What came first?

What came first? The chicken or the egg? The lyrics or the music? The setup or the idea?

We all have ideas bubbling away in our heads. Preconceived concepts tag along as we venture out to shoot plastic. Stories are already playing out before our subjects are posed before the lens.

But, sometimes those stories meander off into something new. New ideas come to light with out subject of choice before us. Concepts and notions twist, turn and evolve into another. Often we return with our initial ideas, concepts and tales shelved for another venture; another day.

And all this is cool! This is one of the many things I love about photographing toys. I love thinking up stories. The tales and concepts that emerge excite me. I also relish the twists and turns that inevitably occur when I’m out shooting. And the wonderful surprises of never considered outcomes is one of the greatest thrills of this “lying in dirt focussing in on toys” thing we do.


However, this week I was asked to provide specificity around every proposed image that I been asked to create for a client; specific, precise and exact descriptions of each photo I plan on delivering to client.

But, I can’t even do that for myself?

What came first? The notion or the emotion?

What came first: Lyrics & music, eggs & chickens?
Lyrics & music, eggs & chickens?

If I promised myself every shot I had in mind before I headed off the beach, I’d greatly disappoint myself before the sand on my knees had time to dry. If I delivered what is often a vast deviation from the proposed outcome, I’d be disenchanted as the client. And as I, the client pointed out what was initially offered compared to what was delivered, I’d feel artistically restricted as the consultant not being allowed the opportunity to expand and explore possibilities and stories.


The request for detailed a synopsis of what I’d deliver was daunting. But, there was another aspect to this request to factor in.

My specific descriptions of proposed photo outcomes we to highlight toys that I didn’t have yet. Now this might not sound like another complexity cog in this proposition wheel, but for me it was.

What came first? The preconception or the perception?

When we’re lucky enough to be sent Collectable Minifigures to photograph and review, I always start planning ideas before their arrival. It’s good to plan ahead. It helps to have a schedule for shooting and locations when I’m attempting to get the review uploaded as soon as possible after their arrival.

Yet, when the box arrives and the unpacking begins, the new Minifigures more times than not, demand a photo that was never envisaged before I had them in my hands. Often, my predetermined thoughts of what a particular Minifigure deserves is far from the mark. Repeatedly, new ideas emerge and plans are rewritten in the presence of the new arrivals.


So, with Kristina’s words echoing in my head, I sent off my proposed ideas for the possible outcomes of shooting toys that hadn’t had their chance to tell me their stories. I explained that without the toys to talks to me, it was difficult to grasp what stories they wanted to be told.The twisting, turning nature of how my photos evolve was also explained.

I can only assume that, if a client understands that the toys speak to me, things will work out. 

Or maybe they’ll think I’m a complete nutbag and slowly recoil from the offer, smiling politely, and avoiding any sudden movements or noises!

– Brett

Are your concepts locked in prior to shooting? Do your stories twist and change once your toys are in front of the lens? Have you ever been asked to outline a photo without understanding the subject?

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  1. For me its a mix. Mostly its a concept, then setup to execute it.

    However there have been times when I’ve just sat down with a box of props, played with poses etc, and came up with a concept. Honestly tho, those are not normally that good.

    The butter zone tends to be setting up for a concept, getting it in the can, and getting inspired for other shots along the way. A couple of my absolute best shots (my opinion, tho one did win a Toy Photographers community challenge ) to date have been shots that resolved while I was taking another planned shot. In each of those cases I got both the shot I set out for, and the additional ones.

    Those are good days.

  2. If the client is used to dealing with creative types, they should not be surprised to learn the art comes before the concept for some folks.

    I think this is the downside of doing work for a client – you’re limited to their expectations. Often times it is not overly satisfying as an artist. You are just using your skills developed as an artist (the craft), but not feeding your soul thru your work. Its a tough pill to swallow.

    Joe McNally is fond of saying “Food for the table, food for the soul”, which means – sometimes you gotta use your art to put food on the table, sometimes you gotta use your art to satisfy your inner artist. As a pro, maintaining that balance is important.

  3. brett_wilson

    You think up new ideas when shooting what you set out to? I’m envious! If new ideas pop into my head, I have to shoot them there and then! I wish I could store them away and stick with my original plan!
    “Food for the table, food for the soul.” So apt! I’ve dealt with requests from clients before, but this one is the first time I’ve been asked to “lock in” what I propose to deliver. I’m not sure I can do that. Or, if I do deliver what I proposed, I worry there will be better ideas and more engaging stories that won’t make it! The ones you’d tuck away away for another day! But the ones that I have to chase, as they meander off from the original!

  4. Brett, I honestly envy those folks who can sketch out an image before hand, set up the photo and nail it in the first round. Gee, I wish I could do that! So I feel your pain. Truly I do. I think its unfortunate that the client has such a specific idea of what they want that they aren’t open to other possibilities. I wish you well and hope you can find a happy medium that can satisfy everyone. Or at the very least a quick end to the ordeal. Best of luck! S

    • brett_wilson

      Thanks Shelly.
      Yeah, those guys who can think, execute and done. Sheesh!
      This is indeed a tricky one. At the very least, it’s a learning experience for any future offers that come our way.

  5. EXCELLENT post, Brett! I’m the same way, I can think of ideas all day long but until I go and start shooting, I never quite know what I’m going to get.

    I would have a hard time of writing synopses too, especially if I hadn’t gotten the toys yet. A similar thing happened when I was preparing my reviews for upcoming sets. I looked at pictures online, got ideas, and then once I had them in my hands, I had all NEW ideas and inspiration.

    I hope things work out with you and the client! I’m sure the photos you take will be great 🙂

    • brett_wilson

      Phew! I’m glad it’s not just my quirky way of working!
      I know exactly what you mean. As the images of upcoming CMF’s are released, I think I know exactly what each Minifigure needs/deserves and start planning all the shooting for the review. But, when they arrive, so often they tell me another story. Maybe there’s a detail in the printing that I had overlooked, or as accessory that demands more attention, or perhaps they simply give off an entirely different vibe than I’d imagined?
      I’m looking forward to your reviews! You picked a great selection of sets.

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