Sometimes photographers can get so wrapped up with the technical side of a photoshoot that they forget to add a key element that makes the purpose of the image clear. Forgetting this element can cause confusion and make the viewer lose interest immediately. Using a sports image as an example, here’s how to style the image with a simple prop to make its purpose clear.

A propless trap: Who is Dr. Osita?

“Looking at this image, can you tell who Dr. Osita is?” That was the question Hollywood photographer Mike Kubeisy asked me — followed by “What a Rookie mistake.”

Kubeisy was right. Looking at this image can you tell who Dr. Osita is? Is he a weightlifter, a boxer, an MMA fighter, a football player or just a good looking guy? Without a backstory, this sports image is a casualty of a propless trap, making its purpose unclear.

Add style with a simple prop

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to reshoot Osita. If I had, I could add a weightlifting belt to make him look like a weightlifter. Boxing gloves or hand wraps to look like a boxer. Bloodstained hand wraps to look like an MMA fighter or even a simple football to make him look like a football player.

Frustrated with my mistake and embarrassed by Kubeisy’s comment, I happened to run into a good friend of mine and his daughter. I asked if she were still playing hockey and if she had her gear in the car. They smiled, knowing what I wanted to do. We quickly ran to my studio and captured a few shots. I made sure to style the shot by adding a hockey stick. I sent the images to Kubeisy to redeem myself.

After you have the technical side of the photoshoot ready, stop for a moment and ask yourself, “Will the viewer know who this person is by just looking at the photo?” If it’s unclear, think what prop will help identify the person — sometimes it may even be a place or location. Either way, don’t forget to style the shoot.