5 Amazing Things About the San Francisco Toy Photography Safari

The Lead Up

Ok, so I was super nervoucited. (Thanks to a seven year old at my son’s school for teaching me that awesome word!). I’ve been collecting LEGO minifigures and taking pictures of them for almost two years now, and I was vaguely aware of Toy Safaris from mentions in my Instagram and Google+ feeds as well as a few blogs I follow. I had little idea of what to expect, so my mind was spinning with “who’s gonna be there?,” “what will it be like?,” “which toys will I bring?,” “will I be the only dullard using an iPhone 7 and relatively ignorant about photography?,” and “will this event hit my list of the top ten most awkward things I’ve ever done?” (Please don’t ask about that list… trust me.)

The Launch

Thursday evening. Rush hour traffic. Google+ Headquarters. How could I say no? Pamela from Google greeted us with warmth and headed us to a secret room a few buildings and floors away. I walked in. I saw pizza, salad, beer, and boxes of LEGO. Oh, and about twenty people who had camera bags and, you know, the range of expressions you see at a meet and greet. The promise of new LEGO helped calm my “goodness this is awkward” nerves, and I was relieved when Carter Gibson, Shelly Corbett, and other luminaries welcomed me. The room seemed to have no obvious serial killers who live in their mom’s basement or egos the size of the world’s biggest LEGO build. So far so good, I thought. I don’t typically enjoy casual conversation with strangers and it was odd to be having it with the real human beings who, it turns out, actually exist behind the many toy photography accounts I follow on social media.  We ate, talked, took some pics, traded toys, and promised to see each other in the morning. I drove home thinking: Ok, I can do this. And did I mention free new toys?

The Sharing

We shared toys and laughs and ideas and we even collaborated on photos. Collaborating on a toy photography shot was all new to me and it was such a fun (if slightly intimidating) way to push beyond my comfort zone. Julien (Ballou34) gets virtually all of the credit for this scene and our shots of it were fun to compare. As a group we also shared some of our histories and connections and dreams. And I’m so grateful for how much these wonderful people shared with me about their art! Ballou34 taught me so much about the use of light and aperture. Maelick (Reiterlied) taught me to expect the unexpected and take things a little less seriously with his photo bombs of an adorable LEGO dinosaur. Shelly taught me about water shots and how to get these adventurous 2″ figs to float. Kiwi (Wikitoybox) taught me about the magical world of resin poop. Dennis (krash_override) and Melisa (lizzybelle9) shared incredible custom toys. Cindy (coneydogg) and Leila (brickandmordor) reminded me to laugh. A lot. Still in disbelief? Check out this fantastic video of the event created by Travin (saiyanranger).

Life’s a picnic… no matter where you are. (Photo collaboration with Julien Ballester)
The Photos

So it turns out we took photos. Lots of photos. I loved our time at Sutro Baths best. It’s an amazing spot in San Francisco right on the coast of the Pacific. I adore taking nature pics, and especially shots with water. I also love concrete and decay. So this was basically a perfect spot for me and my toys. In fact, the whole safari gave me a toy photography lens on the Bay Area. It was fun to see familiar spots through that angle and really cool to shoot in places new to me. Each person had so many toys (and a lot more than just LEGO) and such fun ways of traveling with them. As I mentioned, this is one generous group of beautiful toy geeks. I loved the privilege of watching others set up scenes, shoot, chat about scenes and shooting, and then shoot some more.  

Surfs up at the Sutro Baths.
Josh, Austin and Eric in action at Fort Baker.
The Goodbyes

So I’m this fifty year old gay guy all married up to this incredible man I’ve been with for nearly half my life. We have a fantastic seven year old son who we adopted into our family just last year here in the Bay Area. As you can imagine, I’m not out drinking beer with grownups very often anymore. I walked into this adventure a little apprehensive and walked out delighted. I went deeper with my photography. I had time to focus and experiment. But much more than the pics and minifigs, it is hard to describe how connected I feel to this group after a weekend of shooting plastic. Most of the group had joined together for previous safaris in Vegas and Seattle (and others in Hamburg and London and/or beyond). I was new to the group and yet welcomed in like I’d been along the whole time. I’m in awe of the kindness, generosity, humor and talent of this group. I’m also certain I’ve made some lifelong friendships. And to think it all started with a few LEGO Simpson minifigs and an iPhone 5.

Sisters at sea – Sausalito Marina.

Doug Gary

So how about you? Whether you’re a toy photography fan or a photographer, what toys first grabbed you? What sorts of shots do you love?

In the shadows.

Connecting more than plastic bricks

Brickstameet

It’s brickstameet time again! And this time, we’re connecting more than just plastic bricks and taking photos of them. We’re connecting with our friend from across the ditch.

This Melbourne #brickstameet will have an international flavour. Well, maybe a “pineapple lumps” flavour from across the Tasman Sea?

We’re excited to have @harleyquin from New Zealand join us in Melbourne as we wander the streets shooting LEGO.

brickstameet
“I’m here to take choice photos bro!”

Shelly wrote, “My personal goal of these events is to put the ‘social’ back in social media”, in her post about the San Francisco Toy Photographers meet-up. I bloody love this goal of Shelly’s. I think we should all strive to put the social back into social media.

Putting the meet into brickstameet

LEGO and toy photography meet-ups are so much more than LEGO and toy photography meet-ups. They’re an opportunity to physically connect with peers. They’re a chance to chat with friends made through shared passions and pastimes. It’s an occasion to talk, share, learn, teach and laugh.

