5 Amazing Things About the San Francisco Toy Photography Safari

The Lead Up

Ok, so I was super nervoucited. (Thanks to a seven year old at my son’s school for teaching me that awesome word!). I’ve been collecting LEGO minifigures and taking pictures of them for almost two years now, and I was vaguely aware of Toy Safaris from mentions in my Instagram and Google+ feeds as well as a few blogs I follow. I had little idea of what to expect, so my mind was spinning with “who’s gonna be there?,” “what will it be like?,” “which toys will I bring?,” “will I be the only dullard using an iPhone 7 and relatively ignorant about photography?,” and “will this event hit my list of the top ten most awkward things I’ve ever done?” (Please don’t ask about that list… trust me.)

The Launch

Thursday evening. Rush hour traffic. Google+ Headquarters. How could I say no? Pamela from Google greeted us with warmth and headed us to a secret room a few buildings and floors away. I walked in. I saw pizza, salad, beer, and boxes of LEGO. Oh, and about twenty people who had camera bags and, you know, the range of expressions you see at a meet and greet. The promise of new LEGO helped calm my “goodness this is awkward” nerves, and I was relieved when Carter Gibson, Shelly Corbett, and other luminaries welcomed me. The room seemed to have no obvious serial killers who live in their mom’s basement or egos the size of the world’s biggest LEGO build. So far so good, I thought. I don’t typically enjoy casual conversation with strangers and it was odd to be having it with the real human beings who, it turns out, actually exist behind the many toy photography accounts I follow on social media.  We ate, talked, took some pics, traded toys, and promised to see each other in the morning. I drove home thinking: Ok, I can do this. And did I mention free new toys?

The Sharing

We shared toys and laughs and ideas and we even collaborated on photos. Collaborating on a toy photography shot was all new to me and it was such a fun (if slightly intimidating) way to push beyond my comfort zone. Julien (Ballou34) gets virtually all of the credit for this scene and our shots of it were fun to compare. As a group we also shared some of our histories and connections and dreams. And I’m so grateful for how much these wonderful people shared with me about their art! Ballou34 taught me so much about the use of light and aperture. Maelick (Reiterlied) taught me to expect the unexpected and take things a little less seriously with his photo bombs of an adorable LEGO dinosaur. Shelly taught me about water shots and how to get these adventurous 2″ figs to float. Kiwi (Wikitoybox) taught me about the magical world of resin poop. Dennis (krash_override) and Melisa (lizzybelle9) shared incredible custom toys. Cindy (coneydogg) and Leila (brickandmordor) reminded me to laugh. A lot. Still in disbelief? Check out this fantastic video of the event created by Travin (saiyanranger).

Life’s a picnic… no matter where you are. (Photo collaboration with Julien Ballester)
The Photos

So it turns out we took photos. Lots of photos. I loved our time at Sutro Baths best. It’s an amazing spot in San Francisco right on the coast of the Pacific. I adore taking nature pics, and especially shots with water. I also love concrete and decay. So this was basically a perfect spot for me and my toys. In fact, the whole safari gave me a toy photography lens on the Bay Area. It was fun to see familiar spots through that angle and really cool to shoot in places new to me. Each person had so many toys (and a lot more than just LEGO) and such fun ways of traveling with them. As I mentioned, this is one generous group of beautiful toy geeks. I loved the privilege of watching others set up scenes, shoot, chat about scenes and shooting, and then shoot some more.  

