It’s a wrap! Another Toy Photographers meet-up has come and gone and its time to reflect back on this years event.

25 photographers ventured to Southern Utah to photograph toys with both new and old friends. Just like the four previous meet-ups, this was an epic weekend. While my memories are still fresh I wanted to take a moment to review the highlights, thank a few special people and take a moment to tell you what I learned from the experience.

The Location

First the location! I love Southern Utah; in fact this is where I spent my honeymoon as well as my 50th birthday. I’ve visited in all four seasons and I’ve never been disappointed. My goal with making this our destination was to share the beautiful scenery with my fellow toy photographers. When we were offered the chance at free lodging in beautiful Apple Valley located in southern Utah, I jumped at the chance. While this wasn’t Moab and Arches National Park, it would certainly be wonderful substitute.

Apple Valley is an easy drive to Zion National Park and if you have a few days you can also see Bryce Canyon and Capital Reef. Since we were more interested in the macro environment, we stuck to local parks and attractions. We visited Snow Canyon State Park, Water Canyon, the Ghost Town of Grafton and misc side roads, mesas and vistas. Really, in this part of the world, any wide spot in the road can be the perfect location for a toy photo.

In addition to the local scenery, we enjoyed playing on the water feature in the backyard of our hosts epic home. This artificial red rock waterfall / water slide had plenty of visual interest and was the perfect size for a variety of toys. It’s amazing how fast the toys come out when you throw a few toy photographers together in the same house. Everything becomes a potential background or prop for the next photo.

The Attendees

I really enjoyed the mix of photographers at this years meet-up. While we had less total attendees, the group was both large enough for variety and intimate enough so everyone had a chance to connect. There was a wonderful group of long time attendees as well as more than a handful of new folks. The ages were as diverse as the toys; our group ranged from teens to “mature adults”. In fact the entire Deppner family participated this year. I have to say the Deppner family is made up of some of the coolest people ever! Maybe they will adopt me if I ask nicely?

While most of the attendees traveled from the West coast, we had three brave souls who traveled all the way from the East Coast (Richee, Dave and Jason) and one from the wilds of Canada (Josh). Sure this wasn’t quite as adventurous as Brett’s voyage from Australia last year, but no less epic. Jason (@drnvrmore) is one of my long time friends on Instagram. I was thrilled to be able to spend time with Jason, it was one of the true highlight of the weekend for me. Plus Jason knows how to get on my good side…he brings me cookies! 🙂

Southern California was well represented by long time attendee Jazer (knightwing2110) as well as the world famous Jax (Plasticaction) and new folks Tom (eyeofuatu) and Tommy (my_nerdy_obsession). It was fun to watch their IG stories about how much fun they had in Utah. Obviously they all left the best of friends. Breaking through the anonymity of the online experience is certainly one of the goals of these meet-ups. Strangers come together and leave as friends. How beautiful is that??

Tom, Jason, Leila, Ted, Cindy, Liz, Lewis, Kiwi, Richee, Thommy, Eva, Teddi, Jazera, Jax (behind Jazer), Erick, Sarah, Chris, Dave, Melisa (in front of Dave), Dennis, Joe, Shelly, Christina, Doug, Josh. (photo credit: Leila Chieko)

The Contests

Prizes! We always have prizes! This year we had six different contest going to help inspire interaction as well as to get the creative juices flowing. In addition to contests sponsored by the blog (Best use of this years Krash Kustom, Best Behind the Scenes photo and Beast Collaboration using different toy styles) we had a dinosaur contest created by Josh (@papajov) and an Atmosphere Aerosol contest courtesy of Teddi (@teddi_toyworld) and the fine folks at Atmosphere Aerosol.

Toy Photographers Contest Winners

Dennis and I both loved this entry by Ted Deppner (@neakytog). While Tom might be better known for his behind the scenes photos during the weekend, he took the time to create this creepy image of Dennis’s latest custom figure. Even though the lighting conditions at this location where less than ideal, Tom used an on camera flash and a remote flash to create a spooky and well composed photo. Tom you truly earned that $50 B & H gift card!!

Usually our behind the scenes photos have more in common with toy photography yoga, but this inception inspired photo by Melisa Taylor (@lizzybelle9) caught the judges fancy (ie: me). You need to look closely at the two images (the second being a close up and cropped version of the original) to see the many layers involved in this photo. Well captured Melisa! You earned that $50 gift card to Hot Toys!

I think the collaboration category is my favorite contest of these meet-ups. We use this contest to encourage different types of photographers to join together to create an image together. This years collaboration winners are Jax and Cindy. In fact this collaboration hit three of the contest categories; collaboration, Krashes_Kustom and it included a dinosaur. I was joking with them that the only thing missing was the Atmosphere Aerosol. I was then informed that they had tried it and it didn’t work out. Lol!! Be sure and check out both images to see how different the final photos turned out. Fascinating!

Other Contest Winners

Our good friend Josh Johnson (@papajov) contributed four dinosaurs to our prize pool. To be in the running for one of these prizes you had to create an image using any brand of dinosaur. Obviously our Utah location was perfect for pretty much any dinosaur image you can image. There was no shortage of creative dinosaur themed photos from the weekend.  The four winning photos showcase a lot of humor and talent. Thank you Josh for bringing a fun twist to our contests!

Another fun contest was brought to us by Teddi Deppner. She procured a case of Atmosphere Aerosol for our participants to play with. I think everyone had a chance to experiment with this trick that has captivated the toy photography community. These two photos by Tom (@ Eyeofuatu) and Melisa (@Lizzibelle9) were the judges unanimous favorites. Great job Tom and Melisa, I hope you will have fun with your very own can of Atmosphere Aerosol!

What I Learned

Here are a few of my personal take aways from my time in Utah:

  • Don’t worry about the weather. It can be snowing one day and sunny the next.
  • Don’t ever let Dave take a photo of your set up. Even if he asks nicely.
  • Take a break from the group and go on a hike. They wont miss you and the photo ideas will wait until another day.
  • Ask your friends for help. They will always say yes.
  • Collaborate with other photographers; its as fun as it looks.
  • It’s shockingly cheap to feed 13 people when you combine your resources.

Thank you!

Unlike past meet-ups, this years event was truly a group effort. I want to thank the following people who helped to make this years event a huge success!

  • Dennis Taylor who once again created a fun and unique mini figure for all the attendees.
  • Cindy Dokter we created our fabulous Toy Photographer lens cloths and pin badges.
  • Leila Chieko who took care of the ‘thank you’ gift for our host and hostess.
  • Kiwi, Doug, Teddi, Sarah and Josh for creating a meal plan and implementing it every day. 
  • Teddi and Doug who ‘shopped’ for our LEGO swag.
  • Joseph Cowlishaw who helped to guide us to interesting local photo spots.
  • And a huge thank you to Marty and Tish, our host and hostess. Thank you for graciously opening your home to a group of crazy toy photographers.

I’m truly grateful to have such a wonderful group of friends who have supported this event for many years, several from the very beginning. You know the saying: many hands make light work. Its true! I couldn’t have orchestrated another fun weekend of toy photography fun without the help of my friends. 🙂

In Conclusion

Even though this year is a wrap, its not too early to start planning 2020. So if spending a weekend with a bunch of random toy photographers sounds like a fun way to spend your time and money, let me know. Next year I hope we can keep the momentum going forward and add a few more amazing photographers into our adventurous group.

See you in 2020!


If you want to check out all the photos from the event you can follow the tag on Instagram: #UtToyPhotoSafari. As the participants return home and images are uploaded, you can expect the tag to grow.

Don’t you want to be one of us next year? (photo credit: Leila Chieko)