To Thine Own Self Be True

When this blog started it was party of two, just Me2 and myself. Then we invited Avanaut to join us a few months ago for a variety of reasons, our upcoming group show for one.  But let’s be clear, it is very hard on my ego to be sharing a blog with Avanaut. After his post yesterday that revealed the level of detail he is willing to explore to capture a photo, this was both humbling and intimidating.

I have never shied away from a challenge and this one is no different. I like that fact that Avanaut keeps the bar raised high; it keeps me reaching and striving for my own version of an incredible photograph.  I will continue to push myself so that in my own eyes, we stand on equal footing.

I know I have come along way since I started on my own journey several years ago as a toy photographer.  When I first ran across Avanaut’s work  I didn’t even know what toy photography was. I was merely a distant admirer in awe of what he was able to accomplish with forced perspective, Lego and some baking powder. It makes my head spin a little to know that in just a few months I will be sharing wall space in a gallery with one of the people who has been a major influence.

Will my work be able to stand up to the inevitable comparison? Probably not, but I am not worried. We are each on our own journey that makes sense for our individual needs; and this is how it should be. Avanaut strives to capture a specific world, to bring a beloved movie to life, to recreate and understand that world in all its complexity. While I am on a journey to discover the world I live in. I want to understand my own humanity and I seem to have found the perfect vehicle in the lowly Lego mini figure.

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare

~ xxsjc

If you are new to Stuck in Plastic, please take a moment and look around; I hope you will like what you find. If you are already a fan of Stuck in Plastic, thank you for your continued support! 

Help! Who Should Be My Travel Buddies?

One of the ways my family copes with the chaos of the holidays is we escape them. Next week we are off on another travel adventure that will undoubtedly include some outdoor toy photography.

I have to start packing my Lego mini figures soon, but I don’t know which ones? Frankly I’m overwhelmed and a bit frazzled going into the holidays (I know, aren’t we all!), and I need some help choosing the subjects of the photos you will be seeing over the upcoming months.

I have more than a few mini figures so you can also think of this as a game of “Does she have…?”  Please keep in mind I will be on sandy beaches, old lava flows of black sharp rocks and at least one volcano, plus the usual tropical vegetation;  the possibilities are endless.

You can also think of this as a way to challenge me photographically. As you may have already noticed I have my favorite mini figs and accessories. By suggesting your favorite mini figure(s) you can help me to break out of my rut and try something new!

Any and all suggestions will be considered and if feasible, included. So what do you say, who should my travel buddies be?

~ xxsjc

Who are your favorite Lego mini figures to photograph?

If you where ship wrecked on a desert island, what mini figures would you want to have with you? 

Landing Party

 

CC: Creative Class

I appreciate yesterdays post by Me2 . It was a thoughtful response to the article about artist Christopher Boffoli and his legal actions against Pinterest.

This is a complicated issue that has many sides and Me2 has addressed just a few of them. Sure we need to think out side the box to make sure that artists are credited fairly for their artistic creation be it a photograph, a movie or a song as it is passed around the internet. But lets call all of this what it really is…content. We are all content creators. With every Instagram post, pin to Pinterest, Facebook or Twitter update…rest assured , we are creating content that Big Inc. is packaging and selling right back to us.

Me2 says we should all get on board and share freely with an updated distribution model, just like the music and movie industry has done. That may be well and true, but the last I saw, this issue is still up for debate, especially in the music industry. Most middle level and beginning musicians still have not cracked the money question.

Prime example of this is the band Pomplamoose who’s lead singer, Jack Conte, wrote an article detailing the band’s touring costs that was picked up by Tech Crunch.  The gist of the article was about how   a modestly successful mid level band can’t make money when they tour and that they have to think out side the box to make ends meet. The article was roundly criticized on many fronts and I think the heart of what Jack had to say was overlooked in this firestorm. The concept of a “creative class”; that group of artists that does whatever it takes to keep the lights on by creating content to distribute via the internet to their fans. This creative class may not lead the glamorous life of JayZ and Beyonce, but it can be a rewarding one.

I think it is in the best interest of the Big Inc.’s  of the world to support these content creators (je: us) by creating new ways to address copyright concerns. How tough can it be to educate their users about the correct way to Pin, Post, Tumble etc so that artists can benefit from their work being shared.

If we want the internets to remain a lively place to interact and share unique and original content, lets do more to protect the content creators…us.

~ xxsjc

Do you think of yourself as a member of the “creative class”?

Do you care that Big Inc makes money off of your creative endeavors? 

Krash_Override

The epic toy photography meet-up in Las Vegas, NV is less than five weeks away. I have already written about Captain Kaos who I am excited to meet; but Matt is not the only one I am looking forward to meeting. I am also excited that Dennis Taylor, otherwise know as Krash_Override on Instagram, will be joining us!

Dennis is one of the nicest people on IG and certainly one of the most talented people I have encountered. Not only does he take incredible photos, he makes his own unique toys. Just imagine toys made by a nicer version of Sid from Toy Story, but just as beautifully twisted.

