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.

10 Reasons Why Toys are Fascinating

I’ve been studying various sources to get snippets about why toys are so fascinating to toy photographers and the general public alike. So far I’ve absorbed On Longing by Susan Stewart, The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bechelard, the documentary Marwencol, and various videos, articles and artist statements by and about miniaturists and toy photographers. Continue reading 10 Reasons Why Toys are Fascinating

What Inspires Me by Father’s Figures

Why do I shoot what I shoot? When I saw this question I wanted to get into it because in my case, this is a very loaded question. I want my body of work to be multifaceted from epic to pensive to hilarious and sometimes even sad. One thing that keeps me into toy photography is my innate need for creative outlets.

Creativity requires inspiration, so what inspires me? What do I love?

Continue reading What Inspires Me by Father’s Figures

How do you choose the toys you photograph?

This past weekend I meet up with some local toy photographers for an afternoon of companionship, conversation and photography. As I was looking around at my friends hard at work, I was struck by the variety of toys they had brought along as subjects. There were dinosaurs, Star Wars action figures, Bratz dolls, LEGO mini figures, custom figures, anime figures, and plenty more I couldn’t identify. Which brings me to my question – how do you choose the toys you photograph?

Continue reading How do you choose the toys you photograph?

Not a Chance!

You might recall an earlier post where I wrote about going on vacation and the challenges I had with that. Well, I’m happy to report I am writing this while on previously mentioned vacation. It’s been glorious! I am not trying to kick sand in the faces of my North Atlantic Seaboard brethren, but this beats the heck outta where you’re at right now. Continue reading Not a Chance!

How the…? What the…?

Somewhere along the line I lost year.

It goes like this. My wife asked what I would like for my birthday (1/6 scale Sideshow Collectibles C-3PO with light up eyes, full articulation and bonus com-link!) when my age came up.

“48! Guess you’re an old man now!” she said jokingly.

“48? I’ll be 47.” I replied. Adding a year to my age . . . HILARIOUS!

“No Honey. You’ll be 48. We’re 47 now.Continue reading How the…? What the…?

the once and future Loner

I’m an introvert.

I prefer to spend large amounts of time by myself. Being around groups of people (read that as more than one person) causes me physical and mental discomfort. I get headaches, my skin crawls and there’s a battle going on, internally, about staying or leaving. That said, I usually shoot my pictures alone. Continue reading the once and future Loner

You can’t just look at the mistakes

On Sunday afternoon I asked my youngest son if he wanted to go out and shoot. After a moment’s hesitation he replied:

-Can I go out by myself?
-Sure, I replied.

I loaded the camera with a charged battery and an empty memory card. He put the toys he wanted to photograph in a bag and went outside. Continue reading You can’t just look at the mistakes

bring ’em or leave ’em?

I’m packing up my circus tent and going on the road.

Yup, I’ll be taking a break from this small corner of the planet and head off to somewhere much more pleasant this time of year. I do not care for winter and if I don’t have to subject myself to all of the nonsense that goes along with it for the duration, I won’t.

some of my relatives down south
some of my relatives down south

So off I go …to somewhere other than here and I’m taking my toys with me. “How fun!” you think, right? Continue reading bring ’em or leave ’em?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

I tried something different.

rainbowrey

I tried to apply some “real” photography techniques to my toyphotography. Conditions and time restraints warranted a change in the way I usually operate. The images I managed to capture were met with a very loud and very apparent “Meh” across the various social media sites I post to. Disappointing to say the least. Continue reading Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes