My Favorite Puddle

I’m no stranger to photographing toys in puddles. So much so, I even have a favorite puddle. (What a weird thing to say!) My favorite puddle is in a particular spot in my favorite park where I can consistently create photos I enjoy. It’s also a place that continues to surprise me as the seasons change and the years go by.

Where is this puddle?

My favorite puddle is located in a secluded place deep in my favorite park; Magnuson Park (a quick 15 minute drive from my house). This puddle is off the beaten track with no clear paths to get you there. You have to be able to find the barely visible track, tackle the unruly brush and dodge some seriously large mud puddles to get to it. The only people I run into in this forgotten corner of the park are the occasional lost dog walker.

I never venture to this amazing puddle without first getting on my water proof shoes. If learned from past experience that I will encounter a lot of mud standing water and tall brush. I also make sure I have my gardening knee pad. I don’t mind being on the ground but I like to minimize my contact with the mud.

The puddle is fairly large and long. It occupies a low point in the middle of large field. Ive walked around this puddle and discovered a couple of great sight-lines that have take advantage of the angle of the sun AND occupy slightly higher ground. This isn’t the case with another puddle that is only 50ft away. I’ve learned, not all puddles are equal.

Why does it work?

There are several reasons why this puddle is superior to other puddles I’ve photographed in. It has a nice consistent depth. It has depth but not too much. The foliage that grows in it scales well with my LEGO mini figures. It frequently serves up unexpected surprises. There was a time recently where I stopped by for a quick photo session and the puddle was frozen. I had a super fun time playing on the thin sheet of ice, taking advantage of the interesting reflections and the magical bokeh.

Another plus of the puddle is its size; It’s large enough to be able to reflect the (ideally) blue sky. I love the look of the blue reflected in the water through the greenery. Also the puddle is large enough so that the far side is easy to eliminate from the frame. This helps to create the illusion of a large lake.

My favorite puddle is fickle

My favorite puddle is fickle; it doesn’t exist year round. My toy photography wonderland exists only in the winter and spring. I learned this lesson the hard way. Two years ago I wanted to take the participants of the Seattle Toy safari to this magical place. The weather was gorgeous, we had a couple of hours to burn and since this was close to my house it seemed the perfect location.  Unfortunately when we arrived the ground was dry, dull dirt. Not a very auspicious way to start our epic weekend!

I’ve learned from experience that to get the best results from this puddle I need to watch the weather. The first clear day after a long rainy spell will always result in a big, beautiful, muddy puddle; perfect for toy photography.

Maybe one of the reasons I find this puddle to be so special is its fickle nature. When a location is readily available it can loose its appeal. Especially if you’re always looking for inspiration from new surroundings.

I’ve been unfaithful

I will confess I’ve been unfaithful to my first puddle love. Recently I discovered another area of the park with large shallow puddles. These have many of the same attributes of my favorite puddle but with less mud. While on the surface this would seem like a plus, but unfortunately there’s also more walking traffic. I also discovered these puddles change dramatically in size depending on the weather.

Behind the scenes set up of a lego pandas riding bikes across a puddle

This puddle isn’t for everyone

Yes I realize that a big, muddy puddle isn’t perfect for everyone, but for me its fairly ideal. I like the solitude of the location and the diversity of the vegetation. Sure its muddy which is an acquired taste. I like to think of the mud as an obstruction to be overcome. Ive learned from past experience that the effort is worth it. Ive captured some of my favorite photos in this big, beautiful, muddy puddle.

Here are a few of them…

If you’re a dedicated outdoor toy photographer I’m sure you have your own favorite place to photograph. It might the perfect beach, a tree limb or a certain wall with the perfect lighting. In the comments, please tell me your favorite location and why.

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  1. Loved reading about your favorite puddle! It does bring back bad memories for me though, from when I was in 2nd grade. I was working on my English homework at home and couldn’t understand why the question I had to answer had something to do with Little Jimmy jumping over a poodle. It didn’t make sense to me. After much frustration, it dawned on me that it was ‘puddle’ 🙁

    There are no puddles to be had in SoCal, other than during a storm. You’re lucky. However, I turn my stone patio in a makeshift puddle/lake/river whenever I want by wetting it down. Viola, instant lake! Pretty much every recent image in my IG feed with water was taken like that.

