Today I woke up feeling very inspired and with a wonderful feeling of joy. So before getting out of bed, I decided to start my day reading the #StuckInPlastic blog. I then took a shower and set my guys in line to finish my post. As I always need some background noise to do anything so I set my Netflix on Eat, Pray and Love to keep me inspired. My mom says she thinks of me whenever she sees this movie and I can totally understand why. Continue reading “Reborn”

Toy Photo Safari recap from Father’s Figures

When I first saw the posts about this year’s Toy Photo Safari popping up in my Instagram feed, I knew I had to make an effort to attend. I wanted to attend the previous meet up in Las Vegas, but the resources and timing weren’t quite there.

Toy sharing was another highlight of the trip. I borrowed this T-rex and had to buy my own when I got home.

Continue reading “Toy Photo Safari recap from Father’s Figures”

What you can discover in an hour (or four days) of play

Mais descobre huma hora de jogo, que hum anno de conversação.

An hour of play discovers more than a year of conversation.

— Portuguese Proverb

As I returned to the “real world” the Tuesday following the SiP Seattle Toy Photographers Meet-up, I inevitably had colleagues and friends ask about where and how I’d spent my long weekend away. Upon telling most of these colleagues and friends about all I had been up to those four days, their first question was inevitably, “A What Photographers Meet-up?” How do you even begin to explain the incredible experience of a toy photographers meet-up to someone whose mind has never so much as crossed paths with the idea that there are artists, like myself and my fellow toy photographer attendees, who (privately, for the most part) take beautiful and sometimes painstakingly-created photographs of their toys?! Continue reading “What you can discover in an hour (or four days) of play”

Into The Wild

The weekend of the recent Seattle Toy Safari presented several opportunities for us toy photographers: The chance to meet friends we only really knew by their Instagram handles, to make new friends (and, in turn, swap Instagram usernames), to borrow toys for unexpected and unplanned shots, and more. For me, the meetup also came with a challenge: I had to actually shoot outdoors!

I consider myself primarily an indoor toy photographer. A viewer of my photos will find more shots of superheroes playing with their cats than they would Chima in the wild. Part of that has to do with the fact that Mike, Vesa, and Chris McVeigh were my biggest inspirations for getting into Lego photography, and as you know, they primarily shoot in-studio. While I’m not quite as control-oriented as they are, I do find that my particular sensibilities and ideas as a photographer gravitate toward indoor scenes.

At first I was anxious when looking at the schedule for the Toy Safari, which took us into the heart of Seattle, and to various parks, forts, and nearby waterfalls. Beyond that surface-level nervousness, however, was the excitement to try new things, and venture outside of my own photographic comfort zone.

“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” – John Maxwell.

As Shelly recently mentioned, approaching photography with “an openness to the possibilities” can lead to some fantastic surprises. Over the weekend, I discovered something about myself I didn’t know: I actually enjoy shooting outside!

Granted, it took me a while to get the hang of things. I’m used to setting up my scenes in a lightbox or near a window, placing my camera on a tripod, and slowing my shutter speed to let in more light. Upon taking my first outdoor photos, I had to immediately mess with the camera settings – taking them away from the numbers I’d found so familiar and “safe” – and do some good ol’ fashioned trial-and-error.

Apart from the technical changes, I also had to examine my own creative process. How could I take my actual ideas and place them in the real world, away from the small living rooms or alien landscapes I’d created on my kitchen table?

This turned out to be a pretty satisfying creative problem to have, as it required me to examine my batch of minifigures differently. Rather than literally creating the scene around the figure, I had to do the opposite, and find a way for the figure to inhabit the natural surroundings I found myself in.

Monkeying Around High Res
I was lucky to find a tree with some branches small enough for Lego hands – letting this monkey enjoy some much-needed time outside!

From there, new ideas had to be forged. What was the minifigure doing? What story was I trying to tell? I didn’t want to simply shoot the figure in the grass or by the ocean – I needed an angle, some kind of hook.

To my surprise, it was extremely fun to dig through my toy box, mix and match accessories, and see what kind of scenarios or stories I could create using a natural environment. I can’t exactly create an ocean at home (not without my wife or landlord getting upset, anyway), so it was fun to gaze upon my minifigs and place them in situations I’d never be able to conjure up while inside the comfort of my own home.

Jawesome High Res
When stuck indoors, this shark minifig was destined to pose for a recreation of Katy Perry’s infamous Left Shark/Right Shark halftime show. Luckily for him, he enjoyed a day at the beach instead!

