My work life has been a bit crazy over the past few months. There has been a huge software upgrade in the hospital where I work. And I’m in charge of training several thousand people on how it functions. Unsurprisingly, my creative efforts have recently taken a hit while this is all going on.

I’ve been finding it harder and harder to make time for photography, or painting, or anything else, in truth. So when an opportunity does come along, it’s all about taking advantage of it.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking a bit about when I went on holiday to Cyprus a few months ago. Before work took over from everything else.

Living in the UK, going anywhere with some sunshine and some warmth is a welcomed thing. And you know what going somewhere new means, somewhere new to take photographs!

I do have to say, now when I go on holiday anywhere, there is always an eye on toy photography opportunities. Usually this will involve lots of researching on Google Maps and Earth to best understand where the best spots might be before I arrive.

Do You Want to Go to the Seaside?

Fig Tree Bay, Cyprus
Fig Tree Bay, Protaras, Cyprus

We stayed in a place called Fig Tree Bay, which, as you can see from the above photo, was a tolerable place to be.

For a quick geography lesson, if you don’t know, Cyprus is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, on the edge of the Eurasia tectonic plate. And what does this mean for photography, you ask? Well, amazing rock structures and landscapes.

As the island has been formed from tectonic and volcanic activity in the past, it has also taken the effects of the ocean shaping the coast. And in my experience, being a fan of Star Wars and a toy photographer who lives somewhere that is either urbanised or green farmland, it can be very difficult to find locations that make a good substitute for Tatooine. And as we know, in a galaxy far, far away, lots of stuff happened on that ball of dust that was farthest from the bright centre of the universe.

So when travelling to countries with more arid and desert-like features, I always feel I need to take advantage. I want to make the most of those locations while I have access to them.

And the first step is to pack the right toys. When going for short or long trips, I tend to take a selection of toys with me, including action figures and LEGO minifigs. In this situation I brought:

  • S.H.Figuarts Boba Fett (The Mandalorian/Book of Boba Fett) – He was a shiny and new purchase to play with.
  • Customised Black Series Obi Wan Kenobi (Ep 3) – I just had to.
  • Black Series Ahsoka (Mando) – She unfortunately didn’t make it out the bag this time.
  • LEGO Fellowship of the Ring (and Gollum) – These guys go everywhere with me, just in case.
  • LEGO sandtroopers
  • Apocalypseburg Wyldstyle minifig

Back to being at the seaside: Day 1

Fig Tree Bay, Cyprus

Lots of Cyprus has a rugged and rocky coastline. And knowing this from past visits, I wanted to take full advantage of it. So we stayed right next to the sea for easy access, and the ability to get there at the right time of day.

It’s the biggest difference between indoor and outdoor photography for me. When it comes to outdoor, you are always chasing the light, for sunrise, or sunset, or blue hour. So being close with accommodation just makes things easier.

Fig Tree Bay Map

I found this spot just around the corner from our villa. And as you can see from the images above, it was right on the coast. However, due to the lay of the land, it did allow for an expansive landscape in comparison to the scale of the toys I was photographing.

You can run, but you’ll only die tired

BTS - You can run, but you'll only die tired. Tom Milton
BTS – You can run, but you’ll only die tired

Here you can see a pretty simple setup, taken late in the afternoon. I removed the camera from the tripod completely to get it as low to the ground as possible. And as shown in the resulting photo below, it meant that Boba was just cresting the horizon. The rocks in the background to stage right, and the raised ground next to the figure on the other side create leading lines and some interest to said horizon line.

I wanted to create a very Western style or Lawrence of Arabia feel to the image, of the figure coming out of the desert. Especially tied to the title, where this relentless man will find you, now or later.

In hindsight, it also reminds me a lot of the original poster for The Mandalorian, again evoking that Western vibe.

You can run, but you'll only die tired. Tom Milon
You can run, but you’ll only die tired

This was one of the first photos I took when I got to this location. I tend to walk around new locations quite a lot when looking for compositions and setups before I even put my bag down. I also like to get there early. So in this example, I was well prepared for the lead up to sunset and I hopefully knew the photos I was planning on taking.

I am Boba Fett

BTS - I am Boba Fett. Tom Milton
BTS – I am Boba Fett (P.S. stay hydrated)

This is where the fun begins.

As much as I talked about having a plan above, this was not a planned photo. It came right after the previous shot and was just a spur of the moment idea, just trying to catch the light. I know most photographers tend to avoid this in every aspect. But, my first rule is, if in doubt, shoot into the light, something interesting usually happens,

In this case, I knew I wanted the silhouette and was always planning to get the sun to flare from the edge of the figure. But I particularly loved the sun catching the ground with an edge light. and the light shining through the fabric on the figure was also a very happy accident.

I am Boba Fett. Tom Milton
I am Boba Fett

The sun set behind buildings just below the horizon in this photo, so there was a very short window of seeing the actual sun and shooting in this direction, in this style.

You had me at “hello there”

Following the previous photo, it was straight onto this one. The time was tight as the sun was setting, so I had to be quick. I got these behind the scenes shots just after I took the actual photo, so the light was already gone by then.

