Toy photographers unite

When I got into toy photography, I decided not to write about it. I wanted to do it. I’d followed some toy photographers on Instagram. Dudes posting pics of their collections. Superheroes in action poses. Customizers showing off their work. Realistic photos of high-end toys—that seemed like the most obvious thing someone would be allowed to do.

The more I explored, the more I realized that anyone was allowed to do it. I opened an anonymous account and did a few shots with my phone. And I had fun, and I didn’t feel too goofy doing it. I mean, even the most hardcore will admit it’s a goofy hobby. But it’s also delightful, and it opens up new ideas. Which was good because I was feeling creatively blocked in general.

I’d also recently moved from New York City to Austin, TX, and I had a backyard for the first time in a very long time. Shooting small action figures makes even tiny corners of your yard feel epic. So it was an excuse to get outside and reconnect with being in a space where no one is paying attention to me. I hadn’t really experienced that since I was a little kid.

Why not write about it?

Having been a lot of different kinds of writers (and editors), I didn’t want to fall into a trap where I try to hitch onto someone else’s thing and start promoting it or myself. Being a writer, I sometimes feel like a tourist. I wanted a hobby, and I wanted to participate. Maybe have an excuse to unleash the collector inside of me again. Mess around with my camera and a bunch of gear. Of course, there are stories I’d like to write about the community because it is a very talented and inspiring one, but I wanted to do an artistic thing—and not write about people who do it.

I’m writing about it now because it’s grown to absorb a lot of my mental energy—in a positive way!—and I wanted to add some of my stuff to my website here. And that requires a bit of explanation. So here I am writing about it now. The circle is complete.

So what do you shoot?

My Instagram is focused on Star Wars 3.75 (1/18 scale) figures. That’s your classic action figure size. What I always loved about 3.75 is that you can mix other lines of toys because 3.75 is the universal scale. Or it used to be. I have collected some 6-inch figures, like Star Wars Black Series or Marvel Legends, but they don’t spark the same kind of joy. I like vintage Kenners or Star Wars the Vintage Collection. That’s the good stuff. I also like the Micro Machines figures, which are made for macro.

How do you work?

I have a Canon Rebel with a macro lens. I use a tripod. For lighting I use Lume Cubes or LED lamps. The hobby began as an excuse to go outside with action figures, which I loved doing as a kid, and to take photographs. I’ve since become more comfortable shooting inside where I can take my time setting up a shot and working out details. I’ll post about the process soon.

Why Star Wars?

Because it’s Star Wars. I was born in ’77. Nothing quite fires my imagination like Star Wars. And Star Wars has a lot of space to fill where you can do side stories that you haven’t seen in the Disney-Lucasfilm convergence. When I started out, I thought I’d bring my kids along with me. But, Star Wars has become code for “weird dad stuff” in their world. Either they’ll like it some day or they won’t. There’s something about how Disney markets Star Wars as a thing that brings generations of families together that feels kinda gross to me. I’d rather let them be free to explore the stories and characters that they feel a natural connection to, instead of pushing my nostalgia onto them. That said, Star Wars is and always has been everywhere. There’s no rush.

Also, when I started in toy photography, the Star Wars community was very toxic. We’re talking post-Last Jedi times, and I was upset by that. In whatever small way I could, I wanted to help retake these stories I loved that spoke so clearly to me about being inclusive and taking a stand for what’s right, even if it seems like what’s wrong is popular. The fan community was failing at that. I thought. That contingent still exists and it is vocal. But, there’s still decency in the corporate monster of Star Wars on social media. The toy photography community, in my opinion, is filled with some of the most creative people I’ve known.

So takeaways then?

Photographing toys should be fun. The purpose is to create delight. If you have the time to take pictures of your toys and post them on Instagram, you should do so with some awareness of what you’re doing. And why. Don’t take it too seriously, though. And really truly, never tell anyone else how to Star Wars.