Balakov

Why?

Why do I take photographs of small plastic figures?

Well, I’m not doing it to change the world. Neither am I bringing attention to worthy causes, or highlighting injustice with my photographs. I do it for the same reason most people do most things, I do it for me. I want to take the sort of photographs that I’d like to see. I want to look at my photographs and say “that’s cool, I want to hang that on my wall.”

The limitations imposed by LEGO minifigures are a big part of the fun of photography for me. Bernard Suits famously defined a game as “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. That perfectly sums up my approach to LEGO photography. I rarely use anything but standard LEGO smiling faces, or the expressionless helmets of Stormtroopers or Darth Vader. Trying to create an emotive photograph with a barely-posable, inert chunk of plastic is a challenge that I never seem to tire of trying to beat.

I take pleasure in the whole process. Combining ideas together within my own set of rules for what makes a good photograph. Finding angles and interesting lines in the viewfinder. Moving the composition around to balance the scene. Changing the lighting mood as I shoot. Playing with hues and saturation curves to add some life to the clinically clean digital capture. It’s all good.

Sometimes it works, and sometimes everything goes in the trash can. As I make more photographs I’m getting better at knowing when an idea doesn’t translate into a good photograph. Over the years I’ve tried to weed out poor qualities and work out what the essence of a good photograph is to me.

I read an excellent quote from Magnum photographer Constantine Manos today that summed up something I have never been able to eloquently put into words – “Try not to take pictures which simply show what something looks like.”. That’s why I take the photographs I do. To try and take LEGO photography above mere “photos of things” and make a story, evoke an emotion, or at least raise a smile.

Mike Stimpson

Autumn by Mike Stimpson

A guest post for stuckinplastic com by Mike Stimpson – mikestimpson.com
You can find Mike also on the following great social media platforms:
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There is Nothing New Under the Sun

It would be hubris to think that what we are doing with toys and photography is any way new. No matter how innovative you may be, there is always someone who has done it before. Sometimes we know who these people are, sometimes we don’t.

This is true in art, music, business, even Lego…just about anything that involves creation and innovation.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of room to find your own way. To acknowledge those who came before you as you move into the future is not only a matter of respect, it’s a smart decision. It says I know who I am, who’s shoulders I have climbed on and that I realize there will be others who come after me. It’s also the honorable thing to do.

I love this quote by Pharrell Williams

Some people say there’s nothing new under the sun. I still think that there’s room to create, you know. And intuition doesn’t necessarily come from under this sun. It comes from within.”

I couldn’t agree more. When I first saw Brett Westin’s underwater nude’s I knew I wanted to do the same thing. But the simple act of dealing with my own limitations in terms of talent and resources created results very different from his. This is how new things are created – old ideas run through the filter of a new artist.

So no matter if you are taking pictures of flowers, kittens, Lego or dinosaurs… look for your inspiration from within and you will create something new. In the mean time, don’t forget those early innovators who paved the way for us all.

~ xxsjc

“There is nothing new under the sun, not even dinosaurs.” ~ +Me2 

How a Lego Photo is Born

My son and I were fooling around with lego the other day and looking through his Master Builder Academy books and I came across this mini build for a cool camera. Needless to say, I whipped one up pronto.  It immediately reminded me of Weegee, so I made him too. Now if you’re going to make a Speed Graphic camera and a figure who looks like Weegee out of Lego, then the next logical step is to set up murder scene.
…and that is how a lego photo is born.  
I’m sure this is going to lead somewhere interesting, I hope you will stick around to find out where.  
– xxsjc 

What a Difference a Year Makes

Recently my life speeded up and I feel like I am moving at light speed. There is so much to do and so little time!

No matter how fast life is moving it is always good to take stock of where you are and how far you have come. I know I have talked about my first lego photo. I’m not shy about how bad it was. But somewhere in the last 2 1/2 years and thousands of photos, I improved. I don’t know where or how, but it happened.

Last spring I was asked by friends to do a series of photos that would substitute for their engagement photos. One thing led to another and these photographs ended up in The Huffington Post. I had my 15 minutes of fame and it was fun.

I promised my friends that I would take one of the images and create a framed piece as they’re wedding gift. Unfortunately the image they chose I had grown dissatisfied with and decided to re shoot it. This ended up being a great way to bench mark how much I have grown and learned in the past year.

