Failing to focus

I went to visit my family this past weekend, and finding myself with an hour to spare, I dragged my partner to the beach to get a few toy photos.

One of the photos I wanted to take was of Bert, my Fabuland elephant. I had a little trouble getting the shot I wanted, as shown by the photo grid from Lightroom below.

Too much light, too much shadow, not in focus. I could not get it right.

I had a few issues. I was shooting straight into the sun, I was failing to get my camera to focus as I wanted and I was getting the depth of field wrong for the style of shot I was after.

My aim was for a bright and airy shot of Bert at the sea side, with some stoney bokeh. I ended up with both of these, just not in the same shot, and not quite as I wanted!

Autumn toy photography at the beach requires a warm hat!

So what went wrong? Well, my main aim of the day was not toy photography. It was to go to a family lunch. This meant I was trying to remain reasonably presentable, so I couldn’t just sprawl out on the beach! I had to opt for a low down crouch and I just couldn’t see a thing on the screen because the sun was so bright! This resulted in a whole lot of almost invisible Bert’s! (Note to self: make sure any future camera purchases have a flippy screen!)

There’s a toy there, I swear!

Fast forward a little while and I finally had something I was vaguely happy with, but it was still completely over exposed (I should really remember that shooting straight into the sun will do that!), but I did have the pretty bokeh I was after!

But it still wasn’t quite what I wanted, and I was determined to get something I was happy with. So I relocated Bert and decided to try shooting at an angle to avoid the washout. I increased my f stop and tried to get more of the sea in.

The photo at the top of this post is probably the photo closest to what I was after, even there the focus isn’t quite right. The one below is a little better, but doesn’t have the softness I was after. I should probably have taken my light reflector along to help out.

Bert takes in the waves

Photographing Bert at the beach turned into one of those photo sessions where you just can’t quite get the picture you had in your mind. You know the one? The one where you just end up a little frustrated by it all and give up and go for coffee instead. (And that’s not even going into the trauma of trying to photograph two tiny toy ducks without getting my feet wet!)

Secret ducks at the seaside

Have you had any recent toy photography trauma where you just couldn’t get the shot you wanted? How many versions of the shot did you try? I would love to hear your stories about what wouldn’t work! Maybe we can do some team problem solving!

– Lizzi


  1. brett_wilson

    I’m heading to my favourite beach this weekend. Well, pre-dawn Saturday morning actually.
    I’ve got some very specific ideas in my head of what I want/need to shoot, but I’m also open to the beach ‘speaking to me’ when I get there.
    I’ve learned to go with the flow (and ebb) when I go to the beach to shoot. I’ve left too many times frustrated with not a single shot I’d envisaged that I now think if those desired shots happen, great, if not, then something else might. And sometimes it’s that something else that turns out to be something special. Like your Bert/bokeh shot. I love that one!
    I’ve also got the added pressure of a deadline to deliver the shot I have in mind. It’s that pressure that also makes me open to other possible shots once I’m there.
    Looking at the weather forecast, I think my perceived shot is already destined for vexation! We’ve had a week of glorious days in the low 30s but there is rain and thunderstorms predicted for the weekend.
    So I’ve already packed an umbrella and an open mind!

    • Thanks for your comment! I hope your trip to the beach wasn’t too damp for you! I like the idea of a place ‘speaking’ to you to decide the shots! I’ll have to have more of an open mind next time I make it to the beach!

      • brett_wilson

        I managed to avoid the rain, just! It was a quick trip (more time in the car than in the sand!) but I got what I wanted. The tide wasn’t cooperative, so there was a little bit of the location dictating the results, but they were somewhat what I had in mind. Flexibility is the secret, and I’m not just talking about toy photography yoga!

  2. Oh my does this sound familiar! It is on days like this that I like to think of what I do as sketching. I keep the idea and the figure in my box of current figures in rotation. I take them out again and again in hopes of finally capturing the photo I have in mind. When I get to this stage I tend to go out by myself and really concentrate on the image. I love photographing with other people around for company, but if I am in need of a photo, I need to be alone to concentrate. And yes, having your reflector along would have helped immensely for this photo. I still love the photo of Bert and I think you did a fabulous job. Especially considering you only had an hour in between family obligations. Nice work!!

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