The Power of the Polybag

Many of us say we are toy photographers rather than toy collectors; however, unless we only shoot other people’s toys, we have collecting built into our DNA. I personally rip toys out of their packaging as soon as they come into my possession. I feel that, in its own right, omits me from joining the league of true collectors. But I also scour the Internet markets for the Minifigure head with just the right expression for my next shot. I once waited 6 months for a grey hairpiece with a bun, for a particular image (of course, within a month of purchasing it I had seven in my collection). So even if we are predominantly toy photographers were are, in part, also collectors.

The Sonny Crockett lookalike came to me as a present
The Sonny Crockett lookalike came to me as a present

Here’s the rub: often the pieces we are looking for are hidden in expensive kits, or are reasonably rare and, you guessed it, expensive to buy on their own. One source of unusual bibs and bobs for Lego photographers is the polybag; those wonderful little vacuum sealed parcels you often find in the cheap bins at retailers. I have found that they often contain nice little pieces that are not that easy to get otherwise.

I collected 20 polybags for this post; what was I thinking?
I collected 20 polybags for this post; what was I thinking?

Unfortunately polybags can also be expensive, especially the exclusives from conventions, toy shops, or Lego themselves. Like most things, the key is patience until you can find one at the right price, from the right seller.

I chose 5 polybags from the collection of 20 to show some of the pieces you can get to add to your photographs:

  • 41538 – Mixels – Kamzo;
  • 40308 – Lego Shop (Leicester Square) – Lester;
  • 30102 – Friends – Olivia’s Desk;
  • 40178 – Lego Exclusive (online) – Iconic VIP Set;
  • 30313 – City – Garbage Truck.

NB: the two baseplates and grumpy head (held Yorick style) were not included in the polybags.

Polybag lineup; a mix up of five polybags
Polybag lineup; a mix up of five polybags

Mixels are often overlooked as ugly little critters with no photographic value. I once passed them by, but have grown quite fond of them and use them occasionally in my images. They are a wonderful source of articulating parts (joints, hinges, clips, etc) and have some great coloured parts that are hard to find in other sets.

Some assembly required
Kamzo: some assembly required

I love exclusives. They are often very quirky and allow the photographer an opportunity to collect pieces they would not normally get in the Lego range. Lester with his ‘London businessman’ outfit, and the red Minifigure from the Iconic VIP Set really appealed to the Anglophile in me. Lester worked beautifully with my London Bus Set (10258) and I couldn’t resist a comment on my favourite Avenger, John Steed.

On my way to Leicester Square
On my way to Leicester Square
The original red-blooded Avenger
The original red-blooded Avenger

City sets are often a rich source of accessories for Minifigure photography, and polybags are no exception. You will find tools, costumes, hats, heads, hairpieces, and vehicles with lots of cool parts for MOC creations. I specifically wanted the garbage bins from the Garbage Truck set, but the goatee head will also come in handy. Creator and Seasonal sets (not shown) will also provide thematic and food items to support toy photography.

Who left this mess here?
Who left this mess here?

Friends Minifigures, in my mind, have finite photographic potential. This is mainly due to articulation issues. There is limited articulation in the arms and legs; there is no articulation in the wrists; and many Friends Minifigures have long hair, which limits head movement. However, the sets offer an alternative source of food items and some great coloured accessories and bricks, that you will not find anywhere else. If you are prepared to work with the limitations of the Friends Minifigure’s, then you will be rewarded with cute characters that do not suffer from the same reflection issues that you get with other Minifigures. Elves sets (not shown) have similar appeal.

When Lester 'dumped' Olivia, she returned the gesture
When Lester ‘dumped’ Olivia, she returned the gesture

There are polybags from almost every Lego theme. They all offer the opportunity to collect parts with excellent photographic potential. Go on, spoil the ‘collector’ inside the toy photographer.


  1. Jenelle (Mrs.Playwell)

    Great piece on the often overlooked potential in polybag sets Tony. I love a good polybag, especially if I can find it in a discount bin! In particular the City and Friends ones, like you mentioned, for the nice non-figure pieces they often contain. I’ve even been know to buy a little larger Friends set just for the pieces. Like that cake slice in the Art Cafe! (Saving that one for a special birthday!) The minidolls always go straight into the bottom drawer of my minifig storage area, probably never to be seen again, except maybe for a particular hair piece. You’re completely correct on the articulation issues. It’s either cheerleader or zombie pose, no other options. And don’t even get me started on most of their clothes… although that is starting to improve with the new sets. I’ve also been quite drawn to the Elves sets, so much so that I’ve thought they may be worth trying to photograph even with the articulation issues. And you’re spot on about those Mixels. Odd little creatures, but kind of fun to build and they definitely have some great colors that you can’t find in many other sets, especially for the price! I picked up a few of the bat-like ones a couple years back that had a great combo of navy and light blue pieces. Works really well with some of the older navy blue Batman minifigs!

    • Tony Tulloch

      I’ve tried hard to like the Friends sets and have a couple of reasonable photographs of them. However, they really do not fit my toy photography style. Mixels aren’t particularly photogenic, but I find them fun builds, especially if you buy all three of the same tribe and build the Max.

  2. I’ve got the Lego VIP set myself (picked it up for a £10 bargain in a local independent) and I’ve got to say I’ve overlooked its photographic potential – I may have to dig this one out and give it another look after reading this post.

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