My take on traveling with toys

To travel with toys

I travel a lot for work. And during this summer my family and I were on a three week journey in California. So with that experience I thought that I too, like Jennifer, Reiterlied, James and many more before them… ought to give you my thoughts about traveling with toys. Or being a toy photographer while traveling.

I work in small circles

But before I start, you have to understand that I photograph toys in a really limited area. I have a tendency to limit my photography a lot because that is me, I like to play safe 😉

In my latest project I have limited myself in terms of the subject, the choice of photo spaces and when I photograph to get the light I prefer. One way to look at this is that I have tight boundaries for ‘where’ and ‘how’ I photograph. These boundaries are challenged when I’m traveling or when I find myself in a new place. A journey makes it impossible for me to know where I can photograph or how the light will be. This is a huge challenge. To be totally honest, I usually don’t photograph toys when I travel.

Traveling means that I have to find places to work in. I have to find out when, where and how to make my images. I have to find the answers to questions like: when and where is the best time to get the light the way I like? Or how windy will it be? Or will I find a place in the rain where I can work or not? If I don’t find the answers Im looking for, what is my plan B? And all of this in a place that is new to me…  This makes the process of creating an image a much bigger and much more difficult process than normal.

A good day…

A good day traveling with toys can be a positive challenge. It is a day which makes me see and find new solutions. Traveling while in the midst of a 365-project gives me an opportunity to look at light in a new way, to look at my subject in a new context. But a less good day traveling with toys is just a struggle, a must – a picture should be taken or rather done (because of the 365 project).

No, I’m not spontaneously saying: “Yippie” to the idea of traveling with toys … I prefer to photograph where I can plan my process… in an environment that I know or am familiar with and where I can read the light. Working in a new setting is too much of a surprise. I prefer to work in the same place over and over again to get to know the light, how it changes during the day and how I can work with it. I need time, and traveling with toys doesn’t always gives me the opportunity to do that.

But sometimes I get lucky. Like when we stayed in a home in Fresno, CA for an extended stretch of time. I was able to examine the light and the photographic possibilities in the backyard. I was able to do make the most of the light and the limitations that came with the subject and the surroundings. And luckily I got some amazing images like those below. But most of the time when I’m traveling with toys I have to work in light that is too hard or a setting I can’t control. This forces me to create images that are just ”ok” or replicas of better ones I have done before…

Kristina

 

LEGO House Opening

This month is going to be a month to remember. Why? Because I’m traveling to Denmark for the opening of LEGO House. I won’t be attending the grand opening on September 28th, but a pre-opening for all the LEGO ambassadors from around the world on September 22nd.

I’m franticly getting ready for this epic adventure that also includes stops in Stockholm and Skærbæk. Everyone I plan to meet is connected to toy photography or LEGO in some way. It will be 10 days of visiting and playing with LEGO friends both new and old.

The pre-function

While in Stockholm I will be staying with my sister in photography: Kristina Alexanderson. She has graciously arranged some photography and art adventures for us while I’m there. I will get to connect with two other Swedish toy friends Christoffer Östburg and David Rasmusson. I always enjoy hanging out with Christoffer and I haven’t seen David since the LEGO photographers meet up in Stockholm. I’m looking forward to catching up over fika and talking politics, toys and photography. There are also visits to castles and art museums planned which will bring opportunities for some toy photography fun.

Why I’m Going

Obviously the big draw for this trip is the opening of the LEGO House. A once in a life time experience to celebrate the LEGO brick, friendships and creativity. I’m excited that Kristina is traveling to the LEGO House opening with me. We will team up to document the festivities and present a full written and photographic account of our adventures there. Since nearly 600 ambassadors where invited to this event, plus the attendees from the Skærbæk fan weekend, there will be no shortage of interesting people to meet.

The first and foremost of these interesting folks is Luigi Priori. Luigi and I share a mutual love for a certain little robot created by Peter Reid. We’ve been friends via the internet for more than a year, he’s written for the blog and he’s also a part of our G+ Community. Luigi is one of the primary reasons I’m going to LEGO House opening . While the opening of LEGO House will be a once in a lifetime opportunity, sharing the experience with my Italian friend, makes it all the sweeter.

