I hate to admit this, but I’m not photographing enough. Not enough to be as good as I want to be. I was reminded of this while I was returning home from dropping my daughter off at college. I was listening to the LensWork Podcast, catching up and looking for inspiration, when I heard The Virtues of Volume.
I’ve always known that if you want to move your work forward you have to create work. You can’t move your work forward by thinking about it. There is a pretty awesome story about perfection in Art in Fear regarding quantity over quality. In fact this story is name-checked in the podcast I listened to. The gist of the story is that if you want to create great work you need to make a lot of work and make a lot of mistakes, rather than sitting round pondering and planning the perfect photo. Yup, I’m not photographing enough. Sure I get out once or twice a month, but that isn’t nearly enough time to gain any traction on a multitude of ideas flittering around in my head.
How do they do it!
When I’m scrolling through my feeds on G+ or Instagram, I’m amazed at the wonderful photos being created. I’m in awe and I’m jealous. I see so many wonderful set ups with toys in mid air, sand flying, water droplets in mid-air, smoke billowing, great mash-ups…it’s a wonder to behold. …and it’s intimidating.
I’m frequently presented with photographers who post daily, or near daily, with the most impressive work. I just shake my head and wonder “How do they do it?”, “How do they find the time?” Which of course makes me question my own dedication to the craft of toy photography. If I’m not photographing enough, maybe I’m losing my passion? Or maybe the responsibilities of life are beating me down?
One of may favorite feeds is BrickExplorer. While he doesn’t post everyday, the posts come at a regular pace and each is a visual treat greater than the last. Each photo is an inspiration and a nudge to get my own
shit ideas together. I’m also impressed by Sunny who seems to have boundless energy which allows him to create an endless stream of amusing images. It would be impossible for me to name all the toy photographers who intimidate inspire me but here’s a partial list: FathersFigures, Bear_Trap, Plasticaction, FourBricksTall, MitchelWuPhotography, Shundeez_official, SpideyGoesHygge, JoeCow, The_Aphol, The ReelJames23 and Y.Brick.
Some of these amazing folks have kids, jobs and wives. I know they’re as busy as I am…so what’s their secret? How do they do it? Whatever their secret, I want to know what it is. I want to be able to keep pushing myself and create amazing images, just like they do.
Care to share your secrets?
Are you one of those photographers who manages to post several times a week or even better once a day? What is your secret? How do you find the time?
I know I’m not the only one who’s busy, so my claims of not having the time is a cop out. Maybe you can offer your tips and tricks in the comments below. Let me know how you organize your time so you’re able to turn ideas into photographic reality. Know I will be grateful for your input. While I may not be photographing enough right now, I mean to change that…as soon as I get past the next emergency deadline. 😀
And if your like me, and you’re running from fire to fire, trying to balance work and family life, leaning in or practicing ‘self care’ (whatever that is!), know you’re not alone. Take a deep breath and we will get through this together.
If you’ve come this far I want to wish you a fabulous weekend. For more inspiration and a supportive community – check out our G+ Community. If you want to keep abreast of all the news that we cant fit into the blog, you will want to subscribe to our newsletter. It comes out once a week, has a round up of the weeks posts and links to other inspiration we find throughout the week.
what a wonderful picture ❤️ and you speak from my heart! I also have no idea how others manage to post fantastic photos every day. And whenever I see these great photos, I wish that I was so good too. And somehow my days are always too short to implement or practice all my ideas to get better. And do you know what comforts me … I have many more years 😊 let’s get started
Happy weekend Astrid 🙋🏼
Thanks Astrid, Im so glad to hear Im not the only one who’s feeling the pressure. And you’re absolutely right, one day at a time. With a little luck we will both have many more days to practice our craft. Happy weekend my friend! 🙂
I’ve definitely fallen behind too – one thing that’s helping get me back on track is using my iPhone instead of my camera. I’ve been playing around with the macro possibilities of the Camera + app, along with using the volume button on my earbuds as a shutter button (my iphone still has a headphone jack haha). I can quickly open photos and see if I’ve ‘got’ the shot I want. The quality isn’t great but it works on the small screen. I can get to my backyard, setup, shoot, select, edit, and post in 30 mins or so. It’s helping, at least it was until a hurricane showed up and trashed my backyard lol. -Paul @bricksailboat
I too like the phone for quick photos. There is something freeing about getting the photo without all lot of set up. Where is the ‘insta’ in instagram anymore? Cool that you can use your earbuds to trigger your shutter. Is this on an iPhone or Android? And so sorry that Florence trashed your yard. But Im super happy it wasn’t your house!! Hang in there my friend!
