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.

Why? The 3 Things I love Most About Lego Photography

Hello Toy Photographers! My name is Kenton Anderson.

Me in lego form.

Since this is my first post on Toy Photographers let me introduce myself. I am a Full-Time Creative Director/Part-Time Photographer living in Salt Lake City, UT. I have been a photographer for about 10 years now and up until recently have mostly done weddings and family photography. Only recently have I discovered Lego Photography and have quickly become obsessed.

Lego photography is so much more relaxing…

There are a lot of reasons why I enjoy photographing toys, but here’s my top 3.

1. It’s Fun

I like to think of toy photography as a semi-socially acceptable way to still be a kid 🙂 I say semi-socially acceptable because there are some haters out there, but they are just too immature to still be kids at heart, or maybe it’s just that they where deprived kids who’s parents never gave them the simple joy of playing with Lego!

For me, I think the fact that I played a lot with Lego as a kid is one of the reasons I find photographing it so fun; the nostalgia. It brings back memories of Christmas mornings fighting over who gets to open the Lego presents first (similar to how I saw two grown men fighting over the latest UCS set at the Lego store on May the 4th!). With Lego my family would create our own worlds and imagine the life that went on within them while thinking… “everything is awesome”. Having fun is the main reason I got into photography in the first place and it’s definitely the reason why I love toy photography.  Sometimes I need to remind myself more of this!

Recreation of my sons room in Lego.

2. It’s Therapeutic

Building and photographing Lego is one of the few things in my life that I do 100% just for me. I think everyone needs to have an outlet. Something you can do when you’ve had a stressful day at work or things are just not running at smoothly as you’d hoped. Something that can ease your nerves and calm you down. For me, this is either playing a game of FIFA or building Lego and taking pictures.

3. It Fosters Creativity

I discovered Lego photography one day on Flickr. Out of nowhere I saw some photos from Vesa Lehtimaki, a.k.a @Avanaut. The photos were amazing to me! I’ve always loved photography, but the moment I saw Vesa’s photos I realized that the way I’d been doing photography had limits. Taking wedding photos you are limited to the venue, or to the places you can go nearby. You are limited to the same two subjects (bride & groom) time and time again, not to mention the occasional bridezilla!

The instant I saw Vesa’s photos I realized that many of those limits could disappear. I was blown away with the little worlds that he could create. Lego is a system that can build pretty much anything without ever even needing to leave the house. You can also make mini worlds with household items (such as Vesa does with baking powder) or things you can find right in your backyard (like Brett Wilson does with moss). This makes it so you can take away many of the limits that other types of photography present. Obviously there is the limit of how much Lego you can buy. For me, I have exceeded that limit probably one too many times ;).

a recent avanaut inspired photo…

Building any world you can imagine is amazing, but equally amazing to me is the Lego Minifigure. Whoever created the Lego minifigure deserves a Nobel Prize. It’s incredible how one figure (made of so few parts) can have infinite possibilities. It can represent so many emotions and so many different types of people. I think the minifigure, for me, is what makes photographing Lego so awesome. Chris McVeigh is one photographer who really does any amazing job of capturing minifigures in so many different situations and expressing so many different emotions.

Every Stormtrooper has a different emotional reaction to seeing the Darth Vader choke hold.

There are a ton of different reasons to shoot toy photography, but to me, these are the 3 that are most important. Oh, and I put having fun as number 1 for a reason!

– Kenton

@kentonanderson

My One Photo that Changed it All

This is the story of the toy photo that set me on my path. From this photo, I never looked back. This, is my one photo that changed it all.

My first post on Toy Photographers was my Why statement. Why I do what I do – photograph, of all things, toys. And in that I touched on my college WWII project.

The longer it’s been since I made that project, the more I realize how defining it has been to my future photos. Continue reading My One Photo that Changed it All

Think big, shoot small?

“To speak out once for all, man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is man, and he is only completely man when he plays.” (Friedrich Schiller, Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education of Man)

Last year my pictures had to be radically abstract. This year they are all about miniature people. What happened? And am I being inconsistent in my photography?

It’s about pictures

I have always tried to be very clear about one thing: My photography is not ‘about’ the things I photograph – in fact, I could not care less in many instances. It is ‘about’ pictures because I like pictures. This notion is also supposed to help me escape a certain kind criticism: It has been said that photography is the death mask of reality and that it is not able to surpass the reality it depicts. I wanted to go beyond that. I aimed at pictures that are independent of the time and place they show. Continue reading Think big, shoot small?

Life After Instagram…

Where to next? What does life after Instagram look like now that the platform is becoming so hated? What began as a simple, chronologically arranged photo sharing app is now virtually unrecognisable, and people aren’t happy. These days a Facebook algorithm governs the feed, the polaroid inspired square format is no longer binding, and Snapchat’s influence is obvious, to say the least. These moves away from the app’s roots are, unsurprisingly, hardly universally popular among Instagram’s 700-million strong userbase. People hate change, toy photographers not excepted. Recently, as first the algorithm, then stories, then the infamous ‘shadow-ban’ rolled out across Instagram, I’ve seen many posts proclaiming:

“Instagram is going down the drain! I’m moving to Eyeem!” 

“Come to 500px! This new algorithm is terrible!” 

