“Ever since you started taking photos of toys, you’re always looking at the world from a different point of view.” That’s what my father told me not long ago when he saw me kneeling down with my camera and a Lego minifig in the boiler room…

… and that’s actually accurate.

You’re not going to find here mind-blowing photography techniques or breathtaking action figure poses. Some of the ideas below aren’t even mine! But maybe -only maybe- reading this article will trigger some ideas or inspire you to seeing things in a different light.

I’ve been photographing toys as a hobby for a few years, and it all started with pretty simple setups. It didn’t take long for me to run out of scenes and ideas with the limited props I had. I’m always amazed with the incredible dioramas people make and the gorgeous vistas of outdoors pictures they capture in the mountains. In my case, I don’t have the resources or the room to get plenty of dioramas or even to get out of downtown Madrid as often as I’d like.

The World Around Us

Instead, I turn to the world around me, trying to imagine how it can fit into my photography. The scales we usually work with make it simple to transform daily life objects into amazing props. These everyday items bring variety to our pictures without needing dozens of specific, scale accurate dioramas. There is plenty around us that may seem mundane, but in the eyes of an action figure, can become something entirely different.

I found out that there are many things at home that can used for toy photography. Look at the interior of your microwave oven – so white and shiny (when clean).  It kind of looks like the interior of a Star Wars “Tantive IV” ship, right? And the inside of a washing machine? Another perfect off-beat location for a sci-fi setting. 

There are also many shapes and materials you’ll find helpful, not only for starships and sci-fi environments. Fridge magnets can become pieces of art and toothpicks transform into dangerous traps for miniature adventurers. If you look closely, you might even find old ruins in the shape of frames, decorative statues or, in my case, an old planter at my grandparent’s place.

Figure 1 Indiana Jones and the Old Planter

Wearing Your Goggles

Now go to your kitchen, open the fridge, and put on your “toy photographer” goggles. Those crystal-clear bottles, those textures in the fruits and vegetables can all make for great scenery. I’ve found Tatooine structures in cardboard fruit trays and alien air ducts in a Pringles can.  What about that cauliflower? Its ready for liftoff. There is a world of possibilities if you look for it. 

Figure 2 Be sure to finish the package first!
Figure 3 Explorers on the Cauliflower

Bottles and glasses can become handy as well. There are many different kinds and shapes, and the different colored liquids and bubbles do look great under the proper light, for example as specimen containers such as this one.

Figure 4 Tonic water bottles with UV light

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Once, we had octopus tentacles for dinner, and right before cooking them, I had a vision.  I stopped everything, grabbed some figures and set up a “Lord of the Rings” inspired shot. It took a while to put together and my family wasn’t happy postponing dinner while I played with my food. In the end, I think the photo was worth though. 

Figure 5 Dinner had to wait

Finding Vistas

Everyday objects can be introduced into your toy photography in numerous ways. Sometimes you need just the right kind of texture for a wall or a surface. Kitchenware such as strainers make for perfect “Death Star” like backgrounds. That amethyst rock decorating your in-laws’ place? What an otherworldly planet surface it will make. How about using the oven tray as a Jurassic Park fence? There are plenty of landscapes to be found without every stepping outside.

Figure 6 Far away worlds in the palm of your hands
Figure 7 You don’t need much else

Stepping Out

That said, you can absolutely use your “Toy Photographer Googles” outdoors as well. There might be a specific spot you’re walking through every day that has something interesting for your shot. Some broken pavement for a superhero’s landing? A broken fence Hulk might have destroyed maybe? There is a fountain in my village that I’ve found works wonders as a natural waterfall! Indoors or out, when you look at things differently, you’re bound to find something that works. 

Figure 8 An old fountain in Abiego, Spain

No Limits

There are no limits to what you can find and incorporate into your photography. You just need to try to imagine what might work at that scale. See with the eyes of your figures and plan the shot and perspective so you’ll get what you need.

Sometimes you will find what you needed for that photo you were planning but couldn’t pull off before, and some others, seeing something with this new perspective will surely trigger a brand-new idea. 

Give a try, open those drawers, and wear your Toy Photography Googles!

Fernando Chavarría (@chava.fernando)