Playtime to Stay Prime

Whether it’s taking time, or making time, getting some toy playtime can lead to some toy photography time that you didn’t know about. Playtime with toys can be not only cathartic, it can also be invigorating and energising when it comes to finding toy photography stimulus.

1. an object, often a small representation of something familiar, as an animal or person, for children or others to play with; plaything
2. something that serves for or as if for diversion, rather than for serious practical use.
3. made or designed for use as a toy.
4. to amuse oneself; play.

My desk at work is strewn with a constantly changing selection of LEGO and toys. It’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from. I bring a new batch of toys each week to play with and see if their stories emerge from our playtime. I’ll find myself playing with LEGO or figures while I try to figure out coding problems, mentally map out solutions, debate whether I should send that email or censor it, or sometimes when I probably should be paying more attention during phone calls.

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?
– Albert Einstein

Finding time for toy photography isn’t always the difficult part; its finding the inspiration. If I can find that inspiration from playing, then that frees up my time to shoot. I’m not staring at the toy shelves on a weekends cursing at the toys to tell me their stories; they already have when we were playing together.

Time gets wasted every day
I watch the minutes tick away
My brain is melting like a
chocolate ice cream bar
Screeching Weasel – My Brain Hurts

From this playtime, ideas evolve, stories unfold, and inspiration is sparked. A seemingly childish “pew pew” of gunfire, embarrassingly uttered across the open plan office, can lead to a photo I didn’t know existed. Some silly role-play on my desk can evolve into a story that inspires a photo. A randomly grabbed toy on a Sunday evening can sometimes inspire a photo that would never have happened if that toy was at home on its shelf all week.

Jennifer has written about how to fix your photo funk. Shelly has asked what have you created today? And now I’ll ask, “when did you last play with your toys”?

– Brett

*My desk just got some more toys to play with as a box of the Ninjago Collectable Minifigures just arrived from our friends at LEGO! Stand by for the review and a giveaway!

When was last time you played with your toys? Or are your toys purely subject matter for your photography?

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  1. I get inspiration from a variety of places. Conveniently a lot of my goto toy models have intricate universes behind them (Batman, Star Wars etc.) so there is a lot of rich content to draw from.

    Lately a lot of my inspiration comes from watching the movies, and wondering what happened just before, or just after that scene.

    Also I often take scenes that I liked from various shows or movies from a visual perspective, and try to re-create them using the models at hand.

    • brett_wilson

      Recreating movie scenes with toys is so much fun. I too have dabbled. I really like the idea of exploring the “what ifs” of alternate/imagined story lines from movies; pushing the story beyond what we know and making it our own. Very cool idea!

  2. This is a great topic Brett. I have a space on my kitchen counter set aside for my minifigs and I change what they’re doing often. Right now it’s hot in Texas, so I built them a beach and they are playing in the swimming pool. I get a lot of ideas from “playing” with them this way but lately I haven’t felt like playing with them as much. If you saw my Jyn photo, you probably read that I was dismayed to find a crack in her torso. I now have a total of 8 cracked torsos (2 more in the last week!). LEGO replaced Jyn and Leia’s torso but I still feel like I should handle them less, which isn’t nearly as fun. So the question of whether or not I should play with my minifigs is something I’ve been pondering myself over the last couple weeks. Do I keep “playing” with them or keep them protected? Am I overreacting to the cracked torsos? (very possible!) What do you think? 🙂


    • brett_wilson

      I too have a space on our kitchen bench, but it’s more a dumping ground for ‘used’ camera fodder. They generally hang around for the week until it’s their time to retire back to the toy room on the weekend. They do however get played with while they’re there and sometimes a new interaction or pose created by my kids sparks new inspiration.
      Cracked torsos? YIKES! I know the pain. My Max Rebo also has a nasty torso crack, resulting in a floppy arm. Perhaps our more treasured figs need stunt doubles for playtime?!
      There are figs in my toy room that are a “no play” shelf. They’re the ones that not only miss out on all the fun of playtime, they’re also rarely photographed. Maybe there’s a link there?

  3. My playtime is behind the lens. That’s where my toys and imagination come alive. A lot of the time, I go out with a handful of toys with no ideas of what to take a shot of. As I’m setting up scenes for a shot – that’s when the creativity flows for me. In the act of creating I get the most inspiration. It becomes fun to see where my “playing” ends up. As far as just playing with my toys – I usually reserve that to what I call “minifigure adventures”. I take my kiddos out on these and we each grab a minifigure and go for a hike. I generally leave my camera so I can spend more time with the kiddos. We imagine all sorts of scenarios. Playing builds creativity and is such a wonderful simple thing to do. Thanks for this post!😎👍

  4. While my desk is a jumble of papers, tech gear and toys, I will confess that I don’t play with toys. I can be pretty focused and serious about my toys, maybe I’m too business oriented with them. What are they trying to tell me! But when I get ready to go out on a photo expedition I do get all my toys out and start looking for connections. I ‘play’ with them and they start telling me the stories they want to share. So I guess I do play with my toys and through this casual interaction, no agenda, I find the images that i want to create. My greatest desire right now is to take over my daughters room for my face when she moves out. Then I will indulge myself with shelves and shelves of favorite lego sets. I have a feeling that I will be playing more when I have my own space and I’m not so much on display in the middle of my house.

    I love the image of you at your desk at the University saying: ‘pew pew’ in the middle of an open office. Do your office mates object, laugh or join in?

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