The Big Picture

I will admit this is going to be another one of my ‘grateful’ posts, but please bear with me because this does relate to the big picture and toy photography.

This past Saturday I was privileged to be included in the grand opening celebration for the new home of my local radio station KEXP. I should probably give you a little background. I’ve been volunteering for this station for somewhere around seven years. I rediscovered my love of photography through music photography, and one of the places I practiced this was at KEXP. I would document the bands that came through their live studio space but I quickly graduated to the video team. Not because I had any experience, I simply had the right equipment – a Canon 5D MarkII. Through this twist of fate, I’ve learned how to work as part of a video team as well as learned to be a better photographer. My friends in the video department have always been generous with their knowledge and patience with the me as I try to keep up with changing technology, live streaming and for a brief stint, video editing.

When it came time for the station to raise the funds for this new, state of the art radio station / slash performance space, I didn’t hesitate to give. The only problem was that my donation level came with a naming opportunity; a tile that would go on the outside of the building. I struggled with what to put on my tile. What would be an appropriate gesture to truly tell the world how much this station, and all the amazing experiences I have had, mean to me? Would I choose a favorite line from a song, should I make a references to all the great memories or should I simply put the names of my family on it? It soon became apparent that the only names that should be on this tile were the four men who have been the most supportive, the most awesome set of guys to work with: the KEXP video crew. These four guys (pictured below) are my video ‘family’ at the station and like all good family we squabble, but I would do anything for them, and often have. Putting their names on the tile was a fitting tribute to all the good times and wonderful memories we’ve shared.

Scott, Luke, Justin and Jim. For those of you coming to Seattle in May, Luke and Justin will be capturing footage of our exploits. So be sure and tell them “Hi!” and welcome them into our plastic family. photo credit – Amber Knecht

Why do I tell you all of this? How does it relate to toy photography? As I already mentioned, the ‘boys’ of the video team have taught me so much about photography, about composing a shot about how to talk tech, how to use my camera, how to shoot short DOF and the beauty of bokeh for starters. After six years of video shooting with a very shallow depth of field, I can’t image seeing anything else in my view finder. (If you’ve ever wondered why my work looks like that, well now you know the origins.) We’ve talked, in the past, about side projects and how important they are; they help to feed your creativity. You learn things from side projects, sometimes unexpected things. You make connections with interesting people and creative ideas that will lead you down unforeseen paths. But the best part of side projects, you can simply enjoy them.

The number of cool and amazing volunteers that have graced the halls of KEXP are legendary. Some of them I now count amongst my good friends. They’ve all been incredibly supportive and encouraging of my crazy plastic habit. Note: another benefit of side projects, they come with a built in support group for your main project.

So when my friends emailed two days before the opening with an emergency photo request that involved plastic, who am I to refuse? I dropped what I was doing and started working on this project for them. They ended up using the photo for their big press release that went out the next day. I was thrilled to be able to lend my talents and to contribute to this special and historic day even in such a small way.

Saturday was an incredible day of music, friendships and celebration beyond anything any of us could have dreamed of. It was wonderful to be a part of something that was bigger than myself; it was humbling. When your deep down the rabbit hole of social media, it’s so easy to take likes and follower counts way too seriously. I see it over and over again in fellow Instagramer’s  (even I can be accused of this in my distant past). But I’m here to tell you that making real connections with real people is worth so much more than all the likes, followers or having your work featured – all of which is at the heart of the social media game – on Instagram.  Being at KEXP for nearly 12 hours, being a part of this massive community celebration, to see what we as a community built, was incredibly inspiring. It gave me perspective.

So if you find yourself getting too wrapped up in the social media game, I suggest you take a step back and take a look at the big picture. As I’ve grown older, it’s become more important to me to connect in a meaningful way with my fellow humans. Because I can’t imagine on my death bed I’m going to say, “Gee, I wish I’d made it to xx,000 of followers on Instagram.”

~ xxSJC

Another person, in my life I’m grateful for is Mike Stimpson; he turned me onto a book called Deep Work. I really enjoyed the book and its message about keeping the internet in perspective   And while I can’t see myself completely unplugging from social media and e-mail, I’ve certainly seen how it’s become an unnecessary distraction and I’m making changes in my work flow. So thank you Mike for being another person who has been a profound influence on my life, whether you realize it or not. 

Do you have a side project? Would you like to share with us what it is and tell us how it influences your toy photography?

It turns out this image was intended to be a jab at the owners of The Space Needle who refused, after lengthily negotiations, to raise the KEXP flag on top of the Space Needle in honor of Saturdays festivities. It was fun to be able to recreate that moment in LEGO. As always, were there is a will there is a way.


  1. Glad you’re getting into the Deep Work stuff! I haven’t gone as far as Cal suggests, certainly not planning out blocks of time on paper, but I have tried to start spending more time concentrating on one task. I used to be terrible for checking email/Internet while doing other things, but training myself to purposefully bring my concentration back to the current task is proving very useful.

    • Personally I think Deep Work should be mandatory reading for anyone who is attached to a computer during the day. I have recommended it to my daughter as well. I now close of my browsers and e-mail for specific times. I put a timer on my phone to train myself to stop looking at it. If I can’t make any progress I will go to blocking off time as Cal suggests. I worked 12 hour days last week while the family was out of town and I couldn’t even put a dent into the amount of work I have set before me, and I wasn’t even being distracted by the internet!! Thanks again for the recommendation! 🙂

  2. Initially photography started for me as the new hobby/side project to feed/complement other life activities. Then I took up toy photography as a way to keep me on practicing photography. Now toy photography has become so important to me that all other activities seem there to feed it, inspirationally but also financially.

    • I love it! It is all one huge creative circle. Hopefully the creative inspiration will go be a two way street for you and all your activities. But I can completely see how toy photography become a priority. I’ve simply been following the doors as they open and I find myself neck deep in this wonderful crazy hobby! Cheers my friend!

  3. Great piece, Shelly! It’s funny, you and I have some similarities to our stories; I’ve been doing video work for about 12 years – started in short films in high school, then moved on to professional videography and filming a video series highlighting local bands – and ended up using a lot of the things I learned from my video work to enhance my toy photography. I too love a good bokeh effect and some shallow depth of field, and know that my desire for my Lego photos to be self-contained stories comes from my history with video.

    I’m a graphic designer now, and toy photography has become my side go-to project. Luckily, the two bleed into each other quite well. I’m able to take the techniques I learn at work and apply them to my hobby, while then taking those creative juices that toy photography provides and infuse those with my work. It’s a fun balancing act that I’m still trying to master.

    I will definitely be checking out Deep Work; as someone who works from home (as a social media marketer, no less), the idea of unplugging more often and spending time with actual human beings seems a bit daunting – but that’s part of why I’m trying to join more communities like this one. Again, a balancing act!

    • James, that’s wild; we do have a lot of cross over! I’ve always been a proponent of side projects. They are so helpful in keeping creativity alive as well as an additional learning tool. How I managed to connect my video with my still photo work I don’t really know, but when I step back I always see the connections. If you’re working from home, then definitely read Deep Work. He has some great tips and tricks to help create artificial boundaries for getting work done. Very effective!!

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