Power of Words

I have a lot of respect for the power of words. As the year comes to an end I’ve been thinking a lot about what comes next. Both personally, for the blog and my own creative life. Like many of the readers of this blog I struggle with keeping my creativity going. I appreciate posts like the one from James on using art books to stimulate creativity.

One of my favorite books to stimulate my own creativity is The Photographer’s Playbook. I’ve been feeling lost lately so I turned to this trusty book of photography assignments. I wanted to revisit an earlier exercise by Cig Harvey: Ideas into pictures, a two part assignment. Because I believe in the power of words, I really enjoyed this task when I first completed it in March 2016. It reminds me of the surrealists use of automatic writing to unlock the subconscious. The other reason I wanted to revisit this assignment was to see if anything had changed in my perspective in the intervening two years.

Deep thinker
I’m Still a Seeker

Honestly, I wasn’t surprised to find out that I am still a seeker. I always seem to be asking questions. There are more questions than answers in my world. The biggest difference this time was the nature of the questions. They were much more specific. Change is a big part of my world right now. There are outside forces combining to rock my world and push me outside my comfort zone. Decisions need to be made. Ones that will have huge, long term impact on my day to day life. Needless to say, I’m looking for answers.

So I turned to words, because like I said earlier, there is power in words.

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.” Emily Dickinson

The Assignment

The first part of the assignment is to sit down and start writing. Write whatever comes into your head. If you don’t know where to start, start by describing what you’re doing and simply see where it goes. Let the words flow. Keep writing even if you get stuck. Write fast and don’t worry about spelling or sentence structure or what you’re saying. Let the words spill out. Keep writing until there are no words left.

After you complete this task, take a five minute break. Once you’re ready, read over your words and see if a concept, a theme, or an idea jumps out at you. Try to be specific about the word that you choose. This word will anchor your photographic journey.

Once you have your word grab a large sheet of paper and start free associating words that relate to your chosen word. Do this for at least 20 minutes. Choose words that fall under the following categories: metaphors, symbols, gestures, weather, animals, landscapes, emotions, light, depth of field, palette, frame, format and motion.

“At the end of our session you will have an unconventional shooting map – a place to begin if you are a constructor of pictures, or a heightened -awareness list of what to be searching for if you are a finder of pictures. ” – Cig Harvey

My unconventional shooting map based on the word seeker
The RAmifications

Since I began selling my art I’ve been getting more and more confused about what I should be photographing. The types of photos that play well on social media are not necessarily the ones that people want to hang on the walls of their homes. Or at least not the customers I’ve been attracting. As I look through my past images I discard 95% of them as not having anything to say. With seeker as my word, I’m not just on a journey, I’m on a journey for knowledge and meaning. Now I need to create work that reflects this deep desire.

I’ve been toying with an idea for a grand project. A year long project not unlike Kristina’s 52 weeks of reflections. This project will either be a stepping stone to something larger or it may be the end of my time as a toy photographer. Only time will tell.

Going for it!

If you’re find yourself stuck or in need of inspiration, I highly recommend this assignment. If you’re short on photography time, but still want to move your work forward, I highly recommend this assignment. It doesn’t take nearly as long as setting up a studio photo. This is the kind of assignment that can be done in between those pesky adult responsibilities. In addition, with 2018 looming large on the horizon, wouldn’t it be nice to start out the year with a shooting map? Who knows where you might end up!

Yes, there is magic and power in words.

“Words create worlds.” Pierre du Plessis


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Best laid plans

The tree is up.
The gingerbread men have their annual holiday home.
The Star Wars tickets are booked.

I was done. I was ready to get down to enjoying the festive season and finally crack on with my promised Playmobil photos. Ready to sit in front of the fire and read a good book! I had plans for some serious down time!

Woody finds a great Christmas book!

But then, disaster. A moth attack. Bug cocoons everywhere. House upside down. Wardrobes emptied. Toys sealed in ziplock bags and boxes. No photos taken. No blog posts written. No time. No energy. A 365 in jeopardy right at the finish line. 18 days to go.

Panic stations and bug eyed! What a week!

