. Out of about forty glasses I came away with the best four of the bunch. Anyone watching me would have thought I had some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, picking up one glass after the other, comparing it with the next, dismissing them on forensic fashion.

Here are a few criteria to judge whether you should buy a prop, in no particular order;

  • Will you use that prop, either immediately or in the near future? The more use you get out of a prop the higher the return on your investment. Simple math.
  • Is it a rare item that is difficult to acquire? If you are in a position to ever use that prop but will find it hard to acquire later it makes sense to grab it when opportunity presents itself.
  • Is the price to good to refuse? Sometimes even items that won't get too much use are worth getting if they are bought at a significant savings.

The good thing is that I now have four decent Coca-Cola glasses. Since I photograph food I can now deliver that classic Coke shot without a last minute scramble for that glass and that's what you need to consider when prop shopping. Don't buy something just because. If there is a need, if it is a unique item or if it's a bargain of a lifetime, grab it. But if it's something that is readily available at any time, get it as you need it. While my need wasn't immediate it is a possibility because of the nature of my work. While not rare, they are sometimes hard to find and, lastly, they were on sale for super cheap. So even if I don't use them too often, the return on my investment was worth the purchase.

So what have been some of your most unusual prop purchases? Was it worth it? Let me know in the comments section.


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