Top Tips For Photography Prop Suppliers

September 22, 2014 1 Comment

I have been designing and making photography props for nearly 4 years now and when I started out it was a hobby supplying props to a photographer friend - the amazing Jo @ Raremomentsphotography. It quickly grew into a small business for me that I could fit around my growing family. Nowadays Big Crocodile sells photography props all over the world and to some of the worlds top newborn photographers. It has been a long journey with a lot of 'mistakes' made along the way but I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing people who have given me their time and advice (sometimes this was hard to take) and I have turned my little hobby into a thriving business.
  • Your products may simply have not worked, did not fit or just did not look good on camera and therefore the photographer could not get a decent image
  • As in point 5 you did not label your products and therefore the photographer does not know who to send the image too.
  • Parents did not choose your props for their babies shoot.
  • Parents do not want their images shared. 

    • I follow a lot of prop makers, I am envious of your talent and designs often thinking 'why didn't I think of that'. I also see quite a lot who are just starting out pretty much in the same place I was at the beginning. I am a member of some prop makers groups and often see the same questions crop up over and over again. This got me thinking about putting together a brief guide of what I have learnt and passing my experience on to others who are just starting out. I am by no means an expert and am still learning everyday, you may of course disagree with my list but overall I hope you will find it helpful. I also hope that photographers will find it interesting and if you would like to add your own advice to prop makers please make a comment.
      At the start of this blog I had put together my own list. Then I realised that this would be my biased opinion and as I am not a photographer I thought 'what do i know really?' so I conducted a short survey to get the real opinions of photographers. I was so pleased with the response (I actually didn't think anyone would complete it) and I would like to extend my thanks to all those who took the time to fill it in. So here goes 
      1. Be unique - find your niche
      You are trying to sell in a very saturated market (I have just put photography props in the search bar of etsy - 97678 results, wooooah) so you need to ask yourself why would a photographer choose my products over the thousands of others available? and why would they buy something from you if 5 other suppliers are selling the same item? someone will always offer a lower price than you or have a better marketing strategy so you need to stand out from the crowd. Create unique products that will provide photographers with new setup options or source a material that others are not using. You may not need to do this for all of your products but you need at least a few that will attract buyers to your shop in the first instance.
      Some answers from the survey that stood out: 'Be Unique , define your own brand', Be inovative, change things up, there is so much of the same', 'I love simple things, but unique', 'Keep things fresh', 'For me it is in exclusive materials' 
      2. Don't be cheap - in your materials or pricing 
      Interestingly only two responders raised overpricing as a put off. Generally everyone else was more concerned about the quality of the products. There are some very very cheap photography props available. These are mostly shipped in from abroad and sold on the likes of ebay, amazon etc. They are made in factories from very cheap materials and you simply cannot compete with them. Unless you are in this as a bit of a hobby then you can't afford to simply cover costs or even lose money on every product you sell. In my experience photographers appreciate time and creativity and will pay for quality products that will help them in turn sell more images. Pricing is very hard to do, but please do not under value yourself. 
      This said do not think that you can use the cheapest materials available to make the biggest profit. Yes you can make a hat for as little a 50 pence using cheap yarn but these generally look dreadful on camera and are not what most photographers are after. 
      Relevant answers from the survey: 'good priced UK suppliers', 'I like good quality', 'quality products', 'quality materials', 'Always use top quality materials', 'I do not like extremely over priced props', 'don't over price!', 'I like elegant timeless, quality wool' 
      3. Check your sizing 
      This answer came up over and over again in the survey. This is not as easy as it sounds. Yes there are standard size guides available however we all know that there is no real standard sized newborn baby or 6 month old. They all have different sized heads, legs, bottoms etc. Also you may have a yarn or fabric that makes a perfectly sized product once but change that material and you may find that it does not size the same and your pattern now needs updating. Over time I have learnt about sizing and admit to not always being successful.
      I rarely sell a product now that has not been size tested by at least one photographer and sometimes this can be a lengthly process. I am particularly having trouble with dungarees at the moment. 
      My top tip would be to give a little stretch to your items so that they fit multiple sizes - as a knitter I find a ribbed edge or a cast on method that allows for extra stretch works well.
      A selection of survey answers: 'good fit', 'ensure fit is good', 'Check your sizing'
      4. Good customer service goes a long way  
      I think this one is self explanatory but still important to note. Getting your first customers is hard but keeping them coming back time and time again is even harder. This is were you can stand out from the competition. If you have a wait time like me make sure you stick to it. If you are going to be late message your customers to explain, mostly they will understand but will appreciate your courtesy. If anyone comes back to you with a problem my advice is to fix it even if this means producing a replacement product which may in turn cost you, don't quibble about who pays the return postage (generally I don't worry about getting the item returned) it is usually better just to replace the item or offer a refund. Hopefully issues will be few and far between so should not effect your business too much.
      In my experience parcels get lost, you go a long period with no issues and then they all seem to disappear at once. Again my advise is not to argue - resend the items. Contrary to popular belief very few people will 'try it on' so it is another one of those things that you just have to factor into to your costs.
      Remember your customers are business people too, they too have products go missing in the post which they have to replace out of their own pockets.
      Reward loyal customers too - everyone likes a freebie, discount or extra touch in your packaging. 
      Some points raised in the survey answers: 'little extras keep you coming back', 'gave us a free headband with our order we were delighted', 'good CS', 'Good customer service essential', 'quality is important, as well customer service',We do like when we can gain discounts for sending photos back', 'Good customer service'
      5. Label your products
      Now this is rich coming from me, I am the worst at doing this. I have all the pretty labels ready and all the intention to do so but somehow it never happens. However I know from experience that if you would like images in exchange for your products don't expect the photographer to remember who sent them which props a few weeks down the line if you have not labelled your items. 
      Also to add to this point - I feel that having a strong brand identity will help people remember you. Label, sticker or stamp your packaging, put headers on your receipts, or do something different with you parcels. 
      6. Be patient waiting for images 
      Getting images of your products in use is not easy, especially in the beginning. You will probably get 1 or 2 images for every 10 promised and this can be frustrating. There are a minority of people out there who have learnt that by offering images in exchange for props might get them big discounts or even freebies - you send the products and you never get the images. Hopefully you will learn who these are but I have found that generally if they like your props you will get an image back.
      There are many reasons why you may not be getting images back,

