Toy Photography is another form of FanFiction

In certain circles legography is considered product photography. We’ve tried to define toy photography as still life, travel photography, tableau-vivant as well as the catch all narrative / action. Lately I’ve come to think of toy photography as a form of FanFiction.

What is FanFiction?

FanFiction is when someone takes either the story or characters (or both) of a certain piece of work, whether it be a novel, TV show, movie, etc. and create their own story based on it. Sometimes people will take characters from one movie and put them in another, which is called cross-over. – The Urban Dictionary

Sound familiar?

When I look through my Instagram feed, I see recreations from movies using LEGO that are barely distinguishable from the originals. I see LEGO storm troopers hunting for Pokemon on the DeathStar. I see genre bending crossovers of every style imaginable; stories and situations limited only be the artist’s imagination. Once you start looking at toy photography through the lens of FanFiction, its hard to imagine it as anything else.

Even Boba can't outrun the corporate intellectual property lawyers.
Even Boba can’t outrun the corporate intellectual property lawyers.

Lego with its many licensed intellectual properties is ripe for creating photographic fan fiction and crossover fiction. (There is something very satisfying about seeing Lego Friends combined with the Star Wars universe.)

Certainly the photographs created by Vesa within the Star Wars universe that focus on the stories taking place outside the main story line can be seen as FanFiction. Mike’s photos representing storm troopers in every day situations can be viewed as a form of fan fiction where these familiar characters inhabit a more ordinary  universe.

I personally feel that many of the photographs I create fall squarely in the realm of FanFiction. When I recreate the world of Chima as one of peace rather than war, is that not FanFiction? When I expand the world of Mouse Guard showing the characters at play in the forest, rather than battling, is that not also FanFiction?

Lieam in canoe - reedited

Creating FanFiction is a great way to show your love of a particular story line, a fun way to expand your favorite universe with new stories and characters or tie up loose ends left by the original author. Where would the Star Trek franchise be without FanFiction? Several of the best known writers of Star Trek FanFic have gone on to write for the franchise’s movies and tv shows. The Star Wars franchise was kept strong by its legions of fans who kept the universe alive for the ten years between Episode III and VII?

FanFiction is nothing new, even Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is based on an earlier  poem by Arthur Brookes titled : “The Tragic history of Romeo and Juliet.” Other famous fan fictions are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies based on Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice; Neil Gaiman’s “The Problem with Susan” fills in the gaps left by the final book in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe series; and of course Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight FanFiction. If you identify yourself as a creator of FanFiction, I hope you can see that you’re in good company. (I didn’t make any of this up!)

Chima-Lego-Legography-xxsjc-Boating

In the past year we’ve spent time trying to define toy photography and what we create. I think its important to know where we fit into the larger world of creatives. If we can define it, we can promote it more successfully. If you’re one of the many people who are interested in selling your work, it’s much easier to do so if you know what it is you actually DO.

Luckily we live in a time where FanFiction is increasing in popularity. There is no shame in creating or recreating the stories that you love. While the issues of fair use still overshadows the discussion, there is still plenty of room to create a name for yourself as a purveyor of FanFiction. All you have to do is look to the success of Matthew Callahan who was recently nominated for a Hugo in the category of Fan Art for his work recreating real life battle scenes using Star Wars action figures.

Even if you’re accused of making one more cute Storm Trooper photo (How can you not? Lego Storm Troopers ARE cute!) don’t stop taking those photos. You’re a FanFiction artist, part of a long and proud tradition of artists taking their favorite genres and story lines and giving them a personal spin. Who knows, maybe you will become one of the those legendary fans who turned pro.

FanFiction for the win!!

~ Shelly

If you consider yourself a FanFiction artists, how does your world differ from or expand on the original? Do you partake in cross-over fan fiction? If you do, which franchises do you use and  why? 

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Joecow
7 years ago

Shelly, Thank you for this article! I was actually just discussing this topic with my brother yesterday. He is a professional landscape photographer and was asking questions in regards to me selling prints with other products (toys – mainly Lego) as the main focus. I think there is a valid point to be made that if Lego and other companies go down the route of legal action against some of their greatest fans – it’s a bad route. I brought up that in fashion photography, especially clothing it would be hard to list all the products that are being displayed… Read more »

Mary Wardell
Mary Wardell
7 years ago

I was part of the world of fan fiction back in the 70’s and 80’s as a writer and publisher and I have to agree with this premise – we are creating new stories in the fun universes that lego has helped us step into.

Leila @brickandmordor
7 years ago

What a fun post! I love that kitty in the Chima boat! He’s like a stowaway!

