Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

There are countless ways to play with your camera even when you’re stuck at home—and have a lot of fun with your kids at the same time. One of them is to reach into your stocks of action figures that never grow old. If you yourself have grown old enough to feel ashamed at carefree play with them on your carpet, now you have a unique chance to dive back into your play as a photographer. So take your camera, call your children over, and get playing!

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

The tiny Lego models have innocent little dolphin t-shirts on, but they can also be dressed up like Harry Potter or wear a Batman mask depending on which series they’re from. Since it’s a miniature person, you can have place them in all sorts of situations—like defeating a two-winged monster made of a clamshell, watching a ladybug flee their tiny frying pan, or swinging on a soap net as they save the world. The LEGO® Movie can be a wellspring of ideas here.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

A firm grip and strong arms are letting this yellow hero sway unworried above an eternal rift. If you don’t have a garden, houseplants will do. This photo is made more dynamic by its blurred background, which is something you can achieve using your camera’s Super Macro mode if it has one, or by manually setting a low f-number such as f/2.8. A low depth of field is also supported by keeping the background—in this case the ground—far away from the photo’s subject.

The basic idea is the same for other action figures. Although these ones here, the Czech “kinder” figures, have a rigid position and a specific expression inscribed on their faces, precisely these traits can emphasize how comical your scene is. Got a figure who’s tearing their hair in fear? How about making it look at your schoolwork or your score in a computer game?

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

Obelix is known for his appetite. You can support his reputation with some proof. The chocolate could similarly have bite marks from his little mouth all over it, or he could have half a piece in his mouth. As a photographer you may have noted how the blue of Obelix’s pants complements the orange background.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

Compare how a simple change of the angle from which you’re photographing the figure changes the expression in their eyes. Even though it’s just a plastic figure, we can all find it easy to empathize with them. It’s enough for it to resemble us; things with us humans are just that simple.

A Studio on Your Kitchen Table

If you’re getting ready to start with one of the world’s most demanding photographic disciplines—photographing figurines—and you don’t have access to a professional studio and, ideally, your own technician, you’ll have to make do with that less glamorous solution. When choosing where to shoot, watch for three things: what your little subjects are standing on, what’s in the background, and what your light source is.

For photographing small objects, a flat surface is ideal; for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call it a table. At a height where you don’t have to stoop while you’re shooting, but don’t have to stoop either, and big enough that its edges aren’t visible in the photo. Not how the figures have different colors that may not blend well with the color of the table if it’s not black or white. Because of this, I recommend covering the table with a single-color sheet or tablecloth, ideally white.

If you’re using a sheet or a long tablecloth, you can put a chair (or another tall object) behind the table and throw the cloth over its backrest. That way, the figures will be in a monochrome, isolated environment. But you have to take care to keep the cloth from wrinkling, which can be a real pain sometimes. I chose the kitchen wall as my background because of this. 

TIP: the farther your subject is from its background, the less depth of field—and thus the more blurring—you can achieve, and the more the table’s edges will melt away. Because of this, I recommend keeping the table far away from the wall.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

Note how the sheet gives the base below the figures a pleasant woven texture. Additionally the orange spots on the dog harmonize with the background, and so the colors nicely complement each other.

That leaves us with the third point: the light source. We’ll say a bit about the lamps later; start by finding a suitable source of natural light, i.e. sunlight. Have a window at home? Great, place the table by it, and that’s taken care of.

And Now for Something More Difficult

If you prefer taking pictures under the mask of darkness, you may be pleased to know that all you need for photographing figurines is the light from a desk lamp, flashlight, candle, or other small source. Bringing in artificial lighting also brings a shadow into the scene, and you can work with it within both your composition and the whole picture’s atmosphere. Let’s look at a couple of photos with the working name “Variations on Minnie.”

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

I have to confess that a smiling eyeless Minnie is a bit terrifying. And looking in the mirror to boot. The threatening shadow on the wall underscores the atmosphere even  more. I prepared this scene on the floor; the mirror is leaning against the wall. The light source is placed to the right of the figure. I moved it around until the shadow appeared right next to the figurine, balancing it out in the composition. The conversion to black and white makes the picture easier for people to interpret.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

Here I left only a diagonal composition (from corner to corner). I emphasized the mirror more strongly. The figure could have been sharper; with this approach, all the was left of it under the weight of depth of field was a white smear.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

Under the floodlights.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

And one last example: prop-free. A direct stripe of side light, whose source is a flashlight. The center composition balances the reflection within the floor.

Global Inspiration

To close things out, I’d like to present a photo series named “Minimiam” created by the French-Japanese duo (and couple) Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle, who have been photographing figures and food for a long time. Bon appetit! Time to devour some inspiration.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

© Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

© Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

© Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle.

Entertain Your Children and Yourself: Shoot Fantasy-fused Toy Adventures in the Comfort of Your Home

© Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle.

Try it yourself and show off your creations!

Photographing figures is great fun and a great way to relax for children and adults alike. Try it yourself, and feel free to show off your creations to us. You can add them in the comments or on, say, our Zonerama galleries. Let’s find out whose little plastic adventures are the most fun!

Last updated 2. April 2020

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Author: Ester Dobiášová

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