Dave: An Origin Story

It seems like every once and awhile someone creates a post about how they got into toy photography, and what they get out of it.  I figure its time that I go ahead and take a swing at that particular pitch and answer the how and why of my own particular journey into the realm of toy photography.

Ready?  Here we go…

The Shocking Truth Revealed!

I got into toy photography because I didn’t want to put on pants.

I’m not kidding.

Come along on a journey with me and I’ll tell you the tale.  It was a dark, cold, wintery evening back in December of 2012 (I’m assuming it was cold and wintry; I don’t actually remember the weather. It was definitely evening in December, so it seems plausible.  It makes for a better story so I’m going with it.)  

I had signed up for the Chrysta Rae Scavenger Hunt over on the Plus.  The hunt involves shooting an image for 10 separate words, one of which was “candy cane”.  If you recall the evening was (possibly) cold and wintry. The kids were in bed, so it may not surprise you that  I didn’t feel like going out of the house to find a shot.  So I decided to stage my own.  I looked around and discovered my old LEGO set from my long lost childhood. The kitchen contained a box of candy canes, and I scrounged an old Christmas tree skirt.  The solution was obvious (to me at least), and soon I had created this shot:

Candy Cane Forest

I ended up taking two other LEGO shots for that round of the hunt.  However it was a comment I got on this photo that caused me to take another LEGO shot for the next round of the hunt.  What was the comment? “This is so [expletive]ing creative!”  That’s an ego stroker for sure.  Highly motivated to impress again, the next word I LEGO’d up was “strawberry.”

Life at the fruit rollup factory
Inspiration comes in the strangest form, including an homage to strawberry fruit rollups.

Soon I was only doing LEGO shots for the hunt, mostly for the laughs. For the longest time humor was my only motivation for my toy photography. I didn’t take it very seriously beyond a quick smile or laugh.

A couple years ago I started studying photography thru a mentorship program in The Arcanum, focusing primarily on landscapes and street photography.  Late in my studies I was given a challenge to create an image with a cinematic feel.  My imagination is often larger than my resources, so I started to wonder if I could use my newfound skills gained pursuing other aspects of photography to actually create a compelling image with LEGO.  This is when I came up with the idea for a cinematic image created out of of a real life landscape shot, and a Gandalf minifig:

Gandalf At Stonehenge

I don’t want to brag, but the answer appears to be ‘yes’. Yes, I can create compelling images with toys!  I’ve been focused on toy photography ever since.

 Why?  Because I Can!

As I mentioned previously my vision often out strips my resources.  To create a lot of my ideas for images in real life, it would take a lot more time and energy than I have available. Not to mention it would require working with other humans, which is a rather unpleasant thought for someone as introverted as myself.

I have a full time job, which requires me to be on call for a week at a time multiple times a year.  I’m also a father of smallish children.  As a result I don’t often have the luxury to chase down the perfect location at the right time of day to get the shot that satisfies my vision.  I also don’t have space in my house for a studio large enough to shoot full sized human models. Real life can be so problematic, eh?

In contrast, my studio for my toy photography fits, literally, on a single spare desk in my home office.  If I need to work with something messy like paint or flour, I can quickly set up my gear on a folding table in my back yard. If I really need to get expansive, I can create entire worlds on my dining room table and still have room left over for my family of 4 to eat dinner between shots.

My equipment is also very portable.  I can carry in my camera bag several LEGO models and a flashlight or two for mood lighting. This tends to be so compact that I don’t notice the weight, or the space my set-up takes up.  Not too many photographers can carry all they need for a full-on location shoot (including the models!) in their carry-on luggage.

So the anwer to “why” boils down to this:  Toy photography allows me to create worlds I could never create in real life, and allows me to express my creative vision with reckless abandon, any time I wish, in the time and space available to me…. and I don’t even have to put on pants!

I mean, what’s not to love?

Foolish Lego – Pt 2

In my last blogpost I talked about how I started in toy-photography. . Although my main concern at first was creating decent photos, my main interest came down to story-telling. While single photography brought me pleasure and such, I always felt there was something missing.

