Evoking Emotion

There’s a plethora of resources out there on evoking emotion and feeling in photography. However, simply adding the word “toy” before photography in a Google search, and the results point to articles of toy photographers that do this, but don’t direct us to tips on how to evoke emotion.

Tips and Hints

Delete “toy” from the search again and recurring tips and suggestions on how to add emotion come up.

Take candid portraits. Give minimal direction and do not intervene. Give your subjects something to do. Capture the mood of your subject. The “eyes” have it. Capture movement. Utilize light & shade. Cropping, chops, and details. Capture your subjects in a familiar environment.

Yep, all wonderful tips. But not all of these can be applied to toy photography. I wish they did. I wish I could take candid, unscripted of my toys. But alas, it doesn’t matter how many birthday candles I blow out, my toys remain motionless on their shelves.

My favourite tip is “the eyes have it”. Often, we’ll read that the eyes are the window to our soul and that if we had to isolate any body part to openly portray emotions, it’s the eyes.


But what about toys that don’t have eyes? Or if they’re eyes are hidden behind a mask or are under a helmet? How can we get a glimpse into their souls when the windows have their curtains drawn? Or they’re boarded up?

Buckets and Helmets

This conundrum is what draws me to toys like Stormtroopers, Scout Troopers, Snowtroopers, etc. I enjoy the challenges those buckets and helmets throw at me, especially when attempting to convey emotions.

Evoking Emotion : "Sigh"

To me, there’s an inferred sadness in the design of the Stormtroopers’ buckets.

Evoking Emotion : "D'oh"

The Scout troopers’ helmets give me a sense of bewilderment.

Evoking Emotion : "Meh"

And the Imperial cold weather assault Stormtroopers’ breather hoods, as well as recirculating warm air, remove any hint of emotion; a blank canvas, and a challenge.

Evoking Emotion : "Humpf"

Sure, a figure with an angry expression is fun to photograph, in a photograph depicting anger. And a LEGO Minifigure with an inquisitive face printed is great for its purpose, in a toy photograph conveying curiosity.

Evoking Emotion : "Huh"

But evoking emotion with an unseen facial expression is a challenge that keeps me grabbing for my Troopers.


How do you convey emotion in your toy photography? Are there any particular toys that evoke emotions in your photography, contrary to their appearance?

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  1. Great posing and an interesting read, Brett! The emotions are definitely coming through in all these pics. I love the one with the dropped ice cream. I can totally feel his sadness! It’s all in that subtle posing that the feelings come through. A slight tilt to the head, hand , wrist.

  2. Amazing serie. That’s why I love toyphotography that much, beeing able to tell a story, to tranmits emotions with so tiny figures and in that case, that even don’t have face expressions!
    Great work and great inspiration!

  3. Excellent post, Brett! This is something I’ve thought a lot about while photographing my own Troopers, and you hit the nail on the head. It’s amazing how subtle differences in posing can dramatically alter a photograph’s mood. There have been many times when I take a bunch of shots, then look at them in Lightroom wishing I’d posed them differently.

    I’ve always been impressed by your ability to draw emotions out of your Stormtroopers. I think your Scout Trooper photos are my favorite; bewilderment is the perfect description of their “expression.” And I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who sees the Snowtroopers as a bit “blank” when it comes to expressions. Perhaps it’s because their helmets provide a bit less flexibility for posing, head titling, etc.?

    • brett_wilson

      Cheers James.
      I do love the challenge of portraying emotion without a face. Well, I’ve got a face, but you know what I mean. The classic Stormies have so much hidden emotions what come to life with a simple shift in their pose or a tilt of the head. The Scouts really do make me giggle when I set them up, they always seem to be genuinely befuddled, no matter where they are! And I do love the challenge of the Snowtroopers. I like their enigmatic exterior!

  4. Reiterlied

    Is there really a plethora of resources about evoking emotions in photography? To me it seems most people talk online about gear and technique, but how to create truly compelling pictures is a subject that is still rarely discussed, or at least content going in depth about that subject is quite hard to find. But just looking at the tips you found, for me most of them apply to toy photography. Give toy something to do (i.e. play with them), take candid photos (while they are doing something and not “paying attention to you”), capture the mood, movement, light and shade (and colors), the environment. All these are “tricks” I started to use through my practice of toy photography, and particularly have been using for the past weeks trying to capture photos expressing feelings without showing the figure face. To me, the best tip and trick to capture emotion is to practice regularly, look at photos, let time pass, be patient and let time.

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