The best part of my job as a shoot co-ordinator and stylist is by far the shopping. For a photoshoot to look that little bit more thought about and for a client to achieve the variety of shots they want from the day, prop shopping is the KEY. It might sound like an easy task, but in the beginning I found it so difficult, time consuming and frustrating when I couldn't find the perfect thing I needed. So I've accustomed some shopping techniques over the years.
If you're a budding stylist or photographer, a blogger who wants to ramp up your blog styling and photography or someone on a mission to decorate your shelves at home so that it's a delight to see every day, this post will share the secrets I've learned to finding character-filled, unique props for photoshoots and your home.
Charity shops... but the out of town ones
We hear it over and over again that charity shops are the obvious place to flock for bargain finds but the ruth for me was that I more often left empty handed than with a bargain. When you've got a photoshoot deadline or a room to decorate, you can't be waiting around for those miracle finds.
But this is the thing. Charity shops in the centre of town (particularly in Brighton, where I'm from) are the prime target for almost all vintage lovers so the chances of you snapping up a bargain before they have is pretty slim. That's why villages outside of your city centre, places people love to take day trips but the living population are mainly pensioners, are like gold mines. Try look out of town, and if you're ever on weekend trips in different cities across the UK and pass a charity shop, make sure you stop in.
Have a mental list of prime props you're on the market for
This goes hand in hand with charity shop hunting. Don't rock up without particular items you're looking for, but equally don't be blinded by the gems you might never have thought about. On my mental list when I pass any rural/sleepy town charity shop are:
- crochet blankets (I collect them)
- brown/see-through pyrex mugs
- Antiquated frames
- Antiquated books
- hand thrown pottery
- preloved terracotta ceramic plant pots
- the list goes on!
These are staple items I know will be needed in photoshoots in future years, and if they aren't needed? Well I've at the very least built a collection of things I love in my home.
Shop Facebook Marketplace
Have you heard of Facebook Marketplace before? I've literally only just discovered it and I'm loving it. If you're in need of say, a rustic chest of drawers, welsh-dresser style shelves, a wooden plant stand etc, there's a high chance people in your area are throwing something suitable away/selling it. I search through Facebook Marketplace mainly for furniture and shelving that I can put up in our studio space in our house – where we take a lot of our pics.
Another big tip here when you're searching is to think "Has this item got a nice shape to it and will a lick of paint work wonders?" Styling and bargain hunting is largely about being able to see the potential things have and then seeing it through.
Car boot sales are a treasure trove!
The old saying is true. One man's rags is another man's riches. Car boot sales are heaven for picking up things like unwanted tea pots, blankets, material, glasses, cups, baskets, you name it.
I have a growing collection of props and about 75% of it has all come from car boot sales. All averaging about 50p-£2 a pop. Similar to charity shops however, I've noticed that the car boot sales in my city either price quite highly or everything nice has been snapped up, so I tend to get Neil to drive us out to village car boots. Highly recommend the Sayers Common/Poynings car boot sale if you're Sussex based. It's on every Sunday and alternates between the two villages every week.
Antique shops are good, but antique fairs are even better, this is why...
Something I've noticed in recent years is how you walk into an antique shop nowadays and you'll pay a significant amount more than say 2-3 years ago. Either there's been a boom in antique-lovers, or I'm gone crazy but I remember the times you could buy bits and bobs and get change of a tenner.
Antique shops are enthralling to look around especially if your prop budget is that bit higher, but a cheeky secret I found out from a friend is that Vintage fairs and Antique fairs will be a whole lot cheaper than in store. Sellers don't want to come home with a full van again, and they want to price their stock competitively with other stall holders. I've heard great things about the Ardingly Antiques Fair and some time soon I hope to visit it with Neil (and a kinda bigger car!)
Always keep in mind, backdrops, backdrops, backdrops
This is a tip for bloggers and brands who want to produce killer flat lays. I had a chat with Neil once (he photographs for our company) and I asked him what is it that adds real variety to photos. He instantly answered "backdrops". I totally agree. Backdrops change absolutely everything about a photo in one swap. You can use all the same props styled in the same way, but change the backdrop and you'll get a completely different vibe from the photo. It's also worth keeping in mind your brand's tone when you're choosing backdrops. If your brand is contemporary, minimalist then crisp white sheets, silks, and fine delicate materials will all be cohesive in your flat lay photos.
Neil and I are doing a half day shoot for Farrow & Ball in coming weeks and when planning the shoot I've paid close attention to the tone of the brand. We have rustic wooden backdrops that mimic a traditional wooden table, and heavy materials which we can use against some props.
So when you're perusing your charity shops, antique stores, shops and fairs, fabric off cuts or small pallets are great to stand in as backdrops for your flat lays.