Prior to toy photography I used to photograph weddings and portraits professionally. I was pretty well-outfitted in terms of gear because of this – with multiple camera bodies, a range of professional lenses, and multiple speedlights and light diffusing/modifying systems. I came into toy photography pretty well set, with the exception of a few accessories that are uniquely adapted to my style of toy photography. But the one thing I didn’t have was toys. Toy photography for most is a direct extension and result of their passion for toys. If toys are the chicken and photography is the egg, then for most the chicken came before the egg. But for me the egg came before the chicken. I was drawn to toy photography because I saw the potential to create amazing stories and images. And this reignited my love for toys, the one I had as a kid but somehow lost as I got older.
So anyways, here’s my bag and what’s in it. First though, full disclosure. I am partnered with Lowepro Bags, SOG Knives & Tools and Spider Holster – purely a result of my day-to-day experience with their wonderful products. Each plays a role in my being able to create thought-provoking imagery and engaging stories.
Bags – I use a few different Lowepro backpacks, but my day-to-day bag is this Lowepro Fastback 250 AW II. It’s the perfect size for hauling my Canon 5D3 with a few lenses and all my toy gadgetry. It offers great gear protection, customizable compartments, and a rain jacket that’s always on the ready should I encounter really bad weather or wet conditions, like ocean spray on a gusty day. The construction and materials used are what I consider “bulletproof,” which is critical for the environments I shoot in. I don’t scrimp when it comes to my camera bags – these bags will last for years.
Lenses – The lens that is usually attached to my camera is the Canon 135 f2/L – I use this combo for 99% of my photos. But I also carry the Canon 50 f1.2L and the Canon 24-70 f2.8/L – each has unique strengths and excel in situations where my 135mm might be too long. For example, I often will use the 24-70mm when I need a wider shot, like a Storm Trooper perched on the edge of a cliff looking at a vast alien landscape. 24mm will get you that. And with the ability to shoot at f1.2, I can basically use my 50mm to shoot in nearly complete darkness using what available light there is. Amazing.
Tripods – when working in the field I always have two Manfrotto tripods with me. The super compact and lightweight Manfrotto MK393-PD as well as the Manfrotto Pixi Evo 2. Both work well with my full-sized camera body and range of lenses, although I’m probably close to the weight limits of both tripods. I have another heavier, built-like-a-tank tripod (not shown) I use in the studio, the Slik Pro 700DX.
The Manfrotto MK3930-PD tripod sees use whenever my toy(s) are off the ground a bit, like on a rocky ledge, in a tree, etc.
The Manfrotto Pixi Evo 2 tripod is used when the toys are sitting on the ground and I need my camera at or near ground level.
Gizmos and Gadgets – As you photograph more and more toys you start to learn what works and what doesn’t, and what can make things easier. As a result, some of the things that always venture out into the field with me is wire in varying lengths and strengths for supporting and suspending toys in whatever poses I need them in. Also putty and wax for holding and attaching things, tape, extra camera batteries, a wireless remote shutter release, and dust blowers (manual as well as compressed air). Not shown is a small emergency whistle in case I find myself in a remote location needing emergency assistance.
One of my most used tools, in the field as well as in the studio, is my SOG Powerplay Multi-tool. From cutting, crimping and shaping wire supports in the field, to quick repairs of toys and gear, to MacGyvering whatever needs MacGyvering… a good multi-tool can handle it all and is an essential part of my process. If you’re not familiar with multi-tools, they’re basically a Swiss Army knife on steroids.
Also accompanying me in the field is one of my SOG knives. A good blade can be really handy for whittling, carving, and of course as protection against crazed chipmunk attacks!
Unlike a LEGO photographer who can carry a day’s worth of toys in a snack baggie, I need a larger bag to carry an assortment of 6-8″ action figures. Not to mention the occasional 17″ long Rancor! There are a million options for this, but I’ve ended up using a fantastic shoulder bag made for carrying fishing tackle. It has adjustable compartments and a bunch of different pockets for smaller figs and gadgets. It is lightweight and very durable. And at around $25.00 it doesn’t break the bank!
When I’ve gotten to an area I plan to shoot, I’ll remove my camera from the backpack and keep it on my body for the duration of the shoot. In my personal experience, the SpiderPro Holster is the best way to carry an easily accessible camera safely and securely in rugged terrain like the areas I usually shoot in. The camera stays firmly and securely attached to my hip via the holster, but can be accessed with lightening speed like a six shooter in an old west gunfight.
When my camera is out of its holster it is held securely to my hand with the SpiderPro Hand Strap. Even when traversing demanding terrain, dropping my camera is never a concern with the hand strap, which allows me to focus on maintaining solid footing instead.
In the end it’s all about finding what works for you. Which backpack, camera carrying system and tools one uses are all very personal decisions one has to make based on their style of shooting, equipment, body type, etc. What works for one person may not work for another. There was a lot of trial and error (and money spent) on my journey to finding what works for me, and my studio is littered with products that didn’t make the cut for one reason or another. If you have any questions on what’s in my bag just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer!