As much as I enjoy bringing plastic figures to life through toy photography, I often have to contend with the devil on my shoulder who tempts me to just throw in the towel and call it a day. The red little guy makes a compelling case for quitting, as there are numerous forces in my life working in tandem to prevent me from getting behind my camera. Doing some soul searching, I’ve managed to cobble together the top five things that make me want to quit toy photography, along with three that make me want to continue.
What makes me want to quit
1. Seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder, appropriately abbreviated as “SAD” is something I’ve dealt with my whole life, but not something I ever known was a thing until recently. I’m a blue sky and bright sunshine kind of guy which, living in New Jersey, means I’m my best me from June through August. Sometimes I get lucky and the warm weather lasts until October, but once it goes away, it takes with it the bulk of my enthusiasm for doing pretty much anything.
Like a bear hibernating in a cave, I find myself wanting to just sleep off the colder months until spring. I try to use Halloween as an anchor to get me through fall, and the holidays through to the end of the year, but it’s a struggle. Dealing with sleep issues, feeling grouchy all the time, and having difficulty focusing all combine to keep me leaving my toys in the dark.
2. Lack of time
There are brief moments when I am able to shake my SAD feelings and find inspiration to shoot a photo. That is when a lack of time steps in to slap me right in the face, While my seasonal disorder comes and goes, finding time for toy photography has become increasingly harder and harder these days.
It isn’t just time for toy photography that I’m wrestling with, it’s finding any amount of minuscule “me” time during the week. I work full time, have two kids with increasing extracurricular schedules, and that doesn’t leave me with much of a day for shooting photos.
I look at my Instagram feed and I see so many artists cranking out amazing work on a daily basis. I wish I could keep up with that pace, but I’m lucky if I have one image to share a week. Most times it’s two weeks between shots. Sometimes three. This iregularity takes another swipe at my enthusiasm, and tees my mental state up for a perfect storm with #3…
3. Lack of energy
Energy. I just don’t have enough of it right now. The seasonal thing combined with feeling like I’m stuck in an endless lack-of-time-loop is mentally draining. At the end of the day, I barely have the strength left to do anything besides brush my teeth and go to bed.
I may doom scroll on my phone for a bit, or play five minutes of a video game while fighting to keep my eyes open, but grabbing my camera and setting up a shot is completely out of the question. It’s depressing, as ideas for photos pop up during the day, but the energy isn’t there to actually bring the ideas to life.
4. Lack of money
In addition to my mental and time shortcomings, my limited finances also have me contemplating quitting this hobby. Despite my best efforts, I am not independently wealthy. This proves to be a challenge as there are so many amazing toys out there that I’d love to get my hands on to shoot. It doesn’t help that I have collector-type tendencies, so if there is a line of figures, I feel a strong urge to “catch them all,” regardless if I am going to shoot them all.
Making matters worse, I don’t have a good storage system for my toys, so oftentimes they are just in disorganized piles surrounding my workspace. While others have an ability to thrive in a mess, for me, it is a creativity drain.
There have been moments where I feel the only way to deal with the mess and the constant allure of the next new toy is to cut my losses and sell off my entire collection.
5 Lack of… Instagram
Last on my quit list is the most embarrassing to say out loud, but if I’m being super honest, it’s Instagram. My Instagram reach has been on life support for the past year. I’m fully aware that likes and followers are meaningless, but a drop of around 80% in engagement on my photos weighs heavy on an already damaged psyche.
Sure, it may just be Instagram constantly moving the goal post on me, but it still makes me second guess the quality of my photos. Is my lack of energy apparent in my shots? Have I lost my creativity? Do my photos just completely suck? It’s hard not to wonder as I watch my Instagram account stagnate. It’s to a point where watching my photos just vanish into a void week after week has me contemplating deleting my Instagram account and walking away.
Instagram’s move to prioritize videos only exaserbates my issues, as I don’t have the time or energy to put together Reels in addition to my photos.
What keeps me going
My five reasons for quitting might not sound like much from the outside, but for me, they are quite a negative force conspiring against my toy photography. Thankfully, putting all of them down on “paper” has been therapeutic. After all, you can’t beat your demons if you don’t know who they are… or something like that.
While thinking of the things that make me want to quit, I’m reminded of the things that make me want to continue.
I’ve made a ton of friends thanks to toy photography, and I absolutely thrive on the encouragement and camaraderie that is synonymous with our community. There is also a near infinite amount of inspiration and motivation which keep me wanting to learn and improve—all while having fun in a genre of photography where it is impossible to take yourself seriously.
2. Pride in my work
When I take a moment to reflect upon my photos, I am really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. In my own humble opinion, my skills have come a long way from where I started, and there’s still endless room to grow and improve. This extends beyond photography, as I’m currently interested in exploring building my own dioramas and props.
3. The challenge
Despite the urge to quit, I still love the challenge of toy photography and the opportunity to create whatever crazy concept comes into my head. It’s a thrill bringing tiny little worlds to life, and there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing an idea materialize through your lens.
Have you ever felt the need to leave?
As loud and as frequent as the devil on my shoulder is getting, I’m not planning on listening to him anytime soon. I may slow down and take breaks from toy photography, but I truly enjoy this hobby, and hope to keep playing with toys for the foreseeable future. Though please, someone wake me up when spring gets here.
You articulated so well the reasons for wanting to quit. I totally can relate to them. One of them I would add is the occasional questioning of why I am wasting time on this and if it is all too childish and meaningless. So much so that at times, I just want to throw away all my figures. However, such feelings of highs and lows are cyclic. And I agree it’s the community and the inspiration within the community that always pulls me back in.
Alan I can relate – not to all your reasons for quitting – but enough of them. I think about it all the time. While Im grateful Im not effected by SAD I struggle with being an outdoor photographer who is fighting the weather forecast. Rarely does a good weather day line up with a day that I’m have time to sneak away. The changes in the IG algorithm that makes it hard to even keep a hold of ones ‘community’ isn’t helping. I do hope you will keep your hand in the game, because not only has your photos gotten better, but ultimately this can be a good stress relief. Whatever you decide to do, I will support you. But Im like Sunny, and hope this is only cyclical and goes away with the sunny weather. xx
I totally share the sentiments about weather. It was countless times when I was looking through the window, waiting for weather to change.
Great article, Alan. I’ll check out your Instagram site!
I think artist in general have lots of ups and downs. There is a great book on this called art and fear, btw.
I only do some toy photography and haven’t shared anything here, but I follow the blog. I’m also friends with Dave D. and I know he actually uses toy photography to fight depression.
I’d say that maybe selling parts of your collection that don’t bring you joy, may be a way to increase your toy budget. I’ve also picked up used toys at a local toy shop to use in my photography or you may be able to borrow some from friends.
I have a large collection of Hot Wheels, so if you are ever looking for a specific car or truck, let me know. I’d be happy to send it to you.
at least once or twice a month I catch myself sitting on the couch, looking at the kitchen table, at the figures on the shelf and wondering what I’m doing this for, why these pictures, these figures Lego sets, what do I need it for. I admit that most often it happens when I’m exhausted after a very intense day or something that has happened in the world of toy photography demotivates me. Fortunately, this feeling passes pretty quickly, so I never actually got to the stage: I want to quit. But I certainly agree with at least some of your arguments, Alan.
I am also suffering from a chronic lack of time and the related lack of energy. Often I even feel sorry for myself that so many ideas are waiting to be implemented, and I am not getting into them.
I feel sorry for your SAD and I guess it can make you feel even less creative. I’m often deprived of the urge to do anything even by “ordinary” fatigue.
I may be not a collector, so this financial aspect affects me less, but I have constant shortages in the equipment – mainly when it comes to light and lenses. I’m aware that I don’t want to pay too much for my hobby, so expanding my the machine park will take a long time 🙂
You don’t have to worry about the quality of your photos. At the very beginning of my journey, when I was expanding the group of toy photographers I followed and one of them was you, I thought to myself – I want to take pictures like Alan. And I still want to. Because you’re doing a great job, in every way.
I kind of “said goodbye” to Instagram some time ago. It occurred to me that the number of followers and the quality of the photos have nothing to be liked. Some of my photos, sometimes the ones I’m most happy with, don’t even have 200 likes. My photos from a few years ago have so many likes. I stopped worrying about it and I advise it to everyone. Although I know it can be difficult.
I sincerely hope these three well-rounded reasons to stay outweigh and we won’t have to say goodbye to you at the Toy Photographers community.
What a well thought out reflective article Alan. Much of it does strikes a chord with me either at present or at some point in this toy photography journey.
I can relate as well with the lack of time and energy, having a full-time job and 2 young kids myself – it’s undeniably a juggling act of priorities and sacrifices. Family comes first but “me” time is so important as well – a couple of hours each week to do hobby related self-care recharges me. I do get frustrated when I have to rush a shoot because of time constraints and lately, I have decided on a different approach by shooting in small segments – one evening I would setup the scene with dios, posing, etc, and find the time another day to shoot.. and then a slice of time on another day to mess around with edits. The process might get stretched out but I feel better with having a final image that is not rushed, which leads to your point on the Instagram factor. The attention economy underlying IG compels us to compare and churn out images like professional content creators which I’m sure most of us are not dependent on for our daily living. I just turn off the like counts these days and remind myself that the most liked image on IG is a photo of an egg. It’s a ridiculous algorithm that doesn’t do your artwork justice.
I lean more towards the photographer rather than collector side of the line and have little attachment to most of my toys which I do clear out by selling them occasionally.
I wholeheartedly relate with what you said about community and the mutual inspiration that comes from within. Sometimes I imagine if this whole hobby was based offline and in real life, we would be akin to a hobby club that hangs out weekly at a clubhouse, learning and sharing with one another. Some weeks we might create something while other times, we might just sit back, chill and chat. I think this is analogous to Sunny and Shelly’s cyclical concept.
This is a long comment and I’m coming to a close with a question of purpose – why am I/you/we doing this hobby? For me, it started with wanting to spread positive imagery and recently, it’s becoming a visual journal where I express current events in my life with toys. In parallel, the hobby is a fun recharger with “para-hobby” activities like crafting and model building.
Your images above are filled with adventure, fun and creativity and I hope you had as much fun making them as we do viewing them. There’s vulnerability in your words in the article which is authentic and that is a powerful source of inspiration.
Alan, what a powerful article. Everything you said, I think I’ve felt at one point or another like Janan and the others said. And like you the community, is a big part of why I love the hobby. All the other photographers I’ve met online and have been able to share learn from, create with and talk with has been an unexpected gift from randomly taking photos of LEGO. Lately, to make sure I see the toy photographers post I just turn on the notification bell. Algorithms suck, and social media can be a real downer. But, also without it being friends, and talking to photographers from around the world would be impossible. Catch 22 I guess.
On a more positive note, this seems like a perfect place to tell you, since, I found the hobby your photos have always inspired me, now that I have had the opportunity to talk with you, and collaborate with you, and after reading this article, I admire your page more.
To the ups, and downs.