Do you use props when you travel and take photos? Props are both loved and hated, but you can’t deny they have become popular with the rise of social media and blogging. Travel photography props can either add to your photo or detract from it. In this post, you’ll learn what props are, reasons to use them, 14 prop ideas for your travel photos, and how to avoid taking cliche travel photos with props.
What are photography props?
Props are small or medium objects that you strategically arrange in your photos. Props can add to a travel photo by providing a focal point or point of interest. Travel photography often doesn’t require props because the thing you’re taking a photo of is probably already cool enough. But props can make a travel photo more intriguing – if used in the right way.
Props can make your travel photos look a little cliche, especially if overdone or not given any thought. A nice prop photo needs creativity to stand out in a good way, which I’ll go over at the end of this post.
Why you should use props in your travel photography
First of all, I’m not advocating for props in all your travel photos. That would be overkill, and you would probably end up hating all your photos if you did that. But a few props here and there can help tell a story in your photo.
A carefully styled set of objects or a perfectly arranged item can send a message that might not even be possible without the prop. For example, common travel photography props are things like sunglasses and luggage. These help the viewer understand more about the setting of the photo, when in the story this photo was taken, or more about the place your are visiting.
Travel photography props are becoming even more necessary with the rise of social media and blogging. Flat lays are carefully styled photos used in food, lifestyle, fashion, or make up blogs or Instagram posts. Flat lays are a great way to showcase several items at the same time in an artful way. You can even make use of flat lays in travel blogging from time to time. No matter what type of travel photographer you are, there’s something you can use as a prop.
12 Travel photography props to experiment with
Sunglasses are fun travel photography props when you are on a beach holiday. Use them on the beach, on a table, or in the sand. You can also get artsy with them and use the reflection to focus on another subject.
Guidebooks make interesting travel photography props because they make it very clear where you are taking the photo. A guidebook photo can be used as part of a set of photos that show a journey through a country. You can even open the guidebook to a particular page or highlight a site in the book to make it even more clear what the focus is.
Maps pretty clearly indicate “travel,” so they make great travel photography props. They work well for backgrounds in flat lays. You can pile on a bunch of other props or point to areas on the map. Or focus on certain cities. Maps are versatile props, so have fun with them.
Drinks or food
Drinks and food are super popular props in a lot of photography. Heck, there are food photographers who make a living from using food as their props! And food and drinks are such integral parts of travel, why not get in on that action? Use local food or special drinks to help set the scene and create an emotion. …Is hunger an emotion?
I guess hats are more popular among fashionable travels. So, not me. I mean, I have a hat, but I don’t know how to look in a photo with it. But if you know how to dress well and are stylish, some type of summer hat can make your travel photos look flirty or girly. The wide-brimmed summer hat is getting overdone though, so jus
t know that it’s not original. But if you don’t care about that, then go ahead and take a photo with a floppy summer hat.
Shoes might not seem like great travel photography props because they’re dirty from being on the ground all the time. But different shoes are used for different occasions, so a photo with your shoes in it can help tell a story. Wedding photographers take photos of shoes, so why shouldn’t travellers? Summer sandals, hiking boots, or a cute pair of shoes you found in a foreign country can add an interesting element to your photos.
I wonder if everyone has taken a travel photo with their passport? I know I have. Of course, only the outside cover – don’t go flashing all the top secret classified information on the inside. But I don’t need to tell you that. Anyway, a passport can be a cool addition to your travel photos, especially when you travel internationally. And don’t forget to register with your embassy before you travel.
Your iPhone or other smartphone
Everybody travels with their smartphone these days, right? RIGHT? So find a way to include this *essential* travel item. I personally like the photos where another person is taking a photo of something, and I take a photo of them taking a photo so I see the subject on their phone. Your iPhone is also a great travel camera, if you didn’t already know.
Not only is important to track your daily budget when you travel, but local currency is a fun travel photography prop. Money is always so different and colourful, and it’s very unique to each country. A few bills or coins can make your photos interesting. Money can used in flat lay photos, maybe along with your passport, a guidebook, and your sunglasses. Though that’s been done already.