Surfs up at the Sutro Baths.
Josh, Austin and Eric in action at Fort Baker.
The Goodbyes

So I’m this fifty year old gay guy all married up to this incredible man I’ve been with for nearly half my life. We have a fantastic seven year old son who we adopted into our family just last year here in the Bay Area. As you can imagine, I’m not out drinking beer with grownups very often anymore. I walked into this adventure a little apprehensive and walked out delighted. I went deeper with my photography. I had time to focus and experiment. But much more than the pics and minifigs, it is hard to describe how connected I feel to this group after a weekend of shooting plastic. Most of the group had joined together for previous safaris in Vegas and Seattle (and others in Hamburg and London and/or beyond). I was new to the group and yet welcomed in like I’d been along the whole time. I’m in awe of the kindness, generosity, humor and talent of this group. I’m also certain I’ve made some lifelong friendships. And to think it all started with a few LEGO Simpson minifigs and an iPhone 5.

Sisters at sea – Sausalito Marina.

Doug Gary

So how about you? Whether you’re a toy photography fan or a photographer, what toys first grabbed you? What sorts of shots do you love?

In the shadows.

Connecting more than plastic bricks

Brickstameet

It’s brickstameet time again! And this time, we’re connecting more than just plastic bricks and taking photos of them. We’re connecting with our friend from across the ditch.

This Melbourne #brickstameet will have an international flavour. Well, maybe a “pineapple lumps” flavour from across the Tasman Sea?

We’re excited to have @harleyquin from New Zealand join us in Melbourne as we wander the streets shooting LEGO.

brickstameet
“I’m here to take choice photos bro!”

Shelly wrote, “My personal goal of these events is to put the ‘social’ back in social media”, in her post about the San Francisco Toy Photographers meet-up. I bloody love this goal of Shelly’s. I think we should all strive to put the social back into social media.

Putting the meet into brickstameet

LEGO and toy photography meet-ups are so much more than LEGO and toy photography meet-ups. They’re an opportunity to physically connect with peers. They’re a chance to chat with friends made through shared passions and pastimes. It’s an occasion to talk, share, learn, teach and laugh.

You are awake my child
The storm is real
Summon all the souls
The world is real
Beastwars – Shadow King

This will be the 5th brickstameet since they started in 2015: Federation Square, Hosier Lane and Melbourne’s laneways, Botanical Gardens, Brickvention, and now Docklands and Southbank. Each meet-up sees familiar and new faces, kids with their parents in tow and friends with their kids in tow.

By the 3rd meet-up, I’d pretty much put my camera away and focussed on chatting, catching up with previous attendees, meeting new LEGO photographers, and helping out with setting up photos.

Like every brickstameet, this one will be no different in that I’ll agonise over toy choices. And like the previous couple, these choices might not see the light of day. But just because they won’t be used as fodder, it doesn’t mean they won’t be present for a great day.

-Brett

If you’re in Melbourne on the 24th of June, or if you can make it to Melbourne like CJ, we’d love to socialise with you. We might even squeeze in some toy photography! All the details can be found here.

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The San Francisco Toy Photographers meet-up has come and gone

The San Francisco Toy Photographers meet-up has come and gone. A years worth of planning, organizing and a fair amount of worry, paid off in another epic weekend. There’s no way I can share with you the many moments, both small and large, that bonded this group together. We laughed, we shared toys, we shared equipment and we inspired each other in so many way.  I will do my best to impart a little bit of the magic of our four days together.  Continue reading The San Francisco Toy Photographers meet-up has come and gone

While The Cat’s Away

While the cat’s away, the mice will play. That’s what they say. Well, that’s what Bernie Horowitz says anyway!

toy safari: Gary Larson
“You, Bernie Horowitz? …So YOU’RE the ‘they’ in ‘that’s what they say’?” – Gary Larson

Toy Safari Blues

This past week, Shelly’s been off, gallivanting around in San Francisco at the Toy Photo Safari. And while she’s been away having an amazing time, I’ve been stuck here, keeping the home fires burning, slaving over a hot computer, looking after you kids!! Continue reading While The Cat’s Away

A Raptor Chapter that we hope doesn’t end

The Raptor Pack Day

April the 22nd, just like every 22nd since 2013 was Raptor Pack Day; a day where the Toy Dino Squad invite us to share our dinosaur photographs.

