Toy Photographers Podcast 03 – Brett Wilson Interview

It’s Sunday, so you know what that means: Another episode of the Toy Photographers Podcast is now available!

This week, we have another interview episode, featuring our very own Brett Wilson! Brett and I had a fantastic conversation, covering how he got into toy photography, what it’s like having such a famous SigFig, how much luck has contributed to his many opportunities, and so much more!

The episode is live now on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, and other podcatchers, or you can listen to it right here:

Thank You

I want to thank you all for the great reception you’ve given the podcast so far! It truly means a lot to me. This first month of the podcast has been even more successful than I could have hoped, and I have some really exciting episodes planned!

There won’t be a new episode next week, but check back in on Sunday, February 4th for my interview with The Toys That Made Us creator Brian Volk-Weiss!

Until then, enjoy this week’s episode, and please either leave your thoughts and comments below, or shoot us an email at!


If you’ve made it this far, come continue the discussion over at our G+ community! And while you’re at it, subscribe to our weekly email round up so that you never miss a post!

Review: Ahch-To Island Training

After having seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi multiple times in theatres, I came away from the experience wanting to explore the new grizzly cynical old Luke Skywalker in my artwork. Of all the characters from the original trilogy, his story arc is by far the most interesting to me. So I went in search of a LEGO set that contained an aged-Luke minifig, and settled on the Ahch-To Island Training set.

Warning: Contains very minor spoilers, but nothing plot revealing.

When it arrived, I handed the building of the set off to my 8 year old son, Zeke, a proud LEGO and Star Wars fan himself, so I could get his opinions of the set from his perspective, as well as my own.

This is our review.

What’s In The Box?

The set itself is small, and at 241 pieces is a quick build. The model is essentially one of the stone huts that Luke resides in on the island of Ahch-To. Inside the hut are a lot of details that are interesting: a bed, cooking supplies etc. All of the things one would expect to be inside a small occupied hut.

There are a couple simple moving parts. The back of the hut is left open for access to play, but the roof also comes off for easier access to the internals of the hut. A small part of one of the wall collapses as well. I suspect both are intended to allow for the simulation when Rey’s hut force-explodes. However it does allow for easy access for lights and smoke effects, which makes it intriguing for us toy photographers.

There is also a rock that can be split open. Remember the scene where Rey uses a lightsaber to slice open a large rock? I believe the rock in the set is supposed to allow one to simulate that. However this leads us to one of the many puzzling aspects of this model.

Model in my studio, as built.


In general, this model looks very little like the scenes from the movie. Aside from the three minifigures of Luke, Rey, and a porg, it feels like the model was designed based on a vague description of the location, and not from scenes from the actual movie. Basically if you handed me the model without the minifigs and the box art, I would never guess that the model was from Ahch-To (I would likely guess a left over model from Force Awakens that is supposed to be from the planet Takodana). The model makes the hut look like it is built with large light coloured rocks, but in the movie it is made from piles of small dark grey stones. The door in the movie is an impressively solid chunk of metal, but the model has the door made from a flimsy piece of cloth.

Oh, may I complain a bit more about that rock that Rey slices open with the lightsaber? In the movie she slices thru a monolithic solid chunk of rock. The model gives a relatively small sphere, that is hollow and contains a gem inside. Where the gem fits into things is a mystery to me – maybe it is something from the director’s cut, certainly not movie accurate. They could have easily made a model where that rock was realistic, and not attached to the hut so it could be located father away, but they didn’t, and that is a shame.


The true value of this set is in the minifigs. The Luke minifig comes off as the rough character that Luke has truly become.

Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To

Rey looks determined and ready to jump into action. Rey’s hair piece has that cute little 3-bun combo, which is realistic to the movie. It does make it hard to turn her head for posing, but no more than is normal for any minifig with longer hair.

Rey is ready for action, despite the harsh rain of Ahch-To Island

The porg is adorable – I just wish they included a couple more of them. Both Rey and Luke comes with there own staffs, and there is one blue lightsaber to share between them.