An added bonus will be to connect with Julien Ballister again. I had such a great time hanging out with Julien and Maelick at the SF Toy Meet-up. I’m looking forward to sharing this amazing experience with Julien as well!

There are a few other people I’m excited to meet. They are: Kim Ellekjær Thomsen, Community Manager,
 Operations & Community Engagement, LCE for The LEGO Group . He’s my main contact at the LEGO Group and someone I’ve been trading emails with for nearly two years. The super talented Chris McVeigh, who honestly I never thought I would meet in person. Chris is both a builder and a photographer and I admire his ability to wear both hats with an expertise I can only dream of. Recently I found out that Tim Johnson, who I worked with while he was the editor of Bricks Culture, will also be there. While these few are all I know will be there, I’m confident there will be others. I can’t believe this will be happening in only two weeks!

The Other Reason I’m Going

The LEGO Ambassador event is scheduled to precede the Skærbæk Fan Weekend in Denmark. This is a well-attended LEGO event about an hour away from Billund. I was asked by Luigi to help give a talk on LEGO Photography and Julien has arranged for us to have a display of our work at the event. We even persuaded Chris McVeigh to join us for our little exhibition.

While giving a talk on LEGO photography is not in my comfort zone, I won’t let a case of nerves get in the way. I know that toy photography is not the most interesting topic for fans of the brick, but I hope that Luigi, Julien and I can inspire at least one person to pick up a camera and their toys and join us.

Too much of a good thing

I know myself pretty well. And while my time with Kristina will be pretty low key, the events around LEGO will be over whelming. I reached out to another LEGO friend, Julie Broberg, who lives in the vicinity. She has an errand to run in Skærbæk so she will come rescue me on Saturday afternoon and we will go on an adventure together. There is no way I could travel this close to Julie and not see her smiling face. I’m sure I will miss out on something incredible by escaping. But at the same time, I’m looking forward to catching up with the first person I ever met who worked for the LEGO Group.

The Long Goodby

According to Luigi, one of the big highlights of the fan weekend is a chance to visit the LEGO employee store on Monday morning. With some trepidation I signed up for this event. The thought of standing in line to make a dash for sets selling for a reduced rate makes me cringe. But I will put on my festive face and do my part to keep the company in the black. My son has requested that I pick him up a HUGE technic set. Who am I to disappoint one of my favorite people on this earth? My only worry is transporting it home!

When the shopping is complete, the goodbyes will begin in earnest. I know already that our time together will be too short. But I have faith that I will find a reason to journey back to Europe for more toy photography fun. It’s not goodby, its: “I’ll see you on the inter-webs.”

Why I’m really Going

While I’m sure that the LEGO House is amazing (the initial images making the rounds have been super cool), I’m making this trip for the experience. I want to meet the people that bring joy to my life through our on-line interactions. Whenever Kristina and I get together, some quiet magic always happens.  We talk, we discuss, she pushes me in new directions – she opens my eyes to her unique world view. I always come away a little richer and wiser for the experience.

To be able to connect with Luigi and finally hear his voice will be priceless. We have been internet friends for nearly two years. Peter Reid’s robot and our mutual love of toy photography may have been the basis of our friendship, but I know we have more in common than that. We both love the mountains and being outdoors. I look forward to seeing where else we can find commonality and what I can learn from our differences.

I’ve made many fabulous friends through my hobby of toy photography and collecting LEGO mini figures. Attending the opening of LEGO House will be one more experience in this incredible adventure; an adventure I’m grateful for everyday.

Shelly

If you have any special requests about what you would like Kristina and I to write about and photograph at the LEGO House, let me know. We can stalk builders (12 famous ones will be there), we can take photos of some of the cool set-ups, we can take our signature figs and see what mischief that can get into. Tell me what you want to see, and I will see if we can make it happen. Lets have some fun with this!

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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.

Product Photography

Product photography looks a bit like this:

However, in the photos above I used miniature toy products, not meant for individual consumption. I did photograph them to GS1 product photography standards. Yet, because of the subject matter, I’ve probably taken the whole thing out of the product photo arena anyway. These photos are useless as far as a manufacturer or retailer is concerned. But creating them allowed me to focus in on every minute detail of these already tiny pieces. I think there’s a statement to be made there. And product photography does not exist to make statements.

