Portraits are all about capturing the essence of your subject, which might make obvious props seem extraneous. The right props, however, can add subtext, depth, and interest to your shots. We asked Bobby Kenney III, a portrait photographer based in Dayton Ohio, about the distinctive props he incorporates into his portraits.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model and her reflection

Be Prepared. Then go with the Flow.

“I choose the props for my shoot by deciding what I can use to add a creative touch to the picture without taking away from the beauty of the main subject.”

Of course, it’s always good to have your shoot well thought out before you begin. Scout the location, bring lots of props (even ones you don’t think you’ll use), have a backup plan for lighting or weather issues. Being prepared allows you to approach your subjects with a certain openness and spontaneity — which can result in something unexpectedly great.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model and flowers

Hiding in Plain Site

“Another big reason I add props is to create bokeh (the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens) in the foreground of the picture, adding depth and sometimes an extra addition of color.”

Props add texture, color, depth, feeling. The interaction between the subject and the props also reveals another aspect of the subject’s nature — do they want to blend in or stand out? Are they reserved or connecting with the props? These things lend emotion to your photos.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model in the trees

A New Angle

“Pictures that have props that partially obscure the subject have come about from experimenting with different angles, with the props and subjects staying in the same location while I move around. My intention with this is to make the photo unique and also to add depth.”

See what happens as you move around your subject. Having them as the center of the shot with you as a satellite moving around them can help you discover striking and surprising angles.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model and billiard balls on a pool table

What Makes a Favorite

“Of my new images, my favorite is the pool table shot of Katelyn! {Above} I love this photo because the overall tint of the photo is dark and contains a lot of black, but the pool balls provide various spots of color, creating great contrast and really bringing the photo to life.”

Props bring so many elements to portraits. They can bring pops of color to a dark image. They can add a subtext about the subject — perhaps revealing their competitive streak or playfulness. How you arrange your props matters too. Putting props in the foreground and your subject in the back forces the viewer to look deep into the image, adding drama to the portrait.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model lit by blue neon at night

A Parting Shot

“If I were to give other portrait photographers advice, I would say to make sure you don’t objectify your subjects. Upholding the dignity of each human is so incredibly important, as our identity doesn’t lie in our appearance.”

Obviously, the subject of the portrait is the most important element of your photograph. Finding a way to bring their inner life out is the key. And props, used effectively, can definitely help do that.

Bobby Kenney III is a photographer based in Dayton, Ohio, and has been shooting for a little over 3 years. He notes that his photography has transitioned greatly, from rooftop city shots, to urban abandoned architecture, to creative portraits of models, to capturing the joy of love between couples! Artists and photographers who influence Bobby include Samuel Greenhill (@photosamyam), Derrick (@drtzed), and Raquel/Miguel (@explorerssaurus_).

Check out more of Bobby’s work on Instagram instagram.com/bobbykenney3.