building a prop collection on a budget

styling props on a budget

So I moved to Italy. I left my years’ worth of carboot finds behind (good thing as glass (and wood!) things did break in the move) and I have to learn how to use the smaller space and ‘not my choice’ rental furniture that is available. As I am re-evaluating what photographic work I can pursue I am keen to build up a mini studio for my still-life photography. I thought I would share some of my ideas on how I plan on growing my ‘prop cupboard’ on a tight budget over time.

1. Buy crockery and cutlery that are good for ‘everyday’ use. 

I have a long way to go here but while buying items that are needed for our house I have bought things which are prop worthy. Why shouldn’t your pretty ‘props’ be used everyday, right? We needed some bowls so I am buying them in sets of two as I go along – different colours in a matching pair is also useful for creating place-settings to shoot. Next I am on the look out for side plates.

Second hand and sales is the best way forward but I think you might have better luck with the carboots in England/America than I have had in Italy so far.

When things start building up too much, how about a swap (like the clothes swap options) but with household goods.

2. Think beyond the normal props

How about trays, cooking utensils, tiles, food items, plants, flowers, frames, jewellery, etc. And ‘unusual’ containers such as cans, jars (although prolific now they are still ‘free’) and bottles. As long as it fits in with the mood of the ‘shoot’ throw it in there.


3. Fabric is magic

Fabric is good for creating different textures as well as shadows and is therefore great for styling, It can be used to create different backdrops for both the surface and behind as well as scraps for napkins or placements. You can get cut-offs from fabric shops or collect random napkins and dishclothes which you can usually pick up for a few pounds. I’m also on the lookout for some cotton yarn so that I can make some pot holders which will be used both practically and great for texture in images.


4. Paper is fun too

Pieces of paper can also be great. From decorative papers to even simple brown packaging paper. Even old newspapers are great either as a prop or laid out as a backdrop. And how about books, handwritten recipes, postcards, vintage pictures… Oh the possibilities are endless.

I have also discovered contact paper, which isn’t technically paper, but offers some more unique surfaces. I picked up some marble-effect paper (as seen in this post) for €4 from a local homewares store and although the other papers weren’t to my taste this one more than makes up for it. It isn’t perfect and has a bit of a kink where it has been rolled and is quite narrow so is only suitable for smaller arrangements, but still cheaper than buying a marble table!


5. Think colour schemes

As I am slowly going along buying things I am thinking of colour schemes. How items will fit together in the shoot is important and colour schemes are perhaps the easiest way to ‘work’ things together. Start with some neutrals which you can easily mix and match if you have a limited budget. Once you have some basics build in some other colours which can work on their own, with neutrals or with other colour items.

I have a long way to go buy am inspired by what Joy the Baker has been able to create in her modest kitchen. Grow where you are planted right?

How about you, any tips for collecting styling props?

Image sources: second 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 third 1 | 2 | 3 fourth 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

11 thoughts on “building a prop collection on a budget

  1. A very useful post with lovely photographs! I had some luck recently at a recycling centre – lots of plates and cutlery which most people would see as outdated, but I love!

    1. Ooh lucky! I still need to find a magical place where I will find a cheap supply of loveliness. Have fun!

  2. Lovely photos. They really capture the mood. I adore doing (vegan) food photography, especially styling the photos. I would advise people to stay with a cultures them if doing world food. For expel a Chinese bowl of soup just doesn’t look right on a Balinese table runner! For a distressed wood table effect, eBay sells wallpaper in various designs which works fabulously well. Charity shops and vintage fairs are good for textiles – embroidered linen is pretty and still quite inexpensive. Etsy is a good website for shabby chic items.

  3. Gorgeous photos. very inspiring post! thank you for the ideas! I’m a beauty blogger, but I guess I need to raid my China cabinet and jewelry box and bring out the wrapping paper

  4. Inspiring blog post!!! Cant wait to run to Michaels, the dollar store and value village to look for some unique pieces to play with!

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