I’ve played along in the past. I’m a forgetful knucklehead and the 22nd either slips past me, or it’s on 22nd that I’m reminded by seeing someone’s dino post (usually the 22nd for them on the other side of the world so it’s the 23rd for me?), but when I do remember, or I’m reminded, I join in. Continue reading A Raptor Chapter that we hope doesn’t end

Seattle Toy Safari- video teaser

The Seattle Toy Safari was one year ago and the memories are still fresh. As excitement builds for the attendees of this weeks San Francisco Tay Safari, I want to share with you a small taste of last years event.

One of my projects around last year’s event was to create a behind the scenes video. I hired two friends to work along side the talented Leila Chieko to video the entire event. The goal of this project is to create a video that will show why these events are so much fun and to share a little of the magic. We interviewed many of the attendees so they can tell you in their own words why they attend and why they love to take photographs of toys. Continue reading Seattle Toy Safari- video teaser

Toy Photographer’s Meet-Up – Italian Style!

I virtually met Shelly on the Internet approximately one year ago and soon discovered her toy photographers’ meet-ups. I’ve definitely wanted to go to one; unfortunately the dates and locations didn’t work for me.

So, I started thinking about how I could organize my own. Well, organize is a big word. My lack of experience unequivocally didn’t help me at all, but the wish to take part in one was too strong to resist.

My original idea was to gather people together at my LUG’s annual LEGO exhibition. Every year Cremona Bricks hosts a big meet up. This year it was the sixth edition of it, with more than 80 exhibitors from all over Northern Italy. If you’re curious about the event you can have a look at this gallery on Flickr. Initially this seemed like the biggest mistake ever! Since we’re all LEGO fans too, we spent a lot of time looking at dioramas and the MOCs. We also spent time buying custom accessories in the market area. Continue reading Toy Photographer’s Meet-Up – Italian Style!

Gathering more than just photos

May 6th, 2014. When @zenith_ardor got a LEGO Tauntaun for his birthday and I’d just ordered one online, @smokebelch2 joked that there was “gonna be a Tauntaun showdown”. His taunts morphed into a photo gathering, the #tauntaunshowdown. An impromptu get together that spawned many more photography gatherings.

Together with @east_mountain, the four us started ‘hosting’ themed photography gatherings on Instagram from time to time.

There was nothing official about these gatherings. They were just a bunch of friends inviting others to join in and post photos based around a given theme, on a particular date or weekend. The unofficial tagline for these gatherings is “No winners. No losers. Just fun.” Continue reading Gathering more than just photos

The Art of the Brick

Art nurtures the brain. Whether made from clay, paint, wood, or a modern-day toy.

-Nathan Sawaya

Last week my wife and I got the chance to check out the incredible work of world-famous LEGO sculpture artist Nathan Sawaya. His popular exhibit, The Art of the Brick, is currently on display at OMSI in Portland. I’ve been following Nathan’s work for a while now, and was not going to miss the opportunity to see it in person!

Needless to say, we were absolutely blown away by the exhibit. It’s one thing to see Nathan’s amazing sculptures and recreations on the internet, but seeing them in person, and getting the chance to lean in closely to examine and appreciate the detail and artistry that goes into each one, was a whole other experience. Continue reading The Art of the Brick

The San Francisco Toy Photographers meet up is one month away!

The San Francisco toy photographers meet up is one month away and honestly I can’t wait! I’m excited to see my wonderful friends that I haven’t seen since September. I also get to meet long time internet friends like Ballou34 and Reiterlied. Plus there are more than a few new faces signed up that I will meet and happily welcome to the madness.

What started out three years ago as a small gathering of friends separated by a move, has grown into a much anticipated annual event. Its hard to imagine that our humble begins in Las Vegas has grown into an event supported by both Google and The Lego Group. Even with this success, our highest priority is the fun factor. Continue reading The San Francisco Toy Photographers meet up is one month away!