I’m very happy with the results, and I learned quite a few things over the weekend. Apart from some new technical tricks, I learned more about myself, the nature of my own creative process, and how fun it can be to bring my ideas into a new situation or location. I doubt I’ll soon get used to seeing these outdoor photos on my camera roll, but I’m sure glad they’re there, and I cannot wait to add more of them!

~ James Garcia

Fearless Warrior
When adventuring away from your comfort zone, always make sure to pack some of the things that make you feel safe.

An open heart and an open mind

I try to approach life with an open heart and an open mind. It’s not easy and I often fail, especially when I’m tired, hungry or stressed. Even though I repeatedly fail, that doesn’t mean I don’t keep trying.

I approached the weekend of the Seattle Toy Safari with no expectations and open to anything. Sure I had my assigned role – official cat herder – but other than that I was free to take advantage of the opportunities presented as was any participant. I had personal goals, but none of them were directly related to photography. Going into the weekend with no expectations of creating any photography left me open to learning three amazing lessons which I thought I would share with you.

First – you never know who is a toy photographer. When we stopped into the KEXP gathering space for a much needed coffee break and a quiet place to swap photos, we caught the attention of the barista at la Marzzoca. It seems he and his brother had recently jumped into the world of toy photography and were surprised to find this amazing world he only knew online suddenly appeared in his everyday world. We ended up having a lovely and unexpected chat. Keep your eyes open, toy photographers are every where!

Second, you never know where an amazing photo will come from. This came up two different times on the safari, the first time was at Fort Casey.  My heart sank when we first arrived at Fort Casey; the weather conditions seemed dire. Although it was a bleak and rainy morning, the photographic opportunities turned out to be spectacular. Being able to stay dry under the overhang of the fort and shoot across black concrete while a steady rain fell left me with more than one jaw dropping photograph. So much fun and so unexpected!

What happens when you go on a toy shoot and forget your zombies? You ask around and your bound to find someone who has them. Thank you Chris Policheri for helping me to get this shot!

My second experience with this was late on Sunday afternoon when we were hanging out at the beach below the Olympic Sculpture Park. I have a few friends whose kids have been inspired to take up toy photography after hanging  out with me (Go figure!). I find myself in the role of cheer leader and mentor to these three amazing and talented kids. Riley, the youngest, brought her own modified toys (a la Krash Override) to the meet-up and showed them to me. I was so taken with her amazing creations I asked to borrow one to photograph. I love this photo and figure! What a gift Riley gave me with her creativity! Another reminder that you never know where inspiration will be found.

Riley's Cat
Riley’s Cat

The biggest lesson I learned from the safari is that @kalexanderson is always right. In fact I want to pack her into my photo bag and take her with me on all my photo shoots. But first let me back up and tell you how we got there.

When I first met Kristina last year at the Baltic Toy Safari, I was so intimidated by the fact that she was shooting her toys with a tilt shift lens, I didn’t talk to her the entire day. When I wrote my post following that event, it was our lack of interaction that I was thinking about. I wasn’t going to let that happen this time so I asked her about her photography techniques and how to shoot in a high-key style. I’ve always shot for the blacks and under exposed my images, soon I was doing just the opposite. I was shooting 1-3 stops over exposed just to see how far I could take it.

More than once I found Kristina and I shooting a scene I had  set up and then we would compare notes. She would always make a few comments which invariably made all the difference in the world. Soon it became a joke that she was always right. So if you see us joking online about how she’s always right, first know she usually is, and second she’s completely earned my respect and admiration.

Hi Key Chima

If you find yourself on a photo safari with a bunch of amazing toy photographers and you want to know how someone is creating their photography, simply ask. I’ve never meet a photographer yet who hasn’t been willing to share toys, tips, and their knowledge with just about anyone who asks. And it’s not always the “experts” who have the information you need to help you on your personal photographic journey, it can be anyone. It’s not always easy to approach photography with an openness to the possibilities, but if you can occasionally manage it, the results may surprise you.

One of our earlier photo challenges was more of a writing challenge. The goal was to discover a word that described you and that would help you to frame your photography. The word I came up with was Seeker. I am always seeking a better way, a new way, a more effective way to practice my craft. Certainly approaching the artistic process with an open heart and an open mind helps me to achieve that goal. Of course having amazing friends helps too!

Thank you everyone who came on the safari and helped me to grow in amazing and unexpected ways!

~ Shelly

PS – Hey Kristina! How did I do? 