As everyone in this world does at some point in their life, I decided I wanted to write a book someday. I’m no different. I’m a person that usually contemplates a project over and over… and over again. Yet, in the end I don’t even start working on it. This time was different; I even took some lessons in creative writing. The results from that course weren’t all that bad, but I understood that actually writing a book would be way out of my league, so I shelved my plans on writing a book again. A few years later I came across another phenomenon on the Internet; Lego-comics!

At that instant, everything came together. I figured Lego-comics was something I could do, since I was already doing daily photography. How different could it be, right? So again; I simply started, not being bothered by my lack of knowledge on just about everything concerning comics.

The Foolish-Lego comic was born. The first episode went up on my daughter’s birthday four years ago. The first comic ran for 287 episodes and took about 2,75 years to end.

As I said, I had no idea what I was doing. All I had was a crude thought about where I was going with the story the first couple of episodes, but didn’t have a clue on how I was going to end it. I didn’t even know what characters I was going to include and I never heard of the words ‘(crude) outline’. Almost all episodes were written and shot on the fly. The day I was going to publish an episode, I wrote the script, shot the photos and created the episode. What the next episode would bring I didn’t know. As a result, the story felt very unbalanced and was influenced by the amount of time and inspiration I had on the day an episode needed to be published.

There was so much wrong with that comic. For instance, there wasn’t a descent plot, there was little -if any- character development and there were countless loose ends.

Lighting and effects were especially annoying to me. These differed per episode and I couldn’t get them consistent. The reason for that was that I didn’t have a setup like I have now. I shot on different locations and with differing light sources (‘normal’ lights, flashlights, phone-lights, x-mas lights, etc…). Because of this, the effects in Photoshop had differing results (they also differed because sometimes I forgot what I did the last episode).

This episode shows the inconsistency in lighting/ color-balance even within an episode. Between episodes it’s much clearer.

Another thing was that my main protagonist didn’t really do anything. If I took him out of the story, the events might still have unfolded mostly as they did, frustrating. At that time, I didn’t know what a character-driven plot was. As the comic proceeded I took most of my pleasure out of some of the side-characters (Like Daryl, Willy and Venator & Hammie) who at least had distinct personalities, albeit flat.

In the first comic there were scenes I was happy with. This is a scene that did move the story forward and was fairly consistent. However, this scene was very heavy on Photoshop and took a lot of time each episode to do right. So, at the time I was happy this scene ended.

During the running of that comic I hit the books and asked around on all kinds of things, story-telling, camera-positions, (lighting) set-up, creating characters, plot-development and such. By the time I knew a bit more, I got so frustrated by the flaws in my comic I had to end it. And so I did. The ending (when I finally thought of one) was (ironically) inspired by the ‘Neverending story’ and even to me it didn’t feel that satisfying. Yet, it had to be done, I wanted to do better!

Now I’m about 100 episodes into comic two (which also started on my daughter’s birthday, did I mention that I am a sucker for traditions). This time I had a plan!

I started writing a crude script for the whole comic (that I already revised a thousand times by now), created a decent studio set-up and decided on a few characters with distinct personalities and desires. This time I would focus on my own alter(L)ego Dwaas. Also, there would be some connections to the world in the first comic and to characters in my single photography. I also wanted to bring some meaning into the story. And even though it might feel a little slow this time around, I am reasonably happy with the progress up until now.

The root of Dwaas’ problems started straight after his ‘birth’. This scene is also my favorite one up until now. It sets up the second story nicely and harbors a lot of atmosphere (based on ‘Young Frankenstein’ b.t.w.)

Technically I am investigating camera positions, composition, elements of cinematography, mood and lighting. This time I want to bring some balance and stability to the setup, at the very least within a scene! Now I shoot the comic scene by scene, which takes me 1-2 days per scene for the shooting and composing.