Glad to see I am on the list of those that inspire you but please don’t feel intimidated by me! For one thing, I am quite erratic — a sprinter, as my husband says. I tend to go on sprees. Photography, buying LEGO, learning, what have you. This isn’t a good thing as you know what happens eventually — burnout.
The reason I rebooted my toy photography blog and created the #inthestyleof challenge was so that I could pace myself, get myself into a healthy rhythm. I’ve decided that every 3 weeks, I should find a photographer I would like to learn something from and interview them about something I noticed and liked in their work. Sometimes I think I know what they’re all about but then the backstory to the photo they give me or the insight to the setup they grant me always makes me smile.
Writing about other toy photographers’s techniques forces me to think a little bit more about my own work and compels me to create something that would honor these people who are willing to teach me. So I create for them, also for myself, but mostly for them. It’s gratitude for the lesson.
So that’s one secret. The other is that I am competitive and if there’s a contest that piques my interest, I go for it! More so if any of my favorite toy photographers has entered!
Anna you know I love your series #inthestyleof. I think its brilliant; both as a tool for learning and motivation. I think the blog works for me in a similar way. When you have to turn out a blog post every week, you cant help but be thinking about toy photography every week. I like that you said you’re competitive. I will admit that feeling drove me for the first few years. But after hanging out with Kristina for a few years I realized that isn’t enough. So now I’m torn between my weekly obligations to the blog and my ideas for longer projects. Somehow I will need to find more time so I can do both! Thanks for the comment my friend! I hope you can turn this new project into a marathon, rather than a spring…because I love to see your photos! 🙂
I can completely relate to this post. I often wonder the same thing about photographers that can come up with so many wonderful ideas and perfectly executed photos. How do they do it? I start thinking that I must be doing something wrong? Lately I’ve been bogged down with work, so even coming up with ideas is tough. I’m also slowed down by my editing process. By the time I’m done with work, I don’t want to be anywhere near my computer so I have lots of photos sitting on my hard drive that haven’t been finished.
Hopefully some of these amazing photographers can give us tips? 🙂
Lynn I can totally relate to having photos on the computer needing attention. But sometimes my back is killing me and another hour at my computer to edit a photo is just not happing. Maybe these people dont have jobs? Or maybe I need to have a dedicated space for setting up scenes that will help develop ideas. But in the mean time BrickCon is in less than two weeks and I have a lot of work to get ready. Social media will have to take a back seat again. I hope you will find some time to practice your craft 😀
Great article, Shelly and I love the pic! I totally agree with you on the part about putting in the effort to put out photos on a regular basis to be able to improve. We should constantly strive to be better and I believe that your best photo is yet to come.
I am a freelancer and work from home so my time is pretty flexible. Both these factors definitely gives me the opportunity to get in a quick shot in between deadlines. Sometimes, staring at a problem does not help and some distraction is good (yes, more excuses to go shoot toys!).
I have a table behind me strewn with toys (some from past shoots and some for future shoots) just for taking toy photos. Occasionally, when I clear a critical deadline, I would just turn around, and do a quick snap (assuming it is a straight forward setup).
I keep a notebook of ideas next to me on my work desk. I guess this helps to save some time when deciding what to shoot. I HIGHLY recommend doing that. Ideas are like gems and you can easily forget them pretty quickly.
I used to get up around 5:30am and head out to the park for outdoor shoots, and be back at my desk at 10am and start the day. Whoever first came up with the idea of the freelancer working in his PJs or sitting by the poolside working is obviously not a freelancer. Sometimes the hours and stress (thus my white hair!) can be brutal. You don’t work, you don’t get paid. This has made me used to all-nighters and still be able to function the next day. Hence, on some days, when I am finally done with work at 11pm, I would be energized, and ready for a photo shoot that sometimes end at 4am.
