When in Doubt, Accessorize!

When Shelly discussed her love of shooting in threes, I decided to take a look at my own catalog of images to see if there were similar patterns in my own work. Luckily, one quickly emerged: accessorizing.

Rather than bring together several elements to make a photo work, I sometimes like to add just a single accessory. These small but mighty pieces can carry the story all by themselves.


Whether I’m in the occasional photo funk, or simply lacking concrete ideas, I take comfort in knowing I have this trick up my sleeve! I take out some minifigures, open up my containers of LEGO accessories, and mix and match! How would this figure look holding that accessory? Or if that minifigure was playing with this… Sometimes I get a chuckle out of a particular mashup, and will snap a pic. I won’t change anything else about the minifigure. Just the accessory.


Take this shot, for example. The tale of Little Red Riding Hood changes dramatically with just one added accessory. Is she on the hunt for the Big Bad Wolf? Or did they already cross paths, and now she knows better than to enter the forest unprepared?

Analog vs. Digital

Ultron is a fun minifigure, but I never found the right scenario for him until I paired him with this phone accessory I took from LEGO CMF Series 17. Now it’s a commentary on analog vs. digital, or just a fun shot of an angry Avengers villain being stumped by old technology.

“He’s more machine now than man.”

A simple wind-up key takes this Vader portrait to the next level, and acts as a funny call back to Obi-Wan’s ominous words about him being “more machine than man.”


While I tend to pick accessories that feel out of place with my minifigure of choice, I sometimes find that keeping it simple can yield great results too. Case in point, Groot gazing peacefully at some flowers.

Fearless Warrior?

A simple teddy bear (a go-to favorite for many LEGO photographers) can add a lot to a scene, and make a fearless Viking warrior a lot more relatable.

I could go on, but I think you catch my drift. By playing a little game of mix-and-match, you can come up with some pretty great scenarios. Luckily, LEGO releases new accessories all the time, so there are endless possible pairings.

Needless to say, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one accessory! Adding multiple accessories, or adding more minifigures into the mix, can truly bring a scene to life!

“Oh my god, it’s Bigfoot!”

What’s your favorite accessory/minifigure pairings? Do you stick to one accessory in particular, or find it impossible to pick just one?


If you enjoy posts like this, we invite you to join our G+ community.

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Appreciation for Participation

When opportunity knocks, we see a chance to show our appreciation for participation.

So often I’m amazed at how posts link together on the blog. A post about threes is followed by a post about twos. A post about the importance of Challenges precedes a post about the ripple challenge on G+. Most of these connections occur purely by chance, or do they?

Last week Kristina wrote about product photography and how it’s not for her. Shelly wrote about the merits of having a website.

These two posts happened right around the time something else exciting was happening. And they both relate to this exciting news.

Knock! Knock!

Recently, we were contacted by a Senior Content Strategist for a Digital Agency via the blog, with a desire to “include more toy photography within their content plan” for a client.

Opportunity knocks once, let’s reach out and grab it
Together we’ll nab it
We’ll hitchhike, bus or yellow cab it!

Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear – Movin’ Right Along

You’ll have to excuse my haziness here, but we had to sign non-disclosure agreement, so I’m being wary as to how much detail I reveal.


With this offer, we reached out to friends of the Toy Photographers blog, those who have posted on the blog and those who had won our recent photo competitions.

Appreciation for Participation
Appreciate, don’t anthropophagite!

Whilst Shelly made a completely relevant point that a website is a fantastic place for potential customers and marketing representatives to discover your work, I’d like to point out, so is Toy Photographers!

This is not the first time we’ve been contacted with offers for commercial engagements, and I’m sure it won’t be last.

Whilst we are always flattered when these offers arise, we fully understand that they are often made based on the merits of the blog, which is a collaboration with many of you.

Who’s there?

If we can pass on opportunities for our friends to get a foot in the commercial door, of course we will. Nothing gives us more pleasure than forwarding names as appreciation for participation. As well as growing the Toy Photographers community, we endeavour to expand the opportunities for those within it.

