Getting a photograph is a process

How many times have we talked here about the choices we make during editing, about reviewing and re-editing older images, about planning months or years to get that one image that we can’t get out of our mind?  Many!

Why? Because photography and chasing those illusive photos that make you stop and go “Wow!”, is a process. It’s a process that takes both time and patience.

The depth of field is probably too shallow; they’re too separated from their surroundings.

I was reminded of this a few weeks back when I had an image in my head that involved the characters from Mouse Guard embarking on a journey in a boat. This photo set up required an hours drive out of town, a 1 1/2 mile hike to the top of a waterfall and a little luck on the lighting. (Have I mentioned that for me toy photography is often an excuse to go adventuring?) The night before I set up my figures in their required pose and the next day I packed them carefully into my backpack, grabbed my camera and my daughter and headed out for a photo adventure.

I like that they are moving out of the frame and looking back.

One of the benefits of photographing in the digital age is that you aren’t worried about the expenses associated with burning through many roles of film. In the days before digital photography, photographers tended to be more conservative with pressing the trigger because there was a real expense associated with developing the images and eventually printing them to paper. In this age of digital photography we have no real limitations to how many photographs we take of a subject, except time and card size.

I hope you take maximum advantage of this amazing benefit and really examine your idea and its subsquent set-up from all angles.

Not as much reflection as I might like, but I do like how the mouse is directly engaged with the viewer. Of course the focus isn’t as spot on as I would like. Those mice faces are tricky to focus on.

Its easy to get too set on that image in your head, the one that has been banging around for days, weeks or even years. Yes, it might be the perfect idea and photo, but what happens when you change angles? What happens when you approach the scene from a different height, move closer or change the lighting. Sometimes this extra effort doesn’t yield anything better than the original idea, but more often than not, I leave with an image I never could have imagined – in fact its much better than what I imagined.

Those colors on the surface of the water get me every time!

Rarely do I set up an image, take a few photos and walk away. I’m constantly moving around my subject, approaching the tableau from different angles, playing with the lighting and seeing how that changes on my camera’s screen. Sometimes micro adjustments in view or focus can turn your subject from a lifeless bit of plastic to a living breathing creature.

Is this the happy medium? There is good depth of field, at least one mouse’s face is in focus and with all the extra space in the background, they really feel like they are on a journey from the back of the photo to the front. I wonder where they are going?

Play around – don’t rush the photograph – and whatever you do, don’t forget to have fun!

Photography is a process that should be savored and enjoyed from the first sparkle of an idea to the final printed images – because frankly, its magic.

~ Shelly

I hope you take this weekend (or your next day off) and go out and have your own photo adventure. If you do, feel free to share the experience with us below. 


For what it’s worth – this was my original idea


  1. Pman72


    It made me chuckle reading that. I love stepping out into the big open world armed with my backpack and all it’s necessities and a handful of carefully chosen plastic toys ( or metal if they have a place on this blog )
    When I first started doing toy photography with a proper DSLR and tripod I hiked them down to the local Pit ( a very large pond where people fish and generally eat gnats and feed the ducks.
    I had my 7 year old sons small plastic boat from his soldier set and a couple of Storm troopers that were grabbing the oars.
    Now, because the Lego hands didn’t properly fit the oars I was getting frustrated and muttering to myself as people walked by.
    All they could see was some grown man ( 44 to be precise ) shouting down at a tiny plastic boat, happily bobbing around in the wind on the waters edge. What they didn’t understand was that I didn’t see just a small plastic lifeless boat with a couple of plastic Lego people on it… I saw an adventure, a chance to bring those little plastic chaps to life on their ill fated vessel.

    That is exactly what they got. As I fixed my beady eyes behind my new DSLR, framing my shots and wondering why the hell do the cheeky beggars keep falling out of focus I realised they had drifted off with the wind towards the bulrush thicket and eventually capsized sending my newly acquainted plastic buddies to the bottom of their ocean. They didn’t even have their sail up !

    I packed up my gear pretty sharpish and shuffled off home to inform my son of the bad news. He wasn’t happy, but neither was I, for I felt I had lost a couple of dear friends all because of my total lack of responsibility.
    The Troopers were quickly replenished the next day plus I bought a few extra to make up for the terrible loss.

    The worst part of this tale is that I never got a decent shot of their nautical tom foolery down at the Pit so please do look after your ( I will call them actors ) because we throw them into all sorts of life threatening situations, sometimes in dangerous locations.

    I’m just glad they weren’t rare plastics or I would still be mourning to this day.

    • Your story left me smiling, thank you for sharing. I think you and I have the same point of view when we go out with our little friends. I also fear leaving them behind. When the rare time this has happened I’ve been devastated. They are my little friends. This is why I use liberal amounts of Tack in certain situation. It pays to be cautious.

      A word about photographing on water. Boats move and when they do, focus is a b#%ch. You have a couple of choices – build up a platform for the boat to rest on – local rocks are a great option. Or move o a shallower pond – I like puddles myself. I learned that trick from fellow toy photographers Julochka and Kalexanderson.

      Yes – toys of all shapes, sizes and materials are welcome here. We may look like a LEGO only, but trust me, there is room for everyone here. 🙂

      Thanks again for sharing this awesome bit of “tom foolery”. 😀


      ps – anyone who uses tom foolery successfully in a sentence is aces!

  2. The Aphol

    This is so true! Usually i find myself moving around the subject, trying new angles. This is a learning process, watching the subjects from different point of views helps a lot for the future set ups! Great post!

    • Thanks so much for your comment! And you are so right…each set-up is a stepping stone to the next set-up. What might work for this one (or not) is a lead into the next image you want to create. Also I’m glad to see Im not the only one who works this way. Sometimes we think we’re the only ones (easy to do when you’re an adult photographing toys) but once we start sharing, we realize we’re not alone. 🙂

  3. I love your original idea, the mouse setting off on a grand adventure, but visually I like some of the other angles better. The sideways view with those colors in the water is fantastic. It doesn’t have that sense of movement you created though with the open space in the fore and back grounds. All in all this was really enjoyable to read. It’s always great to hear about the thoughts that go into your photos. This would fit in really nicely with your back to basics series.

  4. Thanks AiC for your comment, I’m glad you found this to be an enjoyable read. I can’t ask for more than that. 😀

    When I was trying to figure out where to place this post I did consider The Basics, and in some way it started out in my head from that view point. But there is nothing actionable in the post, so It felt more of a general musings with a little The Basics on the side. Maybe I can re-tool it down the road into something more defined and it could fit into that series. I hope you have an awesome weekend filled with toys and photography. 🙂

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