Toy photography is a major part of selling Designer Toys. A great photo of even the worst toy can help to sell it, in theory, right? Yet we see some average toy photography out there, and wanted to try do something to help out.
So, we asked a few of our artist friends & collectors, that we think do a great job of capturing their art, to give us some guidance on how they take their photos. What tools they use, what post-photography work they do. Thanks to Mr Kum Kum, twelvedot and TJ Collects for taking part in this Q&A with TTC!
TTC: You have just finished your custom piece, do you have a different mindset towards taking photos of your work when this is a commission piece of art, or if it is going to be made available for sale to the general Designer Toy public?
Mr Kum Kum: Honestly, I want to differentiate between commissions and for sale pieces on my gallery, but my mind always changing every time hahaa.. because for me both are special and still thinking about that in the future.
twelveDot: When twelveDot finishes a new piece, he typically has a specific point in the form or sculptural aspect he wants to highlight regardless of whether the piece was commissioned or made for general sale. Focusing on that specific point or aspect, we try to relay what he tried to express in the work into the photos, which are usually taken by me the wife under twelveDot’s direction. So the same mindset is maintained when we take photos of all art work, whether commissioned or not, with focus placed on highlighting the key sculptural points of each individual piece.
TTC: When you are taking your toy/art photography, what is your set-up? Which tools do you use? Do you go with your smart phone, or have any serious camera set up?
TJ Collects: My Set-Up is just a Camera, phone, lightbox and imagination! Camera wise, I use a Canon EOS200D. If you have a DSLR or camera I recommend that you use it! But phones are ace nowadays! There are people taking extrordianory photos with their phones. Just use what you’ve got! Thats what I do, Its gonna be enough to start for sure.
Mr Kum Kum: At the first time I only use camera with standard portable box studio but its too flat, because my color scheme is gold i need more dimension, emphasize metallic effect and detail at the object, so Lately I take a photo with mirrorless camera with macro lens, 3 light box, and tripod. I use smartphones only for urgent need.
twelveDot: We have an old Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon 24-70mm L or 100mm lens, Cullmann titan CT200 & CT50 tripod set up, and a small, very basic LED light box. However, these days most of the photos are only used for SNS uploads so we just use twelveDot’s iPhone 11 equipped with a multi-lens case or my Galaxy Note 10 smartphone.
TTC: If you use natural settings for your photography, what do you look for when finding those settings? Is there a good time of day to take photos?
Mr Kum Kum: Most important thing is about lighting right, the golden moment is usually in the morning or afternoon but if you wanna do in the daylight better if not to direct sun. Pay attention to the environment maybe it help for background
twelveDot: Based on the main concept of frogs transforming into bipedal form to adapt to apocalyptic city life, APO Frogs are typically photographed outside of a natural setting, usually in the light box using a plain white or black background and sometimes in a city setting with humans rushing past in the background. Other larger artworks such as the Apocalypse Frogs series are also photographed inside the light box with a plain background to keep the focus on the main sculptural aspects and the overall form of the piece. Although bright natural daylight is usually best for photo shoots, most of the photos of twelveDot’s artworks are taken at night with our basic light box set up for easier control over where the light hits.
TJ Collects: In regards to natural environments and settings you can’t go wrong with natural light and materials! I like to use dirt, water, rocks and stones! All of that jazz. I don’t neccisarely think that theres a best time of day for shooting as such, it really depends on what type of scene you’re after. Although, too bright can be annoying and too dark is never good for detail! If you’re shooting at night or in a dark spot you can always use a phone torch or something like that for some extra detail in the shot or to draw focus to a specific area of your photo! That’s what works for me.
TTC: If you go with a Lightbox setting etc, do you have any tips on light boxes to use? Is there any good advice you can offer when using light boxes to take photography?
twelveDot: We don’t have a fancy light box and the LED lighting in the one we use is a bit dim so sometimes the photos need additional lighting. The flashlight function on our phones usually does the trick. A simple light diffuser sheet helps to spread out the LED lighting for a more natural look.
