Fundamentally Fun

Things have been pretty heavy on the blog of late. There have been some meaty subjects to sink our teeth into, which is cool. But, as I vegetarian, I thought it time to step away from all this meaty content, and get back to my roots. Fun.

Essentially Entertaining

I started posting LEGO photos back in 2012, with simple photos accompanied by silly captions and puns. Scouring the interwebs for puns was the source of inspiration for my photos. If a pun made me giggle, I’d then create a LEGO version of it.

“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”
– Dr. Seuss

This was back in my early days on Instagram. It was before Instagram was flooded with users hell-bent on chasing numbers and fixated on follower counts. I think most of my early photos ended up in the feeds of 100 followers. But that was cool, I wasn’t doing it for numbers; I was doing it for fun.

fundamentally fun: "There's no eye in team" - Hieroglyphics teachers. Probably.
“There’s no eye in team” – Hieroglyphics teachers. Probably.

Primarily Pleasurable

I was also given a book around that time by my friend Mark that became a great source of inspiration, Letterbocks Top Tips. This book is filled with ‘pearls of thrift and wisdom’ and is ‘an invaluable compendium of 500 handy hints’. Or so they say!

“Save time when listening to LPs by playing them at 45 r.p.m.”
“When buying a camera, always buy a second one so that if you sell the first you will be able to take a picture of it for advertising purposes.”
“An old television with a toaster inside makes a cheap but effective ‘microwave’ oven. For making toast.”
Genius!

“From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.”
– Dr. Seuss

fundamentally fun: Gavin went to an underwater disco and pulled a muscle. Probably.
Gavin went to an underwater disco and pulled a muscle. Probably.

Looking back through some of my old posts, I realised two things; these were taken back when I was stubborn and only used my phone, and they were posted before I’d joined G+. With the chance to reshoot some old photos and share these puns and tips with a new audience, I didn’t have to think up new ideas. I only had to plan the new shots around the puns. That gave me more time for fun. And more time to focus on the photos not the ideas behind them!

“If you never did you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.”
– Dr. Seuss

Fundamentally Fun

Armed with a back-catalogue of puns and a better camera, and a new audience to inflict the puns upon, it was refreshing to revisit my roots. Shooting with the sole purpose of fun in mind freed up my creativity. It allowed me to be freer in my planning and thinking.

With fun the focus of the shots, I found myself having fun shooting them. Toppling LEGO was funny. Uncooperative bokeh was somewhat comical. I don’t think I swore once while shooting! 

fundamentally fun: I went to a zoo. The only animal in the entire zoo was a dog. It was a Shih Tzu. Probably.
I went to a zoo. The only animal in the entire zoo was a dog. It was a Shih Tzu. Probably.

The fun I was having must’ve been noticeable. My younger son asked if he could borrow my camera and take photos using the close-up filters.

But that’s another fun story!

– Brett

Why did you start photographing toys? Is it the same reason you do it now? Is fun one of those reasons?

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Posting with Purpose

How do you decide which photos to post? When do, or should you post them? Is there a specific time of day, or a specific reason why you publish a photo online?

I’m constantly asking myself these questions. It stems partly from working in social media marketing, where it’s important to optimize your posting in order to reach the widest audience. I also feel a need to “curate” my output.

I want there to be a method to my madness.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t

-Polonius, Hamlet

Perhaps it’s an insecurity, but I tend to overthink when it’s appropriate or “best” to post a particular photo. As a result, I tend to post more often on special occasions, which I’ve found isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

While the amount of reach or attention a particular photo gets isn’t the most important thing about my art, it’s still the nature of the social media world we live in. Of course I want my work to reach the widest audience possible, or strike a nerve at just the right time!

lego-calendar-man
Calendar Man may be a dastardly Batman villain, but he sure knows how to plan ahead!

Posting with Purpose

This may all have started from some underlying fear of rejection, but I can’t deny that it’s there and ultimately part of my process. So, I use it to my advantage, and do something I like to call “posting with purpose.” I’ve found that utilizing this “special occasion” mentality can actually help my creative output and bring me out of creative ruts.