Personally I was surprised by how different the photo came out. I do feel it represents my current style, which make me wonder what it will look like if I retake it a year from now?

Next time you have a moment, stop and compare the photos you have taken recently with the photos you took a year ago. And while you are at it, give yourself a pat on the back because I’m sure you have made some significant improvements along the way.

~ xxsjc

Do you ever look back at your photos and notice how much you have learned? 
Do you have a photo you can re-shoot for a side by side comparison?
If so, would you share it with us?

Winning the Lottery

I’m sure for most people winning the lottery conjures up images of piles of money but for a fan of Lego it means scoring a rare set at regular price.

A few weeks ago I tried to purchase set #21110 The Research Institute and set #21109 The Exo Suit and found out that they were either “Sold Out” or “temporarily out of stock” on the Lego web site. They were not to be found at either of my local Lego stores; in fact they were going for double and triple their original asking price on the secondary market.

Aggggghhhhhh

Well, who should come to my rescue but my daughter, Sierra. My daughter is amazing. While I have coped with the excess of Lego in my house by photographing it, she went and got a job at our local Lego Store. This has both it’s pluses and minuses, trust me.

First she found set #21110 at our local toy store Math ‘n Stuff. I love Math ‘n Stuff because they sell Lego, they have an amazing set-up at our local BrickCon and they often have older sets at regular price. The staff is always friendly and did I mention they are only two blocks away? Sierra happened to be in Math n’ Stuff last week to get a new puzzle and spied a case of #21110 behind the counter. One thing led to another and before I knew it I had purchased The Research Institute. It seemed there was hope after all!

Yesterday Sierra came to me and told me that her store was getting in a big Lego shipment and that the Exo Suit was listed on the manifest. The hunt was on! I wasn’t taking any chances on this one. We arrived at the store at opening but alas they had not had a chance to unpack the shipment. We decided not to hover and wandered around the mall. Before we knew it Sierra received a text from Sean, back at the store, that he had found the sets and they were waiting for us.

Woooooo hooooo

Seriously I felt like I had just won the lottery. I’m pretty sure buying Lego shouldn’t engender this kind of emotional response in an adult. But that is my reality.

~ xxsjc

How far have you gone to score that hard to find set?
What set did you miss that you still regret?

My apologies for not having an image that is more appropriate. But life is moving pretty fast right now. Hopefully I will be more on point in future posts. 

Moving Beyond the Instagram Toy Community

I love the fact that the toy photography community on Instagram is so incredibly supportive. Most people are generous with their “likes” and comments and it’s a wonderful place to play. But occasionally it feels a little insular and it’s nice to branch out into other communities. It’s always fun to make new friends and expand peoples understanding of toy photography along the way.


When I joined the photo sharing site Streamzoo (RIP), I was introduced to the wonderful world of macro photographers. Now that Streamzoo has ceased to exist, many of those same photographers have migrated to Instagram and I have continued my relationship with them. Sure this community has a penchant for bugs, flowers and water droplets, but they also recognize and support toy photography.

If you are interested in branching out beyond the regular toy community tags, here is a list of the macro communities on Instagram that I am aware of. Feel free to check them out and see if there might be a good fit for your own work. 
@BNWMacros
@Colors_Hub
@Flair_Macro *
@Flawless_Macros
@Global_Nature _Macro
@HDMacros *
@IG_4every1
@IG_Closeups *
@JJ_JustMacros
@Macro_Champ
@Macro_Perfection
@Macro_Premier
@Macro_Secrets
@Macroclique * 
@MacroStalking
@MD_Macro
@MyDailyMacro
@Nature_Obsessions
@TGIF_Macro
@Visual_World
The communities marked with an asterisk have been the most receptive to my work, especially @HDMacros. If you are looking for exposure beyond the toy community this is a great place to start. 

~ xxsjc

Are you involved in any communities on Instagram other than toys?
If so, what are they and why?

Bunnies and flowers! What is there not to like??

The “Like” Trap

This was posted on G+ the other day by a photographer I follow:

“I may have hit the inevitable conclusion that more I try to find a fit for my photography in other’s lives, the more unhappy I become. Social media has inevitably turned from the place of hope to just the typical empty echo chamber that it is. I really need to find a way to go back to shooting for myself and not others.” ~ Anonymous

After reading the comments it seems that he is looking for validation for his photographs in terms of “likes” and favorites. It is easy to fall into the trap of having lots of followers who give feedback to feel like you are moving in the right direction. But this is an ugly trap.

