Traveling with toys

Traveling with toys is problematic. How many toys do I bring, which ones do I pack, what accessories are important and what additional tools will I need is just the beginning of my decisions.

Then I need to start asking how much time do I need to spend with my family, can I easily ditch them to take photos? While its lots of fun, traveling with toys can also be a real headach. This past summer I travelled twice with my toys with mixed results. Today I thought I would share with you what I’ve learned. 

What’s in my bag?

Like most outdoor travel photographers I’ve a consistent travel set-up . This includes my toys, camera gear, bounce cards, tack, one light, and a spare battery / charger plus at least one extra SD card.

This set-up hasn’t changed much since I wrote about it several years ago. I even still have the same backpack! I’ve added a clamp to keep my bounce cards up right and a tripod for my light. Recently I noticed my kneepad was starting to look a bit ragged and should be replaced before the Melbourne meet-up.

Rarely do I pack wire or a multipurpose tool. Mostly because I know myself well enough to realize they will never be used. What I do bring is a few clear LEGO bricks and other misc parts to help position the minifigures. With these simple tools I’m able to get my figures off the ground and my speeders to look like they’re floating. If I need to create a more complicated photo, I will create time specifically for that image closer to home. I like to keep these travel adventures simple and wonderfully random.

The complete list

  • Sony Alpha 7II
  • Lensbaby Composer with Sweet 35, Sweet 50 and Twist 60 swappable lenses
  • Macro Convertors x16 and x4
  • Sony f2.8 90mm macro lens with polarizing filter
  • Omni Creative Filter set for the 90mm macro lens
  • Small LED dimmable video light with home made diffusor and small tripod
  • Water proof Bounce cards with hand clamp for stability
  • White tac for keeping figures in place on hard surfaces
  • LEGO Technic pins for keeping mininfigures standing on soft surfaces
  • Clear bricks for supporting ships
  • Several Trans Clear Bars 1 x 12 with 1×2 plate.
  • One garden knee pad to protect my knees and clothes on rocks or mud
  • Extra SD card
  • Extra battery (I love my Sony but it’s a battery hog!)
  • One box of mini figures separated by scenes and pre assembled
  • One box of large accessories: cars, boats, spaceships etc.
  • Two small boxes of general accessories including small animals
  • Snacks, band aids, battery charger
Sierra and all my toys and photo paraphenalia spread out over the Colorado hillside. 😀

 Colorado

When I left home mid-July for a weekend adventure with my daughter I had hopes for some toy photography fun. I knew the locations we would be visiting and they are spectacular; perfect for toy photography! My daughter is tolerant of my hobby and I knew she wouldn’t mind if I unpacked and took the time to create a few images.

File this Colorado weekend under the best laid plans go awry.  Between the harsh lighting and my divided attentions I simply wasn’t feeling the need to take a photo. In fact I had no interest in taking any photos. I dragged my slightly heavy backpack up two mountains, on a 20 mile bike ride and around one tourist town.  The entire time I was wondering if I had lost my passion for toy photography.

I did manage to hustle up enough energy to take two photos. Hardly a stellar haul, but I did have a great time with my daughter. Excellent memories were created despite the lack of toy photos.

The one photo I managed to capture at the above location.

Oregon

Fast forward five weeks and another outing with the family. Again I packed my toys but this time the choices were more deliberate. I spent the time to create specific set-ups. Some of these were leftovers from Colorado and others were new ideas or old ideas that had never come to pass.

While I didn’t take many photos I was more successful than my Colorado adventure. I went out one evening with my daughter and caught the late afternoon light and on another day I ditched the family and spent several hours in the woods by myself. I came away with a nice selection of photos. Not all of them successful, but enough that it made the effort worthwhile.

In the past few years my toy photography efforts have become less scattershot. I try to have a specific vision for each image. While random locations are fun, they aren’t necessary to create the images I want to make. My backyard or the park down the street will often work just fine. So while I was lucky Oregon worked, it could just have easily been a bust like Colorado.

I’m grateful for this cool head that Krash painted for me. I’ve had it for many months but finally had a chance to create an image worthy of his talents.

What I realize

What I realize is that what I pack in my bag is much different now than when I first wrote this post in 2015. Back then my bag would be packed with so many toys I barely had room for a camera. Now I try to be more targeted with my toys and I bring extra lenses and photo accessories instead.

Having those extra lenses is allowing me to take the same set up yet create different looks. More than once I was frustrated with what I saw in camera, but when I switched lenses I loved the results. In the past I was more concerned about having the right toy, now I’m more concerned about having the right lens with me. I’m feeling more like a photographer!