From the perspective of toy photography this set is a hot mess of inconsistency. The set does allow easy access to the hut so lights can be added very easily. However it would be almost impossible to get the look and feel from the movie by using this set.

So my advice for the toy photographer is to pick yourself up a set, pull out the minifigs for your own collection, and then immediately drop the rest off in your kids toy box. They are going to enjoy it way more than you are.

About that kids toy box, here are Zeke’s impressions of the set, presented in question/answer format

How hard is it to build?
Not very hard. Easy build. Fun to build.

What do you think of the set?
It’s awesome!

What makes it awesome?
There’s a mechanism that makes one of the rocks pop up and also there is one of those pieces that spin so you can cut open a boulder.

Would you want one for yourself?


What is your least favourite thing?
The door isn’t right, and the bed takes up too much space.

Note: Rest assured Zeke received his own set, complete with minifigs, as thanks for helping with the review of this set. He is currently in his room exploring Ahch-To with the intense imagination that only an 8 year old can provide.

Per centum sign, Ampersand, Hash, Question mark, Exclamation point, Star, Six Images of Agony

I’m not going to write some narrative conveying a tale, I’m just going to, as requested, let the images speak for themselves and see what feelings they’ll bring to life in you. Now, I still feel I have to convey what kind of thoughts and words come to my mind viewing these images (or shooting them be truthful). I’d be bold enough to quote Green Day and “Just f***ing swear a lot.” So here is me cursing, embracing these painful six images of agony, and just in case this blog doesn’t approve of my colourful language, I won’t say it, I’ll just spell it out: Per centum sign, ampersand, hash, question mark, exclamation point, star.

Per centum sign
Question mark
Exclamation point



Donate Checkmate

With Melbourne’s Brickvention, Australia’s premier LEGO fan convention, just around the corner, it’s time to say thank you. This year’s Charity Silent Auction is looking like it’s going to be bigger than ever. Thanks to the generosity of the community.

This year, Toy Photographers and #brickstameet have buddied up to organise a silent auction of LEGO photographs to raise money for the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Andrew (@cheepjokes) and I have been busy chasing artists, collecting submissions, printing art, printing bidding forms, and designing the layout of the photographs submitted for the action. Actually, we will be having two auctions, one on Saturday and another on Sunday. Continue reading Donate Checkmate

Off the Shelf

We’ve discussed many sources of inspiration here on the blog. Things like exhibitions, a change in seasoncards, and challenges can get the creative juices flowing. This summer, Shelly wrote a piece about the books that help inspire her photography. I have a reference shelf of my own, though it’s not populated by studies on photography or creativity…

I love “Art of” books, usually those about my favorite films. I’ve talked before about being inspired by movies, and this is an extension of that.

Shelly’s image of her bookshelf inspired me to recreate it with my own!

If you’re unfamiliar, the “Art of” books I’m referring to usually center around a specific movie or television series. They’re collections of behind the scenes information, character and story details, and – most importantly – concept art, storyboards, and production stills.

“It’s time for Woody’s roundup, he’s the very best!”

When I’m in a creative funk, flipping through these books can help spark new ideas, or force me to think of my potential subjects in new and interesting ways.

There are hundreds of these books out there! If you’re working with any of LEGO’s licensed sets, or with action figures from properties like Star WarsAlien, or Marvel, you can easily find tomes to choose from. I have “Art of” books for Pixar, The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Incredibles, Wonder Woman, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Man of Steel, and Mad Max: Fury Road.

Apart from the images – which have been helpful even for simple shot compositions – the actual text provides knowledge that I might have otherwise overlooked. Those details then help fuel the stories I tell!

LEGO Books

The other half of my shelf is filled with more specific books about LEGO. Things like Matthew Reinhart’s LEGO Pop-Up, a Journey through the LEGO Universe or our friend Vesa’s LEGO Star Wars: Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy.

