Arrowrock Photography | WORKOUT SESSION: PROP-O-GANDA


November 04, 2015  •  Leave a Comment


Speaking of flu shots, sometimes a photo needs a little extra shot in the arm, ya know? It's exposed well, we've got a killer subject, but something is missing, that little spark... it just needs... what?


You know, a stage prop, something portable that our scene or model can use, lean on, sit or stand on, pick up, look at, play with or throw. A prop can provide that missing zing.

Props. If you really want to understand them, take 3 minutes and watch this mother of all prop scenes:

OK , so I lost a couple of you who squirreled and went off to watch the entire movie, but hey, it's a classic so all is forgiven and we covered for ya with the boss during your absence. You did bring us all popcorn, right?

What do props really do? Why would we want or need them? And how big a storage unit do I need to rent to store all this stuff?

A prop may be a helper; it can prop up an image (collective groan). A prop behaves like an adjective or adverb. A prop is Best Actor in a Supporting Role. A prop is photo sauce, a late night comic's Snerd. 

A prop can illuminate a scene, give voice to a setting, illustrate an idea, be a metaphor for something unspeakable. Props help amplify a characteristic or identity. A kid with a basketball or a suitcase may forecast something about them, as does a pack of cigarettes rolled up in a white Route 66 t-shirt sleeve. 

A prop's mileage may vary depending on the context. A glass of water in the desert, an old dial telephone in a modern movie, a smoking gun in a swordfight - the scenes wouldn't be the same without them.

Props can be the thematic link in a photo series. How many ways can you employ a red chair? A Travelocity gnome? A pair of sneakers? 

A prop might even be a sly symbol for yourself, a pretend avatar, pseudonym, or alias. A prop might go places and do things you'd never dream of. Props carry no emotional baggage, answer to no one, love what they are, and do what they do. Also, props carry on mischievously at night while we're sleeping, as evidenced by all those times they're not exactly in the same place we leave them.

We can hide behind props (smartphones) or use them to reach out (dumbphones). What's the right prop for the right situation? What's the wrong prop for the wrong situation?

Props can create a caste system; they can socially stratify. Take the camera, for instance, our clan's favorite prop. Honestly, don't we sometimes rank each other by model, lens, strap, bag, or megapixel?

Props. What would we do without them?

So let's make some PROP-O-GANDA. Here's how:

Select some props to use for the next two weeks, ideally a small number, like 3. You may use one, two, or several props in any one image - your choice - but the idea is to create a series of work using the same props. If your image does not employ a prop, it may be interesting but it won't be PROP-O-GANDA. 

Put on your propeller hats and head out into the world searching for adventure. Your job is to find it before it finds you.

PROP-O-GANDA will run for two weeks, from Nov 4 through Nov 17... happy shooting!

© 2015 Don Johnson /

NOTE: "Workout Sessions" mirror the "Photo Assignment" group on Facebook. You are invited to join us there in order to fully participate with our members, sharing photos and ideas generated by the bi-weekly exercises. If Facebook isn't your thing, please post comments and links to your photos here - we'd love to see them! Happy shooting!

© 2015 Don Johnson


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