By now most of you will have heard me talk about Toy Photography on the Podcast (Sixth Scale Scavengers – Episode 017 for those who have not).
For a while I have been wanting to write an accompanying tutorial with some hints and tips, but also to show my setup and get people interested in this great addition to our collecting hobby.
These great 1/6th scale figures are so detailed that with the right approach some people will have to do a double take on a great picture – thinking they are looking at a photo from the full-sized actor or actress. And ever since I started taking toy photographs, I’m even more in awe of these amazing figures.
So how do you start?
Most people will have a recent smart phone and nowadays they come with excellent camera’s rivaling those on dedicated camera’s. I don’t have an up to date smart phone (iPhone SE) but I do have a dedicated camera.
Below are the tools I use for Photography.
In the picture:
- Canon 80D Camera
- 50mm F1.8 Lens (my preferred toy photography lens, very cheap but great)
- 18-135mm Lens
- LED Panels with diffusers
- Tripod for the camera
- Tripods for the Led Panels
- Some hand-held tools for the LED panels
- A bunch of cardboard in different colors in A3 format
- Non-sticky tape
That’s about all I use for taking my pictures.
The camera is of course quite an investment, but things like the LED Panels (I use Yongnuo YN300 Air Panels), tripods and cardboard ($0.50 a piece) are all fairly cheap. In the beginning, I used a lighting tent which was great. It can be found including some basic lighting (just Google Portable Photo Studio) and backgrounds. The results where excellent, but I found the results with the cardboard and a good lighting setup a bit easier to set up with the same results. I still think it’s a great place to start though, and for roughly $50 you will have all basic tools to start in one purchase.
As you can see, the studio is quite large and can fit multiple figures and may even lend itself to some YouTube reviewing. Since I am not yet interested in doing that, my pieces of cardboard work just fine. The process of setting it up is super simple. I grab a Hot Toys shipper box, grab the piece of cardboard I like, and just use my non-sticky tape (re-usable tape, which does not damage the shipper or cardboard).
Because the figure has to fit in the shipper box, the shipper box is always large enough of a background, and since the A3 paper is actually quite long, it will make for a great curve and seamless background for the figure.
If you are not like me and throw away the shipper upon arrival, there are tons of other places to use. When looking for such a place, the first thing you also have to keep in mind is lighting. I will talk about lighting further in this tutorial, but lighting is key to photography!
So if you can find a spot with some nice natural light, you will not have to use a separate light source and natural light makes for natural looking images. As you can see below, I placed my “studio” on a printer next to a window which caused the figure to be bathed in natural light (do not use direct sunlight though, that will damage the figure)
Once you have found the perfect spot, the setup begins.
If you have plenty of light, the setup is easy. Once the figure is correctly posed (also spend some time on the clothing), just start shooting the figure from every angle you like.
For best results here are some tips:
- Do not take pictures from above the eye line of the figure, (in real life the photographer is not 10 feet tall) that will severely show the scale of the figures. So go for the eye line, or even a bit below.
- Try fun angles, and really rotate around the figure. Some dynamic posed figures will look great with a weird angle.
- Always make sure you have enough light! Low light will cause pixellated pictures. I might go in more depth in an advanced tutorial about camera settings, but at the end of this I will conclude with my preferred settings. Just keep the ISO value as low as you can for the sharpest pictures.
- Always focus on the eye closest to the camera. If you are really going for that close up head shot, your phone or camera has the option to focus on a point you choose (tap the screen of your phone, or place the camera focus on the eye). Definitely make sure it’s the eye closest to you for the most natural look.
- Take some time to examine your pictures and adjust the light or even the pose accordingly. Zoom in as well to make sure it’s nice and sharp. Shutter time is key here as well. Since I’m quite a “shaky” person by nature, I need fast shutter times for sharp pictures, but that also means I need lots of light. If you are having trouble getting the picture sharp, there are very cheap tripods which can hold your phone.
As you can see above, my lens is at eye level and I’m using my tripod. I normally shoot pictures at night, so that tripod really helps out (low light) and let’s me frame the pictures. However, the most fun pictures I took where shot out of hand and really made me get up in the face of the figures.
Once I am happy with the framed shot, I start playing with the lights to get the most natural look. As I stated before lighting is key to good photography. It will make or break the result of your picture.
Hot Toys sometimes has some lighting flaws in their final product pictures. People who can not see through the “hideousness” start complaining about a flawed head-sculpt immediately. The picture below shows the same exact shot, shot with different lighting.
As you can (hopefully) tell, the first picture feels most natural. No rough shading, and just an even amount of lighting all across the perfect head sculpt. The second picture has a bunch of lighting from below the figure and actually so much that all the detail is lost (this is the error you tend to see the most), the third picture is not that bad, but there is a very sharp piece of shadow on the left side of his face which feels unnatural. The fourth picture is me having a bit of fun with shadow and playing more with lighting effects.
If you only have one light source, grab a piece of white paper and use it as a reflector, works great with light from outside, or when you have only one remaining battery in your LED panels.
In all these shots I went with a white background since it’s a great color to practice on (you can see harsh shadows and there is an easy contrast between the figure and background). The fun thing with cardboard is that there are an infinite amount of colors.
Go for the contrast and make the figures pop out.
And yes, those are a bunch of plants behind K-2SO balancing on a DX11 box.
You can be as creative as you want. If the lighting is good, you can even use a TV, but good results do need some practice since it’s a weird light source and cameras tend to not respond well too them on automatic settings.
As I said during the podcast, just grab the figures, make sure you have a ton of light and start shooting!
For me it came out of necessity out of not being able to display all of my figures and still wanting to look at them. But even if you don’t have this problem, take the figures out of their Detolf and “play” with them. You might even find an even better pose then the one it has been in for the last year.
As I promised for people with a dedicated camera, here are my default “starting” settings.
I always shoot completely manual, but if you are not quite that experienced, I would suggest putting your camera on Aperture Priority and put the aperture on F8.0. That’s a great place to start out and gives a natural depth of field with the “tiny” figures.
My Manual Settings:
- ISO 100 or 200.
- Aperture F8.0 (for starters, I can go lower or higher depending on the blur effect i want).
- Shutter time is depended on the amount of light I have, since i use my tripod i have no problems with long (seconds even) shutter time.
- Always focus on the eye nearest to the camera.
Hope this bit of information helps, if you have questions feel free to ask and I will gladly help you out!