While using photo and film gear as props in portraits has been cool almost as long as there have been cameras, there are some unwritten rules you should follow. And when you violate these tenets, I feel like going off like Joan Crawford did about wire hangers in the 1981 classic film, “Mommy Dearest.”
Any element in your portrait that stands out from the rest of the composition is going to draw the viewer’s attention. This usually happens when something is brighter than the majority of the objects in your frame. So, if the brightest element is a chrome lightstand or a bare birch apple box, it is probably going to stick out like a sore thumb and will fight with your subject’s face for attention.
If you’re propping your shot with a raw apple box, it’s probably the visual equivalent of nails on a chalk board. But you can probably fix it in less time than you spent retouching that previous masterpiece!
Staining can be a quick and effective way to add an “authentic” artifact to any visual work of art. I have used the following steps to add a weathered finish to all all of my apple boxes and a few chairs, too, using this tried and true process.
Step One: Sanding
Quickly sand down the apple box by hand to remove the polyurethane seal. A used prop will look better because the scratches will show through.
Step Two: Minwax On
Step Three: Wax Off
After five minutes, take a dry rag and wipe away the undried stain.
Step Four: Dry
Let the box fully dry overnight on cardboard or some other surface you don’t care about.
Step Five: Shoot
Prop like a pro with your one-of-a-kind “weathered antique.”