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5 Inspiring Prop Trends for Still Life Photography in 2021

5 Inspiring Prop Trends for Still Life Photography in 2021

Prop styling trends are constantly evolving, especially when it comes to still life photography. Photographers are always searching for the next best thing to bring to their visual imagery, props, and arrangements that inspire their clients. At Shutterstock, we’re inspired by the visuals that our creatives generate for our customers globally and the breadth of design knowledge they bring with them. 

In today’s article, we gathered five of our favorite prop trends we anticipate being popular in 2021. For customers searching for visual imagery to tell their story, use this article to source new visual imagery that will inspire your audiences. For contributors who are currently creating for Shutterstock, get inspired by these five 2021 prop trends.

Prop Styling in 2021: Chinese Influence
Geometric shapes, Chinese influence, and simple floral design—what could be better? Image by Peiling Lee.

1. Ikebana and the Art of Simple Flower Arrangements 

The use of real flowers in images is nothing new. But often, in still life, we see ornate uses of flowers that almost look like a still life painting from the 1800s. Instead of overpowering the images with the use of flowers, or arranging flowers to look like something they aren’t, we’re envisioning a simplistic use of flowers in still life photography in 2021. 

In an era of overpowering advertising campaigns and social media content, giving beautiful flowers their space to flourish in your imagery is calming and inviting for viewers. In 2021 floral design, for imagery, we see a mix of Scandinavian and Japanese style flowers. With a focus on quality over quantity, and simple (yet functional) shapes, sometimes all you need is a single branch or a single flower to bring a remarkable beauty to your image.

Simple Flower Arrangements
The simple use of flowers and plants can be more impactful than busy arrangements. Image by Pixasquare.


One of the design trends we particularly love in this category is Ikebana—the Japanese art of flower arranging.

“A single stem never dies.” This philosophy behind the design is nothing new, but we’re just starting to see this trend in still life photography and western design influences. Rather than overpowering vase arrangements, the art of Ikebana seeks to bring the inner qualities of flowers and natural materials together to express a certain emotion. Floral materials are simpler—arranging branches, leaves, grasses, and blossoms to uphold certain principles.

Ikebana arrangements can be stunning to implement into still life visuals. Image by Africa Studio.

Props for Ikebana and the Art of Simple Flower Arrangements:

  • Simple floral design is all about balance. A simple branch may provide all the visual impact you need to bring focus to a product, rather than an overwhelming amount of complex flowers.
  • Space is important to simple floral arrangements. Flowers should be arranged to fill some space, bringing highlight to the product you’re shooting, but leaving enough white space to maintain the minimalist feeling.
  • Have a wide variety of vase and stem holders to display your flowers. We love the idea of shallow dishes and using Ikbena Kenzan pin frogs to help you arrange your stems.

2. Mid-Century Modern Shapes

Mid-century styling has had a resurgence in popularity in interior design and fashion over the last few years, and the trend has no sign of slowing down. The mid-century design movement spanned from the 1930s to mid-1960s under the influence of design heroes like Charles and Ray Eames and Arne Jacobsen. Mid-century styling uses products and props with clean surfaces, focusing on geometric shapes as accents to the frame. 

Other characteristics of mid-century design are clean lines, organic curves that feel natural, and simple craftsmanship. There’s an emphasis on function through simple forms, not over-complication. Often, you’ll see a mixture of natural and manmade materials in unexpected ways, such as pairing a natural wood backdrop with acrylic props. 

Mid-century Modern Shapes
Painted wooden blocks are great tools for prop styling. Image by Alice Rodnova.

Props for Mid-century Modern Shapes:

  • Use paper or foam to shape and create figures that you’ll use in your still life images. These are great to paint over in order to create the exact hue you’re looking for in your prop.
  • Use a variety of different figures at different levels to create dimension in your images. 
  • If you can, use props to stack your product in unexpected ways. 
  • Use a variety of natural and artificial figures in your image to show the juxtaposition of the two styles, a characteristic of mid-century design. 
  • Moodelier is a fantastic place to pick up props and get inspiration for props you’d like to create with. 
Mid-century Design
A wider example of mid-century design at work. Image by Dreampoint.

3. Monochromatic Minimalism 

Monochromatic images feature colors of a single hue. When paired with a modern minimalist trend, the result catches your eye and leaves you wanting more. For prop styling in this trend, all your props and backgrounds will be relatively the same hue, taking the focus away from one single thing and allowing the eye to focus on the entire picture. 

For prop styling, you’ll want to organize your props by color before you shoot. Decide on a central theme, and match your props accordingly. Shapes and linework will be your best friend here. Focus on how the geometric shapes of the props you use come together to tell the story of your still life imagery. 

