I’ve seen fellow toy photographers on Instagram posting their BTS (behind the scenes) shots, with their indoor lighting setups. I had a couple of lights I could use and figured, “That doesn’t look too hard.”

Boy, was I wrong.

I wanted to quickly set up and take some pictures that I could use as Christmas cards. The only thing that went “quickly” was the discovery that there were more factors than I expected. Christmas decorations by nature are visually busy, and that was probably my first mistake. But let’s set that aside and focus on the indoor lighting aspect of things.

Indoor lighting woes - too dark by @teddi_toyworld

First, everything was too dark.

Indoor lighting woes - face too bright by @teddi_toyworld

Then Star-Lord’s face was too bright.

Indoor lighting woes - grainy pic by @teddi_toyworld

Ugh. Look at that grainy texture! Not what I was going for.

Indoor lighting woes - too flat by @teddi_toyworld

And this setup (besides being WAY too busy) was just flat.

I’m Not Giving Up on Indoor Lighting

Maybe it’s not “too hard”, but my expectation that I could just set up backdrop and throw down a couple of small lights and the photos would be great was a mistake. Maybe it is easy, but I’m pretty sure I’m missing some basic information that will require some experimenting to discover.


I see great indoor photos from so many of you, and even if you think you aren’t doing anything special, I’d really love to hear more about your indoor lighting setup. What kind of camera do you have? What settings do you use? (Aperture priority? F-stop? Macro lens?) How many light sources? How much difference does diffusion make? Is it important to have the area around the figures protected from ambient window or indoor lamp light, or how do you leverage that?

We all learn what works and what doesn’t and then it becomes instinct or habit. I want to draw that data out of your brains! What habits do you have? Maybe you know better than to put a figure with a bright face (Star-Lord) together with a figure with a dark face (Chewbacca), because you know that’s a recipe for frustration. Or maybe you know a trick that makes it work. Maybe you always put your figures XX inches from the background, put your camera XX feet away from the scene and then zoom in to achieve the proper amount of background blur.

I’m not generally one to listen to podcasts (sorry!), so I haven’t listened to it, but I know the Toy Photographers podcast addressed lighting with Shelly, Brett and Sunny Ang (@zekezachzoom) back in September. Anna (@fourbrickstall) also did a great post about lighting as it relates to LEGO minifigures, which is very helpful.

Please, Please Share What You Know! This Lighting N00b (and others like me) Need You!

I realize that what works for you may not work for everyone, because we all have different tools and environments. What works for a phone camera is often different from what works for a Canon 80D with a macro filter on it (that’s what I’m using for these shots). But if you have a chance, please drop a comment and share a tip or two about what works for you.

Maybe it will help someone else!