August 29 – The Detailed Planning

August 29th is fast approaching and the detailed planning of our very first toy photography meet up on the old continent in the middle of the Stockholm Archipelago is starting to take shape.

The warm late summer weather is ordered (with all the rain that is falling out of the sky these days here in Sweden sun will be almost guaranteed as there will be no more water left in the sky) and we are working the detailed schedule of this three day photographic workshop in all things plastic.

Final registration deadline is Friday 14th, so please make sure you complete the online registration form if you did not do so. Continue reading “August 29 – The Detailed Planning”

take me back to the paleolithic era!

i recently had the good fortune to interview one of the LEGO designers behind the new jurassic world line-up (look for that piece in the upcoming issue of Bricks). and it rekindled my childhood love of dinosaurs.

as a kid, i loved hunting for fossils out at the river (the river being the missouri). i found various shells and plant bits in the shale and marveled that they might be as old as 60 million years, even tho’ i couldn’t really even grasp that number.

i always insisted that we stop at every touristy rock shop in the black hills and i scoured the ground on scorching summer days in the badlands of south dakota, hoping to find a tooth from a saber-toothed tiger. i dreamed of being a paleontologist, but abandoned those dreams early, thinking that everything would already be discovered by the time i grew up (back then, growing up seemed so impossibly far away).

i thrilled when i read of the discovery of sue, the most intact t-rex fossil ever found – you guessed it – in south dakota. (so i was kind of right, all the good stuff was already discovered.) i loved that sue ended up at chicago’s field museum, where i could visit her, since i was living there at the time. and although i moved to denmark before she was up and on display, i did go back and visit her a time or two anyway. and she is magnificent.

all of this came flooding back after my interview with nick and i had to get me some dinosaurs. now, on these long, light summer evenings, i can lay on my belly in the grass in our back yard, posing my raptors and my dilophosaurus in the glorious golden light and dreaming of all those fossils out there, yet to be found.


Naked in Seattle

So, I said yes to a photo walk in Seattle the other day. It would be easy, I thought, just another day down by the beach. But, alas, it was not, I should have known. Shooting among the others made me feel naked. NAKED!

On the day of the photo walk we met with a small group of really nice people at the statue park, everybody had their gear ready and we just went for it. As I took out my camera (note to self: never leave home without the big camera) and something to shoot, I just couldn’t do it. Not right there in front of others. You know how it is when you’re naked in front of people (come on, everybody has had that dream at least once), it can be quite distracting. I took my little scene away from others in order to concentrate even a little. It didn’t really work. I shot a frame here, another there, everything looked terrible and eventually I just decided to act as if I was photographing.

The only thing that was awkward, however, was me. I have never photographed with anyone else in the vicinity. Well, maybe the kid has watched sometimes but it’s different. I saw others go with apparent ease, enjoying the experience and the beautiful day. I was looking for an exit.

Then, a kid offered me a red gummi bear candy, it dropped to the ground and I figured that was my chance. I picked it up and yes, I shot a few nice frames of it just like that, on a rock.

Then Shelly gave me a dinosaur. The dinosaur and the gummi bear made a swell pair and I took them to a rock near where Wiiman was shooting his scenes. As I was setting the dinosaur and the gummi bear by the shore I fell into the familiar state of flow and everything was right.

The contemporary urban dinosaur (Bellariavenator Urbanus), surviving on leftovers, preferably candy because of the high sugar content. Dinosaurs love candy!

I am not used to photographing outdoors, I’ve done it a few times years ago, but as the afternoon was upon us I had experienced a really nice day with fellow photographers, and a moment when I didn’t mind being naked.

It was a good day.

What Does Success Look Like?

In LEGO, We Connect has been up for three weeks and I realize that I had some pretty lofty goals for the show. With each passing day I gain a little more distance and have been better able to judge what did and did not happen. So often as an artist you are too close and too emotionally involved to be able to judge what success looks like.

I am going to say right off that by any measure this show was a raging success. The amount of press coverage we received was phenomenal and the news still seems to be trickling through the inter-webs. The opening was well attended and everyone who came had a great time. The response to the work was overwhelmingly positive for all three of us. There was even one significant sale. Seriously who can ask for more?

When it comes to building a career it is never about instant success. Success might seem like it happened overnight, but it is always built on a series of small advances and forward movement that helps to strengthen you and help you grow as an artist. When I asked Vesa why he agreed to come to Seattle all those months ago, he told me simply that he always says “Yes”. What a great philosophy to live by, I think I will have to do the same. You never know what doors will open for you when you say “yes.” Sure there will be risks (both emotional and financial), but without risk you never know what is possible.

For me this experience has definitely enriched my life by the friends I made and the giant step forward my work took. The experience of editing and printing large can never be overstated. It was so far outside my expertise that it was frightening and exhilarating in equal measures. But the joy of seeing my photos large on a wall, rather than on a phone or tablet, cannot be over stated. The press coverage that the show received (and will receive, but more on that later) is only going to help me to continue moving forward. I have faith that a sale might still happen, but that is not how I am measuring this shows success.

So what does success look like? It looks like everything else…do the work and enjoy the process.

~ xxSJC

Sunset at Kerry Park, Seattle
Sunset at Kerry Park, Seattle

I realized after I wrote this that not everyone has people banging on their door like Avanaut. So the chance to say “yes” may not seem like a possibility. But I have found that opportunities seem to present them selves if you are open to them. If not, you can always do what I do, ask for them. If you are interested in displaying and possibly selling your work start small. Look for a local cafe or small group show. Get involved with your local photo community, build your on-line network and generally make yourself available for anything that may come along. It’s a brave new world out there! ~ xxSJC

There is Nothing New Under the Sun

It would be hubris to think that what we are doing with toys and photography is any way new. No matter how innovative you may be, there is always someone who has done it before. Sometimes we know who these people are, sometimes we don’t.

