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Photo Contest Insider Blog

The Ultimate Guide to Finding Photo Shoot Props in Thrift Stores

July 30, 2017

In recent years, I’ve discovered the joy of visiting charity shops (also known as op-shops or thrift shops) and searching their racks and shelves for beautiful and unique items at the fraction of the cost you would pay for them elsewhere.

Not only is there no reason to feel the dreaded ‘buyer’s remorse’ (any money you spend goes straight towards a much-needed cause), but I am also a huge believer in the old saying “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure”. Charity shops are indeed a photographer’s treasure chest, crammed full of stunning trinkets, garments and other goods just waiting to be found.

If you’ve never set foot inside of a thrift store before, or you simply don’t know where to begin when it comes to searching these stores for items of interest, don’t fret. Today I’m going to share with you the ultimate guide to finding photo shoot props in thrift stores!

finding photo shoot props in thrift stores

Do Your Research

Firstly, you want to discover which charity shops are in your local area so that you can pay them a visit in your spare time. A quick Google search will find the answers you need.

Additionally, you might find it helpful to use an online thrift store directory, such as Thrift Store Listings or The Thrift Shopper. These are both aimed at those based in the US, however I’m sure there are plenty of similar directories specifically for other regions.

The second part of your research will either involve phoning your local charity shops or visiting them in person to discover which times of the week are the best for you to go. The piece of information you really want to find out is what day of the week the charity shop updates their stock and adds new items, as they usually have a specific day or days set aside for this each week.

This means that when you visit, there will be a wider array of things for you to choose from, before too many others get to them first! There’s nothing quite like visiting a thrift store when it’s filled to the brim with unique and intriguing items. On the other hand, visiting when the shelves are looking a little sparse is not quite as enjoyable.

finding photo shoot props in thrift stores

What to Bring

If you’re about to embark on a charity shop ‘crawl’ (visiting numerous charity shops within the same day), or even if you choose to visit just one, there are some things which you should bring with you to make your shopping experience a little easier.

Firstly, I suggest you bring along some plastic or canvas bags from home to put your new purchases in, just in case the charity shop doesn’t offer bags (Many in Australia, for example, have ruled out offering plastic bags entirely because they are not eco-friendly).

Other items I suggest you bring would be a water bottle (looking in shops for hours on end without a bit of hydration isn’t too fun!), some wet wipes / antiseptic hand lotion for those who get a little itchy and scratchy from being in contact with too many dust particles, and if you wish, bring an inspirational moodboard for your upcoming photoshoot to have on hand. This will help you to determine if a garment or object is particularly suited to the look and feel of the images you have in mind.

Depending on what you’re searching for, you might even want to bring along a measuring tape. This is great for finding garments to fit a particular model’s measurements (since sizing can’t often be trusted – one size small might be entirely different to another brand’s size small). Additionally, it will come in handy if you’re searching for furniture or a prop to fit a specific size.

finding photo shoot props in thrift stores

Thrift with a Friend

Looking through thrift stores for photo shoot props can be fun alone, but sometimes, two sets of eyes are better than one. If sifting through a large tub of unsorted clothing or products makes you feel overwhelmed, why not enlist the help of a friend to cut your search time in half?

This is a great way to cover large thrift stores quickly and easily, particularly if you’re low on time. Simply show your friend your moodboard or tell them what kinds of things you’re after, then set to it! You can even stop for a lunch break at a local café in-between stores to turn it into a full, but fun, day.

What to Wear

If you want to be as prepared as possible, I’d suggest wearing comfortable, flat shoes (you’ll be spending a lot of time standing on your feet!) and very comfortable clothing. You don’t want to cut your prop shopping trip short just because you’re feeling uncomfortable, too cold or too hot.

If there’s a chance you will want to try on any garments, then I also suggest wearing clothing that can easily be taken off and put back on, or perhaps that can allow you to quickly slip another garment over the top in case there aren’t any change rooms on offer.

finding photo shoot props in thrift stores

Where to Look & What to Look For

Now we get to the fun stuff – the part that gives you tips on which sections of your local charity shops to look in and what specific things you’ll want to be looking for. If you’re after an ethereal female garment for your shoot, I suggest that you head straight to the women’s dress section – There’s always an array of white lace dresses, old wedding gowns, flowing gowns or floral print dresses.

