Have Toys, Will Travel

Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

By “towel,” Adams meant “toys,” right?

I never travel without at least a few toys. No matter how far I go, I can carry a little piece of home with me, and as a bonus I have something to photograph when I get there!

In the past, traveling with toys has led to some fun adventures and great photos. There was of course last year’s Seattle Toy Photo Safari, and a personal trip to San Juan Island that allowed me to flex my muscles as an outdoor photographer and go off the beaten path.


I’m traveling again now, this time all the way to Florida, which is at the opposite corner of the country from my home base in Washington! And though I packed a few toys and LEGO minifigures in the hopes of grabbing a few shots, this is a business trip, not a vacation.

Last week, Brett talked about how life can sometimes “limitate” art, and while sitting in offices on my laptop, staring out at the palm trees through the window, I definitely felt his pain.

Still, I’m managed to seize a few opportunities to take photos in an environment and climate that’s so different than what I’m used to. Palm trees and wide open beaches are something I can only simulate at home, and there’s simply no substitute for the real thing.

Mostly, I’ve spent this trip thinking about inspiration, and how it changes when you travel.

I felt it during the Seattle Toy Photo Safari, am dealing with it now, and will definitely experience it at this year’s San Francisco Toy Safari. Shelly talked recently about whether you find the photo, or the photo finds you. By default, the sheer nature of traveling limits what you can actually plan for. I could only fit so many minifigures in my suitcase, couldn’t bring my DSLR and am instead relying on my iPhone for photos, and have a limited amount of free time while on this trip. One of those things in my natural habitat is hard enough to deal with; having all three has been quite the challenge!

Regardless of these limitations, the new environment has allowed me to think outside the box, and take photos I normally wouldn’t have the chance to. So, I guess that this time around, the photos are finding me!

Wish you were here…

Do you take toys with you when you travel? How do you find inspiration when you’re in a new environment?



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  1. I always bring toys when I travel! Lego are preferred because they are so small and portable. I’ll usually try to think of the location and bring some extra figs that somewhat match. Then I’ve got my standard go to characters that get a change of new scenery to add to their repertoire.

    • thereeljames

      Yes! LEGO are my preferred toy of travel as well, not only for how small they are but because of how interchangeable they are. I can play around with minifigs, swap some parts around, and end up with more possibilities than if I’d just brought action figures.

      I try to pick them based on my location as well. Knowing that I was going to Florida for this trip, I brought some beach and summer-specific minifigs since I hardly get to shoot in that setting. That also means that even if inspiration doesn’t quite strike, I’ll have SOMETHING to fall back on, just in case!

  2. Dear James,
    thank you very much for your post ! Your shots are amazing, it’s a great pleasure to follow your toy friends’ adventures during your vacation!
    Thank you for your invitation to the conversation. Like Joseph, I always take toys when I travel! 😀 In my opinion, every detail of the new environment can be the source of inspiration, especially the green and sunny places showing the evident beauty of new cities or countries. 😉
    Have a great day !
    Kind Regards,

    • thereeljames

      Thank you so much, Ann! That really means a lot to me ☺️ I agree, new locations always provide SOME new scenery or environment to shoot in, which is a lot of fun to play around with. Even if I only get a shot of my sig fig in front of a local monument or at the airport, it’s fun to document my travels in toys. I really should try to make it more of a habit when I go places.

  3. I love that you’re “flexing” your outdoor photographer muscles! These shots are great!

    I definitely always have toys while traveling. On my last trip to Hawaii, I didn’t want to deal with toting around my bulky and expensive DSLR gear (and I didn’t want to rely on just my iphone camera), so I invested in a smaller mirrorless camera. It mostly served as a point-n-shoot to document my vacation, but it can also take pretty decent toy photos, even with the kit lens.

    Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II

    In addition to being compact and a bit more user-friendly than my DSLR, I like having the wider angle to incorporate the backgrounds of my travel destinations, something I don’t get with the 100mm macro lens for DSLR.

    So it’s almost like the limitations of traveling with toy photography in mind has inspired me to acquire new tools, which has inspired a new way of composing, which then inspires what toys I choose to bring for the trip.

    Hope you were able to play as hard as you worked on your trip! 🙂

    • thereeljames

      Thanks, Leila! I can’t believe I was ever so resistant to shooting outside. I’m glad that I got out of my comfort zone in that regard, there’s a whole awesome world out there for me to shoot toys in!

      I was thinking of investing in a small, mirrorless camera myself. I love my DSLR but it’s a bit bulky, and I’m always paranoid of damaging it so I’d rather just leave it at home unless I’m going on a photography-specific outing. I underestimated how limiting an iPhone’s camera capabilities were in comparison, so I think a smaller camera, that would at least allow me to get the depth of field of my DSLR, would be a nice thing to add into the mix. I’ll check out the camera you suggested, I loved the photos you took on your latest trip so that alone is a great recommendation!

      And yes, I love your statement about how the limitations of travel actually help create inspiration. Sometimes it’s easy to get intimidated by all the possibilities of my normal setting; traveling has allowed me to really think critically about what I CAN capture, which has been a lot of fun!

  4. brett_wilson

    Maybe I will take some toys away with me tomorrow when I fly to another state to see a band?! I wasn’t planning to, but this post has inspired me, and got me worried that I might miss an opportunity that won’t present its self again?! 🙂

    • thereeljames

      That’s awesome, Brett! I’m glad this post inspired you, and hope that if you did bring toys, that you got something cool out of it! I myself think I should at least carry my sig fig with me when I travel to new places, just in case there’s something for me to capture.

  5. I always keep a couple minifigs in my camera bag, which always goes with me when I travel.

    You mentioned the iPhone. Those phone cameras are getting so good. I have not used an apple phone, but I recently got a Pixel, which has a camera that seems practically equivilent to an iPhone 7’s camera (based on real world tests I did standing side by side with an iPhone owner). I find my Pixel actually does a surprisingly amazingly good job at Lego photography.

    It does have some limits over all, mainly in getting shallow enough DoF, but over all, its a great companion camera to carry with you.

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