Punch drunk from the punch clock
Opportunity never gonna knock

Rancid – Name

As Kristina found out, product photography might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I get that.

Come in!

Getting recognised for what you do, receiving appreciation for the art you produce, and having the chance to be rewarded for your participation, are wonderful things. It’s not often that these offers arise, but, by being an active participant, your chances to expand your horizons are greatly increased.

This is not a empty attempt to drive traffic our way. We genuinely want to pass on these opportunities to our community. We want to reward those who participate.

Sure, winning some Minifigures in a giveaway is cool. But maybe that’s not the only prize on offer? And yes, writing for the blog is fun. But maybe that’s just beginning of the fun?

– Brett

We ask a lot of folks why. If we’re ever asked why we do that, maybe this is the answer. Participation has the potential to pay off. Maybe this little tale of possible opportunities is the catalyst for you to join in?

If you enjoy posts like this, we invite you to join our G+ community.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get notified when we have a new post ready for you.

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”.


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

The Basics – Your Own Web Site

Do you have your own web site?  I was recently surprised by the number of toy photographers in our community who don’t. I feel strongly that in the shifting quicksand of social media platforms every semi-professional photographer and artist should have a personal home on the internet. A place where you can control how your work is viewed, present a carefully curated representation of your work as well as supporting information. A personal web site can also act as a central hub for all your social media accounts and can grow and change with your own artistic needs.

You’re the boss

If you’re only showing your work on corporate social media platforms, then you’re probably presenting your work in a random fashion. If you’re like me, I generally post my most recent work, a contest entry, or an idea I’m working through. On my personal web site I showcase my work in small groups that follow a specific theme. I also highlight images that are my current favorites.

By creating your own web site, you control first impressions. You can organize your images in groups, by theme, by style, by subject or in any way that makes sense to you. Unlike the fast past world of social media, a web site can be a place for fans to take a longer look at your work. Where potential customers, and even marketing representatives, can get a complete view of your style and even personal and biographical information.

Another benefit of creating a home on the web for your best work, is that you can present images without the distractions of likes, follower counts and +1’s. Honestly, I feel that this (meaningless) information attached to your images, will only alter how your work is perceived. Your work should be judged on its own merits without the distraction of unnecessary and irrelevant numbers.

Facebook is not a website (nor is Flickr)

Any social media site that you may be posting your own images to, is not a substitute for your own web site. You do not have control over these platforms. As we’ve seen on numerous occasion, corporations can change the user interface at any time. Your account can also be deleted and your images banned without your consent. Basically, you’re not in control of who or how your work is seen. This is not an effective, longterm strategy to promote your work.

Social media sites like Facebook, Flickr, G+ and Instagram are only tools in your promotional tool box. They are not a substitute for your own web site.

Show you’re serious about your work

Having a site dedicated to promoting only your work, indicates that you’re serious about your work. What looks more professional: sending a publicists to Instagram or to your own website? One is a hodgepodge of images posted in no particular order while your web site is a clean, organized and carefully curated selection of your work.

Create an identity as unique as you are

When your work is seen on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram or G+, there is nothing unique about the presentation of your work. You’re just one more image in someones else’s user interface. You want to create a web site as unique as you and your work. A place that sets your work apart.

No one makes art in a vacuum. We all have stories to share about our work and our toys. By creating your own web site you can present the “why?” of your work. Create an artist statement and tell the world why you do what you do! Create a blog and tell the stories behind your own artistic journey and your photographs. If you’re exhibiting your work, keep a list of upcoming shows so your customers can find you. Start a mailing list, you never know what you may want to promote in the future.

Let your fans get to know you. In my experience, people are more invested in artists that they know.  They want to make a connection with the artist creating work they already love. By offering personal information you can begin to create a stronger connection with potential customers, fans and even marketing and PR firms.