Commercial Photography

In terms of commercial toy photography, I think it’s really interesting for the public and brands to see how much life a toy photographer can breathe into their products and thus their advertising. A toy figure shot at various angles against a white background can be important in advertising for those wanting the technical details – figure size, articulation, detail, etc. But, to a child or collector, seeing that same figure realistically photographed in an atmospheric battle scene is so much more engaging and awe inspiring. A story can be woven around the figure, which burrows that product deeper in the consumer’s heart.

Needless to say, even with the most leeway, commercial photography isn’t for everyone. Some need complete creative control without these possible limitations.

Long story short…

unless you’re taking planogram and marketing shots of your action figures in their original packaging and then selling those images to a company, or using them to sell the product pictured, you are not even slightly a product photographer.

As you are, whether commercially or artistically, if you are telling a story through your toy photos rather than simply and starkly showing what a toy looks like, you are a creative photographer, a narrative toy photographer, maybe even a fine art photographer. And as long as you stick to your gut, no one can try to tell you otherwise.

Jennifer Nichole Wells

“It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”

-Paul Caponigro

What came first?

What came first? The chicken or the egg? The lyrics or the music? The setup or the idea?

We all have ideas bubbling away in our heads. Preconceived concepts tag along as we venture out to shoot plastic. Stories are already playing out before our subjects are posed before the lens.

But, sometimes those stories meander off into something new. New ideas come to light with out subject of choice before us. Concepts and notions twist, turn and evolve into another. Often we return with our initial ideas, concepts and tales shelved for another venture; another day.

And all this is cool! This is one of the many things I love about photographing toys. I love thinking up stories. The tales and concepts that emerge excite me. I also relish the twists and turns that inevitably occur when I’m out shooting. And the wonderful surprises of never considered outcomes is one of the greatest thrills of this “lying in dirt focussing in on toys” thing we do.

However…

However, this week I was asked to provide specificity around every proposed image that I been asked to create for a client; specific, precise and exact descriptions of each photo I plan on delivering to client.

But, I can’t even do that for myself?

What came first? The notion or the emotion?

What came first: Lyrics & music, eggs & chickens?
Lyrics & music, eggs & chickens?

If I promised myself every shot I had in mind before I headed off the beach, I’d greatly disappoint myself before the sand on my knees had time to dry. If I delivered what is often a vast deviation from the proposed outcome, I’d be disenchanted as the client. And as I, the client pointed out what was initially offered compared to what was delivered, I’d feel artistically restricted as the consultant not being allowed the opportunity to expand and explore possibilities and stories.

And…

The request for detailed a synopsis of what I’d deliver was daunting. But, there was another aspect to this request to factor in.

My specific descriptions of proposed photo outcomes we to highlight toys that I didn’t have yet. Now this might not sound like another complexity cog in this proposition wheel, but for me it was.

What came first? The preconception or the perception?

When we’re lucky enough to be sent Collectable Minifigures to photograph and review, I always start planning ideas before their arrival. It’s good to plan ahead. It helps to have a schedule for shooting and locations when I’m attempting to get the review uploaded as soon as possible after their arrival.

Yet, when the box arrives and the unpacking begins, the new Minifigures more times than not, demand a photo that was never envisaged before I had them in my hands. Often, my predetermined thoughts of what a particular Minifigure deserves is far from the mark. Repeatedly, new ideas emerge and plans are rewritten in the presence of the new arrivals.

So…

So, with Kristina’s words echoing in my head, I sent off my proposed ideas for the possible outcomes of shooting toys that hadn’t had their chance to tell me their stories. I explained that without the toys to talks to me, it was difficult to grasp what stories they wanted to be told.The twisting, turning nature of how my photos evolve was also explained.

I can only assume that, if a client understands that the toys speak to me, things will work out. 

Or maybe they’ll think I’m a complete nutbag and slowly recoil from the offer, smiling politely, and avoiding any sudden movements or noises!

– Brett

Are your concepts locked in prior to shooting? Do your stories twist and change once your toys are in front of the lens? Have you ever been asked to outline a photo without understanding the subject?