Social media, be it Twitter, Facebook, Google, Flickr or whatever, will not give you the feedback you need and most likely crave. (Let’s be realistic, we all have egos that enjoy an occasional stroking.) I talked earlier about the sheer volume of photos posted daily to FB and G+ here. With this volume of photographs being posted you need to find your motivation from within yourself or from with the work you are doing. It’s near impossible to be seen in this onslaught of imagery. Lets face the harsh reality, more than likely you will be making work that no one really cares about except you.

So stop chasing “likes,” chasing followers, chasing the latest photo trend and create the work that makes you happy. If it’s photos of babies and cats, then make them the best photos they can be. Be it toys or water droplets it doesn’t matter…the only one who is setting the rules is you.

And you know what, if you do the work you love, you never know who is going to start following you. Sometimes miracles do happen.

~ xxsjc

I used an image of a Chima because I have noticed that they usually get 50-100 less “likes” on Instagram than any other image I post. If I was going for the most likes per image I wold post only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle photos. But I love Eglor and all the characters of the Chima tribes and I will continue to explore my universe with them.

Lemonade from Lemons

I realize I used this photo recently, but I felt it deserved its own post since it has an interesting back story.

In an effort to add a new twist to my photography and set ups I have been making my own accessories. I was inspired by the documentary Marwencol as well as Krash_Override, an Instagram friend.

Lets just say that I have a few things to learn about making accessories for my Lego friends. First is the scale. It is remarkably hard to get the items to scale as well as sized so my little friends are able to hold them comfortably. Second, since my material of choice is metal, the weight and balance point issues are problematic. I guess it never occurred to me that the smallest sword in copper and sterling silver would outweigh a little plastic mini figure.

This particular Chima friend was given a fairly large and weighty double edged sword and found it to be more than he could handle. Not only did it slip out of his grasp, the sheer size toppled him over instantly. As he was teetering on the edge of the rock precipice of our photo shoot, I managed to snap this rather dramatic photograph. Luckily he did not loose control and fall over the edge. I guess it is back to the drawing board for me.

So even though the sword was a bust I did manage to snap one of my favorite photos of the year. The lesson I am trying to impart here is don’t immediately assume every mistake is a failure. Because some where in that failure is a success, sometimes you just have to change your point of view.

How do you feel about the Chima line of mini figures?

Art vs Money

I found this quote in Art & Fear :

“When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money.” ~ Oscar Wilde

It seems that life in the ninteenth century was not so different from life in the twenty-first century.

~ xxsjc

Did you buy your copy of Art & Fear yet?
How many different versions of Unikitty do you have? 

Grateful (3/3)

How could I not take a moment and say thank you to everyone who has ever supported my toy photos on Instagram, Flickr, G+ and especially here at Stuckinplastic? The connections forged here on the internet amongst this far flung group of like minded souls fills my heart with joy.

To be inspired by and to inspire like minded toy photographers is a great thrill for me. I wish I could name every person who has inspired me or made me feel happy with their kind words. But they are too numerous and I would ultimately leave someone out. I’m pretty sure if you find this post and read it, then you are one of those people and I am grateful for making a connection with you.

Everyone has a bucket list of some type. Often this list is filled with adventures like skydiving, climbing Mount Everest or traveling to some far flung local. On the top of my list is a party akin to the farewell party thrown by +Me2 after his adventure in search of the Northern Light. To sit around a table for an evening with all my Instagram and toy photography friends toasting, gabbing, talking toys would bring me the greatest joy. When I first saw his pictures here on the blog I actually got emotional. It was like my dream was coming true, even for a brief moment, and it was lovely.

I am looking forward to 2015 because there are possibilities on the horizon that could lead to an evening like Me2 depicted. The first is the Toy Photo Meet-up in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 16-19th. A few of my favorite toy photographers are going to attend and I hope to persuade a few more to join us. But who ever ultimatly attends, know we will be toasting all the friends we have made on Instagram. The second event is in early March and I will reveal more information as it becomes appropriate.

So thank you Instagram and Stuckinplastic friends. You bring me joy, humor and friendship everyday and I am grateful for all of it.

~ xxsjc