Just go for it!
Its easier than you think

Creating your own web site is easier than you think. You don’t need to know how to write code and you don’t need to be a web designer. There are plenty of templates available that allow you to drag and drop your images into place. Companies like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and Jimdo exist to streamline the process for small businesses and artists. The advantage of using a company like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace or Jimdo is that you can be assured that your page will look great on a mobile or a desk top device equally.

Don’t try to make your web site perfect from day one. If you’re like me, your web site will never be perfect, it will always be a work in progress. Launch your web site with enough images and information that your fans will get the basic idea. Be sure to include your contact information and links to your social media platforms. Even Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Less is MOre

When creating your own website remember less is more. Don’t overload your site with ten different styles of photography with each section containing twenty plus images. Only present you best work. Rotate and update your site with your new favorite images every few months. Keep you site lean and mean. Make it easy for interested individuals to quickly get a sense of your work, your professionalism and most importantly – get a hold of you.


Make sure your site has eCommerce capabilities. You never know, one day you may want to sell your work. If you’ve already been selling cards and small prints on sites like RedBubble and Society6, you’ve probably already experienced your fair share of take down notices. Why run the risk of running afoul of large corporations when you can easily send potential customers to your own sales site. Yes, I understand its harder to fulfill your orders than to simply receive a commision check. But on the upside, you get to keep all the money.


Like everything in life, creating your own web site has a price. You will pay both in design time and hosting costs. I can’t tell you if this will be a good return on your investment. But if you have dreams of taking your work to a new level, like product photograph or direct sales, investing in a web site is an important tool. It’s a place where you control how your work is viewed.

In other words, its priceless.


If you would like to share your own experiences creating a web site, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments. We all learn from each other! 

If you have a web site that you would like us to link too, please let me know in the comments. If there is enough interest, I will create a resource page of individual toy photographer web sites from our community. 

Why I can’t do product photography?

I’ll be honest and say it the way it is: I’m totally bored with my subject.  I came up with the idea that if I wrote a review, maybe I would see other opportunities with my subject. So I ask Shelly if I could do a set-review and she responded:

-I think I saw a pig fly.

I laughed and asked her to give me some ideas for a set that I could review. The very next day she sent me a few suggestions.

[Thank you Shelly you’re totally the best.]

Filled with my idea

Filled with this grand idea, I went to the store and bought one of the suggested sets. Even though, by this time I was already hesitating. I know that I don’t really like the yellow color that most (Lego) figures come in. But in the end I went for it. I told myself, I’ll probably get over that…

This is such a great idea.

Back at home, when I was setting the pieces together, I realized this isn’t me at all. I don’t think I’ll be able to do this, I just don’t see myself as a product photographer.

I don’t like props, and reviewing a set means I should show all the props. A good review will give other photographers ideas for what they can do with this set. In that context, my images ought to portray the set as it is, as well as give photographers ideas on how they can use the different figures beyond the original set. It should also show how the figures can relate to one another or how they can use the props. To be honest, I think I’m really terrible at this. I mean, I know that I can probable portray these figures, but they don’t belong in my setting. The figures and the set are so cute and happy. This set has nothing to do with my world of solitude. I prefer toys that are indifferent in their expression. These figures aren’t. I prefer toys that are ambiguous. What would I do with these happy figures?

I didn’t give up

Now you’re probably thinking that I put the box on a shelf and mailed Shelly saying:

-This was a bad idea, sorry I led you on… but this isn’t me.

But no, I didn’t do that at all. I took all the figures and all the pieces and the props and went out to create some photographs. Eventually I had to surrender, I wasn’t able to get any ideas. My  hypotheses became all true: I’m no product photographer. I’m a photographer that works with the light, and in some extent my photography is about the light. But it’s also about my inner questions about why I can’t fit in, my search to belong, to be understood, to be loved.

If I were to review this set it would become a way to to sell the idea of working in backlight. That is the only product I can sell. I would fill these lovely cute figures with an aura of my search for a place where I can belong. And that isn’t the idea with a set review at all.