Here are a few ways you can post with purpose:

  1. Holidays present the perfect reason to post a photo. As a bonus, they’re predictable, giving you a clear deadline on when an image needs to be taken, edited, and posted.

    lego-joker
    Your holiday photos can be as literal or broad as you want. I found the Joker to be a great subject for April Fool’s Day!
  2. “Newsjacking” is a term used for marketing, defined as “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.” Is there something particularly news-worthy that’s sparked your creativity? Seize that opportunity and make sure to use the coinciding hashtag if appropriate! You can pick big, important events like the Women’s March, or pop culture events like the release of a new movie or movie trailer.

    lego-star-wars-last-jedi-kylo-ren
    This shot was a recreation from the recent Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer
  3. Contests and challenges. We’ve talked a lot on this blog about using contests to fuel your creative fire. I also like to pay close attention to communities on social media that hold weekly or monthly challenges. There are even themed hashtag events (like Raptor Pack Day on Instagram) you can use to generate new photo ideas!

    lego-aquaman-justice-league
    Brickcentral’s #bc_gloriousfood challenge for October gave me the idea to finally photograph the new Justice League Aquaman figure
  4. Days of the Year. Just about every single day of the year has some kind of special and (more often than not) bizarre holiday attached to it. Today, October 14th, for instance, is National Dessert Day. Luckily, plenty of websites provide calendars for such days so that you can plan ahead. Scroll through the list and see what kind of ideas you can come up with!Months and weeks have designated themes too. October is, among other things, Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Pizza Month.

    lego-hotdog
    July 19th was National Hot Dog Day!
  5. Life Events. Is it your birthday? Your nephew’s high school graduation? Your marriage anniversary? Turn these life events into opportunities to take personal and memorable photos!
lego-podcast
A photo to commemorate the first time I guest starred on a podcast

Hopefully, over time, I’ll get more comfortable with sharing shots on a random day, unprompted. In the meantime, I’ve found that posting with purpose has helped me stay consistent, and keeps my creative juices flowing!

Do you find yourself curating your feed, or post for specific reasons? Share your methods in the comments below! 

-James

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Dealing with Fears of Rejection

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” 

-Brene Brown

Our fears of rejection within the realm of photography vary by person – whether with putting an image on a social media platform and not getting any likes, or maybe getting negative comments, to submitting something to a publication or gallery and getting denied. As with any type of rejection or negativity it’s so important to not take these things too personally.

The internet for one is mean. Some people are just looking to get out their own insecurities and maybe you’re the unlucky one they’ve settled on today. Others may very well think they’re giving constructive criticism and therefore helping you – even when it’s uncalled for. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re wrong, but in the end it’s all subjective.

On the other hand, if you get denied from a publication or gallery – maybe your work didn’t fit with what else was submitted, or with the feel of the publication as a whole, maybe the specific judge just doesn’t like toy photography or whatever other genre you sent in, maybe it was something more technical all together, but once again, it’s subjective. Another judge, another day, another gallery and you very well could be looking at an acceptance email.

Someone’s going to read the above and say ‘or maybe their work sucks.’ And they’re right, sort of. Maybe you’re not a very good judge of your own work and it’s legitimately questionable in skill level or content or a laundry list of other reasons. But seriously, go and look at the contemporary art world – you’re not going to deem everything out there as good, but it’s there.

My point is, sometimes you’ll post your work online or you’ll submit it to some art space and you will only get positive responses. Other times you’ll hear nothing or get a negative response or two. It is all part of making photos, of making art, of creating. If we as creators accept that, the path ahead gets so much less stressful.

I can’t say that I’ll ever actually get over my fear of rejection, and negative comments, especially public ones, still sting. As an ingrained part of my personality I take things personally. But with the art world side of things, I have learned to let rejection slide onto the wayside. I’ll drag and drop the ‘Sorry, but…’ emails into a folder in my inbox and there they’ll stay.

It can be great to consider negative feedback – to try and find a takeaway from that feedback in which to improve your photos. Consider it, but don’t meditate on it or let it burrow down deep. And as far as rejections from publications or gallery spaces – most denials don’t come with feedback – so there’s really no point in obsessing over the whys.

Overtime, you will hopefully get to where you want to be. Until then, do your best, continue to learn, and the growth that comes will propel you closer to your goals.

~Tourmaline . (previously Jennifer Nichole Wells)

How have you learned to counter your fears of rejection?


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Request Inquest

Allow me to paint a cautionary tale of a request for artwork and some unforeseen pitfalls that I encountered. Pitfalls that you might avoid after I’m done babbling.

