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?

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.


What if why changes from way back when?

I’ve revisited photos, but I’ve neglected to revisit the question why.

Why then?

In June 2015 I was asked “why?” A lot has changed since then.

So, with all these changes, has my reason why changed too?

Let me premise this by saying that I’m not a photographer. Heck, I don’t even own a real camera. I’m just a knucklehead with an iPhone!

Back when I first tackled the seemingly simple question, my reason why revolved around the friendships I’d made. That hasn’t changed. But my motives have grown.

Two years ago, I resisted defining what I did as art. Since then, my photos shared the walls of an art gallery with the friends that were my reason back then. So, I guess I have to accept that I create art.

Now why?

Starting Toy Photographers with Shelly has also changed my motivation and drive. There’s now a purpose and goal. My what has become so much more than just taking photos of toys and posting them online. Sure, I still do that, but it’s just a small part of what I do now. And, as my what evolves, so does my why.

Why: The more whats you have, the more whys you'll need!
The more whats you have, the more whys you’ll need!

My what has morphed into so much more that just taking photos of toys, and my why, when, how, and soon my where, have morphed along with it. And as my whats have multiplied, the whys behind those whats have too. 

Some of the origin answers remain. Friendship and fun are still driving forces in why I do this. However, they’re now accompanied by community, engagement, improvement, learning, sharing, striving, commitment, and love as reasons why. Sure, improvement and learning were probably always in there somewhere, but reasons like engagement and commitment are new additions. These new whys are directly connected to the new what of being a part of the Toy Photographers community; an exciting and invigorating what indeed!

I’ve revisited photos for the exhibition and for the challenge that Jennifer threw out. But I’d never thought to revisit the question of why I do this too.

And with that in mind, I respond to the question of “why?” with a resounding “why not?”

And beyond

As we evolve and develop, surely our reason behind our motivation varies as well? If my why was still the same as it was over two years ago, I’d either achieved it by now, or I’d failed to meet it. Either way, it needs to be revisited.

Why: A steady diet of whats and whys
A steady diet of whats and whys, with a side order of whens, whos and wheres…

As we grow, as people, as photographers, as artists, the motivation behind what we do grows also. Maybe we tick off some of our goals? Perhaps those goals change? Or maybe it’s just as simple as we change, and therefore so do our reasons?

– Brett

Have you ever asked yourself why? Maybe you’d be interested in writing about it for us? If you are, let me know. We’re always looking for new voices to share here.

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Why? by Inner Brick

I was asked to write a post about how I use Lego. I looked through my Instagram account (Psychology in Pictures) and realized that its like a mirror to me. My models, my photos show my struggle in life. They’re reflections of my dark side. Their dark because I turned off the light. They’re in the dark because I put them into the cellar. Either way, they exist regardless whether I can see them or not.

But let me start at the beginning. Continue reading Why? by Inner Brick

Foolish Lego

First off, I’d like to introduce myself; In the real world, my name is Danny. Yet, ever since my first steps on the Internet – somewhere in early nineties – I am Dwaas. I am the keeper of foolishlego.com, the home of my Lego photography and webcomic. ‘Foolish Lego’ and Dwaas are special to me. Both partly born out of the feeling of wanting to escape (or make sense of) reality and for the other part born out of wanting to share stories.

Have you ever felt the desire to do something whilst knowing you just couldn’t do it? I used to feel like that. I had many shards of stories in my mind; images, words of wisdom (or quite the opposite), small scenes, undefined thoughts, etc.

As a kid, I got the ideas out of my head by playing in my own little childhood world. As an adult that world broadened and I couldn’t figure out how to give my ideas form anymore; I’m not a gifted writer, nor can I draw any good. I tried a personal blog (in Dutch), talking about all kinds of things that were on my mind but it just wasn’t it. Continue reading Foolish Lego

Art of the Blur

Even before Shelly asked me to provide my own two pennies worth (I am British after all, cents just wouldn’t do) I had read many of the previous ‘why’ articles and considered what answer I would give. And now to have been so kindly asked, I wanted to provide something new rather than covering similar ground to the past entries of others. You see I’ve always had a problematic need to seek my own uniqueness. 

From my point of view, I’d assume as photographers we all reasonably know or can at least to relate to the reasons why each of us does what we do. We’ve come together from all over the world after all, through the Internet because we’re likeminded people. And for me this means it seems a little too obvious for me to tell you all how I’ve lived with Lego all throughout my life, or profess my undying love for Star Wars and how I’m influenced by movies and the great Hollywood machine. I’d hope (rebellions are built on that by the way) that my photography would showcase these things without a need for any explanation. Continue reading Art of the Blur

Why? by The APhOL

I have to confess that writing this article about “why?” I like to photograph toys was challenging.

I’ve never thought about why I photograph toys, before. I was only following the butterflies in my stomach. But having to write the reason in “black on white”, I would answer that I’m a toy photographer, especially LEGO, because it’s incredibly fun. Continue reading Why? by The APhOL

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. Continue reading Why? The 3 Things I love Most About Lego Photography

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?

Why by DoctorNvmore


Why ask Why? Ok, ok, focus…

Why do I do toy photography…….. I do it as a release of creative juices, a release of anguish, and a release for my own personal pleasure. Hmmm… maybe I should reword that…. nah.

My life is not everything I wanted it to be. My early life was wrought with some disturbing events that still haunt me and my current life is a grind to say the least. I’m not meaning to complain, many people have it far, far, far worse. I’ve often felt that all my opportunities have passed me by; traded in for security and a steady income to support my family. There are worse things in life, I know. I work lots of hours and make decent money, which tends to happen if you work lots of hours at one place… So it is what it is and while my focus is mostly on providing for my family, I need something for me. Continue reading Why by DoctorNvmore