I’m no product photographer

So thank you once again Shelly for giving me an opportunity to get some insights about my own photography, and why I do this. I’ll leave the reviews to someone else. Next time I’ll ask you to send me some ideas of what I should be looking for in the toy-store. I’ll be listening because I know you’ll give me some great hints and through them I’ll be able to see myself and my own work in a better light.

Thanks you!


Alternative Photo Printing

“For me the printing process is part of the magic of photography. It’s that magic that can be exciting, disappointing, rewarding and frustrating all in the same few moments in the darkroom.”

– John Sexton

I’ll be honest, I don’t typically print my work. When I do, most times, it’s specifically for a show or sale. That said, it’s something I aim to do more, at least to keep images in a solid portfolio. Photos seem much more real when physically in your hand.

That said, sometimes the printing process can be a part of the art making itself.

The Concept

Awhile back I took portraits of 2 cm tall worry dolls with my iphone. I was in awe of how expressive these tiny dolls, meant to carry our worries for us, were and I wanted to make them larger to expose their odd body movements.


The Process

After taking the photos, I made them into digital negatives and printed them on transparency film. I then roughly painted Lumi Inkodye (a paint on, light sensitive dye for fabric) on the paper, placed the negative over top and then directly exposed the paper to a halogen work light for 35 minutes. I washed the print as Lumi Inkodye instructs, and set them out to dry.

Once dry, I used pastel pencils to color the prints. I kept the images to 2-4 colors each, to keep the color schemes simple and less distracting. These dolls are filled with worry, so the schemes are mostly cooler colors, nothing too warm and inviting, and the background lines close in around each doll, symbolizing their burdens and pressures.

Looking Forward

It was an at times frustrating, yet overall rewarding process and something I hope to work with again in the future if I find the right images for it.

Do you ever print your work? Are there any alternative forms of printing or working with photos that you have experimented with?

Jennifer Nichole Wells

A photo ripple is the perfect tipple

From just a single drop, inspiration radiates outwards in a beautiful ripple.

Dave recently wrote about taking on photography challenges to replenish the creative well when it’s running dry. This month, I was lucky enough to be part of a photo challenge for the first time on G+; a photo ripple.

One person posts a photo, then tags two to post a photo following the theme. Those two then post and tag two more, and so on and so on, resulting in a wonderful ripple of photos radiating out from just one; a casual sequence, a ripple effect.

The epicentre of the ripple, and the brains behind the concept, Wara Zashi, was kind enough to share a little background behind these ripples with me….

We started the first one back in April as a replacement for the end of month event. The monthly events were just G+ events where people could submit figure photos of their liking, as opposed to the weekly event which was topic based. But even before G+ essentially killed off events, the concept was starting to languish, so I wasn’t too happy with it.

I eventually pulled the plug on events and replaced them with ripples (named after the G+ Ripple feature which I really loved).

I figured if each person is named to continue the thread and also has to name two more, it should create a little bit more motivation to participate (classic chain letter). Our community is pretty small and self contained so if the chain grew large enough, it should get to enough people. And I also wanted to see if people would start to request to participate in some manner. 🙂

We did another one for May and June at the end of each month and at that point, people slowly trickled in enough over time and participated that we thought it would be useful to just have the event start at the beginning of the month and run for the whole month. Which is why July is missing since it became an extension of the June event.

ripple: What better reminder for the middle of summer than a little time out at the water enjoying the outdoors, even with the oppressive heatwave. Complete with a nice little floatie.
“What better reminder for the middle of summer than a little time out at the water enjoying the outdoors, even with the oppressive heatwave. Complete with a nice little floatie.” – Wara Zashi

With August, I was definitely looking to expand and see where this can go outside of the community so I thought it could be fun to drag in Shelly to see where she could take it since I know she would have a completely different group of people than our community.