Despite being a wreck over my house problems, I refused to miss a day at this late stage! However, I will admit to resorting to the most basic of toy photography this week. A simple ‘mini-me’ shot to get the photo in. A blurry bug fighting Woody in the midst of all the cleaning. There is just too much going on to get anything else done – sometimes life has to come before photography!

This is one of the big challenges of a 365 project – getting a balance between life and photography. There are always days in the year when taking a photo is the last thing you want to do. Sick days, busy days, days when it’s just difficult. It’s this, along with the constant need for ideas, that makes the 365 project the challenge it is. Everyone can take 365 photos at some point in a year, but the daily need for ideas and editing is something else entirely!

Can I just live in the gingerbread house?

With 18 days left, a disaster zone of a house, and exhaustion creeping in, I’m feeling very ready for the New Year now! I need a fresh start!

I’m ready to stop this particular project and focus on the community and my weekly toy photographers post (it’s official, I’m on the team page and everything!) I’m ready to do a little more thinking about photos and enjoy the freedom that (I hope) will come from having more time to mull over ideas and plan some shoots.

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep my chin up and think about all the good things this season has to offer!

Gingerbread anyone?

The annual gingerbread house has gone down a treat!

What do you do when reality takes over your life? When you just don’t have the time or energy to shoot? Do you force yourself to do it, or take a step back and accept that you can’t always take pictures?

– Lizzi
Stepping on Bricks

La Ronde

A Structuralist Tale: Six single pictures that may be seen independently from one another. Yet they are connected by a ‘structural’ idea, a formal rule. The story has no beginning, and no end: Pick any picture you want as a starting point. And you can also read the sequence backwards. Shuffling the pictures would not work though. Does this provide narrative? It is up to you to decide.

The strong silent hype

We’ve been working on a project since October, but a signed NDA (non-disclosure agreement) means we can’t talk about it until February. The silence around this project almost silenced me. Almost!

Yesterday James wrote about finding inspiration to photograph from within the words and photos of books. Today I struggle to find the inspiration to write words based on the photographs I’ve been taking.

When all I’ve been working on is something that I’ve got to keep my silence about, it’s tough. When my weekly blog post generally evolves from, or relates to what I’ve been working on, it’s so freaking tough.

Being able to dedicate some serious weekend time to this project is a luxury afforded me from my wife and kids. To devote time to this project, especially during the busy Christmas build up and the frantic end of the work year wind down is such a blessing. Opening a blank blog draft, knowing that I’ve gathered no fodder to write about during the weekend’s activities is neither a blessing nor a luxury.

When I’m photographing toys I’m also thinking about words that can be drawn from that experience; creating snow, putting tips into practice, shooting someone’s shtick, tackling seasonal changes, lying in the wet sand… All of these posts emerged from the experience of taking photos of toys. Other experiences have lead to other topics to write about. However, the focus on this project keeps my thoughts from wandering.

Silence: Turning cogs
Turning cogs

I want to treat this project as a whole. I want to throw all at it. Don’t wander off in thought, thinking of other tasks I have to do, like writing my weekly post. Remain focused on the task at hand. That’s not easy for me. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m easily distrac…. oh look, a butterfly!

– Brett

Does your toy photography inspire you to do more? Where do you find inspiration to write?

If you’ve made through all my blathering and ended up here, you should sign up to our weekly email round up where you’ll get a recap of all the babbling from the week.

And while you’re doing things, you should definitely join our G+ Community where we hold monthly contests with prizes and lots of other cool stuff too.

Off the Shelf

We’ve discussed many sources of inspiration here on the blog. Things like exhibitions, a change in seasoncards, and challenges can get the creative juices flowing. This summer, Shelly wrote a piece about the books that help inspire her photography. I have a reference shelf of my own, though it’s not populated by studies on photography or creativity…

I love “Art of” books, usually those about my favorite films. I’ve talked before about being inspired by movies, and this is an extension of that.

Shelly’s image of her bookshelf inspired me to recreate it with my own!

If you’re unfamiliar, the “Art of” books I’m referring to usually center around a specific movie or television series. They’re collections of behind the scenes information, character and story details, and – most importantly – concept art, storyboards, and production stills.