Getting a interesting photo sometimes just requires a simple setup and do not take up so much time. You can use everyday objects or a simple color backdrop. I always enjoy shooting in my kitchen where the sunlight comes in. It creates all kinds of patterns. I admire folks who have the patience and skill to build awesome dioramas. Definitely helps enhance the visual storytelling if the toys are placed in the appropriate environment, but sometimes, if the story is strong enough, maybe a simple background may be good enough.
Both my boys are pretty grown up now (Dad! Why are you still playing with Lego, is what I get from them a lot!) I can never imagine doing this if they were younger. I would gladly get some rest anytime and anyplace. I know a lot of my younger friends here is going through this phase, cause I can never get them out to go on a toy safari.
I am also very motivated to see how my idea come into fruition. The comments and laughter is one of the factors that motivate me to try and hopefully produce more original and funnier content. Though we also should not be disappointed with lack of comments and likes , because I think this could be a factor for people to give up and wonder “Why in the hell am I wasting time on this.” We should try to shoot because we enjoy the process, it is therapeutic, it is fun, you get to be a kid again. Always try to remember: “VALIDATION IS FOR PARKING.”
Sorry for the long post! This could easily have been mistaken for another blog post! But yah…..this is what keeps me going.
As always Sunny you are full of great advice. I also work from home but Im not as dedicated about that 5:30 am wake-up call. Thats not going to happen. I like your ideas about a dedicated photo set up. I will need to find space for that. Time to clean out the studio. I have started to keep a list of photo ideas and that does help. Im currently looking for a particular prop for a photo that is sitting in my head waiting to be created. Like you the kids are older and Im lucky that they are supportive. But I still have to wash, clean, cook etc. The mom/wife duties dont take care of themselves. LOL!
I love your phrase about Validation. As always you have the best sayings. I still remember about the one about the surprise. I keep that in my head too. Thanks for being such an inspiration!
Excellent post, Shelly! And thank you for including me in the list of photographers that inspire you. That truly means a lot to me. You inspire me, so it all comes full circle!
I too am often baffled and intimidated by those who post on a daily basis. If I can post 1-3 times a week, I consider it a win. What I’ve found works for me is having photo sessions at least once a week, usually on the weekend. I make sure to get all of my errands and such done throughout the week, so that on Saturday or Sunday I can spend the whole day in my studio, playing with toys and getting a batch of images made. Then I edit them and tentatively plan when it might be best to post them. If I’m really on a roll, I can take anywhere form 5-10 images that I like at a time that way.
Photographing enough is one thing, but I often feel I don’t have the time to even post my images everywhere. Sometimes I only have a few minutes so I post to Instagram because of the convenience but forget about G+. I used to immediately post a shot after I’d taken it, but over time have amassed a bit of a backlog of images because I’ve hesitated or over-thought about how/when to post them.
I like your idea about a dedicated day. Im torn between setting aside one day a week (one morning might be more realistic though) or try to take one photo a day. They both have advantages and disadvantages. I feel that whatever i decide its the consistence. I have a back log of images to be edited too. Sometimes there is a reason they are still their – if I haven’t edited them by now, maybe they aren’t that good! Keep up the great work James! All that photography has really moved your photography forward!!
Thanks Shelly! As much as I’ve been tempted in the past to be one of those photo-a-day people, I know I wouldn’t be able to stick with it. Having at least one dedicated day works well, and if inspiration strikes on some other day of the week I’ll also shoot then if I have the time.
I forgot to add that I also listened to that LensWork podcast, and loved it. I got a kick out of the story he shared about the pottery teacher who had half the class work on one project, and the other half work on as many as they could within the deadline. It was so simple yet such an effective example of how simply making art will over time teach you lessons and help you improve.
I am very inconsistent when it comes to creating new work – you just happened to catch me on a good month. There are several months this year where I created 7 or less images. There’s a couple factors that prevent me from creating new work. One is client projects – which is a good excuse and one that falls under the ‘work’ category. I think one’s career or job is a valid excuse, there are only so many hours in the day, so maybe people need to cut themselves a little slack in that area. The other factor is creative block. It is hard to motivate myself to create new work when I have no ideas that excite me (this is a really poor excuse though). In February I challenged myself to create a new image every day that month – which ended up being my “28 Days of Toy Stories” challenge. It was such a cool experience and I felt a great sense of accomplishment after I completed it. I really pushed myself to create something substantial every day and even ended up with several new portfolio pieces after it was done. I’ve actually been thinking about doing another personal challenge soon as a way of pushing myself to create.