This is true in art, music, business, even Lego…just about anything that involves creation and innovation.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of room to find your own way. To acknowledge those who came before you as you move into the future is not only a matter of respect, it’s a smart decision. It says I know who I am, who’s shoulders I have climbed on and that I realize there will be others who come after me. It’s also the honorable thing to do.

I love this quote by Pharrell Williams

Some people say there’s nothing new under the sun. I still think that there’s room to create, you know. And intuition doesn’t necessarily come from under this sun. It comes from within.”

I couldn’t agree more. When I first saw Brett Westin’s underwater nude’s I knew I wanted to do the same thing. But the simple act of dealing with my own limitations in terms of talent and resources created results very different from his. This is how new things are created – old ideas run through the filter of a new artist.

So no matter if you are taking pictures of flowers, kittens, Lego or dinosaurs… look for your inspiration from within and you will create something new. In the mean time, don’t forget those early innovators who paved the way for us all.

~ xxsjc

“There is nothing new under the sun, not even dinosaurs.” ~ +Me2 

The Basics (pt 1)

Sometimes when I am on Instagram and I see people use certain photo terms I am occasionally left scratching my head and going “Huh?” I never know if it is a case of ignorance or if something is simply lost in translation. So in the interest of clarity I thought I should do a quick explanation of a few basic photo terms so we are all on the same page.

Rule of Thirds: Is simply a guideline to help you compose your photograph. If you view each frame as if is divided into nine section (almost all cameras and phones come with these guidelines that can be easily turned on or off) composing a photo is easier. There is a top, middle and bottom third as well as a left, middle and right third to each phot. The points were these lines intersect are referred to as “power points”. When you are composing an image you want to align your horizon line along the top or bottom third line as well as place your subject near one of the power point intersections. This is simply a guideline and a nice place to start when learning to compose a photograph.

Depth of Field (often refered to as DOF): DOF refers to how much of your image is in focus. If you are using a small aperture (think Ansel Adams and Group f/64) the entire image from front to back will be in focus. This is referred to as a large depth of field. If you are shooting with the lens aperture wide open, like f2.8 – f4 you will have a short depth of field. Blurring the background by using a short DOF is a great way to draw attention to the subject and minimize distractions. (If you are taking photos on your phone check out the app BigLens to achieve a short DOF.)

Leading Lines: Is a strong line within the photograph that leads the viewers eye from an outside edge to the subject matter. You will often see railroad tracks, roads, tree branches used as leading lines. When you are shooting macro photos outdoors there are many interesting options.

Bokeh: Is an effect most often caused by reflected light in out of focus areas of a photograph. Bokeh is common when using a short depth of field. Bokeh can appear circular or hexagonal depending on the type of lens aperture your camera has. (If you are taking photos on your phone there are several apps that you can use to fake this effect like Lenslight.)

Macro: This simply means taking photos of small things close up. A macro lens is a lens that lets you get really close to your subject.
I am sure for most of you this information is not new and I appreciate your patience as I review some basic terminology. Toy photography is a wonderful hobby and for many kids and teens it is a great introduction to a lifetime love affair with photography. I hope that we each can pass on our passion as well as some basic tips and tricks to those new to the hobby so that the internet will be filled with even more great toy photography!
~ xxsjc
How did you learn photography: trial and err or take a beginning photo class?
Have you ever shared your passion with a beginning photographer? 
Can you recommend any specialty phone apps that emulate the effects of a full size camera?
My next post will be an expanded version of a post I did for Brickcentral on the basics of outdoor photography. Stay tuned!! 

Ansel Adams, the WSJ and a bowl full of mush.

This morning while I was enjoying my morning bowl of mush and reading the Wall Street Journal I came across a wonderful article on photography. It had me on the first paragraph:

Ansel Adams, a piano prodigy before he picked up a camera, once declared that the photographic negative was like a musical “score,” while the final print was akin to the concert “performance”. – except from What does Art Look Like by Richard B. Woodward

This brought me right back to the conversations that +Me2 and I have been having about the pros and cons of printing your own work. Yes, printers are a pain in the ass and the ink expensive. Yes, you can send your files out and get a perfectly serviceable image back. But if you want to take your game to the next level there is nothing to compare to making minor and major edits to a print based on seeing a proof come directly out of your own printer.

When the world was only shooting in black and white it was not uncommon to have a dark room in your own house. With the advent of color printing this became unfeasible and most photographers where content to send their film to a lab for printing. Now with excellent inexpensive printers (a relative statement I know) plentiful, it seems a shame to send out what can be done easily in the comfort of your own home.

I’m not usually a control freak, but I find it indispensable to see what my images look like off the screen before I deem them worthy of showing and selling. Light, color, shadows, highlights all look different and once the image is on paper. I will often see corrections that need to be made that I could never have foreseen by looking at a screen.

So call me old school, but I agree with Ansel Adams and feel that to fulfill your potential as an artist you need to print your own work.

~ xxsjc

Go ahead and read the WSJ article I mention earlier, it refutes everything I just said. 

In further defense of printing, if I had not enlarged this image myself, I would never have seen the spider climbing on the rock. This is a detail that can only be seen at A2 or larger, but in my opinion it makes the image.