Getting that prehistoric paycheck

Recently, Shelly wrote a post about Fair Use for Toy Photographers that got me thinking about my own brushes with selling my artwork. I’ve been interested in making money since I started making and sharing my art. Like all toy photographers, except maybe custom artists like @krash_override, I’m bound by the toys I purchase, so to profit from depicting a recognizable brand seems to be a legal gray area.

While I have shown work at large art shows (didn’t sell much) and at small coffee shops (sold a ton!), the story I wanted to touch on was when I was hired directly for my artistic skills on IG. To date, this is the only profit I’ve recorded on my taxes and the only time that any sort of written contract was involved and signed.

A year ago, as my fellow dino dorks and I prepared for Jurassic World to hit theaters around the world, I received an email from a marketing company in New York called Federated Media. They wanted to partner with me for a JW promotion on Instagram and offered to pay me to post two original pieces of content on my account. They had been hired by Target to promote an exclusive line of dinosaur toys from the movie and after searching various social media outlets, they contacted me as one of their IG operatives.

After a little back and fourth, I had all the information I needed to say yes. The most important factors to me were 1) maintaining artistic freedom to produce the content I wanted and 2) I would be paid a fair wage for my talent, time and followers.

So, first things first, I got a Target gift card to buy the toys I’d need to photograph and headed to the store to shop for new dinosaurs. From watching the film trailer over and over again, I knew that the film featured a new dinosaur called Indominus Rex and a pack of Velociraptors, so those were my choices. Plus, there was a little left over in the budget for a die-cast Jurassic Pack jeep, so bonus!

I had a toy photographer safari planned, so I packed my camera, the new dinos and headed to the park for inspiration. I decided to tackle the raptors first and worked out a delicate configuration that allowed all four to be closely positioned, visible and let them lean against each other and solve the problem of them not standing up very well. I also put them in a grassy setting and photographed them from a very low angle to disguise their missing claws. (I question if the designers ever even watched Jurassic Park!) After adjusting my camera settings for depth-of-field and light, I captured the image I knew I was going to use. It was colorful, aggressive and very active, just like my raptors.

Everyone knows Velociraptors are intelligent. The events of the first, doomed Jurassic Park propelled theories that they could solve problems, coordinate pack efforts and communicate with each other. But these new Raptors, the ones at we have at Jurassic World, are something different. Faster than we knew, stronger than we guessed and even smarter than we feared. I’ve been watching them and I think they’ve been watching me. I don’t want to scare anyone, but I’m sure they have a plan. They’re here. #JurassicWorldAtTarget

After a few daytime attempts, I knew the Indominus Rex shot was going to have to be a night shoot to effectively hide some unsightly screws and the weights I had to attach to the tail to keep it balanced. Plus, a dark setting would show off the built-in light-up effects. I set up a few days later and after trying many lighting configurations, camera settings and location changes, I settled with a shadow-filled nightmare. The beast seemed large, powerful and menacing.

Everything at Jurassic World has gone wrong. They suspended the rides, closed the shops and I’ve seen armed guards running around, but they won’t tell us what’s happening. I overheard someone mentioning a containment breach and something called an Indominus Rex. Last night, outside the hotel, something tripped the floodlights and that’s when I saw it. From the darkness, she attacked! I barely escaped into the basement, but I’m sure she’ll be back. She’s coming. She’s here. #JurassicWorldAtTarget

Once I had the images, I needed to complete the process by writing a story that partners with the images – elevating them to something more. The raptor photo, which would launch first tells the story of the raptors at Jurassic World and how they compare to the raptors at Jurassic Park. The Indominus Rex photo details the disaster at Jurassic World and how scary it was. In both cases, I tried to capture a human perspective with a compelling story.

On my scheduled days, I posted my content, used the proper hashtags and did my best to drive traffic to a Target landing page where the toys could be purchased. After a week or so, I received an analytical breakdown of my posts and this feedback.

