Troopers in the Mist: Creating Atmosphere

Atmosphere can add a fantastic element to your toy photography. It helps create an other-worldly, mystical or hugely sci-fi vibe like Hue Hughes‘ epic Star Wars shots.

Hero exosuit warrior combats the imposter LEGO army.

I’ve shot with atmosphere over the last couple of years but hadn’t really investigated its use beyond an occasional whim. It was just another tool to experiment with and could make an ok image into something pretty special. You’ll see it show up in a few of my recent images in The Floor Is Lava.

For some reason known only to the bots at Facebook, I had recently seen a video of a gentleman building a terrarium. Technically it was a paludarium (yes, I had to look it up). He built a small ecosystem in an open-topped tank—complete with live plants, running water, live fish and some kind of fog machine. The fog machine had my attention. (Need to kill some time? Click here.)

So, let’s look at three ways to create atmosphere in your toy photographs.

  1. Ultrasonic fogger
  2. Spray atmosphere
  3. Vape
c'est la vie
A nod to @zekezachzoom for the inspiration.

Ultrasonic fogger

A trip to the local pet supply store resulted in only finding large and expensive units, so a quick Amazon search found this little wonder. Set it into a bowl with water, plug it in, and you have fog.

  • Pros: Inexpensive (about $15), no residue left behind, the atmosphere it creates is ‘heavy’ and photographs well. You can move it around with your breath or a small paper fan.
  • Cons: Wet, you’ll end up with water all over from splashes and the fog itself.
Scarif troopers patrolling through the misty woods in the snow.
Note how the fog hovers near the ground. I especially like how it’s ‘heavy’ to work with. The downside is that it falls (disperses) pretty quickly.
Speeder bike miniature zooming through the woods
A little homage to Hugh. This small speeder bike scout was more challenging to shoot than expected and not especially detailed. Behind him is a single Lume Cube with snoot, with the fog blown in behind him.

Spray Atmosphere

Available from your local photography supply store or in bulk from the online mothership, spray atmosphere, like Atmosphere Aerosol, was created to add haze for photography and videography, and it does exactly that pretty well.

Spray Atmosphere
  • Pros: Portable. No power required. The atmosphere is ‘light’ and photographs especially well when backlit. Relatively inexpensive (about $10 a can).
  • Cons: If you use it a lot, or in a confined space it leaves behind an oily residue—EVERYWHERE.
Scarif troopers patrolling through the misty woods in the snow.
Note that the atmospheric effect is more general.
Scarif troopers on patrol on a mountainside
Backlit by the sun, spray atmosphere works wonderfully!

Vape

Shamefully, I will admit to owning a vape thingamajig. It was purchased for shooting my LEGO town a few years ago and then set aside for a long time. I lost track of it after a move and eventually uncovered it (and its mess) in a storage tub.

Car burning with smoke and fire
Don’t let this happen to you.
  • Pros: Portable and small. The vape atmosphere is quite ‘heavy’ and very fine particles. Photographs well.
  • Cons: Admitting you own one. Expensive, messy, smell lingers, alienates loved ones, etc.
Scarif troopers patrolling through the misty woods in the snow.
Despite its cons, vape ‘smoke’ does give a great look.
Scene was lit with two Savage RGB360 lights.

Other options

There are two other options I haven’t explored but are worth mentioning.

  1. Dry ice. Available from your local ice service and possibly even grocery store. It’s very cold (-109ºF) so caution is required when handling. It should not be used in a small, closed space.
  2. Commercial fog machine. Get your rave on. Seems more suitable for very large spaces, so this may just flood your scene with atmosphere.

Scale versatility

Within my available time and space, I want to make the most of any diorama setup, even a simple one. When I was thinking about this setup and story, one of my goals was for it to work across scales (HO Scale to 6″ figures). Here are a few examples of how that worked—successfully, I think. These four images all used the ultrasonic fogger for atmosphere. That piece of kit will be one of my small studio staples.

Scarif trooper action figures on patrol through the misty woods.
Scene was lit with two Savage RGB360 lights.
A sinister, low-key look. LEGO minifigure riding on wolf.
A sinister, low-key look. Light and color from the RGB360 lights.
A fun, high-key look. Nature photographer pursuing penguins.
A fun, high-key look. Light from one overhead Savage LED panel.
A hunter in the emerging pre-dawn light. HO Scale.
HO scale figure from Preiser and an older Tomico Toyota FJ40. I wanted to recreate the pre-dawn light when the first golden rays begin peeking through the woods.

Diorama behind-the-scenes

I had gathered some sticks while we were taking a drive and getting out of the house. I hot-glued the sticks into a little forest of sorts with the expectation that I would shoot multiple scales in this same diorama. A bag of epsom salt served as snow.

Behind the scenes toy photography
A BTS from one of the many outtakes with the speeder bike. Will have to shoot that fellow again some time.
French Bulldog Puppy with stick in mouth.
Our puppy Gabby approves of any activity involving sticks.

I hope this inspires you to try something entirely new or shoot a favorite theme with more atmosphere.

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