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.

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While The Cat’s Away

While the cat’s away, the mice will play. That’s what they say. Well, that’s what Bernie Horowitz says anyway!

toy safari: Gary Larson
“You, Bernie Horowitz? …So YOU’RE the ‘they’ in ‘that’s what they say’?” – Gary Larson

Toy Safari Blues

This past week, Shelly’s been off, gallivanting around in San Francisco at the Toy Photo Safari. And while she’s been away having an amazing time, I’ve been stuck here, keeping the home fires burning, slaving over a hot computer, looking after you kids!! Continue reading While The Cat’s Away

San Francisco here I come!

As soon as the location and dates were set for the next US toy photographers meet up, I did not need anymore thinking. I booked my flights.
Why?
Well…
If you’ve ever been to a toy photographers meet-up, I have to tell you that it’s a great experience. It’s a 4 day, intense weekend, that you will spend with strangers. You will meet new people and people that you’ve been following for quite some time on social media.
To be honest, it’s a strange experience. Even though you’ve never met them before you immediately have the feeling that you’ve known them for ages. We’re all dedicated to our work and we put a lot of ourselves in our creations. As a consequence, pictures can really tell a lot about people. What we like, who we are,…

Continue reading San Francisco here I come!

Its Time to Register!

Woo hoo! Its time to register for the San Francisco Toy Photographers Safari! This event is happening in less than three months and I couldn’t be more excited! Your safari hosts, Dennis and Melissa Taylor and I, are finalizing our plans and we hope you are too!

If you’re not familiar with what a toy photographer’s safari is, simply put, it’s four days of camaraderie and friendship that revolves around the activity of taking photos of toys. Our last two meet-ups, Las Vegas in 2015 and Seattle in 2016, where a ton of fun and we expect this one to be just as awesome! Continue reading Its Time to Register!

Its Official! Meet us in San Francisco May 11-14th

Its official! The next big toy photographers safari will be held in San Francisco, California, May 11 -14th. This will be four days of fun, friends and toys. We’re proud to announce that this years event will be sponsored by Google! You don’t want to miss what’s shaping up to be an epic event!

I’ve been working with my co-hosts Dennis and Melissa Taylor all year exploring photographic locations and working out logistics. We’re now ready to announce our plans so you can start making your plans to join us.

Continue reading Its Official! Meet us in San Francisco May 11-14th

Hamburg – My first toy safari

Last May, when Shelly published an article about the Seattle toy safari, I noticed a little note in italic at the end of the article saying:

If you can’t make this meet-up maybe you can make our fall gathering. We’re currently exploring dates in late September for another European meet-up, this time in Hamburg Germany.

What?! The next European toy safari will take place in Hamburg?! I have to be there! Continue reading Hamburg – My first toy safari

Succession session

New kids off the country block

From rant to gallivant.

From Bellbrae to Erskine Falls.

Well, from Bellbrae to Erskine Falls, via Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Fairhaven, Moggs Creek, Big Hill and Lorne, as we snake our way along the Australian National Heritage listed ‘Great Ocean Road’ that hugs Australia’s south-eastern coastline. Continue reading Succession session

Subjective perspective

Subjective perspective

Get down low and go, go, whoa!

Seeing so many wonderful behind the scenes shots from the recent Seattle Toy Photographers meet-up, got me thinking about lying on the ground just to get a photo of a toy. And why most of my jeans have stained knees.

My legs are achin’
My eyes are sore
I haven’t washed my jeans
In three months or more
Dirt Jeans – Magic Dirt

I remember discovering Instagram 5 years ago and being instantly excited by how it made me look at where I was with different eyes. It challenged me to think about where I was standing and how that certain location could be viewed differently, more creatively. I wasn’t just seeing my surroundings as a “holiday snapshot” anymore. I was being dared to think how I could capture a vista in a more interesting way.

Gargoyles
Gargoyle turmoil

Long before Instagram, I was given “Nightmares in the Sky: Gargoyles and Grotesques”, a book of wonderful and disturbing photographs of gargoyles taken by avant-garde photographer f-stop Fitzgerald, by my then girlfriend, now wife. In the book Stephen King introduces us to the gargoyles as the faces we rarely see but are always watching us. In King’s text, we are told to always look up, as we never know what might be watching us from above. Ever since first reading this I crane my neck skyward whenever I’m in a city, looking for gargoyles and grotesques. And, whilst looking up for those looking down, I’ve learned to see my surroundings in another way.

Taking photos of toys has also changed the way I look at my surroundings.

Before photographing toys, I can’t think of a time I was taking a photo and wondered “what would this shot look like if I lay on the ground?” Before shooting toys, I can’t remember lying on the ground to capture that angle ever. Before toys, I don’t recollect admiring what worlds were down at my feet. Before toys, I don’t recall admiring plants or rocks for their proportionate scale. Before toys, I didn’t appreciate small-grained sand. Before toys, I don’t think I looked down, and appreciated what was down there, as much as I do now.

Taking photos of toys has made me appreciate my environment through little low altitude eyes. This low-slung viewpoint offers a new world. It opens up a completely unique experience.

Think of me.
(It’s a tiny little world)
Watch what you do. Watch what you say.
Tiny Ugly World – Alice Donut

Whilst travelling Europe many years ago, I can’t recall seeing folks in Venice’s Piazza San Marco lying on the pavement to capture a different angle of St Mark’s Basilica. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see a single tourist lying on their stomach to capture Sagrada Família either. Nor did I see anyone lying on the ground attempting to upskirt Michelangelo’s David in Venice. But maybe things would be different today? Maybe with the growth of toy photography and social media to share such photos, there might be more horizontal, ground-slithering photographers?

And, this is why, I somewhat pity people who don’t have some toys tucked away in their camera bags. Without a toy in their pocket, every time someone pulls out their phone to snap a photo, they’re missing out on something. It’s this small world vantage point they’re missing; a whole new way of viewing their surroundings.

It’s a whole new, tiny little world they’ll never know.

And I expect all the knees of their jeans are clean too.

The Storm Before the Calm

With less than a week to go before the Stuck-In-Plastic Meet-up I can officially say that I have begun my descent into madness.  The preparation, planning, expense and anticipation leading up to an event of this caliber are enough to drive a man straight into the plush, padded rooms of “Arkham Asylum”.  Add on the extra stressors of needing to decide which action figures to take, cleaning camera gear and remembering to pack a toothbrush alongside completing an inconceivable amount of custom action figures and I have effectively topped off my “stress Sunday” with a ripe-red cherry.  So why do we do it?  Why do we add this pressure onto an already weary body while knowingly turning our PTO Balance into a shadow of its former self?  

The answer, to me, is simple.   Continue reading The Storm Before the Calm