A cautionary tale is a tale told in folklore, to warn of a danger. There are essentially three parts to a cautionary tale.

  1. Firstly, a taboo or prohibition is stated
  2. Then, the narrative itself is told
  3. And finally, the one who disregards the forewarning of taboo comes to an unpleasant fate, which is commonly told in grisly detail

1. The Cautioning (not heeded)

Recently I was contacted by an agency regarding shooting a certain line of LEGO for their client.

There had been posts about product photography, and declarations of not being a product photographer from Kristina and Shelly. I ignored them. Shelly’s post even had a heading “Be careful what you wish for” but that warning was flouted.

I agreed to their request for artwork. My agreement was based on previous dealings I’d had with clients. Previously, I’ve been asked to submit existing photographs or create new ones. Each time I’ve been approached there has been a familiarity with my work, and based on that, there’s been an understanding of what I’ll likely produce. A certain level of trust is established, and creative licence is granted around a certain theme or line.

That’s what I based my acceptance of this request for artwork on.

2. The Narrative (not in six images)

After accepting the offer, things progressed nicely. There was talk around the line to be shot, preferences for styles, number of artefacts to be submitted, timeframes, fees etc.

request for artwork: Fishing for common sense
Fishing for common sense

As the emails from the agency continued I was sent a list of links referencing other toy photographers as examples of great editing. Maybe this should’ve been when the alarm bells should’ve started ringing?

She loves me, she loves me not
Wise up sucker to what you’ve got
Pop Will Eat Itself – Wise Up, Sucker 

There was another line in these initial emails that sparked my concerns; “the client has at least 2 rounds of reviews prior to final approval“. I’d never encountered this type of caveat before. The knowing of my work and the faith that I’ll provide photographs of a similar ilk and standard never required my work to be reviewed before.

The First Review

Two weeks after the initial contact, I got my first taste of the client’s review. Based on a reference photograph I sent through, it was critiqued with “effects are welcomed but should not overshadow the characters”. This was one of my photos, underlining my apprehensions that the client wasn’t familiar with my works. It also came after the initial brief highlighted “preference is to have effects added/edit photos to make the scenes look more lifelike and cinematic” as a desired parameter.

Based on the client’s review, I then clarified that the characters would be the key focus of every shot delivered, and sent through some more of my shots as reference points, highlighting this. However, the client expected to receive more specificity around each asset.

I then sent through a list of specific ideas for each shot of the items found on the link that was provided to me as the subjects to be photographed.

request for artwork: It's a bizarro world we walk through
It’s a bizarro world we wander through.

Whilst waiting for another review of these planned shots, there was a shift in the scope. As time was ticking (5 days past the preliminary due date), the agency recommended to the client that some of the content now be created around holidays like Halloween or Thanksgiving.

You won’t even take a look,
To see another way
You aren’t even listening,
Take your ideals and go away
Pennywise- Same Old Story

The Second Review

As I attempted to digest this latest shift (Halloween and Thanksgiving are not so big in my Australian world?), the second review from the client landed in my inbox.

This review of my proposed shots contained feedback such as “we should have a character in every shot”, “we shouldn’t have other LEGO pieces in these shots”, “we’ve done something like this before” etc. Befuddled, I replied asking for a definitive list of exactly which characters the client wanted featured, not just a link to the entire line that characters were included in. 

3. The Fate (not so grisly)

The next email that popped into my inbox informed me that the client had shifted gears to focus on another campaign.

After 5 weeks and over 30 emails back and forth, the agency and I said our farewells.

I bear no grudges towards the agency that contacted me. They were merely the middleperson between the client and me. As they said “it truly took a crazy turn”. They offered the hope that we could work together in the future before we said our goodbyes.

If that opportunity arises, I’ll be better prepared to request what I’ll need to make the next venture work.

If there’s one lesson I’ve taken from this experience, it’s that not all offers are the same. I’ll never assume that my past experiences will be the same as new ones the next time a request for artwork arises. Maybe I’d just been lucky until now?

I should point out that in the days following our farewells, two extremely exciting opportunities came my way from LEGO. Working with someone who knows what I’ll produce and me! Working with someone that I understand what it is they expect!

Not all offers are as intricate or anticlimactic as the one in this tale.