If you’re looking for some kitsch or quaint objects to include as props in your photography, then the home wares or bric-a-brac section is always a great place to start. If you’re lucky, you will find oversized seashells, vintage floral tea cups or cute ceramic animal salt and pepper shakers.

Another item which looks great in whimsical themed photoshoots is an old book, or selection of numerous, stacked books, and charity shops are often overflowing with these. Team with a slightly worn and decorative bird cage or a dainty parasol and you’ve got yourself some beautiful props to easily incorporate into any shoot.

Often in thrift stores, there will also be a section dedicated to donated craft items, whether it’s yarn, buttons, sequins, scraps of material, or more. This is a great area to rifle through, particularly because you might find something that sparks the imagination for your next photo shoot (like glitter or pom poms).

Additionally, it gives you a great selection of very cheap craft materials to purchase in case you plan on using them on-set in any way in the future. After all, who doesn’t love throwing a bit of confetti around and capturing all of the beautiful colors?

Other items or garments you may to wish to look for in charity shops are: gold brooches, vintage hats, lace doilies, dress-up props (such as angel or fairy wings, mermaid themed items, tiaras etc.), sunglasses, flowy scarves, bows, fake flowers, or just about anything else you believe will fit perfectly with your desired photoshoot theme!

finding photo shoot props in thrift stores

Don’t be Afraid to Customize

Another thing to remember when you’re looking through charity shops is that sometimes an item or garment might not be perfect, however you can often easily customize these to suit the particular ‘look or feel’ you had in mind.

For example, you may be looking for a knee-length, floral dress for your model, however you stumble upon the perfect floral print dress – it’s just way too long. A simple alteration of the length will fix this.

Another example is that you may find a plain, plastic tiara and transform this with feathers, gemstones or shells (to resemble a beautiful mermaid crown). This is just one suggestion, however, so imagine all of the customizing, adjusting, and crafting you can do to transform the items you find!

finding photo shoot props in thrift stores

Follow Your Local Thrift Store on Social Media

As a busy photographer, I understand that you won’t be able to make visits to your local thrift stores every week – as much fun as it would be, it’s simply not possible all the time!

Thanks to social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, many thrift stores now operate their own accounts and post photos of the new and noteworthy items that come into their store. Whether they do it on a daily or weekly basis, it’s a great way to keep you updated with these wonderful products, but saves you the effort of having to constantly visit in-person to see what’s new.

If you see an item that you just have to have, simply call the store and ask them to hold it until you can come in and make the purchase. Just be sure that you can get there ASAP, otherwise you might miss the opportunity!

Keep in mind that not all thrift stores will have their own social media accounts, but it’s a good thing to check out just in case they do.

finding photo shoot props in thrift stores

Safely Transporting Items Home

If you’re coming home with a few thrift store items that you love, congratulations! That’s the very definition of a successful thrift store haul.

Depending on what your items are though, you may face some dilemmas in transporting them back home. For example, did you end up purchasing furniture items that are too bulky to carry? Or are your items extremely delicate, and not something you just want to throw into your handbag?

The good news is that there are plenty of ways around this, and often, the store’s staff are only too happy to help.

For example, with large or heavy items of furniture, ask the store attendants if you can set it aside until you can come back with a larger vehicle. Alternatively, many stores will offer their own furniture delivery services, so be sure to inquire about this.

If you’ve purchased items made of glass or any other delicate, highly-breakable material, make sure that they’ve been wrapped in bubble wrap or newspaper to provide additional protection. Even with this though, you’ll still need to be careful, so place these items in a separate bag to carry carefully, or if you don’t have an easy mode of transport available, see if a friend or loved one can come and pick you up.

It might sound inconvenient or even a little tricky, but these are things we do to get our hands on the perfect photo props that cost next to nothing!

There you have it – our ultimate guide to finding photo shoot props in thrift stores! Will you be following this advice and heading to your local thrift shop anytime soon? Best of luck if you are!

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