Growing little worlds

A strolling Brett gathers mo moss

“Growing little worlds” sounds like a cheesy song title, but it’s a way to create little living habitats for toys to roam.

I was intrigued to see Luigi’s ‘Killer Score’ and ‘The Are Not The Droids’ setups, in particular the scale, or lack of, that he utilised to create these shots.

It was interesting to read Shelly’s post on the outdoors being studios. I especially liked reading that Kristina had shown Shelly that you ‘can do a lot with very little’.

I had some questions about how I set up my recent ‘Sticks and stones won’t break my bones, but surface rust will hurt me’ photo of an old car wreck in the woods.

old toy car in the woods
“Stick and stones may break my bones. But surface rust is a bugger to combat.”

These questions tie in nicely with getting an insight into Luigi’s use of limited space, Shelly’s proclamation that studios can be outdoors, and Kristina’s message about doing a lot with little.

As I’ve written about, my Easter weekend was spent exploring our property in search of moss; to photograph, and to harvest!

I picture things a certain way.
Then go back to it another day.
The green mind said it’s okay…

Dinosaur Jr. – Green Mind

When the summer sun isn’t belting down onto the ground, we have some amazing moss growing on our property. It hides under trees, in the paddocks and even pops up in the gravel of our backyard. However, try as I might, I could never get a decent photo with it.

The background was never right. Shooting under trees where the moss grows, the light was never right, even with the use of a reflector. And lying on the gravel in our backyard is just too painful!

Can you dig it?

These frustrations, coupled with only having the moss grow naturally for half of the year; I decided to take matters into my own hands. Well, my own hands and a garden trowel.

Growing little worlds: Collected moss
Collected moss. The smaller saucers are mosses collected from the gravel in our backyard. The tray holds mosses dug out from the paddocks.

By digging up this moss and planting it when the growing is good, I can dictate the background. I can control the lighting. And, when I remember to water it, I can use the growing little worlds I’ve created for toy photography all year round. Take that nature!

Growing little worlds: Planting the little world
Planting the little world. I’ve learned that cutting out a curve at the front of the planting tray lets me get lower angles.

I have a couple saucers of moss growing at present. Last summer I ‘lost’ a few trays when I when away and forgot to water them.

Growing little worlds: Filling in the gaps
Filling in the gaps. One of the other things I love about moss is it can be torn or cut to fit any gaps in the landscape.

One of the great advantages of shooting toys with moss is the scale. I’ve been frustrated in the past trying to match the scale of the surrounding to the subjects. But when you find something that works, you don’t need much of it. As Kristina pointed out, you can do a lot with very little. A saucer of moss is more than enough of a setting for LEGO to play on.

Stick ‘em up!

I remember being taught the ‘ways of trees’ by my good friend @zenith_ardor years ago. Timothy creates some amazing dioramas with wood, nails, braches, plants and dirt. He taught me that a well-scaled stick or branch makes the perfect toy-sized tree.

Growing little worlds: Planting trees
Planting trees.

Sometimes I simply drive the sticks into the moss I’ve planted. Voila, instant forest!

Growing little worlds: I've learned to check the positioning of the trees though the lens as I plant them.
I’ve learned to check the positioning of the trees though the lens as I plant them.

Although I’ve quickly learned that just one wrongly positioned stick, once re-positioned, leaves a nasty crater in the landscape. So, I usually have the camera handy when constructing the forest to check positioning. And sometimes I position these ‘trees’ beyond and before the mossy scene, leaving it intact, and giving the impression of trees in the foreground and background.

Growing little worlds: Lone Scout
Lone Scout.
This created little world has the ‘trees’ ‘planted’ into the moss, and some added in the foreground beyond the “world’s edge”.

Under the pergola in our backyard, we have a table built from old farm fence posts, complete with the holes that once held fencing wire in place (see the planting photos above). These holes make ideal ‘planting holes’ for the miniature trees. And once the “trees are planted” into the table, the diorama can be positioned to be framed by the trees and capture the light just as imagined. Of course, when the holes don’t align with the vision, Blu-Tack also makes a great temporary base for these trees.

Growing little worlds: "Brians!" - dyslexic zombies
“Brians!” – dyslexic zombies
By moving the camera angle ever so slightly, the trees line up different and one diorama can produce plenty of varied shots. Or you can shot from the opposite end? Or the sides? The “created” world is your oyster!