ripple: Rather than send Butterfly Girl to the beach with her floaty, I sent her dancing in the sprinkler with her beloved teddy bear. In the heat, what better way to cool off than some low key fun at home.
“Rather than send Butterfly Girl to the beach with her floaty, I sent her dancing in the sprinkler with her beloved teddy bear. In the heat, what better way to cool off than some low key fun at home.” – Shelly

So far, I’m pretty happy with how it’s working (hopefully the community members/participants are as well). It’s structured, and unstructured, enough that people can do what they want. Ideally I would love to somehow enforce at least a template but people seem to get the general idea of what needs to be done.

ripple: After frolicking under a sprinkler, what better way to cool off than with an icy pole whilst paddling your feet in the cool waters of a lake?
“After frolicking under a sprinkler, what better way to cool off than with an icy pole whilst paddling your feet in the cool waters of a lake?” – Brett

It’s interesting to see, as the ripple grows, how people change it over time. On the toy photography side, it seems to have especially drifted into a chain where you give reasons for recommending and add to the already existing description to explain the chain. The figure side seems to have stuck to the original template a bit more and wants to connect the new post to the previous one through the photo and description.

ripple: Babies - Kiddie Pool
“Well, when sprinklers and ponds aren’t available, and you happen to be quite small, a kiddie pool will due just nicely to beat the summer heat. Look closely and you’ll see ducky peering over the edge.” – Jennifer

I’ve only given vague hints as to how each post is supposed to connect so it’s been interesting to see it evolve.

ripple: And sometimes (once you've grown up a little) you just use a hot day to chat on a cliff, waiting for the high tide to roll in...
“And sometimes (once you’ve grown up a little) you just use a hot day to chat on a cliff, waiting for the high tide to roll in…” – Tobias

At some point, I’ll add in some new concepts, but we’ll see how it goes over time. 🙂

These wonderful ripples are like a reverse game of pass the parcel; with every step, another layer is added. As these ripples radiate throughout communities, stories twist and turn, styles merge and divide. Sometimes the ripples fade, and sometimes they journey into wonderfully, unforeseen places; just like ripples do.

Just like Dave, I find challenges are wonderful source of motivation and inspiration. Being pulled into this ripple and being invited to help it grow was definitely so.

I’ve only included a few shots from the August ripple; it’s still radiating. But, from just these handfuls of shots, you can see how a single drop can produce wonderful results.


Thank you Wara Zashi, for sharing your words and for the fantastic ripples you generate.

If you enjoy posts like this, we invite you to join our G+ community.
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Art as Therapy

Sometimes, life gets you down.

By the time you’re reading this article, it’s been written and re-written several times over. Just when I think I know how to gather my thoughts about this particular subject, I hit a roadblock and start fresh. What I learned is that I need to be honest from the jump: I’m having a hard time. I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m depressed, I’m disillusioned, I’m disappointed; I feel hopeless and powerless.

Depression is a very real issue that’s hard to talk about, and certainly one I felt nervous about discussing here at Toy Photographers. Luckily I was emboldened by Leila Cheiko, who used her art to speak up about her political frustrations, and Harley Quin, who did a wonderful and touching series about her own depression and how it effects her as an artist. So, here it goes…


About a month ago, I was hit with depression. Hard.

It invaded every aspect of my life. I felt sad the minute I woke up, I lost interest in things that usually brought me joy (like photography), I felt disconnected from my wife, friends, and co-workers. I felt alone, and most of all, guilty about being depressed. I bottled it in for several weeks, pretending like everything was normal and trying to just smile more and move on. Instead of letting myself feel it, I hid it away from myself, and the world.

This is, of course, not a healthy way of dealing with depression, and in the end it only made things worse. It wasn’t until my wife asked me to open up to her about it that I was able to face it head-on. Over time, it subsided and my life (generally) went back to normal. Such is the nature of depression: It has its ups and downs, it hits me at unexpected times, and can depart as quickly as it arrived.