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Dennis’s feed is a mixture of toy photography, custom builds in progress and new toy purchases. Basically an eclectic mix of toy fun. There is a constancy to all this madness though. Every monday morning I wake up and I am greeted by a photo of Shipwreck hung over from another weekend of debauchery. This has been going on so long I don’t think it would be Monday without seeing a new photo.

Mixed into his wonderfully gallery are photos of custom toys in various states of deconstruction. I enjoy watching the creative process take place, all the way from a new batch of less than stellar toys sent to him by friends, crazy half finished mash-ups, all the way to the often breathtaking finished creations. The transformation is absolutely fascinating and many times I can’t help but laugh at the wacky mashups that somehow always work.

It is easy to get side tracked by Dennis’s creative custom toys and forget he is an incredibly talented toy photographer. He really has an emotional connection to his toys and it shows through in his photography.

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It will be my absolute pleasure to spend the weekend shooting beside him, talking shop and swapping photo tips.

As Smeagol says: Vegas or Bust!

~ xxsjc

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If you are interested in joining us in Vegas, there is still time!

Have you ever tried to make your own custom toy?

Collaborations

Yesterday Me2 dedicated a post to one of our dearest community members Lyn Miller Lachman. Lyn has been one of the first and most supportive members our our community. Since Me2 and I are blogging newbies her advice has been appreciated. She is just one of the many unique people who we are happy to be #stuckinplastic with.

Today I want to talk about another interesting member of our community: Gordon Webb.

I first met Gordon in the G+ version of our Dark Room Forum where he posted images of his MOC’s (My Own Creations) and asked for feedback. He wanted to improve his photography so he could show off his creations in the best possible light. Gordon and I bonded over our mutual love of the Lego Galaxy Squad line and our mutual respect for each others work. (Gordon has the best Instagram tag for a builder: #instructionsareforwussies!)

After receiving such a great response when I posted a picture of one of Peter Reid’s Lego robot creations on Instagram, I have wanted to do a photo series of small robots exploring the world. This would be a chance to break away from traditional mini figure photography and bridge the gap between photographers and builders. Unfortunately I am not a builder, at least not yet. When Gordon posted a photo of Dutch on IG I fell in love with him and reached out to see if he would be open to a collaboration. Lucky for me he was!

I am excited about this project and I wanted to share it with you. StuckinPlastic is a unique community with lots of opportunity to work together and support, nurture and feed off each others ideas and energy. As you become familiar with our new home I hope you will take the time to post a few photos in the forums and lets see what else we can develop together.

I am happy to be StuckinPlastic with you!

~ xxsjc

Dutch

Say It Loud…

It’s not easy being a toy photographer. 

If you happen to take photos of Lego outside I’m sure you’ve had a few awkward moments. You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones where people look at you in that weird “What are you doing?” sort of way. Or how about the time you told your friends (or family) that you photograph toys and there only response was a blank look. 

We have all been there. 

Instead of feeling ashamed of this wonderful hobby, each one of these interactions is an opportunity to engage, educate and  hopefully create a connection with a like minded individual. The trick is finding a way to connect in a way that is both accessible and informative.  

I’ve been rather glib when people ask me what I do, I simply respond that I take pictures of Lego. They immediately give me that blank look indicating a total lack of understanding until I whip out my iPad and show them. Generally their response is enthusiastic and we have a great conversation. 

After reading “Show Your Work!” by Austin Kleon I realize I have to do a better job. I need to be respectful of my audience and myself by providing an answer that better describes what I’m doing, is brief and accessible. I was considering going with “I’m a bookkeep that takes pictures of Lego mini figures in the wild.” This is not entirely accurate but it would certainly start a conversation.

I’m proud of the toy photography community I am a part of. I want the world to know what an amazing art movement this is. So I am going to stop being glib and take more time to help people understand what is going on. 

In the mean time, the next time you’re lying on the ground and getting “that look” from some passerby, know you are in good company. 

~ xxsjc

Have you ever been stopped on the street and asked what you are doing?
Do you feel foolish lying on the ground to get that perfect shot?
How do you describe your photographic hobby to you family?

A behind the scenes photo of me in action today. 

Is it Worth Doing?

It seems Me2 isn’t the only one fond of posing questions: 

“Writer Henry James once proposed three questions you could productively put to an artists work. The first two were disarmingly straightforward: What was the artist trying to achieve? Did he/she succeed? The third`s a zinger: Was it worth doing?” ~ excerpt from Art & Fear

And that is the crux of the problem right there. I think I ask myself this question in some way everyday. Art isn’t about making pretty pictures, it’s not about perfect technique…art needs to go behind that. 

Certainly by embracing a small plastic toy peddled by one of the largest toy companies in the world makes me suspect my own abilities to move beyond these impediments. How do you challenge the status quo or capture a moment in time when you are essentially free advertising for Big inc.

