How do you choose the toys you photograph?

This past weekend I meet up with some local toy photographers for an afternoon of companionship, conversation and photography. As I was looking around at my friends hard at work, I was struck by the variety of toys they had brought along as subjects. There were dinosaurs, Star Wars action figures, Bratz dolls, LEGO mini figures, custom figures, anime figures, and plenty more I couldn’t identify. Which brings me to my question – how do you choose the toys you photograph?

I’ve always wondered why some photographers are attracted to certain toys and not others. Some photographers swear by anything from the Star Wars universe, some photographers only use one or a very limited selection creating a unified look, while others use any and every toy that crosses their path for a colorful and eclectic look.

My own toy photography journey began with the LEGO mini figure and they continue to be the cornerstone of my photographic exploration. Occasionally I find myself attracted to a particular toy, like Danbo or T-Rex, and add it to my collection. I have fun photographing these other figures and find them a welcome break from the LEGO world.

No matter how far I stray from the LEGO mini figure, I always come back to them because I haven’t found anything that surpasses them for sheer story telling flexibility. Plus their diminutive size is a real plus; you can pack an awful lot of mini figures into one travel case.

Of course the trade off with these particular toys is that you can’t achieve the level of realism that you can with many of the multi articulated action figures that are currently for sale. Seven points of articulation are no match for 16 (or more!) when it comes to flexibility and pose-ability. You will never confuse a LEGO mini figure photograph with a hyper realistic scene – no matter how cleverly you light it or how much debris fills the air. In defense of my beloved mini figure, what it can’t achieve in realism it more than makes up for in fun.

So the question I want to know from you is this: what attracts you to the toys that you enjoy photographing the most? Is there a nostalgia element that inspires you? Is there a practical reason that makes one toy more appealing than another? Do you enjoy playing in a previously established story line or world? Does the design of a toy inspire you creatively? Do you like to photograph whats new and hip in the toy world? Are you inspired by a custom toys unique character? Or are you challenged by creating unique images from a toy that is readily available to all?

There are so many good reasons to photograph toys, but what is it about your favorite toys, that inspire you? I’m genuinely curious what motivates you. I’m hoping your answers will help me to understand why I might gravitate to the toys that I favorite. Who knows maybe your answers will lead to another interesting blog post?

Their have been many wonderful guest authors on the blog lately, that it reminds me that we can learn more from sharing our different experiences than only listening to me conjecture. With that in mind, I hope you will leave your thoughts and ideas on this subject in the comments.

Thank you and I look forward to reading your answers.

~ Shelly

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Bennett McKinney
7 years ago

Definitely Lego. I guess it’s because the ease of transportation and the awesome possibilities they bring. It’s fun for me to see something amazing and think how can I fit this lego figure into this scene. Sometimes it’s just how can I make this little figure fit in to this world that is so much bigger than it and make it look the same size. It’s fun to play around with them and to experiment. I’m not entirely sure why it’s lego though, I could do with other toys, I did try that. But lego just feels right and I’m… Read more »

Joseph Cowlishaw
7 years ago

I really enjoy good design and functionality; Lego has done a very good job on the quality and functionality of their minifigures, and that is why I use them 95% of the time! I have bought some other highly articulated figures to try and play around with but I always come back to Lego because it’s fun! I feel it is much harder to use a more realistic toy because everything it interacts with I feel needs to be realistic too. Plus if you go the realistic route, then you need to work on diaramas and other props that go… Read more »

7 years ago
Reply to  Shelly

Thank you Shelly! I actually did spend $15 getting the Hazmat suit guy from series 4, so yeah it can get pricey; but in general they are much less than something like a Hot Toys chewy at three easy payments of $90+.

7 years ago

That’s not an easy question. I’ve mostly sticked with LEGO because of the childhood nostalgia. It’s the toys I keep the best memories of and it was the only ones I didn’t throw away when I grew up. I kind of always knew that someday I would overcome the idea induced by social pressure that “toys are for kids, not for adults”, would go back to the attic and play with my old LEGO collection again. But when I try to think beyond that, like why there are non LEGO toys I’m more attracted too or why there are some… Read more »

7 years ago

Very interesting post! I started my toy photography journey at a very late age… I started with plush webkinz and mostly Happy Meal/cheap toys to have fun with my camera and the toy groups on Flickr. Star Wars is very popular theme in all iterations and I was a fan of the original movie so I started shooting Hasbro figures. Lego was non-existent during my childhood… seeing what others were shooting in Lego really got me interested in the minifigures. The real inspiration started with Kristina Alexanderson’s Storm Troopers! Then this fabulous community was found on Instagram, and thanks to… Read more »

7 years ago

I was always drawn to lego :) During my teenage years there was a hiatus for a few years, when everyone thought that I’m too old for that and stuff like that, so I let them stop buying me lego. And since I started to earn my own salary NO ONE CAN STOP ME NOW!! MUAHAHAHAHA!!! Erm, sorry, I got a bit carried away :) And as for photography part – I think it was avanaut’s photos which I noticed first. I’m pretty sure that it was some stormtrooper :) And from there it was a short way to SIP… Read more »

7 years ago

I’ve started with Kenner Star Wars toys when I got a cheap camera for my birthday when I was around 8. Having gotten into toy photography as an adult, I will still work with Hasbro Star Wars figures on occasion. But they demand a level of realism that isn’t “fun” for me – and that isn’t always practical for them given their limited articulation. Lately, I’m finding myself drawn to Lego minifigures. They’re portable, durable, available in a wide variety of themes… but most importantly, there’s no escaping the fact that they’re toys. I have much more fun when I… Read more »

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