“It’s time for Woody’s roundup, he’s the very best!”

When I’m in a creative funk, flipping through these books can help spark new ideas, or force me to think of my potential subjects in new and interesting ways.

There are hundreds of these books out there! If you’re working with any of LEGO’s licensed sets, or with action figures from properties like Star WarsAlien, or Marvel, you can easily find tomes to choose from. I have “Art of” books for Pixar, The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Incredibles, Wonder Woman, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Man of Steel, and Mad Max: Fury Road.

Apart from the images – which have been helpful even for simple shot compositions – the actual text provides knowledge that I might have otherwise overlooked. Those details then help fuel the stories I tell!

LEGO Books

The other half of my shelf is filled with more specific books about LEGO. Things like Matthew Reinhart’s LEGO Pop-Up, a Journey through the LEGO Universe or our friend Vesa’s LEGO Star Wars: Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy.

Daydreaming of Hoth

Because these books specifically highlight LEGO – my photographic subject of choice – they are a bit more successful at igniting my creativity. I’ve been inspired by Vesa’s work for years, and I can’t tell you how valuable it’s been to have it accessible in such a tangible way.

lego books

I’m also a big fan of DK Publishing’s books like I Love that Minifigure or the character encyclopedias for LEGO Star Wars and LEGO DC Comics Superheroes. They usually come with a rare minifigure, and are packed with character details and minifig information. I’ve added many a minifig to my collection because I saw them in these books, and have since taken dozens of shots with them.

The Cult of LEGO

cult of lego

Last but not least is a book called The Cult of LEGO. Rather than simple referential information, it’s about the history of LEGO fandom. The book is chock full of information about various subsects and communities, and has countless photos of amazing LEGO builds and artwork.

Nothing sparks creativity for me like viewing the work of others. It inspires me to up my game, improve my skills, and tell better stories!

With Christmas just around the corner, perhaps you should consider adding these to your wishlist. Or buy them for a fellow photographer or artist!

Do you have any referential or art collection books that you use to spark your creativity? Tell us all about them in the comments below! 

– James

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Review: LEGO 21312 Women of NASA

I’ve known Maia Weinstock via Flickr for a few years, so when I heard that her “Women of NASA” set was being released on November 1st, I knew I wanted one right away. I had a feeling the set would be popular, so I ordered one in the middle of the night on release day from LEGO Shop@Home.

I’m very happy with this set. All three vignettes were fun and interesting to build and are great tributes to these amazing women. There are already many reviews about this set and the builds, so I’d like to write this one from a minifigure photographer’s perspective.

Nancy Grace Roman

lego women nasa

She’s known as the “Mother of Hubble” so the build includes a replica of the Hubble Telescope. It also includes printed element (not a sticker) showing a planetary nebula.

The minifigure looks quite stylish with her green glasses and colorful necklace – I don’t think we’ve seen either of these elements before. She has a lovely smile which makes her very photogenic! While the minifigure was easy to photograph, I struggled a bit trying to fit the Hubble Telescope in the background due to my use of a macro lens (a wide angle lens might have been better choice for this shot).

lego women nasa

I took a second photo of her in front of the planetary nebula piece, which makes a fantastic, colorful background for her portrait.

Margaret Hamilton

lego women nasa

Margaret Hamilton was a pioneer in computer software back in the days when computer science was a relatively new field. Her navigation software was instrumental to the success of the Apollo 11 mission, so it makes sense that she is posed with a stack of computer printouts (the white and blue pieces).

Her vignette recreates the iconic photo of her next to the printouts with the black board in the background. All the wonderful details on this minifigure made her a delight to photograph. I love her gold rimmed glasses and also the texture printed on her torso. Although you can’t see it in the photo, she has some wonderful printing for her shoes.

Sometimes I struggle to photograph the minifigures with longer hairpieces, since they can’t turn their heads. It can be tough to follow the rule of thirds when the subject can only look straight ahead but in this case, the vignette had enough visual interest that I think it works to have her centered in the frame.