“Google+ is the best social media! No Facebook messing us around over there!”  Continue reading Life After Instagram…

Where Do Toy Photos Belong?

“Never have I found the limits of the photographic potential. Every horizon, upon being reached, reveals another beckoning in the distance. Always, I am on the threshold.”

-W. Eugene Smith


As we struggle with Instagram’s constantly changing algorithm many toy photographers are trying to figure out where in this social media world they belong. Of course I’m going to vote for Google + and the Toy Photographer’s Community, but really our images can fit anywhere that any other photo can. Continue reading Where Do Toy Photos Belong?

I’m a travel toy photographer!

The first photos

When Shelly asked me to write about my first toy photo, I had no idea what I could possibly tell about it. Last year, I posted online what I consider to be my first photo as a toy photographer. It was just a photo of a big pile of minifigs. I wanted to see how they look in front of my camera and it was never meant to be shared with anybody.

My first photo of minifigures, taken while sorting my old LEGO collection in June 2014. In the big pile of plastic, there are among others: a mini fig with the face of a witch (and teeth marks), a pirate with a life jacket, a shark, a tent fabric, a net and an Endor speeder bike.

The only story behind that photo is about how I got into toy photography. I decided to start learning about photography when I was in need of a new hobby and got my first DSLR in early 2014. At that time I didn’t know what kind of photographer I wanted to be or what kind of photos I wanted to take. But at some point I stumbled onto dozens of inspiring LEGO photographers. It was impossible to resist going into the attic and looking for my old LEGO collection. Photography was the perfect excuse to play again with toys, something I’ve secretly wished to do since I started to get “too old”.

Digging back in some family photo archives I found what might be my actual first photo of a toy. I took it in the 90s with a film camera, when I wasn’t yet “too old” to play with toys.

Within two months I tried taking photos with the specific idea of sharing them online. Among those early photo still dear to me is my first photo series. It mixes some of my first acquired modern minifigures with my favorite “classic” ones. I knew the technical quality wasn’t great and that I had to practice in order to progress. But there was also more…

While looking back in my archives, I found early photos taken for my first photo series. They are out of focus, underexposed and the light is terrible. But these sketches never meant to be shared online.

The journey

At that time, I was looking to develop my own style of photography. I wanted my photos to be recognizable without people having to look at the name next to it. The people that inspired me most all have their own distinct style and I wanted to be like them. After all it’s natural to want to be like your heroes isn’t it?

But did I achieve that goal? Or will I ever achieve it? I don’t know and I’ve stopped caring. I’ve discovered that this not the goal I should be aiming for. The real goal is to be aware of my vision and know how I want to express it through my photography.

Part of this evolution can be credited to discovering Stuck in Plastic at a time when my toy photography wasn’t making much progress. I’m grateful for this discovery for several reasons. One of them is that it allowed me to read Shelly’s blog posts and it made me think in a different way about photography. I couldn’t thank her and Kristina enough for their challenges from the Photographer’s Playbook. I forced myself to participate, no matter how hard it could be and how long it would take. Taking on these challenges made me think deeply about what I was doing and why.

The first photo featuring both Master Yoda and Admiral Ackbar, taken for the sum of the parts challenge. I knew this would be the beginning of something, but I would have never guessed they would be featured in almost 80 photos already posted online (and more to come).

And then I found the missing piece. I watched an interview on Youtube by Canadian photographer David DuChemin about the importance of vision. Although reading regular blog posts from different toy photographers should have rung that bell earlier (like when Shelly and Kristina were talking about red thread). By watching this specific interview, I realized what really matters:  to produce better pictures I needed to be aware of my artistic vision.

I still have difficulties putting words on my vision. But I know it has something to do with Adventure and Travel.

The vision

Looking back at those early photos, it seems like I have traveled a long way. Now the photos I take and share are there to express something inside me. I still take occasional photos just “for the fun”. In the end they’re not the important ones to me, no matter how much others like them.

My first big trip with toys in September/October 2014, in Seattle…

I wonder if my vision was already a noticeable part of my early photos? I think this might be the case with the first photos I took of toys while traveling abroad. Going back to those “oldies” made me realize that maybe I’m a travel toy photographer. No matter if my photos are taken while traveling or not.

… And Vancouver. Although this photo is still among my favorites from that early era, Stormtroopers are characters that disappeared from both my public feed and my travel bag. Mostly because they don’t match my vision and the type of characters I want to focus on.

I’m now getting ready for what’s going to my biggest trip in over a year… San Francisco here I come (too)!

Are you aware of your own artistic vision? Does it help you when you’re taking photos?

Learning Lego

The Beginning

Quite a few months ago a friend asked if I’d ever shoot Lego. I said ‘probably not’ and went on to explain that something so recognizable in an image makes it all about that item, whether for or against, you can’t have just a message all on its own.

Rethinking

I was being a bit narrow minded. Continue reading Learning Lego

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!

A Day in the Life of a Toy Photographer

As I ride the bus to meet my sister, I think of Brett’s post about how he went to Sydney and there was no sun to take pictures. He was unable to take the pictures he had planned due to the weather.

I was looking forward to this day. I was going to get to see a part of the city I haven’t been before. And with my sister by my side, we would have so much fun and take so many Lego shots. Continue reading A Day in the Life of a Toy Photographer