Toys are not just for kids anymore and toy photography is one of the interesting and fun hobbies that allow you to showcase your creativity and photography skills at the same time.
Whether you want to recreate a scene in the Squid Games with Lego or create your own fantasy world where a dinosaur terrorises everyday items at home, toy photography stretches your imagination and story-telling skills in more ways than one.
Not sure where to start? Here’s how you can turn playtime into production.
Choose a toy (or a series of toys) as your main subject. Consider the size and colour of the toy and how you can use that to your advantage when it comes to composing the shot. The size of your main subject will also impact the gear and settings you need.
You may want to work with existing toys available or create one of your own along with customised sets and miniature backgrounds. Whichever option you choose, what’s most important is the story you’re telling and emotion that you would like the photos to capture. While humour is often the go-to theme for toy photography, there’s also a wider range of content ideas you can explore for your photos.
If you're new to the genre, perhaps the easiest way to start is to re-enact a familiar scene that is associated with the toy and put your own twist to it with things you can find around you. This is where your creativity kicks in. For example, a Spiderman figure could be swinging on a thread from a ball of yarn or climbing to reach the top of your kitchen table. All it takes is to view things from the toy’s perspective and consider its proportion to the props you have.
Once you have your toy of choice, you’ll need to think about the right set-up to convey the story or showcase the abilities of the selected toy. You can choose to build a tiny set or use existing indoor or outdoor locations to use them as backdrops for the toy’s surroundings.
You can even turn to everyday household items for the elements of your toy’s environment. For instance, to recreate a tropical forest scene of the Amazon, head over to your home garden for some soil and plants. If you’re trying to set up a cave setting for your toy to explore, you’ll find crumpled brown paper bags or kraft paper useful.
Next, you might want to think about what your toy will be interacting with. While some toys come with their own props, you can still choose to make some on your own. Think about the kind of things that can bring out the character of your toy, or the theme of the shoot and make your selection or creation of props from there. Certain props can also help to highlight the toy’s mechanism, especially for action figures.
Equally important is how you develop the playground for your toy’s shoot. Some set-ups will require external lighting to tell the story or capture the tiny details properly. An interesting composition would go to waste if you can’t light the set well so do consider an external flash, additional light sources, or a reflector if you’re planning to use natural light. To enhance the mood of the scene, try experimenting with coloured lights for your shoot. If you don't have filter gels, you can always wrap the light with a coloured cellophane paper for a quick fix to get similar effect.
Use a tripod for a stable shot and have some adhesive products (such as Blu Tack) handy to keep your toys in position. Other useful tools include tweezers and scissors to take care of the little details that will be captured on screen. Shooting small toys sometimes mean that dust and lint will be very visible in the photos, so have some wet wipes or multi-purpose cleaner on hand to fix that.
The camera settings and lens you use will also make a difference to the quality of the final product. Consider the aperture and shutter speed to enhance the visual quality as well as the story of the photo. As most of the shots would be close-up shots of tiny objects, it’s advisable to switch to manual settings on your camera to get the desired depth of field. In general, you can choose a wide aperture to efficiently capture toys of a certain size but sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to get it perfect.
The bokeh effect is also a popular technique to use in toy photography as it gives the proper focus on the toy or act as an element of interaction between the toy and background. To achieve this, the NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 is a handy lens that provides a dreamy bokeh while achieving faster shutter speeds with minimal camera shakes thanks to its maximum aperture value.
Alternatively, lenses that let you get close to your subject distance with a short minimum focus distance allow you to use a narrow aperture value of f/4 or f/5.6 without compromising your intended depth of field.
When it comes to composition and angles, remember that variety is the spice of life. While we understand it can be quite a feat to get your toys in the perfect position for your shot, don't be afraid to move around and try various angles or camera settings. You don’t even have to stick to strictly close-ups either. Wide angle shots can also tell the story from a different perspective.
Now that the shoot is done, what do you do with the photos? If you have a website or an online portfolio, you can publish it as a photo story in a gallery format. Alternatively, Instagram’s function of publishing a series of photos is ideal to showcase your toy photography endeavours. Each slide can push the plot forward as your toy’s adventure progresses.
Now you’re ready to bring all your technical and creative skills into play and let your imagination run wild!