Me2 posed a question awhile back that hit me hard and I’ve been unable to answer: would I exhibit my work in Shell Oil`s boardroom?  Honestly I don’t know?  I’d like to think I have high moral standards, but I’m a realist. Would it move my work to the next level? Could the work be a form of protest? Could I generate controversy and get the work to a larger audience? Or am I just fooling myself and selling myself to the highest bidder?

Right now I know I’m not challenging myself enough in terms of content. I’ve achieved my original technical goals and can confidently capture whatever scene I set up. But it’s time for me to take the next step and challenge both myself and the viewer. 

When I look at a finished image I want to be able to answer “Yes” when I ask that third question: “Was it worth doing?”

~ xxsjc

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 

The Basics (pt 2)

I did a post for the Instagram Group Brickcentral a few months ago passing along a few tips for better outdoor macro photography. I thought it might be a good idea to go over these tips again to make sure we are all on the same page as we move forward to better photography. 
 
1) Pay attention to scale – the beauty is in the details. This is especially true with macro photography. You can reveal a new and fresh look at our world by getting up close. 
 
2) Keep your composition simple. To place maximum attention on your subject you will want to eliminate unwanted clutter. This includes small leaves, pine needles, bits of garbage, stray grass…these seemingly little things will distract from your composition. You want to emphasize what is important, minimize everything else. 
 
3) Take your time. Take lots of photos of the same set-up and check your view screen to make sure you got what you were looking for. Great photos can’t be rushed.  
 
4) Keep the camera level. Ok I admit it, this is a personal pet peeve. In my opinion crooked horizon lines are only interesting once. 
 
5) Use the “rule of thirds”to help your composition. (Please see earlier post for a full explanation.) 
 
6) Use a tripod. Even though hand held is convenient, you can’t always maintain good focus. You will also want to use the manual focus setting on your camera. Most cameras have a very hard time finding the correct focus point much less maintaining that focus on these small figures. If you have the money, invest in a lens with Image Stabilization.
 
7) Change your perspective. If you’re struggling with your set up, change your point of view. Sometimes an unforeseen angle is the best one. Also try to get below your figure. When shooting these small toys, I find that shooting up at them seems to help them feel more majestic. 
 
8) Take advantage of the “golden hour”. This is the hour right after sunrise and right before sunset. Amazing things can happen!
 
9) Experiment. Try different things, try things that make you uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to push yourself. 

~ xxsjc

Do you have any tips you would like to pass along?
Where is your favorite place to photograph your toy friends?


Next up I will share a few tips especially suited for macro photography. Stay tuned

The Basics (pt 1)

Sometimes when I am on Instagram and I see people use certain photo terms I am occasionally left scratching my head and going “Huh?” I never know if it is a case of ignorance or if something is simply lost in translation. So in the interest of clarity I thought I should do a quick explanation of a few basic photo terms so we are all on the same page.

Rule of Thirds: Is simply a guideline to help you compose your photograph. If you view each frame as if is divided into nine section (almost all cameras and phones come with these guidelines that can be easily turned on or off) composing a photo is easier. There is a top, middle and bottom third as well as a left, middle and right third to each phot. The points were these lines intersect are referred to as “power points”. When you are composing an image you want to align your horizon line along the top or bottom third line as well as place your subject near one of the power point intersections. This is simply a guideline and a nice place to start when learning to compose a photograph.

Depth of Field (often refered to as DOF): DOF refers to how much of your image is in focus. If you are using a small aperture (think Ansel Adams and Group f/64) the entire image from front to back will be in focus. This is referred to as a large depth of field. If you are shooting with the lens aperture wide open, like f2.8 – f4 you will have a short depth of field. Blurring the background by using a short DOF is a great way to draw attention to the subject and minimize distractions. (If you are taking photos on your phone check out the app BigLens to achieve a short DOF.)

Leading Lines: Is a strong line within the photograph that leads the viewers eye from an outside edge to the subject matter. You will often see railroad tracks, roads, tree branches used as leading lines. When you are shooting macro photos outdoors there are many interesting options.

Bokeh: Is an effect most often caused by reflected light in out of focus areas of a photograph. Bokeh is common when using a short depth of field. Bokeh can appear circular or hexagonal depending on the type of lens aperture your camera has. (If you are taking photos on your phone there are several apps that you can use to fake this effect like Lenslight.)

Macro: This simply means taking photos of small things close up. A macro lens is a lens that lets you get really close to your subject.
I am sure for most of you this information is not new and I appreciate your patience as I review some basic terminology. Toy photography is a wonderful hobby and for many kids and teens it is a great introduction to a lifetime love affair with photography. I hope that we each can pass on our passion as well as some basic tips and tricks to those new to the hobby so that the internet will be filled with even more great toy photography!
~ xxsjc
How did you learn photography: trial and err or take a beginning photo class?
Have you ever shared your passion with a beginning photographer? 
Can you recommend any specialty phone apps that emulate the effects of a full size camera?
My next post will be an expanded version of a post I did for Brickcentral on the basics of outdoor photography. Stay tuned!!