I get asked all the time from clients, as well as from other photographers “Where do you get all your props?”. While I do buy from vendors and things I come across in stores and a lot I make myself, but I’d say about 70-80% of my props come from Thrift Stores!
One thing you should know about me is i’m very very picky. Especially about colours and materials. Online shopping is an amazing thing because we can find and purchase things that typically you can’t get here, or you don’t see in stores easily. However, one problem that I have is that because I am so picky about colour and texture, most of the time what I see on the computer, is not what ends up in my mailbox. Most specifically the colour. Why does this happen? There are a number of reasons ranging from uncalibrated monitors where mine is calibrated to the #1 reason… Vendors usually use photographers to use their products in their images so they have in use photos to show how it actually works. Thats great for seeing fit, however if that photographer doesn’t have the exact same editing style or lighting as me, the colour will likely vary, so that super soft beautiful cream colour I was expecting and saw on my screen, turned out to be a very yellow cream, or more of a beige that they slightly altered through their editing workflow. To a lot of photographers this doesn’t matter. To me its a huge deal breaker because:
a) I’m lazy. I don’t wan to have to do extra editing if I don’t want to
b) I’ll be upset overtime I use the blanket or wrap that it’s not the exact colour I wanted (I blame it on the Scottish stubbornness and genetic ability to just not… Let it go).
c) I hate owning things that clients may see and want to use and that I don’t love.
So how do I get past this? I tend to only order things online that the colour won’t matter 100% in, so thats a lot of rompers or white or cream things. The other thing I do is I hit up the fabric stores and thrift stores. The best part about that is I can physically see and touch what I am going to buy before I buy it… And I shop the sales. The biggest key to this that a lot of people find difficult is.. You need to be creative and have an open mind. So I”m going to share some of my tips. Not all of them… But some of them.
So, this past weekend I hit up some thrift stores (kid free… All you moms are jealous right now), and I walked out with 4 Big huge bags, and 2 bowls for under $140. only 2.5 of those bags were photography related as I did pick up some clothes for the kiddos as clothes were on clearance at one of the thrift stores, but here is what I got and a brief description for what I plan to do with them! So onto the fun stuff!!
Sweaters! Sweaters have so many uses, but the main reason I hit the sweater aisle is for up cycling. Nothing makes more adorable pants and rompers and little hats than sweaters. Here I care nothing about size or style of sweater. I’m looking specifically at colour, texture and material. I also use a lot of sweaters to make layering pieces, wraps, and mini wraps. So many options!! These sweaters were 4 for $15.
Shirts. Next I hit up the shirts section. These shirts were all on sale 50% off so I paid between $0.50 and $4 per shirt. Crazy!! Here I’m looking for 2 types of clothes. One is clothing for props for in the studio. Clothes that work for maternity, clothes that work for kids, clothes that work for parent shots… The other thing i’m looking for are materials and colours for wraps, up cycling, etc… I’ve turned many a fugly shirt into an adorable romper or pants set. But a lot of times it’s hard to see. For instance… See the image below…
Isn’t that fabulously beautiful material for a wrap? It looks almost like a rich painting… Just hours before this photo it was one of the ugliest dresses I have ever seen. The dress had zero shape to it, but every time I walked past it I was drawn to it. The dress cost me $8 and I figured… Why not. It’ll be my “What if” purchase for the day (I always allow myself 2 what if purchases a shopping day). The benefit to making my own props like this is how many other photographers out there can say they have this wrap? I would be surprised to see one!
The white cream lace garment is actually an extra large lace poncho style shirt. It will be beautiful for maternity to drape over that belly, and while i’m not crazy about the yellow tone, it’s easy enough to dye it another colour, or to use fabric friendly bleach to pull out some, if not all that yellow. The shirt was $2.50. How could I NOT get it?
The gorgeous and elegant purple material? This was my moms influence… It is a Sari. It’s a chiffon material so will drape beautiful, and there is no tag and it looks handmade, so there is a good chance that it’s a custom sari, meaning I can offer something to clients that’s unique. Something we are all looking for in this business. For this I’ll have to take a closer look to see if I can whack off a bunch to use as a wrap. But it’s massive. It’s 45 Inches wide by 240 inches long, so i’m sure I can get a long wrap, as well as a good amount to use to drape a beautiful pregnant mama in. Best part? It was only $6. They considered it a long scarf!
Now speaking of scarves… I also snagged this beautiful infinity scarf. It’s so very light and airy made of mohair. It’s also massive. I’ll likely leave it as an infinity scarf for now, then eventually preserve the edge and cut it to make one really long wrap. How much did this wrap that would easily cost over $30 from a vendor? a whopping $3.
