Hi! My name is Doug Gary and I live in Northern California with my husband, our 13 year old son, and too many toys. I’m in my 50’s and love to hike, listen to music, watch movies, visit museums, see plays, work on making the world a better place, and… um… buy toys. I also love walks and cocktails with friends. Long ago I worked for many years in the theater, and have spent most of my worklife in supportive housing – a really successful, lasting housing solution serving people who’ve experienced long-term homelessness and all of the trauma associated with it.
How and when did you start with toy photography?
I took up toy photography by accident in June of 2015 using my iPhone. I had just stumbled upon some of the LEGO Simpsons 2 minifgure blind bags (not the LEGO figs of my childhood!) thanks to a friend, and randomly posted a few shots on my new Instagram feed. My second toy pic was the day in June, 2015, that the US Supreme Court handed down their Marriage Equality decision (ah, a court that expands rights & well-being – remember that?), and I wanted to take a rainbow shot using the Simpsons figs. I posted it on Instagram and over the next few weeks a door opened wide. Turns out lots of people posted pictures of toys – and some of them were incredible toy photographers. Some were even real people! I fell hard and never turned back.
Tell us about the toys you photograph
When I first started I was focused on LEGO minifigures, and I still adore them. Though I’m sure nobody reading this can relate, my LEGO collecting became its own hobby over time, including larger sets and too many minifigures (if that’s possible). Sometime in late 2019 I picked up a few other toys just for fun. I’d still wondered how on earth other photographers I knew could collect so many different kinds and sizes of toys – what was wrong with them?! Then the pandemic hit and somehow my time and interests took a deep dive into the world of adult toys (not that kind!). I’ve met some fantastic people on the art toy collecting side of this journey. Some of my favorite toy designers are Ayako Takagi, Shon, Shoko Nakazawa, Touma, T9G, and Kasing Lung. I also adore the custom creations of Krash (Dennis) and Teeewizzle (Thad). Oh and then there’s Hello Kitty, Godzilla, Morris, Monster Fluffy and did I mention LEGO? That said I still prefer to think of myself as a toy photographer
with a bit of a hoarding issue.
How do you choose which toys to shoot or stories to tell?
Sometimes I have total clarity about what toy I want to take to shoot on a hike or a story/idea will come to mind for a particular figure or grouping. As with many of you, ideas come from all over – something moving in the headlines, the weather, a recent movie or song or play, another photographer’s work. Other times I’m stumped as I look over my collection. In the end, I find such joy in these toys and they basically pick themselves for a given hike or shot. I also really love the various photography challenges that pop up on Instagram; including the ones from the mighty group on this site. I enjoy the “forced” focus of a given theme, and the community and connection they build. I had a great time this October participating in two Halloween-themed challenges (#tp_spooktober and #tshalloweenchallenge).
This shot of “Boo” by Uamou was a fun one to create.
I wasn’t sure they’d float, but I put them in the water at my friend’s pool and ta da – they float! So then I had to lie down on the concrete facing the pool and shoot over and over until I got an angle that worked. Oh, and keep some movement going with my hand or foot. All that and my camera didn’t end up in the water. Another toy photography success!
Almost all of your photos are taken outside – why?
That’s true! I love the light, the range of scenery, the surprises that just happen when I’m out and about, and I especially love walking and hiking in nature. And bokeh – I adore bokeh! It’s also easier for me to get out into nature than some – there are many nature spots not far from where I live, and there’s a cemetery right behind us. In truth, I’m deeply disinterested in editing my photos, and almost all of my photos are straight out of the camera. I’m in awe of what others of you can do in studio and in the editing room, but so far I’ve been happy outside with my toy friends. I’m not sure if I love being in nature or photographing toys more, but they make a perfect pair for me.
Why are you still at it?
Toy photography is, for me, a very calming, centering, and entertaining experience. I love the hyper focus on the toy, the scene, the shot. (Try taking a toy shot without noticing your breath or being still… I double dare you.) And I still really love the fun of it all. I find these toys so magical and amusing, and who doesn’t need extra doses of that these days? Granted, I have plenty of moments of self-doubt with my toy photography and collecting, and I often don’t get the shot I had in mind. Still, this is such a fun, creative outlet for me, and I feel very connected to so many of you that I’ve met in this community (especially the three of you that are still reading this).
Tell us about what equipment you use.
I moved from the iPhone to a Canon 80D with a macro lens EF 100mm in late 2017, and still love my setup. (Huge thanks to Shelly Corbett and Leila Chieko for their amazing guidance selecting the right camera for me, and so much more mentoring and friendship.) Along with my camera, I often use a bounce card, sometimes some reusable putty, and occasionally a little light or the Lensball. I carry my bag of goodies in a Lowepro daypack, and use most of the space intended for more lenses, etc., for toys. My favorite part of my set-up is my immediate family’s support. My husband (and sometimes my son; a little less so as he gets older) is always there to hold a bounce card, clear the set, or advise on the story, the angle, or the final shot. I have no training in photography as may well be evidenced, but I sure love learning and experimenting.
What’s your favorite aspect of toy photography?
I really love this community! Having met some in real life, I’m here to affirm that internet friends are real friends. I’m so privileged to have met so many fun and amazing photographers in this corner of the universe, and through that I’ve made some great friends across the globe. There is so much knowledge, fun, and support in our community, and for me that’s magnified by the toy meetups I’ve had a chance to join. If you’re ever feeling alone in this or still wading at the edge of this awesome pond, I encourage you to dive in. Oh, and go ahead and like and comment on photos that move you — we all love a virtual high five.
Thanks for reading this and please stop by on IG and say hi. I’d love to see your work!
A big Thank You to Doug Gary for sharing his tremendous love of toy photography. I’m sure we can all relate! Please stop by his Instagram account and show his photos some love.
I really like your work. Nice to meet you.
Thanks so much Zoran and same here. I just found you on IG and am happy to follow you. See you there, too.
Hooray! I’m rarely on this site anymore but I saw your pic in the email newsletter. I loved reading more about you and your whole toy photography journey. Look at how far you’ve come with this hobby! So proud of you. Your images blow me away. I am so honored to be your friend. I miss our toy meetups and silliness hanging out! Hope that can happen again someday! xo lei
awwww damn that’s so sweet lei. glad i can do you proud after you told me what to get. 😉 miss you, love you, hope to see you somewhere soon somehow. meantime, keep those amazing toy pics coming. xo
Great story and even greater images Doug. So nice to meet you. 🙂
Many thanks Ann. See you soon on the journey — at least on IG. 😉