TJ Collects: Grabbing a lightbox from Amazon was a great decision! Not only does it provide beautiful lighting it also serves as a dedicated space for me to be creative in! Its become an integral part of my process. (It’s now also caked in flour) I think I paid about £40 with a coupon for it. It’s called the Fositan T50, they have some smaller and larger options too to cater to the size of your favourite toys of course! Personally, I like photographing smaller Toys, they just feel more immersed in the worlds I create for them.
Mr Kum Kum: I only use continues led light with diy soft box, its cheap.lol. If you have budget prefer use external flash for better setting.
TTC: Do you do much work on your photos post-taking them? Do you use any applications to help you?
TJ Collects: Yes! I do all my editing with a free mobile App called Snapseed. It’s a really simple to use editor with some really strong results! I think when it comes to editing shots, go with what you know. Whether that’s Photoshop or another app on your phone! You can yield really good results if you know what your working with. The other cool thing about doing it on my phone is that once its edited, its just a couple of clicks away from being on Instagram.
Mr Kum Kum: I need as simple as possible on post pro. Mobile apps is enough for social media, mostly VSCO and snapseed. Using photoshop rarely.
twelveDot: twelveDot uses Photoshop for simple adjustments such as color tone correction but these days most of the photos are taken with our smartphones and directly uploaded with just minor adjustments made using Instagram’s basic editing functions.
TTC: How long would you say that you take with the photography once you have finished your work?
twelveDot: Once the piece is finished, we typically spend up to an hour on the photo shoot and the editing process takes 5-10 minutes at most.
Mr Kum Kum: Around 1 hour maybe. Its fast, my set up is not complicated and the light move easily..more spend the time on detail shot
TJ Collects: That really depends. Sometimes 10 minutes and other times an hour or so! I think it depends on what style of photos I’m taking. I’ve recently got heavily into using practical effects. So I’ve been using flour from the cupboard, a febreeze bottle I’ve filled with water, a can of compressed air to blow the elements around and all that good stuff! It’s great fun. However, if you just want to take clean and aesthetically pleasing shots of your collection then by doing that you’ve pretty much wiped out half of the prep time! Although in my personal opinion, half of the fun too!
TTC: Do you find that when you take great photos of your work, it adds value to the piece in terms of interest from other collectors vs when you perhaps don’t spend the time with the photography?
Mr Kum Kum: Photography is a final presentation, this is how you sell the product. It will delivered a message from your product to public. So of course it give more values the product itself.
TJ Collects: Absolutely! I think not only does it add value to the piece itself and the artist who has made it. For me, it also helps me appreciate the toys in a new and fun way! I think good photos add value in so many ways, every single time. Your not gonna order the ugly item on the menu!
twelveDot: We believe great photos definitely add value and are worth the time and effort. However, APO Frogs, Apocalypse Frogs and most of twelveDot’s art work typically do not photograph that well as the subtle curves and simple lines/colors tend to get lost and look flat in photos. Due to difficulties in taking really great photos that show off all the main points of his art work, we try to focus on specific points in detail using different angles to spark overall interest in the piece.
TTC: Do you have any tips for other artists to follow to help them take better photos of their work?
TJ Collects: I mean I’m still learning myself everyday and it really depends on what style of Photography you’d like to lean into and how youd like to portay the Pieces you collect! but what I will say is in my opinion the most important thing is to have fun with it! Be creative, use your imagination and try to intergrate some story into the shot! Story is at the heart of everything. Whether it’s a vast worldly adventure story or a statement. Big or small, story matters. I’d also recommend playing around with different light sources and tricks! Lighting is probably the most overlooked part of the process but its definitely one of the most important, it can really make or break a shot! Theres great tutorials and stuff on YouTube that can really help! Both with camera techniques and lighting. (For free!) Oh and look around the house for bits and bobs to use in your photos! Go go go!
twelveDot: Focus on the details or key points you like most of your work and try to find the best way to relay that point to collectors through your photos. Try out a variety of equipment, lighting and background options to find the best fit for you and your art work, and have fun in the process =)
Mr Kum Kum: Thought no need supreme quality photo but at least the product is clear enough to see. After that you can dig with your own style, because people will recognize you just by the photo that you take.
We have some great BTS shots by TJ Collects, where you can see the set-up he has done, alongside the finished photograph!
Mr Kum Kum Social Media
TJ Collects Social Media
twelveDot Social Media
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