Disney Collectable Mini Figures

A few weeks back The LEGO Group was kind enough to send me a box of their Disney collectible mini figures to review. With the Stuckinplastic #Seattletoyphotosafari just around the corner, I decided to give them away instead of keeping all that LEGO goodness to myself. (If you want to see those same figures in the wild, you can follow their journey with this tag #Seattletoyphotosfari_DisneyCMF.) Well now it’s time to pay the piper, so to speak, and review this series.

I’ll confess the Disney collectable mini figures aren’t as bad as I first imagined they would be. When this latest series was announced (or leaked as the case may be) several months back, I will freely admit I wasn’t impressed. I was stilling feeling burned with not one, but two series devoted to the Simpsons TV show. I’m a mini figure photographer – not a toy collector – which means I’m looking for new characters to tell stories. I’m not interested in re-telling classic Disney stories.

Ariel with shotgun wm
Is this a thingamabob or a whatzit?

With that said, I will admit that I love the Disney universe. I grew up with all the movies and have been to their theme parks multiple times. I wasn’t sure how a series based on these beloved characters would help me in my own personal mission to tell original (and hopefully universal) stories. I mean, how can you re-invent or re-interpret such iconic creations as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck?

The Simpsons’ mini figures with their pastel colors and sculpted heads are still fresh in my memory.  While I many not have been enamored with the specific Simpsons figures, they were accompanied by some awesome accessories. With so many great add-ons, it almost made up for those sculpted heads. As a toy photographer I approached this series, based on classic Disney characters, with some trepidation.

There are certain aspects of this new series that has me scratching my head at the decisions behind it.  While there are certainly a fair number of figures that are exciting – Stitch, Maleficent, Cheshire Cat and Ursula – I can’t help but think we’ve already seen the Alien from Toy Story (isn’t it an exact copy?) and Buzz Light Year (the original Buzz had a much better face!). While Genie and the Little Mermaid technically are new to the CMF world, they seem very familiar. Peter Pan is lovely but he doesn’t seem to be  good fit in the mini figure world. I can’t imagine Peter Pan without his arms akimbo and his legs apart – two positions that a LEGO mini figure can’t achieve unless he’s computer generated.

Accessories are a big part of the CMF sets. While there are lots of great new hairstyles in this series, several of the figures aren’t accompanied by any accessories at all! The accessories that are included aren’t new to the LEGO universe, unless of course you count hats, bows and skirts. I wonder if this is how LEGO offset their licensing costs? Or maybe the lack of accessories is a tradeoff to such great additions as Alice and Minnie’s skirts. Speaking of strange accessory pairing, why does Aladdin have a lamp? Shouldn’t he be accompanied by his side-kick Apu instead?

One cool detail in this series, is that each character is paired with a counterpart from his or her story line which allows for some awesome play and photographic opportunities, i.e.: Mickey & Minnie, Donald & Daisy, Syndrome & Mr. Incredible. Two notable exceptions are Stich and Maleficent; where is Lilo and Princess Aurora? I would love to know the thinking behind the decision to omit these characters. Is it because they’ll be in the next series? By leaving these two characters without their natural counterparts, it certainly makes a nice lead into the next Disney mini figure series.

While a second Disney series hasn’t been announced, I have no doubt there will be one. These figures have been extremely popular; the love of all things Disney runs deep. My Instagram feed is a steady parade of wonderful photos featuring these figures, plus my local toy store can’t keep them in stock. There is no doubt that Disney and LEGO make a powerful combination.

I will say that for all my misgivings, these figures photograph beautifully. It doesn’t matter if you’re a die hard Disney fan or a casual collector, these figures offer much in terms of play possibilities. If you’re a mini-figure collector or a photographer, you’re going to want a complete set of the Disney collectible mini figures.

~ Shelly

What’s your favorite mini figure from this series and why? Feel free to add a link to the best image you’ve taken using one of the figs from this series. I would love to see what you’ve been up to.

Ursala in ditch wm
“You can’t get something for nothing, you know.”

A toy safari is a chance to share a passion

We just have to accept that Kristina is not a group person

I have spent five amazing days in Seattle with the Toy-Safari-group. This is my second safari, since I attended my first in Waxholm last summer and I meet Shelly and the European StuckinPlastic people for the first time. Without the great experience in Waxholm, I would never have ended up in Seattle for this safari. Why? Because just as the quote says in the beginning of this blog post, I’m not a group person, or maybe I’m just a  group person for a toy-safari. Continue reading “A toy safari is a chance to share a passion”