With Disney+ Obi Wan Kenobi on the horizon at the time I went on holiday, I was very excited and planning for this situation. The figure was an archive version of Obi Wan from Episode 3, but if anyone has seen that figure it’s a very mixed bag. This version now has a custom head from Bounty Supply Co and a soft goods cloak I got on Etsy. In the lead up to the holiday, I did spend a few nights painting a mini Ewan McGregor. But I’m really happy with the results.

And when it comes to the title, I just couldn’t help myself.

You had me at hello there. Tom Milton
You had me at hello there

As for setup of the camera and scene, it was very similar to the first Boba photo. I just added a diopter and moved the camera closer. As you can see, there’s a wire to hold the figure upright. I find it easier to paint it out in Photoshop after the shoot, rather than having to keep picking up the figure when it blows over in the wind.

When chasing the light at such a fast pace, you’ve got to do what you need to do to make life as easy as possible. I also like to strike my figures in steady poses of motion, generally walking somewhere to give a sense of direction and story. The problem with this is that it gives them a very small footprint (for want of a better word). The figures can end up being a touch top heavy.

Have you ever been afraid of the dark? What does it feel like when you turn on the light?

With the light long gone, it was time to use the landscape a little differently. I’d spotted this split in the rocks near where I’d been taking other photos. I always like using frames within the frame, and this rock formation gave the perfect example of that. And with Obi Wan — sorry, Ben — living in a cave when we catch up with him, he seemed like the perfect figure to include.

I used two backlights for this setup. The torches I use have a zoom feature to expand or focus the light. So one was set to a wide light to cast the back light, while the other was focused in on back lighting the saber to create a genuine glow. With a bit of Atmosphere Aerosol added into the mix the depth of the photo is created.

Have you ever been afraid of the dark? What does it feel like when you turn on the light? Tom Milton
Have you ever been afraid of the dark? What does it feel like when you turn on the light?

I always look for something different in what I see. And by that I mean, as a toy photographer I find myself looking at everything at a different scale. What can that be for an action figure or a minifig? How does that location work for photography when the subject is that size? This is an example of that, in the wider landscape it’s just a broken rock, but to Obi Wan (Ben) it’s a narrow canyon to walk through.

So with the light gone, it was time to pack up and try again the next day.

The next day and some new light: Day 2

Upon my return to the same location the next day, it was time for some more investigating and discovery of new compositions, this time looking a little further south from where I’d been the day before.

Fig Tree Bay Map
Rock pools. Fig Tree Bay, Cyprus. Tom Milton
Rock pools

The rocks and geology of this area were truly amazing. There were more than 100 square metres of rock pools, both wet and dry. And that gave so many opportunities for photos.

It was a challenge to find angles to take photos from at some points, due to the layout of the ground. I suppose that is part of the fun of trying to shoot at a wider depth of field to try photographing the figures and the landscape. It was didn’t help that the length of the camera fit into the various holes.

It lies behind stars and under hills, and empty holes it fills

I was unable to get any behind the scenes images for this one due to the setup. I found one of the pools with a little protrusion from the water, and it seemed the perfect spot for Gollum to sit.

The biggest issue with recording any setup images was that I had to shoot this without a tripod setup and had the camera in-hand. With the lens setup I have, as you’ve seen throughout this post, it is simply impossible to take photographs freehand. They all come out blurry due to the weight and camera shake. So for this one, I held the camera while the lens was propped between two rocks to get the angle I wanted.

I just loved the murkiness of the pool and atmosphere, and it seemed perfect to have Gollum looking out into the darkness. The rocks to the bottom left give a great leading line into the subject and the middle of the image. And the details of the edges of the rocks to the left and the right suggest the rocks coming up and over the scene, suggesting an underground location.

It lies behind stars and under hills, and empty holes it fills
It lies behind stars and under hills, and empty holes it fills

I don’t think we should have moved this far along

When I say “dry,” there were loads of these holes in the rocky ground stretching out to the sea. And with Cyprus being such a warm country, it’s clear that where these pools fill with sea water, it then evaporates and there is a lot of salt left behind.

I did think it was somewhat ironic that I would go to a warm place and come away with a set of photos that look like they could be on a wintery planet. But what I really liked was the contrast of the white and the darker rocks.

It was also great to get some depth in the images as the various layers of the old rock pools stretch out into the foreground and the background. I would assume it’s because of the sea, but the rock pools were joined in long lines that stretched to the water.

I don't think we should have moved this far along. Tom Milton
I don’t think we should have moved this far along

Not much of a seaside tale, right?

So I went to the beach and I took no photos of the sea. But as I said earlier, I think taking toy photos really does make you look at things differently. It’s about finding scenes within scenes. And what works at human scale might not work the same way at toy scale, and vice versa. Sorry if you were expecting sunshiny holiday photos.

But I think the biggest feeling I have about this location is now that work is returning to normal and the opportunity to do more photography is possible, it’s time to go on new adventures. To find new locations and tell new stories.

Nacho Beach, Cyprus. Tom Milton