If you’re anything like me, and most photographers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, there’s no such thing as too many props! I thought I’d share my resources with you and perhaps give you an idea you hadn’t already thought of. I’ve found my stash of vintage props all over the place – the state, the internet, you name it!
Most photographers love the look, texture and all around vibe of vintage props, whether curated from your own home, the flea market, a local fair, off Craigslist/Facebook, eBay or Etsy, I can guarantee you vintage props are a favorite and will be found in most photographer’s studios.
Vintage props are easy to find and are a throw back to times past. The offer a feeling of nostalgia to clients and lend a timeless look to images. Their colors are typically muted and don’t dominate a photo shoot, rather adding a little bit of artistic creativity into your portraits. The great thing about most vintage props is that they’re unique and you won’t be creating an image that looks just like the next photographer’s work.
So, where can you find vintage props? Here’s my list of resources:
Use what you already have
This is something I think most people overlook – rummage through your own house, your basement, your garage, your storage unit if you have one and see what you come up with. I spent a day scouring my immediate surroundings and found a vintage wooden soda advertising crate in our living room holding the toddler’s toys. I scooped that up and added it to my studio. I also found a perfect dark wood vintage stool that is just the right height for posing an older child in our basement. That went in the studio too.
I also took a day and headed out to our two storage units (yes, we have way too much stuff!). There I found a white painted wooden doll bed that is just the right size for posing newborn babies on. I also found a vintage wagon bench that was my in-laws when my husband was a small child, which I reupholstered with some upholstery fabric from JoAnn’s and my trusty staple gun. I also came across this amazing little wooden stool that has to date back to the early 1900s. I’m currently exploring ways to refinish that, but it will be perfect for sitters in the studio or outdoors. I came across an ornate wooden frame tucked away in one of the corners of the unit, which I spray painted gold, then distressed with vaseline and antique white paint to use as a prop in shoots (see above).
And the best part – all of that was free … it just took a little searching and digging! Take a lot around your house/property and see what you can come up with!
This is my favorite place to get vintage props because it’s sort of like an adventure … you never know what you’re going to discover until you walk in to the store since their merchandise is always changing from day to day. Some stores are better than others as I’ve found and I have kind of a circuit I hit them up on.
My local Goodwill is the best store for vintage props. The find that tops them all was this vintage pink velvet chair (above) that I scored at Goodwill for $19.99! I’d been searching for months and months for a chair like this everywhere I could think of and one day last week I decided to check out what might be hiding at Goodwill on my way home one evening and bam! – found the perfect chair! I bought some gold paint at Hobby Lobby and painted out the wood to give it the look I was going for.
I’ve also found an amazing ivory 1950s vintage train case with mirror that will be perfect for a toddler photo shoot and a cute little rope stool, which is perfect for sitters – both under $3. I’ve also stocked up on vintage wool blankets in neutral colors that are perfect for newborn posing as well as throwing on the ground under a family photo shoot at the park.
St. Vincent de Paul is another store I’ve had good luck at as well. There I found a 1950s vintage cheese wheel bin used for curing cheese wheels. It was unfinished, but some quick stain, paint and distressing with steel wool gave it lots of character. I added some vintage french graphics to the bin I purchased on Etsy to finish it off. It’s large enough I can pose an infant in it or have a toddler sit on top of or stand next to. It only cost me $7.99. I’ve also found tons of vintage baskets for posing newborns here, most for under $2 a piece. And of course, my favorite blue vintage arm chair with nail head trim I scored when furniture was 30% off for under $25. It has blue velvet upholstery and I love it’s charm!
Other things to look for at thrift stores include vintage suitcases, globes, fabrics (especially vintage curtains) and faux flowers to re-purpose into crowns and headpieces.
Antique stores/fairs/flea markets
We have an antique store in town that offers 3 barns full of vintage goodness … it’s a day-long adventure sorting thru everything that’s there. Their prices are higher than you’ll find at craft fairs and flea markets, but if you don’t have any of those nearby, it’s worth checking out. I’ve found great advertising crates, Coke crates, vintage wooden chairs and lot of my vintage camera collection came from antique stores.
Check and see if you have any local craft fairs in your area or flea markets. I live in Wisconsin and there happens to be an amazing flea market in Kane County, Ill. about a 2.5 hour drive away that I like to frequent. There, I’ve found everything from vintage wooden dough bowls to old steamer trunks. Vendors are usually willing to haggle a little bit with you, so there are plenty of good deals to be had.
I have two favorite places to find vintage props on line – eBay and Etsy. There are tons of beautiful vintage dresses on eBay that would be perfect for maternity shoots or themed shoots you just have to do a little digging. I’ve also found vintage baskets, bowls, buckets and more on eBay over the last year. You just have to watch for crazy high shipping charges before you buy but there are tons of great props just looking for a new home.
Etsy is also great and has a thriving vintage marketplace. Their prices tend to be a little higher than eBay or what you’d find at a flea market/thrift store, but everything I’ve bought is always impeccable and comes wrapped just beautifully. Makes you feel like you’re opening a work of art when you get an Etsy package in the mail!
I belong to several buy-sell-trade Facebook groups and am always scouting the listings for something that will work as a prop. Just the other day I picked up a great wooden vintage folding chair for $15 that will be perfect to throw in my trunk for on-location shoots. I painted it vintage white and distressed it, giving it a chippy look. I’ve also picked up lace drapes super cheap from these groups which can be re-purposed into a teepee cover or made into a vintage lace bunting. You can also post ISO (in search of) posts – I recently posted one looking for a vintage wooden three-step ladder and am hoping someone has one lying around their garage they’ll sell me for a few bucks!
Craigslist is another never-ending source of vintage props. There’s always someone cleaning out their garage, attic or barn and looking to get rid of the extras. Craigslist is a great place to find items like vintage bicycles and tricycles that you wouldn’t want to have to pay to ship. Vintage red wagons also turn up a fair bit too it seems as well as vintage sleds and vintage doors/windows. I bought a giant (ugly) vintage picture off Craigslist with an ornate frame, which I painted out gold, for $5. I used a can of chalkboard spray paint to paint over the picture and turn it into a beautiful chalkboard for photo shoots!
There’s also a number of Facebook groups dedicated to prop swapping. I belong to a couple different groups and it’s fun to see what other props other photographers are working with and trade something you don’t need for something you love.
Well, there you have it – my roundup of where I find all my vintage props. Drop me a comment and let me know what’s the best vintage prop you’ve found and where you located it … always looking for more inspiration!