It’s not as easy as you think

“My 5-year-old could’ve taken that.”

That’s an actual comment from a real human being that I got on one of my photos.

There’s a myth that’s prevalent amongst those who don’t know much about photography that taking photographs of toys is easy*. In the purest sense, it is easy, like all photography. With appropriate lighting conditions you just have to press the shutter release in front of something interesting.

Technical requirements aside, a 5-year-old could probably copy a lot of my photographs, but there are very few examples where the art of a photograph (or any other artistic medium for that matter) is in the execution. The brushstrokes of a painting, chiselled cuts of a sculpture or instruments that perform a song are not the primary focus. The emotional reaction to art is in the representation of the idea.

Creative ideas come from making new connections between unrelated phenomena, finding patterns in the knowledge we’ve accumulated over the years. Once the idea is there then the execution is secondary.

I’m sure the 5-year-old from the quote, and most young children in general, are very creative, but they’re not artists yet. Just looking at drawings produced by young minds shows the connecting of many different ideas, but uncontrolled, incohesive, without subtlety. It takes experience to draw upon the ideas that have come before and build on those to create new, relatable ideas.

This is also why I’m not shy about revealing behind the scenes shots from a lot of my photographs. My techniques are just an ever-expanding bag of tools for making my ideas look pretty.


*This would be an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is applicable to many situations.

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Shelly Corbett
8 years ago

Mike, I think this might be my favorite post of yours yet! Thank you for speaking so eloquently about a topic that I think dogs most of us who participate in the toy photography community. I must ask though, is the photo you used in your header (which is adorable by the way), taken in the actual outdoors? Or another one of your incredibly convincing indoor set ups? I will never trust myself to call it after being fooled before. :D Thanks again for this awesome post. I have a feeling I will be referring people here, well into the… Read more »

8 years ago

So sweet shot and superb post on the blog Mike!
Agreed! :D

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