      You need to be patient for images, it can take while for the right circumstances for that prop to be used and then a while longer for permission for the image to be released (not all photographer request permission) 
      A gentle reminder does not hurt but do not nag or demand your image this will just end in a poor relationship with that photographer. Sometimes you will never see that image and you just need to move on. Over time you will find photographers that do provide images and you can build on that relationship with them. 
      7. Love what you do and like what you make  
      This sounds straight forward but I spent quite a bit of time trying to match other people work and styles. Adding flowers, ribbons, lace and other bits bobs to my designs because I thought that is what people would want. However I hated making these items, they were not my style and I started to not be satisfied with the products I was sending out. I like simple, classic and unfussy designs and made the conscious decision to only make items that I enjoy making that would buy myself.
      There will be times (hopefully- this means you are busy) that you will be up to the small hours trying to get orders out. This is tremendously hard work if you are not enjoying what you are doing. 
      Yes you may not satisfy every purchaser out there but you will eventually be known for a certain style and there will be plenty of people who will be looking for your style too.
      8. Good images are worth their weight in gold
      From the survey 'Use a good photographer to advertise your props'
      Building relationships with photographers takes time but you can take lovely product only shots with a half decent camera. This is something I have always struggled with but there are some very clever prop suppliers out there who set up their images beautifully. I would follow a few whose style you like and pick up some tips from them. If you have a friendly local photographer they may also help you with product shots.
      I thought I would finish with a bit of a round up of the other data that I got from the survey - It was great eye opener for me and I hope it will help some of you moving forwards.
      Where do you purchase your props?
      A whooping 92% said they purchase directly from Facebook, second favourite was a suppliers own website shortly followed by etsy. I used to sell a lot through facebook when I first started out and this is a great place to get known. Facebook has changed and very few people now see your posts so I don't really do much direct selling from here. However it looks like if you can get your posts seen you will sell well through Facebook. I get about 95% of my sales directly from my website and the other 5% through etsy.
      Others mentioned trade shows and ebay. One left this comment that some of you may want to consider especially if you have a few photographers in your areas: 'love trade shows so you can touch everything! more prop suppliers should do evenings in cafes or bars as trade shows are so few and far between- this would make me buy more'
      What is your favourite style of prop? 
      50% selected knitted, 21% jointly chose fabric and chunky merino, 8% chose crocheted. Merino and mohair were highlighted as a favourite 
      What props do you use the most?
      Over 60% selected hats, the rest was even split between headbands and blankets. I know from experience that wraps and cocoons are also popular.

      1 Response


      July 08, 2016

      Life is short, and this article saved valbluae time on this Earth.

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