A to Z of Toy Photography Part Two: F-J

F is for Focus.

A nice easy one. By focusing on a specific point and dropping everything out of focus, an illusion of size is very easily created. A shallow depth of field means one spot will be sharp, leaving everything else blurred. A shallow depth of field in the right setting will also create great Bokeh effects (that blurred lighting effect where the lights become overlapping circles in the background). The flip side being a longer DOF resulting in everything in the image being in focus. This completely depends on personal preference and the shot you’re trying to create, but can be achieved on everything from high level DSLRs to phone cameras with a bit of practise.

i will not kill you-1.jpg
I will not kill you. No ladybirds were harmed in the creation of this photograph. 

G is for Gels.

Gels are pieces of tinted transparent film made to be placed over a flash head to create a coloured light effect. These can be pricey, and depending on your lighting set up may require special housings which will only add to the cost….OR you could just do what I do for my toy shots. This is wear you need to channel your inner McGuyver or Blue Peter presenter and use the things the everyday folk leave behind (…so inner Womble too) By using the transparent wrapper some sweets come in – Quality Streets and Roses are your best bet for a variety in colours – and an elastic band to secure them to your flash head you can achieve exactly the same effect as if you’d forked out for the proper gels.

Clockwise from the top: Coconut Eclair, Strawberry Delight, Toffee Penny, Vanilla Fudge, The Purple One, and Milk Chocolate Block. Whats your favourite favourite?…and I’ve just shown my age haven’t I?!
Starlord – shot with a pink Gel to camera left.

H is for Have fun!

The dictionary definition of ‘toy’ comes back as “an object, often a small representation of something familiar, as an animal or person, for children or others to play with” – play with your toys to create those shots, and if your not having fun photographing your toys your doing it all wrong!

“You’re still here?!…”

I is for Image Stabilisation.

To achieve a sharp image you will need to activate any image stabilisation functions your camera or phone may have. This will ensure the outcome is crisp and focused. Something else you may need to do though it to ensure the camera itself is stable. You may need to use a tripod or bean bag for floor level shooting. Another piece of kit to keep close to hand is an off camera trigger. These can be picked up for next to nothing for a wired one and by not touching your camera’s shutter release you avoid any effects from your hand shaking in your images. If you’re shooting on a phone – and I’m afraid I can only speak for the iPhone here – the pause/volume control on he headphones can also be used as a shutter release remote control. This is especially important in long exposure shots.

Using a slow shutter release and a tripod to maintain the camera’s stability whilst moving the sparkler. Light painting is a technique where by the camera is set to a slow shutter speed, capturing only the still or bright objects.

J is for Junk!

Just like the Gells tip, a good way to expand your sets, scenes and dioramas is to cannibalise anything you can to add to the general aesthetic of your photography. In industrial or urban scenes, household kitchen items like baking trays, tin cans and cheese graters all make great additions to shots. If you’re shooting in the great outdoors then items like broken pipes, bricks, or plant pots can be used to give the illusion of ruins or waste sites. By keeping an eye out for anything that might transfer into a miniature setting without breaking the illusion of scale you will already be thinking about your next shot without even realising it.


Anything to add? Any tips to share? Go ahead and leave a comment below.

Check back next week for the next exciting chapter in my A to Z of Toy Photography where i’ll answer such questions as, ‘How long can this last?’, ‘Can he make it to Z?’ and ‘Will ‘L’ be for Lighting?!’. Well, there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Yes, they’re all already written, and spoiler alert – yes, L is for Lighting. Way to spoil the surprise for yourself.

In the mean time, keep photographing and having fun – Mark

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