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt

Johnny Cash – Hurt

Who’d have thought that photographing toys would’ve led me to roaming our paddocks with a trowel and a bucket? I’d never imagine that taking photos of toys would lead to me sketching landscapes to create. I’d never have guessed that some of my weekends would’ve been spent planting moss into plastic trays to create those LEGO sized landscapes. And I really would’ve never imagined audibly exclaiming ‘eureka’ when stumbling upon a ‘great patch of moss’ hidden under a tree’s shade!

Some added bits about growing little worlds

It’d be remiss of me not to thank my wife at this point. She’s an avid ‘green thumb’, and her advice and knowledge concerning all things green and growing has been immeasurable in my growing little worlds.

I should also mention that we aren’t encouraging you to rush off to the nearest national park and start hacking away at the earth! Nor should you be lifting moss from any private properties! But if you can legitimately and legally get your hands on some moss, maybe think about growing little worlds of your own?


Do you create your own ‘toy-sized’ environments? Do ‘living dioramas’ little your backyard as well?

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Seasonal Infectious Disorder

Confession time; the changing seasons do affect my photography. I will call it a seasonal infectious disorder that is characterized by an irrational exuberance caused by the blossoming of trees, longer days and the sun peaking out from behind the ever present clouds. I didn’t realize how much it affected my toy photography until I was packing toys for a recent outing.

In an earlier blog post, Brett asked: “As the seasons change, do your toy photographs change with them?” I cavalierly thought, sure, of course it does. Who doesn’t take there toys to the beach in the summer and into the snow in the winter?  Ok, a lot of people, including me. Sometimes I find myself on a Hawaiian beach in the winter or high in the mountains of Colorado in the summer where the snow still lingers. On closer inspection it seems that location is not always an indicator of the season.

It’s complicated

Recently I headed out with a couple of friends to one of my favorite locations for a few hours of toy photography fun (Thanks Jon, Wiiman and Cheyanne!) This was my first chance to pack toys for a non-mountain / snow filled adventure and I could feel my creativity pivot in a new direction.

I began choosing figures that spoke to me of spring, new growth, innocence, rebirth, joy and love. Yes, these were the thoughts going through my head as I choose figures including:

  • S4 Geisha Girl who’s cherry blossoms always remind me of spring, rebirth and the fragility of beauty.
  • S6  Minotaur who I love to pair with a sprig of flowers because he reminds me of a book I loved as a child: The Story of Ferdinand
  • S13 Unicorn who I’ve modified with clear wings and sparkles who represents my love of magic.
  • S7 Bunny Rabbit; no spring photo adventure would be complete without at least a few photos of this classic figure.
  • S10 Bumble Bee is another classic figure that fits my mood this time of year.

Of course I also packed a few S12 pigs, a couple of Batman characters, my AT-AT family, a few Mouse Guard figures, the ever present Classic Spacemen, Keiko the robot and a few miscellaneous characters. I felt I had a nice selection to fit my mood and the location. And the choices I made told me that Spring was in the air and I was ready to make a change. There was a frivolity in my choices that has been missing in the last few months.

Sure, I love the white on white of my winter photos. I had a fabulous time exploring this new terrain. But now I’m glad to be moving in new directions. Unfortunately (or fortunatly) I’m behind on my editing and there are still a few snowy white images that would like to be posted. Now that I have a case of Seasonal Infectious Disorder I think I will save these images for the heat of summer. They will make a nice change of pace come August.

Yes, my photography changes as the seasons change, but the answer is more complicated than a simple change of scenery. Now that the weather is warmer I want to tell different stories. I want to tell stories of love, not hardship; stories that feature exploration and high spirits. The stories I want to tell, now that spring is here, will not feature skeletons, wargs or white walkers. I want to revisit the word “seeker” and see where that leads me. I’m sure that boats and reflections will continue to influence my future photos. Over the winter I picked up a few obscure Chima characters that need to discover their stories. I feel energized in a way I haven’t felt in a long time and it feels good.

A Little Challenge

Brett made the observation that in his own photos he couldn’t see the seasons change. So I want to throw out a challenge to my blogging partner to take a moment to see if he can reflect the changing seasons in his photos; no matter what the location. This isn’t one of those serious challenges that demands a blog post in response. This is only an idea to tuck into the back of your head to see what bubbles up. Maybe you will add a few ideas to your to-do shelf.