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A Family Portrait

Hello everybody!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco (The APhOL)

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.

lego-cavewoman

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.

lego-red-riding-hood

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?

lego-ultron
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.

lego-darth-vader
“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.”

lego-groot

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.

lego-viking
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!

lego-bigfoot
“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?

James

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The Basics – Selective Focus

Selective focus is another tool you should add to your photographic tool bag. When you’re a landscape photographer being able to focus to infinity is important, but is that skill really important for toy photography? What happens when you play with the focus point on your toys? Can you tell a better, or different story? In the fast paced world of social media, can you create an image that stands out when it’s initially hard to read? Lets find out…

What is Selective Focus

Selective focus requires a shallow depth of field. This means photographing using  a wide open (or nearly wide-open) aperture setting. Something in the f2.8 – f3.5 range rather than the other end of the spectrum; f11 – f16. You can also effect your depth of field with a longer focal length on your lens or getting closer to your subject. Both a longer lens and getting close to your subject will shorten your focal plane.

A shallow depth of field allows you to blur the surroundings. When you’re able to do this, you can pick out one part of the image to bring into focus. You can isolate one aspect of the image that you want the viewer to focus on; to see first.

Even though you’ve isolated one aspect of the image to be in focus, you shouldn’t ignore the rest of your composition. By changing the angle you can draw your viewer into the image. You can also create pleasing blur around your focus point that will allow the viewers gaze to roam and linger on your image. Even though the image may be primarily blurred, you want to create a reason for your viewers gaze to wonder through the image.

Which tells a better story?
Option A: with the fairy unicorn in focus the story revolves around the chase and the details of the figure.
Option B: with the butterfly in focus, the story revolves around his presumed escape.
More Examples of Selective Focus

I asked my friends in the Toy Photography Moderators group to contribute their images of selective focus. When you’re looking at these images think about the following questions:

  • How does the focus change how you relate to the image?
  • Do you find yourself slowing down to look at the image closer?
  • By leaving out the details, can you tell a more complex story?
  • Do you need to see a toy clearly to recognize their identity?
  • Is there still a feeling of depth in these images with a shortened depth of field?
  • Are you drawn into the image by following the path of focus?
Ninja by Julie Blair
Thanks for 55 years Spidey! by Jason Nvrmore
I find your lack of faith disturbing. By Tony Tulloch
Mondays by Brett Wilson
Boba Fett by James Garcia
Misunderstood Children By Jennifer Nicole Wells
Stormtrooper by Kristina Alexanderson
Move beyond focus

I would encourage you to play around with what is and what isn’t in focus. Decide in advance what you’re trying to say with your image. Once you determine that, you will be able to decide what your primary focal point should be. Play around with angles and point of view. Mix it up. Make your audience work for it. I assure you, they will thank you for it.

And once you get comfortable with selective focus, considering moving into blur photography.

By Tom Milton

Because who says anything has to be in focus to tell a good story.

Shelly

While this post is primary aimed at photographers using DSLR cameras, you can emulate this effect by using the Tilt Shift option on your editing app. There are also stand alone apps like Big Lens that will help you emulate this effect. Don’t be afraid to experiment! You’re creating art; there are no rules. 🙂

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What if?

What if there were no social media sites?

What if there were no online ways to share images at all?

You could show your images to friends and family.

Find a like-minded community.

Post them on the walls of abandoned buildings.

Drag them from gallery to gallery hoping for interest.

Show them at art fairs hoping for sales.

Scatter them about the park or mall for a random stranger to find.

Stack them at the coffee shop counter.

Hang them on café walls.

Keep them to yourself.

What if there were no social media sites for us to post to instantly and hope for follows and likes?

 

Would you still create?

Would you still share your work?

What would change for you?

 

I don’t mean this as a critique. I mean this as a thought piece. It’s not bad if this would change things for you. In reality, it would change the way all of us create and share. It would have to. But, if you’ll humor me, and if you care to define them, use this as a jumping off point to think about your goals.

I think the more we know ourselves and what we intend to make, the better pieces we create.

 

Jennifer Nichole Wells

“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

-Ralph Hattersley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks a lot for your attention!

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

 Ann @Miss__Feklista