In three days, I’ll reach a major creative milestone: My 5 year anniversary as a toy photographer! So why does it feel like I’m just getting started?

The simple is answer is that I spent the majority of that time learning what the heck I was doing! I was making mistakes and taking bad photos. And that’s okay!

Until this year I was often frustrated that I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be; that I wasn’t taking the photos I pictured in my head. Now that I look back at how far I’ve come, I know that it’s all part of the process. You need to fail so that you can learn how to problem solve. It’s the only way you’re going to grow.

“The greatest teacher, failure is.” – Yoda

In the Beginning

“Cliffhanger,” my first toy photo!

My first toy photo, Cliffhanger,” was taken and posted on October 9th, 2013. Like many toy photographers I’ve talked to, I look back at my first photo with a slight sense of embarrassment. When I see it now with more photographic and technical knowledge, I can’t help but think about its flaws, and the ways I would fix them now. Yet I need to remind myself of how proud I was of this image at the time, and the amazing things it’s lead to. I may not be a fan of it now, but I’m thankful for it.

When I took this photo, I’d been following toy photography for some time. I’d fallen in love with the work of people like Mike Stimpson (@balakov), Chris McVeigh, Shelly, and Vesa. I obsessively read Stuck in Plastic, and felt a deep urge to dive into the hobby myself. On October 13, 2013 I finally took the plunge. I picked out a blind bag minifigure at Target – which turned out to be the Series 11 Ice Climber – and rushed home to photograph him. I taped him to the inside of my freezer, and the rest was history. From that moment on, I was a toy photographer.

In the beginning, I took photos almost every day, and posted them to social media immediately. I didn’t have many toys to photograph. The beginning of my portfolio is a mishmash of whatever minifigures I could find! I had no handle on what any of my camera buttons did, how best to light or compose a shot, how to capture the depth of field I wanted, and so much more. These were things I learned along the way, failing again and again and again until finally I knew how to accomplish my artist goals.

Since taking “Cliffhanger,” I’ve grown a lot as an artist. I’ve made lifelong friends in our community and attended two toy photo safaris. I’ve started a podcast, worked with companies like LEGO and Lume Cube, written 87 blog posts, and have taken nearly 800 photos. Above all else, I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun doing it!

Just Getting Started

lego mountain climber minifigure toy photography by James Garcia

“Cliffhanger 2018” – I challenged myself to recreate “Cliffhanger” to demonstrate my growth as a photographer. I tried to use the same elements as the original – the same subject, pose and relative composition. Then I added new things I’ve learned, like creating indoor scenery, lighting the scene with the Lume Cube, and capturing the snowfall practically, in-camera.

I think that it feels like I’m just getting started – despite 5 years of time, money, and effort – because it’s true! For the first few years as a photographer, I was simply playing around, and getting the “bad” photos out of my system. In 2016, I attended my first toy photo safari, and finally plugged myself into the community I’d been following for years. In 2017, I started writing for this blog and thinking more critically about my intentions as an artist.

This year, I started taking my photography “seriously.” I learned to seek out opportunities and put myself out there in ways I never had before. I finally committed to learning the technical skills I needed, and started the podcast, which further pushed me out of my shy comfort zone and connected me with members of this stellar community.

Looking Ahead

I can’t say with any bit of certainty what the future has in store. It’s been such a wild adventure so far, and I feel as though I’ve finally discovered my true creative calling. The methods at which I’ve pursued that calling may have changed and evolved, but the reasons behind it have only solidified and become more clear.

Thank you to everyone who has joined me on this journey in one way or another: To my wife Jordan for her never-ending support and encouragement. To Shelly and Brett for giving me the honor to become part of this blog, and the amazing opportunities that have come my way because of it. To all of the guests of the podcast, for taking time to explore your own creative process with me on-air. To all of the podcast listeners (from all corners of the world!) who tolerate my “ums” and “uhs” week after week. To everyone who reads my articles, leaves comments, likes my photos across social media, or simply looks at my work. And to all of the friends I’ve made along the way. I couldn’t do any of this without you, and I look forward to what the next 5 years have in store.


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