Artists (painters, drawers, etc) keep a sketchbook and sketch daily as a way to practice, experiment and keep that muscle memory going. They don’t pressure themselves to create finished works for public consumption daily. But they are practicing their craft daily, which is incredibly valuable. I think photographers need to do something similar- something that allows them to try new things, or just stay active with the camera, without the pressure of having to put it out there for the world to see. It’s really just a mindset and discipline you have to commit yourself too (can you sense that I’m trying to convince myself to get on board with this!?)
Lastly, I think it’s a mistake to compare yourself to others. Of course I do it as well, it’s human nature. IG can be an intimidating place though once you start going down that road. Toy photography in general is being elevated to unbelievable heights – I am blown away by the incredible level of talent and work I see on a daily basis. But I think a trap that many fall into is trying to emulate what they see others doing. Colored lighting and the use of dios are a good example and are the trend du jour…it’s getting harder to distinguish who is who now because of it. Previous to this it was all the fireworks and explosions. There is a sameness to a lot of the work out there and that won’t change. How does one remain unique and original? You keep your head down and continue to develop your own style, vision and storytelling (of which yours is VERY strong, Shelly!). My realizing and understanding that was really motivating – and liberating. Of course that’s not an excuse to not learn new techniques if your desire to do so is there – but those techniques should be there to compliment and support your style, vision and stories, not replace them.
As always this is a great comment Mitch. Thanks for offering such a wonderful perspective. Also I appreciate your kind comment about my own style. Sometimes I think there is a sameness to it, so Im working to find variety within my own comfort zone. I know that if I really wanted to compete with the explosion or die crowd I could, but what it s the point? Those aren’t my stories to tell. I admire people who can tell the stories about certain pop culture character, but again , that isn’t me. I will stick to my silly weird Chima / Ninjago, Unicorn Sparkle Fairy, etc and be happy. I just need to find more time to take these characters where I want them to go.
Mitch, I admire how you can find the time to keep your sponsors happy, take new images, keep up with social media AND drum up new clients!!! You are truly amazing! I will keep your advice in mind as I struggle to find my own way. 😀
Absolutely agree with each your word, Shelly! What a honor to be a part of your “fave list”! Thank you! ☺️🙏🏼
I worked out a comfortable schedule for my hobby – one photo a week. I need 2-3 evenings after work to catch main idea, choose characters and build backgrounds (optionally). Shooting process takes maximum of time and concentration, sometimes I need to change many details while shooting, so I trying to shoot at weekends.Absolutely agree with each your word, Shelly! What a honor to be a part of your “fave list”! Thank you! ☺️🙏🏼
I worked out a comfortable schedule for my hobby – one photo a week. I need 2-3 evenings after work to catch main idea, choose characters and build backgrounds (optionally). Shooting process takes maximum of time and concentration, sometimes I need to change many details while shooting, so I trying to shoot at weekends.
So, weekdays for preparation, weekends for shooting, and mondays for posting. In this schedule I can to be a good husband at home, effective manager at work and maybe not bad toy photographer (I hope so at least). Sometimes things goes well and I can make few scenes at week, and sometimes can’t do just one (like this September).
I’ve also always been admiring of people who come up with amazing picture everyday, but lately I’ve been going in the opposite direction. I’ve never cared before about having a fixed schedule for posting photos, I used to post only photos when I have some I want to share. But I’ve been taking so many pictures in the past two years that posting daily wasn’t enough anymore. I could probably post new photos daily for a few months (if not a year) without taking any new picture, but I decided instead to force myself to limit to a weekly schedule because I find social media so overwhelming (and maybe a bit meaningless too in the end).
Taking as many pictures as possible? I couldn’t agree more. But posting daily? I think there’s definitely value in not doing it, and instead of following the crazy pace of social media take a step back and reflect of the point of it. And just do toy photography for the love and fun of it, and not for social media. Even if it means in the end that there are pictures (almost) nobody will ever see.
(BTW I’m glad you made me discover the LensWork podcasts last year, since then I’ve been devouring most of them.)
Since this is a hobby for most of us, I’m not surprised that most of the responses are missing what seems the most obvious answer to me (as a long-time professional web designer and Internet marketer): do things in batches and schedule the posts to come out using tools like Later.com, Buffer.com, or Hootsuite.com.