Thanks Brett for helping me to see that there’s more to the seasons changing than the background. As photographers we make choices in our stories and our characters. These choices can tell a deeper story than the color of the leaves or snow on the ground can reflect. Our stories can be universal in nature or steeped in myth. Changing seasons are part of this story, but not the whole story.

Brett, what say you? Do you accept my challenge?


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Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get notified when we have a new post ready for you.

Instagram, WTF?

Instagram, WTF? Ever since Instagram changed their algorithm, I’ve been having trouble finding an audience on the platform. And by ‘audience’ I mean a reasonable amount of engagement on each photo as compared to before the change. Today I found out why engagement on Instagram is a struggle for me – I appear to be shadow banned.

If you’re not familiar with this concept, shadow banning is a way for Instagram to crack down on users who abuse their service by violating the terms of service, who use third party apps that automate activity, limiting an account that has been reported or you’re using broken hashtags. Continue reading Instagram, WTF?

Saving Ideas

Google image search ‘idea journaling’ and you get beautiful pages full of neat handwriting, perfect sketches, scrapbook paper and washi tape.

I keep an idea journal. Mine is not beautiful.

My journal (or should I say journals, because I constantly start new ones before old ones are full) is messy – scrawled script, scribbled pictures – complete nonsense to the onlooker. However, this process is a way for me to save things that I may not remember later, to brainstorm vague ideas for images and make those ideas fuller, to feel like I’m creating even when I don’t have a camera in my hand. Continue reading Saving Ideas

Social media – why do I use it to post my work?

Pinar wrote a fantastic post that was about quality versus quantity in social media. It made me think about why I post my pictures to social media. I’m one of those photographers who stands for quantity. I post many photos of the same scene, in similar situations – all in the search for an expression, for the right picture, the right atmosphere, the right feeling. Continue reading Social media – why do I use it to post my work?

Home is where the art is

Ah, Easter on the Surfcoast of Australia! The Rip Curl Pro (third event on the World Surf League World Tour) at Bells Beach, the last week of the school holidays with holidaymakers enjoying the lingering summer warmth, crowds, gridlocked roads, jammed supermarket aisles, logjams at normally quiet cafes spilling onto footpaths, and the queues at the local bottleshops evoking panic that they might be sold out of beer! In our case, Easter denotes the tradition of stocking the cupboards and fridge, hunkering down and never leaving home; just like an Easter zombie apocalypse! Continue reading Home is where the art is

Why by DoctorNvmore


Why ask Why? Ok, ok, focus…

Why do I do toy photography…….. I do it as a release of creative juices, a release of anguish, and a release for my own personal pleasure. Hmmm… maybe I should reword that…. nah.

My life is not everything I wanted it to be. My early life was wrought with some disturbing events that still haunt me and my current life is a grind to say the least. I’m not meaning to complain, many people have it far, far, far worse. I’ve often felt that all my opportunities have passed me by; traded in for security and a steady income to support my family. There are worse things in life, I know. I work lots of hours and make decent money, which tends to happen if you work lots of hours at one place… So it is what it is and while my focus is mostly on providing for my family, I need something for me. Continue reading Why by DoctorNvmore

Quality over quantity?

Recently, I have read on someone’s Instagram post that they don’t like the “cheap route of posting daily the same iPhone photos of the shark suit minifigs or minimalist shots of Stormtroopers.” They prefer to “focus attention on creating well-crafted models and shooting artistically – styled vignettes.” Basically they were calling for quality over quantity. Continue reading Quality over quantity?

So many contests, so little time!

Do you feel like I do and that there are currently so many contests and so little time! Normally I wouldn’t write a round-up blog post, but there seems to be a lot going on that even I can’t keep track of it all. I thought I would summarize all the opportunities so no one misses out. Continue reading So many contests, so little time!

A princess – is that a subject for me?

I don’t know what to think when I refer to when the toy of my choise is a princess. While I may not know the answer I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a princess. I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of a princess because I don’t believe in a monarchy style of government. The idea that someone should be born to a profession or a position isn’t anything I can support.

Waiting for a prince

But if we ignore the political aspects of the title, the title also raises a lot of other connotations. Every future princess seems to be waiting for a prince. In many fairy tales her role is to be passive. She is there only to be rescued from evil, the victim of revenge or enchantment. In the fairy tales where the princess is a figure that is active (not passive), her role is reduced to liberating the prince, by a kiss or her “true” love. Continue reading A princess – is that a subject for me?