Mae Jemison and Sally Ride

lego women nasa

These two astronauts were among the first women in space and are an inspiration to girls and women everywhere. They are appropriately displayed in front of a mini build of the Space Shuttle. The build was fantastic and it’s very clever how the Space Shuttle is designed and built. I wish I could have fit more of the Space Shuttle into the photograph but again, someone who has access to a wider angle lens could probably do a better job.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking a portrait of these two minifigures. Once I got them in front of the camera, they seemed to come to life with their enthusiastic expressions and colorful uniforms. The blue and the orange work well together in photos.

Also, each minifigure comes with some amazing details, from Sally’s name tag to the printed details and patches on Mae’s space suit. I enjoyed reading the biographies of these women in the instruction booklet and I especially enjoyed learning that Mae is an accomplished dancer! I will make sure that the Mae minifigure has access to the Ballet Studio in the Assembly Square so she can continue dancing.

Overall, this is one of my favorite sets this year. Between the great details on the minifigures and the wonderful vignettes, it makes a fantastic tribute to these women.


Have you had a chance to get this set yet? Do you plan to photograph the minifigures?

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Firstly, thank you Shelly for inviting me to be a regular contributor. I look forward to coming up with materials to contribute to this blog. For my first piece, I would like to share my experience of doing talks and workshops on toy photography.

It all started at a local comic convention 2 years ago when a teacher popped by my booth and asked whether I would be interested to have a sharing session on toy photography with her students. Toy photography was one of the modules she taught as part of the art appreciation program in her school. I said yes without hesitation. This chance meeting motivated me to prepare a presentation that has since become indispensable for future talks.


It felt weird entering the school compound on the day of the talk. It was a nice kind of weird. The nostalgic kind. The kids were a tad restless during the talk, but I managed to keep them entertained with my presentation format of showing some behind the scenes shots followed by the actual final picture.

This was my very first talk on toy photography and I over prepared, stretching almost an hour. I guess I wanted to share too much! This left with little time for practical lessons….but what little time I had with the kids was an eye opener as I could see one or two kids with great potential, with a great eye for composition, light and shadows. I hoped I left an impression on at least one student to continue shooting toys even after their official lessons are over.

MY NEXT GIG – the Public Library

I attended a designer toy talk last year organized by the local public library. Halfway through the talk, the idea of holding a toy photography talk at the library jumped into my head. I figured the same people who bought designer toys would probably want to extend their passion beyond collecting them.

I dragged the organizer aside and told her about my idea. Emails were exchanged and I sent them a proposal. Months passed and I received a reply not only to conduct a talk and workshops over a period of 1 month, but they suggested to open the library slightly earlier on one weekend for me and my pals from Plastic Singapore do a themed photo shoot. Here is a short video clip of that particular outing.


Talking to students was one thing, now I had to face the general public and I was a tad nervous. I rehearsed the presentation countless times and made additional notes on each slides. I also googled on how to give an interesting presentation. Start off with a joke was what I found to be a useful tip. Which I did with a origin story of my online name: zekezachzoom.

My presentation breakdown kind of goes like this:
How I got started
Influences that shaped my imagination
Sources of inspiration
What kind of photos to shoot
What makes a good pic e.g. Composition, lighting, storytelling
Tools e.g. lighting equipment, wires and of course blue tac!
Post Production and color grading

I would go through each section with a simple setup shot and then the final picture. This format went on throughout the presentation which I hoped would keep the audience entertained and look forward to the final picture.

As the talk progressed, I became more relax as I was eager to show the shots after each behind the scenes photo. Any reaction from the final photo was priceless. I would end each presentation telling the audience to never lose that inner child in all of us.

“Be Foolish. Be Curious. Be a Child Again.”

When it came to the workshops, it was another challenge trying to come up with the setup. Up till the very last minute, I was still not sure what to do, as I was concern about lighting setup and dioramas. In the end, I decided to just do it the way I have been shooting and that was to use everyday objects and simple lighting to introduce the visitors to the world of toy photography. I would show them how mundane the setup was and when they start to zoom in to the figures and frame the shot, it was always a blast to see their reaction. The response from the crowd was encouraging and I had a lot of fun.

I completed one more talk recently and realized that I no longer needed the additional notes. With experience, I had managed to overcome my nervousness and enjoyed the whole presentation process.