Bowls. Anyone else have a love affair with bowls? These 2 beauties were $5.99 and $3.99. The left is a clay bowl that was actually handmade (The signature is etched into the bottom) and the other is a porcelain. Both large enough for a baby on their back or belly. Now the porcelain pink one i’m not sure if i’ll leave it as it is, or if i’ll chalk paint it either a cream or ivory or white, or even a soft pink colour. I’ll likely try it out as is and see how I like it. The other I extremely dislike the colour so that one I will paint however there are so many options. Do I paint it just with regular paint for a clean look, do I paint it and distress it? Chalk paint it? Use a textured paint like an antique crackle… so many options.. But thats the point. These are both safe bowls to use with a newborn, but their colours are less than ideal. So paint it. You can change your look every few months for the cost of a tiny can of paint. I rarely find bowls, but I found 2 at one shop!! These are rare so i’m always excited to find bowls there that aren’t glass.
Doilies and a vintage looking layering piece. The doilies were $0.50 each, and that vintage layering piece?? It was a $1 pillowcase. I just modified it to suit my needs.
Aren’t those fabrics gorgeous? Recently i’ve seen vendors selling wraps for $22 each of these exact materials. They are stunning and gorgeous. However, The rose material? I got a roll of the material that cost me $3 and after I cut a generous sized wrap, i’m left with a 120 inch by 54 inch piece. Large enough to use as a large layering piece for a sitter to sit on, or use with a maternity client or drape on a beanbag… SO many options. Same with that cream. Can you guess what it was before I chopped it up into a wrap and fabric piece? It was a curtain. That’s right. It was a $5 curtain. Less the piece I cut off for a generous sized wrap, I am left with a 51 inch by 53 inch piece. Large enough to drape or use for maternity, or cut up into more wraps when the first one is too damaged to use.
My last share worthy snag was fabrics. One thrift store i went into had a huge selection of fabrics that still had the starch in them. Never used! So starting from the top right, Those 2 wraps, one has no stretch to it, but great organic texture, the other is a super soft, thick jersey material. What were they? Pillowcases I got for $1 each. That beige jersey material was $3 and measures 59 inches by 50 inches. Large enough for a beanbag! The next is a white really thick luxurious almost Jersey material but not quite. It cost me a whopping $4 and measures 51 inches by 51 inches. Just large enough to squeeze on the beanbag, or I can cut it up for wraps ( I like having lots of extra white and cream wraps when I find a material I love because we all know poop happens and ruins those wraps after a few uses no matter how quickly or how many times you hit it with resolve or bleach). The last is a white thin jersey material I also got for $4. It measures 51 inches by 62 inches.
This is a peek at most of my wraps (With the new ones tossed in already) Other than the rayon stretch wraps, 2-3 of the lace ones, my coveted DP wraps and 3 knit ones… They are ALL either from the fabric store on sale, the dollar store, the thrift stores, or up cycled from clothing/other materials. It’s just knowing WHAT you want and having the eye to see it.
Lastly here is a peek at my “Mostly used/favourite” prop storage. I have VERY little props in my studio. Aside from the wraps and headbands in the studio, I select what other materials I want for the session and bring just those in. It helps me focus and not have too many options during a session. This storage is in my office upstairs, down the hallway from my studio. The rest are in a big storage room downstairs… And in my laundry room… And in another room of the basement… And now in my closet as well (For the new tops i’m starting to gather). I only own 3 backdrops that were purchased online. The rest were thrift/fabric store finds. None of my bowls or baskets are from vendors. Basically nothing here is from a vendor EXCEPT all my amazing Fluff. Khristine at Khristine’s Creations is my fluff lady and is Amazing. And with our crappy Canadian Dollar makes me SO HAPPY that she’s Canadian!!
So there you have it! A whole bunch of stuff I got, for really cheap, that I can turn into really amazing, good quality props. I will admit not every shop is like this. Sometimes I come out with nothing, sometimes I come out with a lot, but the key is… Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean you have to buy it. The first like year I was thrift shopping i’d buy anything I could possibly talk myself into believing could possibly be a prop. Now I”m very picky. If I don’t love it. I won’t buy it. If I think it’s gorgeous but I know doesn’t fit my style (There were some beautiful coloured stuff that I wanted to buy but know I would never use (Purple Sari not included) that I didn’t get because it’s not smart spending. Just take your time, look up and down the aisles and see what you are drawn to and ask yourself “Why. What am I going to do with it. Am I going to use it more than once? Will I regret NOT getting it?” If you answer yes and know what you’ll do, Get it!
Happy Hunting! Be sure to post and let me know your great finds and ask any questions! I’m happy to help! I’m by no means an expert, but I think I do pretty well!!