Technically I am investigating camera positions, composition, elements of cinematography, mood and lighting. This time I want to bring some balance and stability to the setup, at the very least within a scene! Now I shoot the comic scene by scene, which takes me 1-2 days per scene for the shooting and composing. I hope to write more on specific aspects of how to create a Lego comic next time.

Dwaas’ beliefs get him in trouble many years little in multiple areas in his life, as becomes clear as the story progresses. Will he be alright in the end?

While writing this blogpost, I re-read the first comic and I was positively surprised to notice that I felt it to be rather entertaining. I can partly see through the flaws now. Anyway, If you would like to read it, the first story starts here, the second (ongoing) comic starts here.

Dwaas

Have you ever considered starting a comic, or have you started one?

A Family Portrait

Hello everybody!!

Today I would like to tell you a story. This is the story of how a family overcame obstacles to reach a goal. The most difficult thing for me is translating some typical Italian expressions, but i’ll do my best.

Recently, my wife and I, along with my little daughter and my aunt, were invited for lunch at my parents holiday’s home. At the end of the lunch, while my wife was taking my daughter to sleep, my mom brought the coffee. After the first sip, I asked:

“Mom, do you have an inflatable swimming pool here?”
“Yes, it’s downstairs, what do you need it for?”, she asked.
“I want to take a picture.” I replied.
“Of the swimming pool?”
“No. Dad, do you remember karate kid?” I asked, while watching my dad.
“Of course!” he answered.
“And do you remember the training on the beach?”
“Yes, crane kick!” he quickly responded. “Do you want to take a picture of a minifigure doing the crane kick?
That would be nice!” my mom exclaimed.
“No mom, I’ve already done that, I want to take a picture of the training on the boat. That’s why I need the swimming pool.” I said.
“The one that we have will need some time to be filled” she clarified. “But if you want, I have a smaller one”

Then she brought a small circular inflatable swimming pool with bright orange border. I said, “Ok, let’s try”. My dad took the pool and started to fill it while I was preparing the minifigs on the boat. When the swimming pool was filled, I brought over the little boat.

“Okay, it floats. What I need now is to find something to hold it in place because I also need some waves.”
I was thinking about a big pile of LEGO, of course.
My aunt asked “Would some rocks do the job?”

Without leaving me time to answer, my dad started searching for all the stones he could find and putting them in the pool, making a big pile.
After emptying the pool a bit, I placed the boat on top of the stack. I gave a first look at the camera and noticed the white ground of the pool.

“We need something to cover the bottom.”
My dad came back with a piece of green wood and other stones, exclaiming “I feel like on a movie set!”.

Then we moved the rocks around to hide the bottom, while my father covered the back of the very orange pool with some grass, even if the camera would have never framed it. But you know, details are everything.
Just as everything seemed to be in the right place, I remembered one thing: the waves!

“Dad, do you have a small fan?”
“Let me check”

Meanwhile, I noticed the front edge of the very orange pool which would show at the bottom of the camera screen. I know that later I could easily crop the picture, but it still bothered me. I put a hand over it and lowered gently until it disappeared from the viewfinder. And you know what?

That movement created waves.
Small waves like the morning wind on the sea.
It could have been the afternoon wind, but the morning was more poetic.

Soon after my father and mother came back, both with empty hands.

“I’m sorry, I thought I had a fan but I can’t find it” he apologized.
“Don’t worry dad, look here,” I said, lowering the edge with continuous, quick movements. He looked at my mother and said, “Well, I can’t believe it.”

While they shared the disbelief, I noticed some harsh reflections on the minifigs and the water, so I mumbled:

“The sun is killing the ninja …”
“Want an umbrella?” My mother asked.
I thought for a couple of seconds, then I said, “Why not? Let’s try it.”

Then she brought the umbrella and opened it while I directed her to cover the sun. I took a couple of shots and modified them a bit in post-production for the end result. Even though I am very happy with my final photo, the journey has been, by far, the most important thing for me. My family was involved and I want to thank them because this picture is really a family portrait.

Marco (The APhOL)

“Lord Garmadon’s Day” – Six Image Narrative by @Miss__Feklista

Japan is so rich in myths about the mysterious creatures and, in my opinion, the most amazing of them is Lord Garmadon’s story.