Daydreaming of Hoth

Because these books specifically highlight LEGO – my photographic subject of choice – they are a bit more successful at igniting my creativity. I’ve been inspired by Vesa’s work for years, and I can’t tell you how valuable it’s been to have it accessible in such a tangible way.

lego books

I’m also a big fan of DK Publishing’s books like I Love that Minifigure or the character encyclopedias for LEGO Star Wars and LEGO DC Comics Superheroes. They usually come with a rare minifigure, and are packed with character details and minifig information. I’ve added many a minifig to my collection because I saw them in these books, and have since taken dozens of shots with them.

The Cult of LEGO

cult of lego

Last but not least is a book called The Cult of LEGO. Rather than simple referential information, it’s about the history of LEGO fandom. The book is chock full of information about various subsects and communities, and has countless photos of amazing LEGO builds and artwork.

Nothing sparks creativity for me like viewing the work of others. It inspires me to up my game, improve my skills, and tell better stories!

With Christmas just around the corner, perhaps you should consider adding these to your wishlist. Or buy them for a fellow photographer or artist!

Do you have any referential or art collection books that you use to spark your creativity? Tell us all about them in the comments below! 

– James

If you’ve made it this far, come continue the discussion over at our G+ community! And while you’re at it, subscribe to our weekly email round up so that you never miss a post!

Review: LEGO 21312 Women of NASA

I’ve known Maia Weinstock via Flickr for a few years, so when I heard that her “Women of NASA” set was being released on November 1st, I knew I wanted one right away. I had a feeling the set would be popular, so I ordered one in the middle of the night on release day from LEGO Shop@Home.

I’m very happy with this set. All three vignettes were fun and interesting to build and are great tributes to these amazing women. There are already many reviews about this set and the builds, so I’d like to write this one from a minifigure photographer’s perspective. Continue reading Review: LEGO 21312 Women of NASA

Maintaining Momentum

We toy photographers sure are a busy bunch! Shelly has turned to setting deadlines to reach her goals, and Brett balances his full plate with intentional, restrictive time management in the editing room.

As we draw closer and closer to the end of the year, I’ve found that I too am struggling to keep up with the passage of time. Projects I envisioned or began earlier in the year have fallen by the wayside, photo ideas have gone untaken, and I feel constantly behind schedule. In fact, this very post is being written last-minute thanks to traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday. I rushed the setting sun in order to nab my required photos in time! Continue reading Maintaining Momentum

Anomalous Encounters

Anomalous Encounters
by Joseph Cowlishaw

Deep and old - creaky wood
Windy voices of childhood
Shadows play and make a scene
Crunching breaking through ravine
Lungs burning... running, waiting
Ambushed by a bizarre moan
Crushed under a furry stone
Something eerie blurs past
Blackness sparks - eyes of last

Perils of hiking alone 1 Perils of Hiking Alone 2

Perils of Hiking Alone 3

Perils of Hiking Alone 4

Perils of Hiking Alone 6

Perils of Hiking Alone 5

Review: LEGO 76085 Battle of Atlantis

When first planning this week’s review, I set my sights on the new LEGO Ideas 21312 Women of NASA kit. Unfortunately, it’s out of stock both online and at my local LEGO store, so that review will be a bit late. In the meantime, I’ve decided to celebrate the release of Justice League with one of the film’s three tie-in sets!

The set in question is 76085 Battle of Atlantis, featuring DC Comics’ iconic ocean dwelling hero, Aquaman. The kit features a small piece of the lost city of Atlantis, where two Atlantean warriors are watching over a Motherbox, guarding it from a Parademon. It uh… all makes more sense once you see the movie. Continue reading Review: LEGO 76085 Battle of Atlantis

Review: LEGO 40261 Thanksgiving Harvest

November upon us, and the Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner for those of us in the United States. At the risk of being region-specific, I decided to take this opportunity to review the latest LEGO seasonal kit: 40261 Thanksgiving Harvest.

Like its predecessor, 40260 Halloween Haunt, 40261 is a small vignette with two minifigures, a handful of accessories, and several mini-builds. If you’re looking to get into the holiday spirit, or take some nice autumnal shots, is this the set for you? Continue reading Review: LEGO 40261 Thanksgiving Harvest