One of the other big lessons I learned from these summer adventures is that it’s ok to NOT take photos. Sometimes you simply have to be in the moment and enjoy what is in front of you. Lets face it, the light isn’t always going to be great and sometimes you need and want to pay attention to the people you’re with. There will always be another day to take photos.

Another idea Ive had since the San Francisco toy meet-up. Even though the lighting wasn’t ideal, I think I managed to capture the image I was looking for.

What will I pack for Melbourne?

With the Melbourne meet-up just around the corner these summer lessons will come in handy. I know that I will taking more camera gear than toys to Australia with me. I’m going to lean on my fellow attendees for the bulk of my toy selection. And with over 20 toy photographers attending this meet-up, I’m sure someone will let me borrow a toy or two. Who knows what I will be photographing: 1/6” HO, Figma, Funko Pops etc…it’s going to be a total grab bag!

But lets get real…I’m not brave enough to leave ALL my toys home. I’m already pulling aside a few personal favorite figures that are either customs or uniquely personal to pack with me.  I will also concentrate on a nice variety of accessories because that’s where most of the fun is anyway! 

In Conclusion

It’s interesting to see how my What’s in a Bag has changed with time. Obviously my approach to toy photography is shifting as my style and goals change.  I’m not the same person I was when I first wrote about traveling with toys or when I shared What’s In My Bag.  It only makes sense that what I pack changes too.

I’m looking forward to the next time I have to travel with toys. I know that hanging with my friends in Melbourne, having adventures around toys, and talking toy photography will be tons of fun. Because while traveling with toys might be problematic, its always fun!

Shelly

Do you enjoy traveling with toys? Do you pack more toys than camera gear? What are your best take aways?

8 Comments

  1. brett_wilson

    I better start tidying my toy room ready for you to rummage though!
    I like the idea of packing light with toys and relying on the toy boxes of others. What a wonderful way to be swept up with motivation by a surprise subject. Plus you’ll have the fun of being in new, unfamiliar locations. FYI, the beaches I’ll take you don’t have driftwood so big you can make a fort out of it like your beaches. Also, the Melbourne walls we’ll visit at the Meetup are covered in graffiti, not gum!
    Thanks for a peak inside your bag. I can’t wait to have another look, with my real eyes, in a few weeks.

  2. Always fun to have a peek in another photographer’s travel pack. I always pack more toys than camera gear, so I guess I’m not a “grown up” photographer yet! I do carry a fair number of lights, mostly miscellaneous ones picked up at hardware stores for their small form factor or such, but also at least one actual photography light (we like VidPro ones). But no extra lenses, and no tripod.

    One unusual thing I bring along is a pair of fold-flat water shoes that I can change into for taking pics around lakes or streams. It’s so much more convenient to just be able to stand in the water rather than try to keep my shoes dry!

    Someday I hope I can make it to a Melbourne meetup. Meanwhile, y’all have fun and post lots of photos for us to follow!

    • Oooo I like the addition of water shoes! I will have to think about that one. Normally when I know Im going to be around water I simply wear my Chaccos which go any where, but this sounds like a nice alternative.

      Im not sure how bringing less toys and more lenses makes me a “grown up” photographer? I hope you dont think I was being elitist when I said my tastes have changed. Feeling more like a photographer doesn’t make me a grown up one. If I was a “real” toy photographer I would have wire, canned air / fog and a tripod for my camera with me. But alas, I don’t foresee that ever happening. 😀

  3. What a fun trip through your bag and your mind. You have such clever things in your bag… all I got is a bunch of plastic mainly. LOL. Thanks for sharing this, loved seeing Sierra in cameo (Hi Sierra!!), and can’t wait to hear about your travel Down Under. Krash really brought that cat to life. Awesomeness!

    • Plastic is good Doug! I have plenty of plastic, don’t worry! I didn’t take photos of the two bins I have the toys in, but trust me, there are figures for at least 15 separate set ups. So yeah, the toys are still a main stay.

      Sierra is truly my favorite traveling companion. Up for any adventure and just as patient when I want to take a photo. Im blessed she still wants to hang around with me. <3

  4. Mary Wardell

    I think the number of toys I travel with is limited by the fact that I don’t easily get down all the way on the ground (one of the joys of being older!) I love listening to the way you pack and I hope you have a blast in Melbourne! I envy you the opportunity to play with new toys for inspiration!

  5. Janan

    What a fitting article to read right now when I’m on my holiday. I was limited to what I could pack by the space available hence, I only brought 2 figures – my acid rain world space scientist and LEGO kustom tv head. However, I haven’t shot them at all so far as I’ve been shooting some “new” old second hand finds.

    I do find it hard to shoot whilst travelling with family and it’s totally fine as spending time together is priority. I do find some incidental time to shoot and it’s mainly outdoors while enjoying the scenery.

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