AliceinCleveland
7 years ago

This is an interesting idea and appears to be an excellent fit (a hallmark of a great idea!). I do wonder though about the nature of fan fiction and source intent. I cannot speak for all of the original creators but I have always viewed fan fiction coming from ‘fixed’ sources where there was no intent that the consumer of that content would behave in an interactive way. What I mean when I say this is that something like Star Wars was originally released as movies. It wasn’t common for people to have access and means to produce and distribute… Read more »

AliceinCleveland
7 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

I don’t think there is anything to agree or disagree with regarding fan fiction really. It is all a matter of preference. Much like there are almost an infinite number of ways to photograph toys, there are countless ways to express fan fiction. There is nothing inherently wrong with playing in an established world, even expanding it. That is what a video game is after all. My preference for fan fiction though is to see those characters used in an entirely new way though. This would be a great thing I think to discuss in person, perhaps at the next… Read more »

Lynn Moore
7 years ago

Excellent post Shelly! I think it’s a great way to describe Legography. Legography is definitely not “product photography” since most photographers put their own creative ideas into each photo. LEGO creates these awesome minifigures and we are able to take them, make characters out of them and stories for them. I’m going to keep taking cute minifig photos and flooding Flickr with them :-)

Lynn

Hasif Rahman
7 years ago

Hi ! First of all, sorry for my comment not related to the post above. The thing is, I need help. After google a lot about Lego / Toy Photography, I still don’t have the answer. I’m currently using a full frame camera with a 40mm lens. I was using it more for Street Photography. But this year, i’m interested with Lego / Toy Photography and I’m having problems to shoot Lego minifigure with the 40mm. I know there are no best lens for any type of photography but can you help me, give me an advise or tips what’s… Read more »

Leila @brickandmordor
7 years ago
Reply to  Hasif Rahman

Hi Hasif, Here’s an article I found really helpful: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/compound-eye/the-poor-mans-macro-kit-extension-tubes/ Basically, extension tubes combined with a non-macro lens will allow you to shoot at a macro distance. So you wouldn’t necessarily need to buy a new lens right away to get started with macro photography. You could just add an extension tube to your existing lens. I normally use a 100mm macro lens on my full frame DSLR, but I came across this article because I’ve been researching ways to be able to use a wide angle lens for a LEGO stop-motion project I’m working on. I purchased a 35mm… Read more »

Hasif Rahman
7 years ago

Leila : Hi ! Thanks for the info sharing. Currently I’m using a Canon 40mm pancake lens on my 6D. Maybe i should try with the extension tube first before I go for the Macro 100m. When you said, “I could fill my frame with the LEGO figure and still include the background even with a shallow DOF” That’s what I want actually. Include the background in photos, and not totally only the Lego figure. All this while, I’m using the 40mm to shoot the Lego figure and I had to crop it in photoshop / lightroom, but the result… Read more »

Leila @brickandmordor
7 years ago
Reply to  Hasif Rahman

Yeah, I’m not surprised you’ve experienced frustration shooting toys with that setup. That 40mm lens is just not made to focus on close-up subjects. You could experiment with an extension tube paired with your 40mm, but just remember those limitations I mentioned earlier. I saw your question to Shelly asking if the Canon 24-105mm F4 IS USM would be good for toys. If I may chime in on an answer to that, I would say, if your primary goal here is LEGO (“macro”) photography and you have the budget to buy the Canon 24-105mm F4 IS USM, then you may… Read more »

Hasif Rahman
7 years ago

Leila :

Last question, any suggestion for the 50mm?

By the way, thanks a lot for all the info by Shelly and Leila ! Great person both of you. Smile ! =))

Hasif Rahman
7 years ago

Shelly : Wow, thanks for the info. I don’t have any experience with macro lens. I was like, macro is for insects and flowers. I don’t know that it can be use for minifigures. I’ve google “macro lens” and most of it showing insects with big eyes and bokeh. I’m the type of person who loves to involve the background and not totally bokeh. I want to create a photo with a story in it and not totally like “portraiture”, just the face, if you can understand what i mean. For example as per this photo posted in this blog.… Read more »

Maëlick
7 years ago

I love this post because it’s totally spot on for me. While not all my photos of toys are destined to be fan fiction, it’s something that I’ve been doing since the beginning. In particular I’ve always been very inspired by toy photographers that can create stories that bend existing universe. That’s what I’ve tried to do first with my Yoda photos by giving his minifigure the personality he had in Episode 5 (and that has been more or less ignored by LucasFilm since then) and then exaggerating this personality more and more over time by including other characters such… Read more »

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