Your posts achieved a 9.62% and 10.1% IG action/follower ratio, which is 6.6x – 6.9x higher than our IG engagement benchmark, respectively. While your posts earned less traffic that other Instagrammers with more followers, you had higher Instagram engagement from your followers, and we will certainly call that out to the client. Seems like this Jurassic content resonated with your following… 😉

So, what’s it like to be a sponsored instagrammer? Pretty great actually. I stand behind my artwork, both creatively and professionally, which is pretty much all I hope for. I also appreciate receiving an affirmation of my art, which I usually produce for absolutely nothing. It’s nice to think that my talent is bankable, under prehistorically-perfect conditions. The only downside was working with less-than-ideal toys. The ones I usually shoot are better from practically every aspect. Bad sculpts, drab paint jobs, lack-of-details, no articulation, and terrible balance, these toys don’t hold up at all. That being said, it was a creative challenge that was fun to try and solve.

If asked again (finger’s crossed for JW2), I would accept and go into it with my eyes open from a quality of product perspective. Trying to make even the worst toys look their very best is what I was hired to do and from that perspective, it makes sense to me. However, I wouldn’t want to do it all the time. I think these two posts had a good reaction because it felt in line with my normal art – that’s why people choose to follow me on IG – but, if it happened all the time, people might start to rethink my creative motives.

I’ve seen a few other toy photographers get sponsored to promote products or websites with their IG accounts, but I think most brands are still trying to figure out how best to interact with and even tap-in-to their various social networks. Does seeing other IG toy photographers posting these kinds of sponsored shots in your feed bother you? Do you think how can I do that? I’d be curious to know how you feel about these kinds of promoted posts from within the community.

Thanks for reading,

Jaiken – @dinoczars


  1. llrota

    Amazing post, Jonaiken!
    I’ve just found you on Instagram, and your shots are really wonderful!
    I admire a lot your works.
    Congratulations for the sponsor!
    It’s not a thing that everyone can receive!
    Keep posting these fantastic works! 😉

  2. aliceincleveland

    I don’t find it bothersome at all. Someone is either making content I like or not. It doesn’t really matter if they are linking back to a store or something. If I love dinosaurs and you make dinosaur photos, great! If a dinosaur movie comes out, chances are I like that too. So if I like your photos, and I like this movie… chances are I won’t leave a comment like “OMG U SELL OUT U SHULD HAVE STAYED TRUE 2 YERSELF” on your photos of a movies on a subject I like.

    I think you are right about toy companies being in infancy about utilizing their fans on social media. McFarlane actually due pretty well in contrast to most. Video games and tabletop games are also pretty good about engaging and promoting their fans too. Funny that, because neither one really maintain a large IG presence.

    My only real gripe about toy sponsorship is that I’m mainly seeing it from Hasbro with Star Wars. Like, I’m very happy for those people to get sponsored and I’m sure it is a dream come true. But damn I am really just not into Star Wars toy photography! Some of those accounts do amazing stuff technically and I really want to get into it BUT HOW MUCH STAR WARS DO WE NEED ALREADY?!

  3. Leila (Brickandmordor)

    Nice! I was actually approached by some media company wanting my LEGO photography to help promote some debt management client of theirs. I was interested until they said that I was to post the content on my own feed. I declined because the content is just completely unrelated to what I post, and I didn’t think it would have any impact on most of my followers whom probably aren’t even old enough to know what debt is.

    So even though you had to work with toys of poor quality, it’s cool that it’s at least toy related, and dino-related! Hope you can get more satisfying work out of it!

  4. First congratulation! It’s good to hear that there are toy photographers that can bring some money with toy photography.

    I’ve been myself thinking a lot recently about trying to bring some money in with photography. But on the other hand I would prefer to avoid making money transforming my toy photography into some product photography. If I had the opportunity, I could agree to earn money photographing toys, but with certain limits and conditions. For example I would certainly not agree to use my my photography feed to directly promote a company. I would have more or less no problem taking photos that will be used to promote something, but I don’t want to have to promote it myself. Many platforms, such as Facebook, Youtube… and Instagram, have become marketing heavens and I don’t want to take part in it. But that’s just a personal ethical barrier I decided to set on myself. I have no problem with people who don’t, as long as it doesn’t become obvious it’s not about art anymore but about selling things.

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