One of the things that helped me get through it was art. More specifically, my art. I used to use photography simply as a way of telling the stories in my head, or putting jokes out there with fun setups and characters that I love. As I’ve grown as an artist, my photography has become more personal, and I’ve learned to use it as a method of self expression.

Sometimes, art is the very best medicine

Art can be very therapeutic.

I’m not nearly qualified enough to speak on just how helpful it can be, or why; for that I recommend Alain de Botton’s book Art as Therapy and its accompanying website. I also found a great blog, which discusses the therapeutic nature of art in detail:

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being… The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help people to resolve issues as well as develop and manage their behaviors and feelings, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and awareness.

While I was able to overcome my latest bout of depression, I was hit with sadness again this past week. The threat of nuclear war and the sight of white supremacists rallying in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia will do that to you. Again, I felt hopeless and powerless in the face of evil. I felt angry at the world for being so dark. I wanted to disappear and shut myself away from all of it, while at the same time knowing I couldn’t just bury my head in the sand.

I’m still working through how I can turn to art, and specifically my own art, to help overcome this latest wave of darkness. I’m also thankful to have the supportive Toy Photographers community to lean on. We aren’t just a group of photographers sharing our work. We’re friends who are there for each other in times of need. Shelly helped me accept that I could turn to photography when I was sad, and not just as a means of therapy, but as a quick escape from the world. In a discussion we had on Google+, Shelly told me:

I think we have to allow ourselves to escape. Otherwise we will go crazy. Never apologize for directing your energies to art.

She’s absolutely right. So I will unapologetically go back into the studio, turn on my camera, and see what stories I can tell – either to escape the troubling current events for a little while, or work my way through them. One therapeutic photo at a time.

– James

If you enjoy posts like this, we invite you to join our G+ community.

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2018 Toy Photographers Meet-Up

It’s that time of the year when I start thinking about the 2018 Toy Photographers Meet-Up. Honestly I feel like I’m already behind the eight ball. By this time last year, we already had the city picked out and the locations set. Yikes!

But 2018 is still a few months away, so I think we have time to plan our fourth fabulous and spectacular event. In an effort to create an event that can accommodates as many people as possible, I’ve create a questionnaire for any interested participants. Please take a moment to complete this short survey so we can be on our way to making decisions and planning another fun weekend!

If you’re not familiar with a what a toy meet-up is all about, you can check out posts about San Francisco from:  David Valdez, Julien Ballester, Doug Gary and Lawrence Ruelos. Every meet-up is different so be sure and check out the posts by Mrs Playwell and FathersFigures about Seattle in 2016. In addition there is a short video about the Seattle meet-up created by Leia Chieko you should watch too!

Toy photography meet ups are a lot of fun! You connect with like minded photographers; swap photo tips and toys; exchange photos and take home new toys through the toy exchange. Plus you will receive a custom designed Krash’s Custom mini figure with your registration. I’ve been told by Krash, that the 2018 Toy Photographers meet-up custom has already been designed and is even better than the last three! That’s hard to image, but I will have to trust him.

Sample customs created by KrashOverride for past meet-ups. (Photo by Dennis Taylor, aka Krash_Override)

Does this sound like fun? Do you want to meet up with an eclectic group of toy photographers like these folks?

The attendees of the 2017 San Francisco toy photo safari. Photo Credit: Sandi on Leila’s camera 🙂

Be sure and fill out this short survey about the 2018 Toy Photographers Meet-Up so we know your preference. Once I have your responses, I will confirm the date and location. It’s never too early to start planning travel and scheduling time off work.

I look forward to meeting-up with any and all toy photographers in 2018 for our fourth toy photography meet-up!


And if you’ve made it this far I encourage you to sign up for our weekly email round-up. Or join our G+ Community were we hold monthly contests with prizes for the winner! 