– Brett

Has a request for artwork ever come your way? What was your experience like?

If you’ve made through all my blathering and ended up here, you should sign up to our weekly email round up where you’ll get a recap of all the babbling from the week.

And while you’re doing things, you should definitely join our G+ Community where we hold monthly contests with prizes and lots of other cool stuff too.

Season of Change

Autumn is here for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, and I must admit that I’ve been hit with a strong case of Seasonal Infectious Disorder! Fall is my favorite time of year, and I’ve already begun to see the change of season reflected in my photography.

Fall signifies change – the shift in color and shedding of leaves, cooler temperatures, and the beginning of the rainy season here in the Pacific Northwest. The air itself feels crisp, the daylight hours become shorter, and the countdown to Halloween begins.

Most people feel energized when the sun is shining or when the weather heats up, but I’m the opposite. I thrive off of cooler temperatures and the Autumn rain. Continue reading Season of Change

Creating Art that’s Intimately Yours

The world opens up…as a grand and glorious adventure in feeling and in understanding. Nothing human is unimportant to him. Everything he sees is germane to his purpose. Every word that he hears uttered is of potential use to him. Every mood, every passing fancy, every trivial thought can have its meaning and its place in the store of experience he is accumulating.

-from Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell as quoted by Brooks Jenson of LensWork  (LW1040 Inspiration Comes from Everywhere)

Scratching the Surface

In a way I feel like each of my photos is an exploration of the same concept, emotion, story. And yet, while stylistically they may be similar, each photo varies in subject matter.

In each image I aim to create a quite stillness, a calm in the storm, surrounded by mystery. Why? Well, it certainly has a lot to do with my personal thoughts and experiences. But, the question remains as to whether I will finish scratching that itch; if I will inevitably decide that I’ve fully explored this story photographically. Or, if I will forever continue to grow and explore how to better represent precisely what I mean to. Continue reading Creating Art that’s Intimately Yours

My Better Half

Yesterday, my wife Jordan and I celebrated our eleven year anniversary. We started dating the day we met – as teenagers at a birthday party who talked alone for hours, fell asleep holding hands, and told each other we loved each other the next day.

She’s my favorite person on the planet, my better half in every way, and instrumental in each and every photo I take and blog post I write. She’s more than my partner in crime – she’s the unsung hero of my artistic endeavors, of which there have been many over the last eleven years! Continue reading My Better Half

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do

Okay, so we’ve had posts about the magic of 3 and the power of 2, so now I feel I must advocate for 1 (or maybe just ramble about number symbolism).

One

Sure I’ve used various numbers of toys and figures in my photos, but I have a soft spot for one. That being said, I do tend to create solemn photos and 1 then comes to represent either lonliness, or  a solitary journey. This doesn’t mean, in the whole scheme of things that the figure is in life alone, but for this moment, when we see inside their head, they’re on a philosophical path that they must travel alone. Continue reading One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do

A Busman’s Holiday

I’d never heard of a busman’s holiday before? Nor had I thought I’d ever been on one!

 noun: busman’s holiday

  1. a holiday or form of recreation that involves doing the same thing that one does at work.
    “a fire crew’s Christmas outing turned into a busman’s holiday when their coach caught fire”

While Shelly is away, I thought it would be a good opportunity to take some time off from shooting to take the wheel of the good ship Toy Photographers. I’d been running low on motivation and inspiration and thought this would be the perfect chance to recharge and reenergise. And while I thought I’d relish the break, I found myself doing what I usually do, a busman’s holiday. Continue reading A Busman’s Holiday

Product Photography

**Just a disclaimer, this is not a critique on Kristina’s recent post. I completely understand her point, and relate. If you read between the lines, this post even reiterates a few of her points. This is instead a response to comments I’ve read and heard in the toy photography realm at large.**

Product v. Commercial Photography

‘Product photography’ seems to be a four-letter word in the toy photography community. A fear of a corner you’ll be placed in, an insult… But I don’t think it’s something to even remotely stress over.

Yes, toys are in part products, but the photos we create of them tell stories – they’re not items shot to specific standards against a stark white background.

If you were commissioned by a company to make a toy photo to their specifications, in most cases it would be commercial or adversarial work, but still not quite product photography.

The main difference is a creative photo platform v. a standardized one. Continue reading Product Photography