Recently, I began emailing organizations I thought might be keen to host talks on toy photography. Some of these include the Apple Store, polytechnics and photographic clubs. One polytechnic did indicate their interest and is sorting out the logistics for holding a talk for their design students, so I am really looking forward to this. I hope the others come back to me with a positive respond too.

I am keen to conduct more talks and workshops at either primary or secondary schools again, but have yet to work on any proposal. It’s on the to-do list.


I have always enjoyed sharing knowledge and ideas, be it design, software application, or anything that I think might help others improve their skills. I hope it will inspire people to look at their toys differently and express their creativity and love for these plastic figures beyond merely collecting and displaying them.
I take it as a challenge to spread the joy of toy photography on my little island.

The Devil is in The Details

You’ve probably hear of the popular idiom: The Devil is in The Details. We decided to put it to the test for our November photography challenge. As Tony explained in the original challenge:  Often details are overlooked by a viewer’s conscious observation, but they still add to (or detract from) an image. Like all good challenges, we wanted to see how our community would interpret this rather broad definition.

All Details are not Equal

You know your contest will be a good one when the theme is interpreted in different ways. The Devil is in the Details was no different. Participants interpreted the challenge in three different ways:

  • Close up photo of a particular detail on a toy
  • Using selective focus to highlight a small sliver of the image
  • Selecting an environment that will reflect the story

Is the Devil truly in the details? Lets find out!  

The Winner

My Precious Detail by Joseph Cowlishaw

The Runner – Up

WWII Grenadiers by Plastic Jake

Honorable Mention (Mobile)

Over my Dead Body by Andrea Mad-Phoenix

Honorable Mention (DSLR)

The (Dust) Devil is in The Details by Dennis T

The Best of the Rest

Detail of Dr Who Set by Stefan Kumlien
Something fish going on by Stefan Kumlien
Phone Home by Ang Cheng Ann
Ghostbuster by Dave DeBaermaeker
Gives you Wings! by Jeffrey van Zeijst
Ecto – 1 by Ang Cheng Ann
Mjölnir by Wendy Verboom

Thank you to everyone who participated in our November challenge: The Devil is in The Detail. The images created are beautiful and truly inspiring!

December Challenge: Photo Phestivities

Every month, in our G+ Community, we challenge our members with a new photo contest. For December, our contest is in line with the season. R. E. Wolf, has eloquently outlined the December challenge:

It’s the 2017 Phestive Season, and we want to see what that means to you! Is it preparing for the Festival of Lights? Shopping until you can’t see straight? Traveling 27 hours to get “home”? Baking with Mom? Taking Dad to the hospital after that light-hanging incident? What about when you were a child? What memories come rushing back? If it’s part of your Phestive Season, we’re challenging you to capture it… with toys! [pointing to the community title] Whether it’s a memory, a wish, or your phavorite seasonal television show, we challenge you to show the rest of us!

Contests and challenges are a great way to stay motivated. I hope you will join us in December for another phestive and phun contest! And don’t forget… we have prizes!!

~ Shelly

You have until the last day of December to post up to three images in the G+ community to be in the running for one of our two prizes this month: a small lego set or your very own AntMan! 

Don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter. This way you wont miss a single important and inspiriting post! 

From the Moderators

The Dark Side is an eternal temptation… by Jason Nvrmore
The Handmaid’s Tale by Julie Blair
Attention to Detail by Tomasz Lasek
A pirate minion’s life can be problematic… by Tony Tulloch
Its all in the details by Lizzi Standing

You’ve got a (festive) friend in me

A new pal arrived this week, and he’s been making himself useful by helping me set up the Christmas decorations. Here’s the six steps Woody took for spreading Christmas cheer!

Step one: Untangle the lights! What a lifesaver!
Step two: Hang baubles!
Step three: Fall off the table and get saved by the tree (Don’t try this at home!)
Step four: Find candy canes (one of the four main food groups!) No tree is complete without piles of them! (Eating candy canes is optional at this step!)
Step five: Play around whilst on a sugar high from too many candy canes!
Step six: End the tree decorating with hugs from bendy Santa!

– Lizzi