Gaining Confidence with Shooting Toys in Public

It can be intimidating to create art in public places. It can be doubly difficult when that art is a niche thing like toy photography. This post is about how I gained confidence with shooting toys in public.

If you are like me, the most intimidating aspect is a fear that people around me will question what I am doing, maybe make rude comments, or scoff under their breath. As a grown man, tossing an action figure in front of my lens is not exactly “normal” behavior.

You may not have any issues shooting in public. Not everyone does. However, for those that do, let’s take a deeper look into what’s going on.

What’s the big deal?

It’s natural to fear being in front of people doing something different than everyone else, especially if that thing is unique and interesting. Toy photography is definitely unique and interesting.

Statistically speaking, the number one fear people have is public speaking. The reason for that is being afraid of making a fool of themselves in public. One way to build confidence with this is to simply do it over and over.

The first few times I set up my toys in public I was scared of sticking out and being seen as that weird guy who parents hide their kids from. I was mocked a lot as a kid (high school sucked, y’all), and every time I do public things like give talks I go back to being a kid in high school again.

The same thing happened when I started shooting toys in public. I get a base fear of sticking out and being mocked for it. After a while I got more comfortable. A few experiences helped with that.

Go with friends

Crazy is when one person does something weird. If more than one person does it, it’s a quirky group of friends. So if you don’t want to stand out as much, find some friends to shoot with.

Bonus: Your friends can help you hold your lights!

I have been fortunate enough to have attended many photographer meet-ups, including a couple Toy Safaris. Let me tell you, the confidence boost gained from being in a pack of 20–30 photographers all doing the same thing is fantastic.

One of the main benefits is you get to hear comments from people passing by. Listening to what folks actually think of our niche hobby can be enlightening.

So, what do they say?

The first time I really shot in public was at the Oregon Toy Safari a few years ago. I set up an action figure on the side of a main path, and many people walked by. All I heard for the 20 minutes I was there was people saying, “Hey, that guy is shooting toys. How cool!” or “That’s neat!” and other variations on that theme.

I don’t know about you, but I am rarely the cool guy in the room. Getting comments like that was like that scene in Shrek where Princess Fiona called Donkey a noble steed. I was a steed! (At least until I put my gear away—then I was just Dave again. So much for “noble steed.”)

I also recall being in Epcot at Disney World. Just passed the entrance, I stopped in front of that big ball. I pulled out Hulk and was setting up a shot. As I was shooting I heard a teenage boy yell out, “Hey Mom! That guy is doing that forced perspective thing!”

No place is more public than the front gate of a Disney theme park, but comments like that made it easy to shoot toys there.

Over and over as I’ve gotten out in public to shoot toys, I’ve received similar comments, and each time I get a little confidence boost. I also get a bit of an ego boost as a bonus.

I have never heard any unkind words directed towards me when I’ve been shooting. Ever.

Just do it

At the risk of ripping off Nike, the best advice I can give if you have fears of shooting in public is this: Just do it. Bring a friend or two if you need some moral support, but get out there. Experience is a great teacher, and it will likely teach you what it taught me.

Shooting toys is an awesome art form, and having the confidence to engage in that art wherever we wish is wonderful. Even if it’s in a public place.

[dave]

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11 Comments

  1. Christina Lihani

    Really great words here, Dave! I’m glad you just decided to do it despite knowing you’d draw attention. I know a lot of people who are inspired by you!

  2. Mary Wardell

    I remember the beach during the Oregon Toy Safari when I was able to join up with you all for a little while. It was a blast watching as we all spread over that beach posing our figures! Great piece, Dave!

  3. the first time is always hard.
    I remember I was also concerned about the reactions of people walking by, but it wasn’t so terrible. I would even say it was the opposite: I’m shooting outdoors for five years now and only once I heard negative comment. Rest of reactions were pretty nice, especially when somebody was walking with kids.
    So i agree with the advice 🙂 JUST DO IT!

  4. Chris Goldthorpe

    I’m glad that you wrote this Dave. I’ve had a similar experience when taking shot’s for my wife’s website extremefelting.com where we take photos of felt animals that she makes in natural areas. Apart from the bit about photographing in groups that is, I don’t know of anyone else in our corner of the world that is doing this. We often meet people who are curious about what we do and I even got a family photography assignment from someone who liked what we are doing. I used to worry that a park ranger would show up and tell us that we were violating some regulations but that has never happened and the people who do engage us in conversation are always very friendly.

  5. Don DeBaeremaeker

    Awesome David. Very proud of your many so-well-done and informative & entertaining accomplishment. And it shows up in two wonderful grand children too! Keep up the greatness.

  6. Charlie Riley

    Good post, dude. I photograph dolls more than “action figures” (which really are dolls, c’mon!), and it does occasionally provoke negative reactions (snooty teens, usually), but nowhere near as much as the positive ones. I spent part of a sunny afternoon a few years ago playing “Barbies” with a little girl from a few houses down. We had a beautiful clover patch in front of the house that year. Great place for pics! When I came outside with the Monster High dolls to set up, she came flying out and over with her Bratz dolls, and we had a lot of fun setting up scenes and taking pics (she had a little working Barbie camera). Lovely afternoon all around.

  7. Matthew Wyjad

    I am one of those people who rarely feel ill at ease shooting in public. I did wedding photography for many years and got used to behaving “oddly” infront of crowds. It has become part of the gig. However street photography still scares the crap out of me. So I had a a moment where i had to get up the courage to quietly get some random strangers in my frame with the lego dude. That was the first time I’ve felt a little uneasy shooting toys in public, but it was because i was including strangers without consent. I was once approached by a fellow who asked me what i was doing in the parking lot of hus car wash at 10pm with a headlamp, sprawled out next to a puddle. I held up my action figure and said “I’m a toy photographer!” He was confused, but when i explained that I photograph toys in interesting scenes like puddles he laughed and said no problem and went on his merry way. So… no issues yet.

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