I think most of us love the personal touch and want to post our photos directly, not just schedule them to come out. But when things get busy for me, I can either stop posting entirely (which I’ve sometimes done) or use some tools to work around my schedule. I can usually find an hour per week when I can relax at the computer and sort/edit images. (It usually turns into several hours, but at that point I don’t care.) I copy the edited photos onto my phone into a folder called “2-Post”.
Then when I have a few minutes during a prime posting time (which I’m totally guessing at based on how active my friends seem to be on Instagram at that time), I’ll throw 3 images out at once. I don’t know whether posting 3 at once is good or bad, but I like keeping my gallery themed a certain way, where each row is somewhat related (a row of Lego shots, a row of 6-inch figs, etc). And I figure maybe I put three of my shots out at a time, it will have a better chance of being seen. When I find myself forgetting that I have photos available, or am too busy during peak times, I’ve started scheduling with Later.com (the free version), because I can prep the whole post in advance and then it prompts me and it’s just copy/paste.
I’ve also been doing more “sketching” lately — taking photos of things even though they’re not great shots or perfect lighting, just experimenting. And attempting more things that I haven’t tried before, like extra edits in Photoshop to add effects, or using a wire or prop and then erasing it from the final image, or whatever. It definitely helps to have a table or corner of a countertop to stage things. Some of my favorite shots lately took a week or two to put together, because I’d gather Lego pieces for 15 minutes at a time in between other tasks, and slowly build the scene.
But above all, I’m trying to relax and enjoy even if my pace seems terribly slow compared to others out there. I’m not doing this to compete (I constantly remind myself) but to experience joy and share it with others. Part of the joy is the learning process, the improvement of the craft. Part of the joy is enjoying others’ work and interacting with them. Most of the things that devour my joy are wolf-thoughts in sheep’s clothing, creeping in and hoping I won’t notice they don’t belong. “My shots will never be as good as theirs,” “I can’t imagine having the patience to set up that shot,” “I wish I had better toys,” “why try, I’ll never be able to keep up with these guys,” etc.
But these thoughts are not only wolf-thoughts, but shadow-wolf-thoughts — the moment I recognize one and shine the light on it, it disappears in a puff of grey fur. I know better than to compare myself or try to “keep up” with anyone. I know that a different toy won’t magically make my photography better. I just need to stay aware of what thoughts are wandering around in my pasture and shine the light on them every once in a while to keep the wolves away.
Thanks Shelly for such an honest article. Also, thanks for mentioning me but I don’t know if I’m the best to give any good tips/tricks as I’m still learning how to juggle work, family and hobbies, especially since I have a 7 month old baby who’s constantly changing! Also, I’ve only been in the toy photography world for just a bit over a year and I’m still finding my way around. That said, there are 3 points I would like to share:
Firstly, I adopt a simple workflow to be time efficient. I spend time shooting but I do not shoot a lot if that makes sense. For each image, I usually only take an average of 3-8 shots. This helps my brain in having to cull and pick from a heap. The bulk of the time is setting up, posing figures (and stopping them from toppling over!) I then wifi transfer the images to my phone where all my post-editing is done. Being mobile, I can use incidental time during the day to do bits of editing.
Secondly, I have to be realistic. I would love to experiment with practical effects I see on IG – smokes and a plethora of lighting, however, at present, I simply don’t have the time to invest in that.. and that’s okay. Also, there is a certain “sameness” about it which had been mentioned by others. Mitchel’s comment about “… keep(ing) your head down and continue to develop your own style, vision and storytelling… ” does resonate with me. I’m not sure what my style is but I believe as I continue my photography journey of creating positive art, it will suffice over time and it will be a culmination of my personal life journey with it’s various responsibilities.
Lastly, things are different now with the “community” aspect. In the beginning, “toy photography time” was simply time spent shooting/editing/posting photos. Over time, as I got more involved, this “time” included more social elements of the hobby – commenting/chatting/interacting/welcoming and also reading the blog. These are things I really enjoy doing but I’m conscious it’s time from my “hobby” box. The hobby has evolved for me. I’m still learning to prioritise and juggle the different boxes in my life.
This has been good commenting on your post Shelly as it made me stop and think where I’m at with things. 🙂