Garmadon is a fantastic mix of dark power and fighting skills! He starts every morning with the traditional tea ceremony. If you imagine the table covered with innumerable cups and pots you know nothing about Lord Garmadon’s morning. This guy combines tea with physical exercises – a picture is worth a thousand words.

It doesn’t mean that Garmadon can’t be peaceful. After breakfast he comes where nobody can accompany him (except for his charming pajamas). Admiring the wild flowers, he sings and attracts many birds: they are sure that a strange dark tree is blossoming. A miracle of nature!

Garmadon has his favorite restaurant. The Sushi Chef doesn’t want to disappoint such an unpredictable visitor and always brings him the rarest endangered fish… 

Unfortunately, the Sushi Chef’s boss is an explosive Samurai and always threatens him with dismissal if he acts against Green Peace.

As you can imagine, the Samurai is Garmadon’s main opponent in the city. But their fighting is the most spectacular show for the locals. 

Do you know the story of Lord Garmadon’s wonderful pajamas? Every evening he comes to the place where he finds the absolute harmony…the kitchen. The smell of grilled shrimps and smoke, the sound of boiling pasta and exploding lava calms Garmadon’s nerves after a hard day and countless fights. It’s common knowledge that the locals must bring some sake for Garmadon’s supper so that he would slack the fire of his volcano.

Thanks a lot for your attention!

I’d like to thank Shelly and Toy Photographers Blog for the possibility to participate in this great creative section!

 Ann @Miss__Feklista

The Power of Two

I enjoyed reading Shelly’s blog post “Three is a magic number”.  I certainly agree that three subjects can make a fantastic photo but I think the “Power of Two” should not be overlooked.  Most of the time, I find myself photographing just one or two subjects.  Occasionally I’ll include a third subject but for me, having too many minifigures in the frame makes the setup and lighting more complicated and may dilute the interaction between the subjects, similar to the phrase “two’s company but three’s a crowd”.

Here are some themes that I like which revolve around the power of two:

Cute Couples

One of my first themes and definitely one of my favorites, this theme gives me the opportunity to show couples either posing for a portrait or taking a romantic stroll on the beach.   I always like to imagine what their relationship is like and what their thoughts are while they are posing for the photo.

For example in the “Cute Couple Boxer Photo”, I imagine that Kara and her boyfriend probably goof off and spar together often, so it makes sense that she would playfully punch him during the portrait session.

Here, the painters are sharing a moment after they finally finished painting hundreds of Easter Eggs.  They’re thinking “I can’t believe we’re finally done….. “

Or the unlikely couple, Officer Joe and Selina the jewel thief, gazing into each other’s eyes while having coffee.  It looks like the two of them are having a private moment, so I didn’t want to bother them for too long……

Best Friends

Another concept that I enjoy focusing on is “Best Friends” – especially the pair of gymnasts, Beth and Rebecca, as best friends and training partners.  They support each other through the tough workouts and stressful competitions.  Because of all the tough training they’ve been though together, they’ve developed a bond and I try to capture that in their photos.

Here the girls chit chat while chalking up for uneven bars:

Looking exhausted but feeling happy after a long workout:

After the competition is over, they have fun taking a selfie together:

The Best Friends theme extends to other minifigures as well.  I enjoy coming up with scenarios that minifigures with similar interests would do together.   For example, Angel and Pearl spend the day baking together.   They look like they are having so much fun, I didn’t want to bother them plus their cakes and cupcakes looked delicious and I was getting hungry.

Or maybe one friend can convince the other friend to try something out of her (or his) comfort zone, like Executive Elise and Executive Ellen.  I don’t think Ellen ever went on “The Shaker” again though.

I think having fewer subjects in the frame allows me to focus on the interaction between the subjects.  I’m able to explore the relationship between couples and hopefully portray the closeness of best friends. For me, that’s the “Power of Two”.

Lynn

How many subjects do you like to have in your photos?  Is there a theme or a special relationship that you like to portray?

