As a photographer you know that getting photography props right is key to taking the best photos representing any era. Finding vintage photography props sounds like it should be difficult, but there are plenty of places to look.
1. Thrift Stores
First stop on your trip should be thrift stores. Places like Goodwill, the Salvation Army or your local mission or church thrift store. These places are a treasure trove of vintage items. People clean out their attics, their parent’s or grandparent’s attics and donate items to these shops. They then sell them and for very little money. That’s great for you because with little cash you can score some great pieces.
Drawbacks…For me the biggest drawback to thrift stores is the hit or miss-ness of finding vintage items. Some thrift stores have donators who are more elderly who donate older items, but some are full of kids items and modern furniture. If you find a great spot, make sure to keep a list and visit them often.
Pro tips…Here in Florida we have retirement communities. I have found that the thrift stores near there have many more vintage items than stores that are near newer built subdivisions.
2. Estate Sales
My all time favorite place to get photo props is estate sales at old dear’s houses. These are great sources of all kinds of vintage props because they sell everything that was in the house. Prices vary depending on the estate sale company but you can usually find some really unique items to use in a variety of ways. I use the EstateSales.net site to find estate sales in my area.
Drawbacks…Occasionally the estate sale company is off their rockers with pricing. I have gone to ones that have prices rivaling the finest retail stores and sometimes the workers are really defensive or combative… just keep smiling and being nice!
Pro tips…Oh my gosh, I cannot imagine not going to estate sales. For amazing sales I try to go on the first day early to get the most selection and opportunity. For okay sales, I will wait until the last day. Many sales offer half price on the last day of the sale and you can pick up some real gems for very little money.
3. Antique Auctions
Next try antique auctions. Not antique stores. Antique stores mark up higher than you should pay for props. An auction is a great place to find old, funky pieces for little money. They are more bargain basement and less hit or miss than other places to look. Auctioneers know good pieces and junk and that means there will be many more pieces that are worth your time and bid.
Drawbacks…Finding a great auction is sometimes hit and miss. I have a regular monthly sale that I attend which is awesome, but I have gone to a couple that are just not worth the time to attend.
Pro tips…Many sales have a “catalog” available beforehand. Make sure to check this out and then set the prices that you will be willing to pay for each piece. Do a little research on the internet (use a site like Ebay “sold listings”). It is easy to get “auction fever” and pay too much for an item if you don’t plan ahead.
4. Yard Sales Or Garage Sales
Next, head for yard or garage sales. It takes a lot more tenacity and a good eye, but they can be a great place to get great pieces. Even better, the prices will be bargain basement.
Drawbacks…You can visit a lot of sales without finding anything that is vintage. I have spent whole mornings going around to little sales that yield nothing but baby clothes and DVDs.
Pro tips…I know that in many areas there are only garage sales so use an app like Yard Sale Treasure Map to plan your route for optimal visits.
5. Don’t forget the internet
Ebay and Etsy are great sites to look for vintage items. Either site will have what you need. What’s better you can search for specific items that you might need. But don’t get tunnel vision, browse through and see if something off the wall could possibly be repurposed.
Drawbacks…You have to pay shipping on items you get online so there is a definite extra cost to these items.
Pro tips…Search for “lots” and “photography props” to find sets of things. Getting more than one item at a time can really help to offset the cost of shipping. Additionally you can save yourself hours (days) of driving around trying to find pieces one at a time.
Use, repurpose and reuse
No matter where you find your vintage items, and in what shape, you can use, repurpose and reuse whatever you find without too much difficulty. Old step ladders could be used for shelves. Use your imagination and repurpose all sorts of ways.