    • Awe Mitch Im so glad I was able to help you confront your past and put those bad memories to rest once and for all. Poodle / Puddle … both can be jumped over!

      If i had a back yard with decent lighting or good sight lines I might consider my patio too. I think I like to get off the beaten path because I never know what I will find at this park. Its a conservation area and protected wetlands. The beaver family that lives on premise is constantly changing the landscape; I never know what I will find. I think this sense of discovery keeps me interested and coming back. If my photos relied on tripods and special effects, I too would stick closer to home. your new photos are as wonderful as ever! Keep up the awesome work!

      • You know, it might have been “little Jimmy really enjoyed stomping poodles” which in an odd way would have made more sense than jumping over them! I think I told you that in 2 years, after my kid heads to college, my wife and I will be moving an hour west to a beach town, where my entire shooting environment will change. Then I will have one giant puddle to shoot at, not to mention tide pools, which are magical for toy photography. Of course Goal-One for me is to also find a house that has lots of shooting options inside and out. Until then though, I will make do with my arid, semi-desert environs. Thanks for the nice words above!

    • That guy was SO out of line! But from that experience Ive learned to keep a lower profile and stay away from gravel paths. Ive never run into another asshat like that one. When Im back in this area I do stay on the more well trodden areas. I try to respect the wildlife I share the park with. Its worth the effort. 😀

  2. Tony Tulloch

    I can only take my hat off to your adventurous nature Shelly. My toy photography forays outside rarely take me past my own residential border. In my mind, mud sucks, snow sucks (although I have only ever met it once) and I’m guessing ice sucks. The beach is generally my favourite outside place to shoot toys. It is still wet, but generally a lot warmer.

    • Lol! Tony you are so funny! Yes if the beach was near I too would prefer that location. Sandy beaches are not that great around here. In September we will take at least one foray into the woods or some other ‘exotic’ local so you can say you did it. But I promise I wont make you work too hard for it!

  3. Finally get to see where you take all those water shots! I have couple of favorite spots too. Used to go to one tiny moss patch at the back of my brother’s hose ….on a rocky path and next to some drainage. It was no fun, but it was the only quiet spot with a moss patch. These days, I would go to our national Botanic Gardens, a listed UNESCO Heritage Site no less! There is one area here that gives you all kinds of landscape , from mossy patch to Mordor-like lava landscape.

    • Ooooo…that sounds intriguing! I want to see photos of the Botanic Gardens. The formal gardens around here are just that, too formal. They also tend to be busy. I envy you a place you can go that has that range of landscapes!

      As for this puddle, it may be my favorite, but I have other water locations I enjoy. I love rivers, but they can be more challenging. Plus there are a couple of fountains in the city that I can rely on in the summer. Maybe I will post about those another day.

      Happy photographing Sunny!

  4. I love this piece, and commend you for trekking through the mud for your photos! Waterproof shoes are a great idea, nothing ruins a photo shoot quite like stepping into a puddle or thick mud spot and getting your feet soaked.

    • Thanks James, much appreciated my friend! Why more people don’t use water proof shoes in the Pacific Northwest is beyond me. Even my dress shoes are waterproof. I HATE wet feet! I tell people that if they are going to go out with me, they need to wear the proper clothes. 😀

  5. brett_wilson

    Is Magnuson Park and your puddle on our list of things to do when I visit? I really hope so. I’d love to visit the spot where so much magic happens. I promise if you show me yours, I’ll show you mine. My favourite spot that is, when you visit!

  6. I love that you have your own secret (muddy, prickly, wavering, toy) garden, Shelly. And your shots from there are gorgeous. As you know, I, too, love water shots. They are probably the thing that calls me most to keep shooting. I’ve got some favorite spots and really enjoy finding new ones. I happened on one just yesterday (thanks to Tye for inspiring a visit to this park for an annual town Easter egg hunt) that might well be a world of toy discovery about to unfold for me. I love your writing — it is so YOU. Thanks for sharing this piece.

    • Thank you Doug for your kind words. I hope my writing is authentic and reflects ‘me’!

      As you know I also hear the call of water! You are so lucky you have a young son to help you find new places. That is the BEST!! You will be glad to here there are plenty of puddles and water places on our Oregon itinerary; we will explore them together! 🙂

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