You are awake my child
The storm is real
Summon all the souls
The world is real
Beastwars – Shadow King

This will be the 5th brickstameet since they started in 2015: Federation Square, Hosier Lane and Melbourne’s laneways, Botanical Gardens, Brickvention, and now Docklands and Southbank. Each meet-up sees familiar and new faces, kids with their parents in tow and friends with their kids in tow.

By the 3rd meet-up, I’d pretty much put my camera away and focussed on chatting, catching up with previous attendees, meeting new LEGO photographers, and helping out with setting up photos.

Like every brickstameet, this one will be no different in that I’ll agonise over toy choices. And like the previous couple, these choices might not see the light of day. But just because they won’t be used as fodder, it doesn’t mean they won’t be present for a great day.

-Brett

If you’re in Melbourne on the 24th of June, or if you can make it to Melbourne like CJ, we’d love to socialise with you. We might even squeeze in some toy photography! All the details can be found here.

If you enjoy posts like this, we invite you to join our G+ community.
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To Delete, or Not to Delete?

Jennifer’s recent blog post about image recovery shed some new light on a dilemma I’ve been facing since the day I became a photographer. In a bit of a technical snafu, Jennifer nearly lost a bunch of photos she’d taken – which is a pretty big fear of mine. As a result, I find it incredibly difficult to delete photo files – even long after the final shot has been posted! Continue reading To Delete, or Not to Delete?

Learning Lego

The Beginning

Quite a few months ago a friend asked if I’d ever shoot Lego. I said ‘probably not’ and went on to explain that something so recognizable in an image makes it all about that item, whether for or against, you can’t have just a message all on its own.

Rethinking

I was being a bit narrow minded. Continue reading Learning Lego

Come to the Dark Side, we have cookies!

If you’ve ever read the Toy Photographers blog, you know that we’re big fans of Google+.

We leave a little invite to our community at the end of each blog post, and Shelly herself has written several posts about the thriving platform, the big opportunities available there, and how our community was even featured in Mashable earlier this year.

I won’t rehash too much of what Shelly has already said here, but because of the disappointing and frustrating goings on over at Instagram at the moment, I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer my two cents on why Google+ has quickly become my go-to platform for toy photography. Continue reading Come to the Dark Side, we have cookies!

Series 17 Winner

When we dreamt up the idea of running a photography themed giveaway, we never thought picking the Collectable Minifigures Series 17 winner would be so difficult.

We had 38 entries on G+ and 203 entries on Instagram. That’s over 240 wonderful photos that we had to sift through to pick just one winner. Not an easy task!

So, how did we do this?

We, the judges were made up of Shelly and I, plus we lumbered our G+ moderators Tony, Jason and Jordan with the arduous task of helping us.
Continue reading Series 17 Winner

The Art of the Brick

Art nurtures the brain. Whether made from clay, paint, wood, or a modern-day toy.

-Nathan Sawaya

Last week my wife and I got the chance to check out the incredible work of world-famous LEGO sculpture artist Nathan Sawaya. His popular exhibit, The Art of the Brick, is currently on display at OMSI in Portland. I’ve been following Nathan’s work for a while now, and was not going to miss the opportunity to see it in person!

Needless to say, we were absolutely blown away by the exhibit. It’s one thing to see Nathan’s amazing sculptures and recreations on the internet, but seeing them in person, and getting the chance to lean in closely to examine and appreciate the detail and artistry that goes into each one, was a whole other experience. Continue reading The Art of the Brick

Series 17 Giveaway!

LET’S GIVEAWAY A SET OF SERIES 17 MINIFIGURES!

Would you like to win a full set of the 16 Minifigures from the upcoming Series 17 Collectable Minifigures? We’ve got a full set, still sealed, waiting to find a new home, so we’re running a giveaway!

To be in the running to win, we’re looking for creative ideas of how you’d photograph one of the new Minifigures. We’ll be running this giveaway on Instagram and Google+. Continue reading Series 17 Giveaway!

Why LEGO Photography?

The first LEGO I remember playing with was a dusty shoebox full of hand-me-down bricks that were colored either white or red. There was nothing as fancy as a hinge or even a plate in the mix. It was just classic 2 x 2 and 2 x 4 bricks, along with a few scattered 2 x 10 pieces that seemed massive by comparison. These LEGO bricks really were just bricks in the most humble sense of the word. I stirred the white and red pieces with my hand, creating the churning storm-like sound of plastic against plastic for the first time. Continue reading Why LEGO Photography?

Series 17 Review

As promised a few days back, here is my Collectable Minifigures Series 17 review…

Professional Surfer

OK, I can hear the moans. “Not another surfer?” Sure, we haven’t had one since the Series 4 Surfer Girl, and before her the Series 2 Surfer, but I get it. There’s nothing spectacular about this figure. He’s a Professional Surfer, and comparing him to a regular Surfer from Series 2, I guess a wet-suit makes you  a professional? Speaking of the wet-suit, the print is similar to the ‘Coast Guard City’ Surfer, but with printed arms.

Series 17 Review: Professional Surfer
Surfs up dude!

The surfboard ‘shark’ design is pretty rad though! I’ve already planned shots with the Series 15 Shark Suit Guy and this board. It looks like it was custom designed for that Minifigure.

Gnarly dude! Continue reading Series 17 Review