Luggage or cute suitcases
I don’t know where people get those cute vintage suitcases, you know, the ones aren’t very practical. They only really look cute and are good for props. If you have any really cute luggage you have a mini photo shoot before you travel. I don’t recommend actually bringing those suitcases with you when you travel though. Stick to a backpack or regular roll suitcase.
Souvenirs and knick knacks
Like to buy little souvenirs and knick knacks when you travel? Try including them as travel photography props. Little toy elephants from Thailand, a flute from Peru, or a tapestry from Morocco can make your photos fun and indicate where they were taken. Use something unique to the country and highlight the local artwork or crafts. Here’s a fun post by Kasia Writes on the different types of souvenirs we collect when we travel.
Bicycles are one of my favourite travel photography props. They make a photo much more captivating for some reason. I even like to take photos of bikes when I’m just walking around my own city. Don’t go moving people’s bikes though, just take photos when you find them in a cool spot.
I suppose you could use postcards aa travel photography props, since they already are images of the most popular tourist attractions. Or hold a postcard up against the real attraction. I guess.
A unique or special toy
This seems to be a growing thing to do – find a small toy and carry it around with you when you travel then take photos of it in all the places. It’s pretty cute because it’s like the little toy is traveling to all these places. Then have a whole little story about your toy traveling to all these cool places. I would caution you to not only take these photos though. Don’t forget to take regular photos without the toy in them. You probably won’t want toy photos for everything.
How to avoid cliche travel photos while using props
Now that I’ve given you 12 cliche travel photography props (hehe), let me give you a few different ways you can avoid taking completely cliche travel photos when using props. The key to taking original photos is to be creative. Think about the prop and the setting in new and different ways. Though there’s nothing wrong with doing something unoriginal. Just take whatever photos you want. Be creative or don’t. It’s up to you.
Photograph the prop from a different angle
Changing your perspective is an easy way to instantly get a more interesting travel photo. Taking a photo of something from eye level is boring because we all see it the same way. Instead, look at the prop from down very low, from above, or behind, and show it from a different angle. Including it from a different angle is a simple way to make it less cringy.
Combine props into something unique
Why not combine props in your travel photos? I’ve already talked about this by combining passports and money, for example. A couple different props can help tie the image together. Or go for something different, and combine two contrasting props. Like a flirty summer hat and a pair of dirty hiking boots. I’m not sure what kind of photo this will give you, but I’m sure you can get something cool from it.
Make your own travel photography props
If you can’t find anything cool to include in your photos, try and make your own prop. If you’re in Japan, build your own origami and include in a photo. Or take something not specific to travel but include it in your travel photo. Like scissors, or a pencil, or whatever. I’m pulling things from the top of my head. Basically, travel photography props do not have to be related to travel.
I suppose any time you style a travel photo using props, you are exploring the art of conceptual photography. However, this is probably the most difficult way to take unique travel photos when working with props, since a lot has already been done. It’s challenging because you need to stage your props and objects to represent an idea. Conceptual photography is very artistic, and you need to be able to think about things differently and make that idea clear to your viewers – but not boring. Here is a guide from Digital Photography School on taking unique conceptual photography.
Travel photography props can add an element of interest to your photos and help tell a story. There are lots of things you can use as props, including your passport, sunglasses, money, maps, and souvenirs. Using props means you run the risk of taking cliche travel photos, but you don’t have to. There are ways you can take unique travel photos even while using cliche travel photography props. Just remember to think about the prop and the scene differently, combine props, and try and get artsy.
If you’ve hated props before this, I hope you see that they can actually be fun to incorporate into your photos. And if you were having trouble thinking of things to use and how to use them, I hope you have some new ideas. Now, as with any photography advice, the best thing you can do is get out there and practice!
Let me know in the comment section – what is your favourite travel photography prop, and how do you use it?