Dave: An Origin Story

It seems like every once and awhile someone creates a post about how they got into toy photography, and what they get out of it.  I figure its time that I go ahead and take a swing at that particular pitch and answer the how and why of my own particular journey into the realm of toy photography.

Ready?  Here we go…

The Shocking Truth Revealed!

I got into toy photography because I didn’t want to put on pants.

I’m not kidding.

Come along on a journey with me and I’ll tell you the tale.  It was a dark, cold, wintery evening back in December of 2012 (I’m assuming it was cold and wintry; I don’t actually remember the weather. It was definitely evening in December, so it seems plausible.  It makes for a better story so I’m going with it.)  

I had signed up for the Chrysta Rae Scavenger Hunt over on the Plus.  The hunt involves shooting an image for 10 separate words, one of which was “candy cane”.  If you recall the evening was (possibly) cold and wintry. The kids were in bed, so it may not surprise you that  I didn’t feel like going out of the house to find a shot.  So I decided to stage my own.  I looked around and discovered my old LEGO set from my long lost childhood. The kitchen contained a box of candy canes, and I scrounged an old Christmas tree skirt.  The solution was obvious (to me at least), and soon I had created this shot:

Candy Cane Forest

I ended up taking two other LEGO shots for that round of the hunt.  However it was a comment I got on this photo that caused me to take another LEGO shot for the next round of the hunt.  What was the comment? “This is so [expletive]ing creative!”  That’s an ego stroker for sure.  Highly motivated to impress again, the next word I LEGO’d up was “strawberry.”

Life at the fruit rollup factory
Inspiration comes in the strangest form, including an homage to strawberry fruit rollups.

Soon I was only doing LEGO shots for the hunt, mostly for the laughs. For the longest time humor was my only motivation for my toy photography. I didn’t take it very seriously beyond a quick smile or laugh.

A couple years ago I started studying photography thru a mentorship program in The Arcanum, focusing primarily on landscapes and street photography.  Late in my studies I was given a challenge to create an image with a cinematic feel.  My imagination is often larger than my resources, so I started to wonder if I could use my newfound skills gained pursuing other aspects of photography to actually create a compelling image with LEGO.  This is when I came up with the idea for a cinematic image created out of of a real life landscape shot, and a Gandalf minifig:

Gandalf At Stonehenge

I don’t want to brag, but the answer appears to be ‘yes’. Yes, I can create compelling images with toys!  I’ve been focused on toy photography ever since.

 Why?  Because I Can!

As I mentioned previously my vision often out strips my resources.  To create a lot of my ideas for images in real life, it would take a lot more time and energy than I have available. Not to mention it would require working with other humans, which is a rather unpleasant thought for someone as introverted as myself.

I have a full time job, which requires me to be on call for a week at a time multiple times a year.  I’m also a father of smallish children.  As a result I don’t often have the luxury to chase down the perfect location at the right time of day to get the shot that satisfies my vision.  I also don’t have space in my house for a studio large enough to shoot full sized human models. Real life can be so problematic, eh?

In contrast, my studio for my toy photography fits, literally, on a single spare desk in my home office.  If I need to work with something messy like paint or flour, I can quickly set up my gear on a folding table in my back yard. If I really need to get expansive, I can create entire worlds on my dining room table and still have room left over for my family of 4 to eat dinner between shots.

My equipment is also very portable.  I can carry in my camera bag several LEGO models and a flashlight or two for mood lighting. This tends to be so compact that I don’t notice the weight, or the space my set-up takes up.  Not too many photographers can carry all they need for a full-on location shoot (including the models!) in their carry-on luggage.

So the anwer to “why” boils down to this:  Toy photography allows me to create worlds I could never create in real life, and allows me to express my creative vision with reckless abandon, any time I wish, in the time and space available to me…. and I don’t even have to put on pants!

I mean, what’s not to love?

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