What’s in my bag?

Its been nearly three years since I last talked about what’s in my bag and a lot has changed. I’ve become better at my craft and I know what I need to create images in my style. With the next Toy Safari looming on the horizon, I thought now would be a great time to take a peak inside my bag and see whats changed.


When I first wrote this post back in 2015, toys dominated my bag. I carried three bins of toys and three smaller bins of accessories. The camera gear was relegated to side pockets or the top compartment. Over the years I’ve changed my approach to my photography and I’m more focused about what images I want to create. What is in my bag reflects that.

When I go out for an hour, or an afternoon, of toy photography I already know the photos I want to take. I will spend 2-3 hours playing with my toys and looking for interesting combinations. Sometimes I have a clear image in my head. Other times two random pieces of LEGO laying next to each other will spark the idea for an image. Now instead of three bins of random LEGO I will take one (maybe two) bins with complete set ups ready to go. Figures will be in boats already paddling, others will be on bikes, spacemen will be paired with their space ships. If a figure is interacting with a cat – then they will be attached so I don’t forget when I’m on location.

I find that spending the time preparing in advance makes my time on location more efficient and enjoyable. This is a far cry from what I used to do. I would randomly toss some figures in my bag and hope for the best. Sometimes I got lucky, sometimes…not so much.

Behind the scenes set up of a lego pandas riding bikes across a puddle
If you look real close you can see my car in the background. I set this scene up in my studio and carried it to the first good puddle I found. I was able to capture my image in a very short time.

My Gear

Besides my trusty Sony Alpha and 90mm macro lens I have a few other tools I rarely leave home without. These include my LensBaby, a portable light, reflector and a few small tools that I find helpful. These include:

  • Wire
  • Tack
  • Close-up filters
  • Part #99784 Modified Bar
  • misc lego and technic parts
  • Wire cutters and a pair of pliers
  • Extra batteries (the Sony is a battery hog!)
  • Lens cloth (my glasses get so dirty!)
  • A gardening pad to kneel on

A look at LEGO modified Bar #99784 and the portable LED video light in action.

a behind the scenes look at a toy photography set up by shelly corbett

Considering how cheap portable LED lighting is these days it really pays to have one in your bag. You never know when you need to add a little highlight or additional lighting to a scene to help it ‘pop’. I’ve taped diffusion filters over mine so that I don’t see lines of small LED lights reflected in the plastic figure.

What I always forget

Like most people I never seem to have what I need on location. No matter how prepared I think I am, there is always something I wish I had. How many times have I been out when I’ve said “Gee, I wish I had…”

  • A towel to dry off my subject that just fell into the water for the umpteenth time
  • A clamp to hold up my bounce card
  • A small tripod to hold my video light up and out of the water
  • A stabilizing bag for my camera to rest on

The next time I’m out on location I’m sure I will remember something else to add to this list. It’s a fine line between having everything you need and taking the entire studio with you. Sometimes not having what I need forces me to get creative.

To Thine Own Self be True

Every photographer has to make decisions about what they want to take on location with them. There are a few items that I can’t see myself packing. A tripod and cans of air come to mind immediately. While I know this limits me ability to create practical effects, I can often make do with what I find in nature.

Lego Swamp Monster drives a green power boat across the blue lake by Shelly Corbett
I used a nearby stick to move the water just enough to simulate the boats motion.

When I look at what’s in my bag now compared to three years ago I’m amazed at how my attitude to my craft has changed. I feel like I pack a lot of unnecessary tools and accessories. Yet, I know from past experience these are the tools I need to create the images that please me.

I know photographers who take one small tub of toys and a camera. They are minimalists and they know what they want and how to get it. Other photographers I know try to imagine all situations and plan for them appropriately. We all have our styles. The important point to take away from this post is to pack what you need to create the images you want to make.

What’s in your bag? What tool can’t you live without? What tool do you always wish you had with you?


This post is an excerpt from a presentation / workshop I will be giving at Bricks Cascade in Portland, Oregon on Saturday March 24th. If you’re in the area, stop by and say ‘Hi!’


    • Lizzi – Im glad you enjoyed this post. See! A towel is very useful; another excellent lesson learned from the Hitchhikers’s Guide. Of course you would use a Tenugui, I might just throw in something less exotic, like a microfibre towel. Rock on Lizzi! 🙂

  1. I love the fact that you carry around so much gear and I know you use all these great things to tell the secret life of toys. I’m totally impressed!

    I usually don’t even bring my bag out when I do photography, but you I think you know that already. For me is less more 🙂 The only time I use my camera bag is when I take the car and should leave my ordinary scenery. I love doing toy photography with you, and I’m looking forward to the next time when we’ll do it again…


    • I didn’t use to carry so much gear…what happened?? I admire your minimalist approach. But I know you have exactly what you need to tell the stories you want to tell. 🙂 It makes my heart very glad to hear you say this. I also look forward to the next time we get a chance to photograph together. We should make plans for later this year…

  2. brett_wilson

    I really need to get an “all purpose” kit sorted. I tend to only pack what I know I’ll need, only to get frustrated that new ideas arise and I haven’t brought what’s needed to make those ideas a reality! Thanks for giving us a peak into your bag.

    • I also only pack what I need when it comes to toys. Ive learned from experience that these tools I mention help me to minimize post production. Since I often choose locations a decent distance from my house, I don’t want to waste time going home. Or worse yet, missing out on an excellent opportunity. I think having the photo essentials in one place and only having to pack the toys, makes it easier to take advantage of the weather or an impromptu break in the schedule. Those toy photos wont take them selves!

      • brett_wilson

        Maybe my “Oregon” bag will become my “every day” bag? I won’t be able to pop home if I forget something on that toy photography expedition! Plus, I know I’ll learn some ace tricks to add to my bag there.

  3. A great setup for sure shelly! I have found that my camera bag is getting heavier and heavier… now I’ve got two camera bodies, about 8 lenses, flashlights, toys, random odds and ends… It’s getting too much to lug around. On my recent family vacation I ended packing just one camera and lens and a few toys in a small camera bag. It was much easier to manage but I feel I missed out on a bunch of awesome pictures. Oh well – I guess there are trade-offs no matter what.

    Great images and write-up!

    • Thanks Joe for your excellent comment. Yes, I hear you, its tough to make choices. It seems like there will always be missed opportunities. I used to worry about it more, now I know those will be ideas that I can act on later. Im not sure I could carry two camera bodies and eight lenses! You are far more dedicated than I am! On my recent holiday I took three lenses and one camera body – more than I ever have in the past. I used it all, but Im already looking for ways to consolidate. And like you say – it is all a trade off! Maybe you can write up a post about what is is in your bag. I would be curious to see what you have in there. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.