Photo Fakery

Each photo we make tells a story, and for many of us, we aim to bring toys to life through our images. Generally, this is done in one of two ways – showing the life of a toy, or showing life through a toy. The latter aims to blur the line between fantasy and reality and thus cause the viewer to think twice about the size of the objects within the photo.

While I’ve discussed the history of toy photography here before, I’d like to now focus on the genre that sometimes overlaps with toy photography – photo fakery.

Photo fakery, at its core is probably something you’re very familiar with. Think magazine covers with heavily photoshopped models, or more closely related to this blog, cinematic film sets made entirely of intricate miniature models (see ‘further reading’ below). But for 100 years, if not more, people have been using small objects within photographs for large-scale results. And no matter the desired goal, this has been done in part to trick the viewer into believing the photo before them is of the full scale, real world.

Photography’s roots lie in truth. While in modern times we recognize photos are easily, and quite often, manipulated, photos still tend to be considered representative of what was in front of the camera lens, and therefore, a more believable medium than say painting.

While photo fakery ranges from merging photos, deleting and adding details through dark room or digital techniques, and using photos in unintended ways – such as with misleading news-like captions, for the purposes of this post, I’m only going to discuss those which involve toys or similar small-scale objects.


Elsie Wright and Francis Griffiths began to create the images, later referred to as the Cottingley Fairies in 1917. These photos of cardboard fairies captured the public’s attention as proof of the existence of fairy creatures when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used them to illustrate a story in 1920. The truth behind the photos, while it had been questioned, was not revealed until the early 1980s.


“The most extraordinary photographs ever taken of air flights in war.” (The Illustrated London News) were some 50 images compiled in the book ‘Death in the Air: The War Diary and Photographs of a Flying Corps Pilot‘ (a book still available for purchase today) published in 1933. These images however were of model planes and created by model maker Wesley David Archer. Examined and believed to be of models, by a CIA photo expert in the early 1950s, deemed as fake by Time-Life Laboratory in 1979, these photos were not officially proven false until after Archer’s death, when some of his belongings were given to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 1984, over 50 years after their publication.


The most famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster was captured in 1934 by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson. This photo however was actually of a 14 inch toy submarine with an attached serpent head. This was not revealed however for another 60 years, when one of the men involved confessed on his deathbed.


Photographs involving realistic depictions of toys haven’t always been so manipulative however. David Levinthal who began photographing toys in 1972, has always been upfront about his subject matter. Yet many of his images, most notably those of war, successfully blur the line between plastic toy and real world.


Referring to herself as a faux landscape photographer, Lori Nix is known best for her still photos of small scale post apocalyptic worlds.

Michael Paul Smith, a diverse model maker, takes his cars outdoors to photograph in the real world with forced perspective. While he’s received online media attention quite recently, he’s been photographing toys for over 25 years.


In modern day, there are plenty of us who create images with this goal in mind. But there are a few I’d like to mention who are truly succeeding in making this phenomenal form of art that are not always known in the toy photography community.

In 2000, Mark Hogancamp started taking photos of war figures as a form of art therapy. Many of his images appear so realistic, one was even shared across facebook as a depiction of ‘real American courage.’

Matthew Albanese began creating insanely real scale model photography in 2008. In his outdoor landscape photos, every details is scrutinized over before the photo is created.

Felix Hernandez Rodriguez, most widely recognized as of late for his work with Audi, has a keen eye for detail, atmosphere and light and uses it to make some very believable shots.

Further Reading

And that’s where I’ll leave you today.

What toy photographers do you think are making the most realistic images?

And do you prefer photos that show the lives of toys or photos that try to make toys look real?

Jennifer Nichole Wells

Vesa left an intriguing comment on my history of post, wondering about toy photogs of history that haven’t received widespread attention – those that have been dabbling in the hobby that we just don’t know about. In response I made an Ask Panda over on Bored Panda, and hopefully, in time we will have some contribution. Go ahead and add your toy photo to the mix if you’re so inclined and share it about – http://www.boredpanda.com/have-you-ever-made-a-toy-photo/.