Learning to Travel with Toys

In my post a couple weeks ago I declared –

that in my upcoming travel toy photos I wanted to have “a reason for the location and [to] find a way to interact with [my] new environment.”

During my 2 weeks out of state, I took a ton of pictures –

most of a touristy nature with no toys present. But, one night I did find myself at a sculpture park, with the perfect opportunity to put to use my 2″ tall plastic, electric dollhouse chandelier that I brought with me. I purchased the chandelier with the idea of creating outdoor rooms, of playing with the juxtaposition of inside v. outside space and therefore a looking out on new opportunities, new starts, open windows and doors.

The sculpture park with all its various structures of sorts allowed for a backdrop to the chandelier. In order to get the electronic component of the light to work, I wired it to a battery pack and was well on my way. For these I decided to shoot with my Olympus TG-4 – a point and shoot camera, but with great macro and other versatile capabilities. While I had brought my DSLR in my suitcase, this quick, on the go walking trip, with chandelier held in one hand, seemed to call for a lighter camera.

As for toys, I had also had brought along a couple guys in hazmat suits, and a few tiny photographers – none of them actually made it in front of my camera. But I did take a couple shots, also at the sculpture park, of a little astronaut – another symbol of new beginnings.

So, while in 2 weeks I only took toy photos one night…

I’m pretty happy with the results. For one, considering my exploration for toy photography was pretty limited when posed around daylight hours and work responsibilities, and for two, because I feel like I actually accomplished the symbolism I set out to capture.

While the past few weeks have been exhausting, there’s something to be said about the inspiration that can be found by changing your surroundings and stepping outside the genre.

As a slight departure to the above, while in Chicago, I also got the opportunity to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute. They are stunning, intricate, 1:12 dollhouse scale, historic dioramas and while they are 3-D, the lighting in which they’re posed is amazing and could be hugely influential in this small scale photo world we find ourselves in. Here’s one for example.

I took way too many photos of these rooms, and sometimes love the idea finding the best way to photograph pre-setup mini spaces. All of them were behind pretty reflective glass, without a polarizing filter on hand, and taking these images with my phone, I had to get creative when it came to making the odd reflections work within the image.

“I am forever chasing the light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical.”

-Trent Parke

Have you created photos in a new location recently?

~ Jennifer Nichole Wells

Making Toys for Toy Photography

There are various way to approach the creation of new photos. Personally, I like to think of an idea then figure out what toys and other props would be best to make that vision a reality.

Sometimes I look through my collection, other times I’ll browse online or in shops, and sometimes I’ll make my own objects. I don’t typically make the precise, detail oriented, gorgeous work you’ll see of miniaturists or customizers, but I do make simplistic models that fit my end goal. I like to think of the camera lens as a tool of transformation. Through it, I can make my simple sets come to life.

Is it still a toy if I make it myself?

Well, I’ll leave that up to you in the end. But I’d like to think a small trinket posed with other toy or toy-like items still falls into the range of toy photography.

When I say I make my own toys, here’s what I mean.

First up, I’m sure this is something we all do from time to time, building sets using paper, cardboard, foam core etc.

My other standard supplies include polymer and air dry clay, glue, and odds and ends found around the house.

Then, more technologically, I sometimes design and/or source 3D models to print and paint.

And most recently, I’ve been creating molds for play-doh and hot glue lego mini figures. For years I’ve had the idea of creating an image that shows a figure crumbling. A metaphor of the mind, shown visibly. I never quite figured out a way to do this, and then I thought of play-doh and how it gets all crumbly when it dries. I liked the symbolism of a lego figure rather than a more realistic human for this, an icon of an icon of sorts. As I started the molding process, other ideas came to life for this type of ‘toy.’ And so a short series of images began.

I’m not quite sure this is my end all be all crumbling image, but it’s a start. And the best way I knew how to make it was by making the toy I needed for it.

“With any means available, [tableau photographers] create photographs intended to convey their philosophic and moral views of the world and themselves.”

– Fabrications by Anne H. Hoy

Long story short, I find what I need to make the photo I’m envisioning, and sometimes that comes in the form of creating my own toys.

~ Jennifer Nichole Wells

Do you ever make your own toys or other photo props? Why and how? 

The $5 Photograph

I’ll readily admit I have a lot of supplies for my toy photography – various toys, camera equipment and other gear.

I don’t have the latest and greatest anything, but I make what I have, and what I can further source, work for me.

This concept can be true at any range of your budget. While social media can make it seem like you need a $2000 camera and $300 figure to make it in this field/hobby that’s far from true. Continue reading The $5 Photograph

New Beginnings

In the next few days I’ll be flying out of state for some on the job training for my new position. I won’t have a ton of free time, but I’d like to be prepared for when or if I do. So here I am as a not-travel/outdoor toy photographer contemplating what to bring and what to shoot.

I want to make photos there that I couldn’t here, to have a reason for the location and find a way to interact with the new environment.

“The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.”

-Elliott Erwitt Continue reading New Beginnings

Focusing on Toes

I love toy photographs that make me do a double take. The ones that just look so very real. Bringing toys to life is such an intriguing ambition that many of us share and finding new ways to do so really gets me motivated.

The six image narrative project has me thinking about images I’ve created in series in the past. Some I plan and then shoot all at once, or in sequence over the course of a day, week, month, etc. Others develop more slowly. I have an idea I return to, or a figure that turns into a muse. And with that figure and idea I create one image, then some time later another, until a series forms. Continue reading Focusing on Toes


n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.

-The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Jennifer Nichole Wells

Learn more about the six image narrative project here.

6 Ways to Fix your Photo Funk

Discouragement, fear, demotivation, I’ve discussed these way too much at this point here (I promise I’ll write about something else soon). But no matter how many posts I write (which end up being extensions of lectures I’ve given myself) about forgetting the world and creating for yourself, there is always more to say.

I am very good at not taking pictures. I’ll have tons of ideas itching at my brain, the supplies to make each one and absolutely no motivation. Whether stress, general creative discouragement, or a world of other thoughts in my head, sometimes I just can’t bring myself to create. The problem there, is that then I mentally beat myself up for not making photos and the cycle continues. Continue reading 6 Ways to Fix your Photo Funk

On Times of Creative Discouragement

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

-Salvador Dali

The reason I am so adamant about measuring success only by your own standards, is that it can be so so easy to give up in this intense creative world. Sure, everyone’s standards of success differ – some may consider success simply having fun, others affluently selling their work, and really everything in between. But no matter your measure, if you let fear and the opinions of others seep into your photographic work, you’ll no longer be creating genuine and fulfilling work.

Continue reading On Times of Creative Discouragement

Leaving A Photo Be

“A great photograph [is] a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about what life in its entirety.”

– Ansel Adams

As with any creative practice, photography is so personal that we constantly feel the need to defend it to others and to explain our work. But there is a power that comes in leaving a photo be and allowing the viewer to interpret as they will. Continue reading Leaving A Photo Be

A Foggy Path

It all started with the word ‘humid.’

In Florida it’s always humid. Go outside with your camera and the lens immediately fogs up. If you want a non-fog filled image quickly you have to wipe the condensation from your lens and hope for the best. Otherwise you wait up to 30 minutes or more until your camera acclimates to the sticky weather.

A couple years ago, I decided I wanted to replicate a fogged camera lens effect indoors. My mom suggested placing something in front of the lens. So really I owe the whole development of this process to her. I had some textured transparency film left over from a college printmaking class and there it was. Continue reading A Foggy Path