Monochromatic Minimalism
Props don’t have to be the exact same color, but should be in the same color family. Image by Adriana Castello.

Color theory becomes important in the monochromatic minimalism trend, with certain colors evoking certain meanings. Green is commonly associated with nature, while yellow creates a sense of ease—the color of youth and vibrancy. We suggest checking out our 2021 Color Trends for ideas on what colors are trending, as these are the colors customers are searching most for in imagery.  

Props for Monochromatic Minimalism:

  • Geometric shapes such as boxes, domes, and zig-zags to elevate the product you’re highlighting.
  • Props in solid colors that share the same common color hue as other props in your roster.
  • Props in various levels of transparency. Although the props are in the same hue, some may be more transparent than others that are bolder and filled in. 
Monochromatic Minimalism Props
An example of monochromatic styling using natural materials. Image by Darya Komarova.

4. Heirlooms and Trinkets

Maybe we’re nostalgic for the time we didn’t spend with family this year, but we’re loving this up-and-coming trend for still-life photography. Using heirlooms and trinkets in visual imagery to tell stories has a way of making us feel instantly connected to the image in front of us.

For example, using a grandmother’s teapot, gold-toothed comb, and a handkerchief to tell the story of a timeless product. Or, using an art collector’s weird, yet wonderful, trinkets from home to tell the story of something unexpected—maybe a can of soup. Trinkets and heirlooms keep us wanting more from the imagery, wondering how the artist thought of each trinket added to the photo as a way to tell a deeper story. 

Heirlooms and Trinkets
Vintage trinkets and heirlooms make for creative props. Image by Gligoric.

With this trend, the wonderful thing is that you can pretty much use anything. You can have a garden theme inspired by Alice in Wonderland for an Easter-themed shoot, and then an explorer-influenced shoot inspired by your favorite adventurer next. The most important thing about this shoot is to keep inspiration and creativity high. When you’re creating images for stock using this prop trend, consider what holidays or events are coming up that people will be searching for. Think about how you can use trinkets to tell that story visually through still life.

Props for Heirlooms and Trinkets:

  • Start to think of popular themes you may shoot. For example, Valentine’s Day is coming up. So, what would the trend look like for this? You might need to find a locket, a vintage tube of lip gloss, a cupid statue. The opportunities are endless and it’s up to you and your creativity to explore new ideas. 
  • Think of classic heirlooms and trinkets that can be applied in a lot of situations. Take a trip to your local thrift store and start building a catalog of weirdness. Some items that you might consider picking up could be a vintage spyglass, a unique sculptural bust, or an illustrative china set. 
  • Pair your trinkets and heirlooms with natural items such as fruit, flowers, or dried branches for balance. 
Heirlooms and Trinkets Props
Use trinkets, like jewelry, to elevate your still life imagery. Image by Adriana Castello.

5. Ingredient Integration 

Our last 2021 trend we love is the idea of integrating the ingredients of the products you’re shooting into the props you’re using in your images. For example, if you’re shooting a coconut oil-infused body oil, use real coconut in dynamic ways in your visual imagery. Not only does this help tell the story of the product you’re shooting, it’s an easy prop that you can essentially get for any product you’re creating. You just have to consider what pairs with your product.

For stock creators, think about the customers that are purchasing your images. What are they searching for? For example, creating beautiful still life displays for a CBD product might mean integrating real marijuana buds in your visuals (only if you’re legally able to in your geographic area). The more specific you can get about the backdrops you create, the more usable your still life will be for that particular client.

Ingredient Integration: Cotton
Insert natural clothing brand logo here. Image by Zagardinova Anastasiya.

Props for Ingredient Integration:

Rather than give you specific props in this section, we’re going to outline a few ideas from businesses that use stock, as well as how you can set up your shoot by integrating some of these products.

  • Alcohol Brands: Include real hops for breweries and beer companies, juniper berries for gin, fermented grains for certain vodka, and whiskey brands.
  • CBD Brands: Real marijuana buds, or cut out cute shapes of marijuana leaves if it’s not legal in your area. 
  • Clothing Companies: Include stylized pieces of cotton, hemp, silk strands, or other clothing materials.
  • Self-Care Products: Integrate real bath bubbles into your still life shoots—sud it up! 

Get creative and consider the kind of companies that might be searching for your images, then consider the ways you can integrate ingredients into the visual images you create. 

CBD Prop Styling
An example of ingredient integration is using marijuana buds for CBD products. Image by Jeremy Pawlowski.

Top image by Alice Rodnova.

Check out these articles for more inspiration:

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