Why by Greater Beast

The first and few things I’ve ever stolen in my life was a crayon. I was two or three and my mom found it in my pants pocket one day after daycare. When she asked me about it, I said it was so fun and amazing I really wanted to draw all the time. She felt so bad she bought me a box the next day after telling me to never steal again. We returned the crayon back to the daycare.

I’m not the most expressive person. Raised by people who thought showing emotion was a weakness, I was a quiet and reserved child.

But shit always has a way of surfacing, doesn’t it? No matter how hard you try to repress it, it always leaks out, spills over like too much jelly.

Drawing. Writing. Fashion. Sculpting.

I was quiet but I was always screaming.

And I think I was always going to end up here one way or another. Some mutation or blip in my personality would predispose me to this hobby. I wouldn’t call myself a photographer or anything, but I like it. There’s something magical about pressing a button and a whole new world is perfectly paused and encapsulated.

Toys and Instagram really blew up that novelty of photography for me.

In this newly founded cult of social media, the image, the dream, the mirage is the only thing that matters. And the frame only keeps getting smaller and smaller. Further and further from reality. From blogs, our obsession moved on to micro blogging like Tumblr, then to Twitter, and now Instagram as we sharpened our images into fine points meant only to pierce the heart.

I love it. It’s like skimming cream off milk.

And I think toy photography naturally thrives in that capsule world. There’s so much weight in those little PVC hunks of plastic veiled in childhood heroes and nostalgia. Showing too much would only break the spell. And there’s nothing funner than dealing in the fantasy that toys already lend themselves to. Tools turning dreams into reality if only for a moment.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to ponder such a difficult question. I’m 100% certain if Shelly never stumbled upon me on Instagram I would have never gone outside but then maybe my dioramas would be done better lol. Much love to you guys.

Eva

Bold Adventures of a happy stormtrooper

I am not what I think I am; I am not what you think I am; I am what I think you think I am. ~ Charles Horton Cooley

Stormtrooper Frank has many adventures.  Most of them are generally happy ones.

-Storm watching
-Pinecone collecting
-Gardening / planting
-Teaching art
-Lunch with locals

But occasionally he has that unplanned adventure like Crash landing on Dagobah… Frank made the mistake of jumping into hyperspace without his helmet strap on… what a mess.

~Joseph Cowlishaw

My Latest Flame

I’ve taken a few shots this week that I’m really proud of. I was going to sit on them for a few days but I couldn’t wait to share at least one of them. The arrival of the new Last Jedi SDCC Exclusives has really given me a kick to get out and shoot more. These two new figures are characters that will feature heavily in the new film, but they also have uncertain paths to take.

I, like many others, can’t wait for the next Star Wars film. Although I try to stay pretty spoiler-free, getting these new figures has given me the opportunity to  make up some of my own stories and add to the intrigue associated with the future of these two characters. It’s part of what toy photography is all about for me – telling the untold story through images. It can sometimes be challenging, when a character and their history are very well known, to tell a different kind of story; however, going off-cannon and making up different adventures for them can be both fun and exciting. It can also take you back to the way you used to play with these toys as a child. Back then, you might not have even seen some of the films starring some of your toys, but that never stopped you from taking them out on your own adventures in your back garden.

A favourite figure is something that changes so often for me. It’s often a Star Wars or a Lego related one, but usually it’s something that connects me with childhood memories of the toys I used to play with. There’s a rich history associated with releasing Star Wars figures before the next film, sometimes even before we have any idea who the character is (for example, Boba Fett).

For that reason, these two new figures are my current favorites despite a slightly dodgy paint finish here and there, and they’ve helped to remind me why I love toy photography.

Inevitably, a week or a month or so later, the next shiny figure pops up on my wanted list and I’ll convince myself that I absolutely need it for ‘that’ shot. When everyday life gets in the way of creativity, and it feels too difficult to dig out the motivation to get out and shoot, a new figure can really help spark your imagination.

Chris Rose

You can follow Chris on Instagram and G+