Lighting How-To: Toy Photography

February 25, 2019

 

Toy Photographer and Litra Ambassador Joseph Cowlishaw takes us behind the scenes on a toy shoot in the East Foothills of Cedar City, Utah. The red rock cliffs and boulders - full of hollowed out cavities - make for perfect miniature scenes for toy photography. Using a few LitraPro and LitraTorch lights and filters, Joseph captured some creative toy shots and shares the techniques he used below. Be sure to check out his behind the scenes video to see him in action.

The Goal

With this evening toy photography shoot, I wanted to take advantage of the natural settings as much as possible and use Litra gear to leverage the miniature scaled holes and small tucked away nooks. By lighting up some of the natural made miniature sandstone caves and incorporating different colors with the Litra gel filters, I hoped to really bring the hills (and toys) to life.

I like to create a sense of a different world that is around us everyday in the mundane. For example, a tree that hundreds of people pass everyday can easily turn into an immaculate forest full of mushrooms, pebbles, and insects with a toy figure exploring it all on their level. The trick to effective toy photography is to be down on the level of the toy. This means getting down and dirty and laying on the ground to make a shot.

The Technique

I used the LitraPro and LitraTorch as accent lights to reflect color off the inside of natural sandstone holes and pockets. I used the Litra lights mounted on tripods as well as just placed in the sand in different angles to achieve the desired colors. I took a lot of shots of the same scene to basically test my lighting in unique ways. I wanted to see the different combinations I could achieve in moods with the different LitraPro filters applied to my miniature scenes.

I took quite a few shots before dark and used the LitraTorches and LitraPro to add a bit of ambient light. During the daylight and dusk times I wanted these extra lights to be barely visible and used mainly for a bit of accent and fill. I had hiked to my spot in late afternoon so I could test out different locations while I could still see the whole area. Once the darkness came the temperature dropped to well below freezing and the LitraTorches doubled as an occasional handwarmer!

The Gear

CAMERAS
All small and lightweight and perfect for the photographer on the move.

  • Olympus OMD EM5 (Micro Four Thirds)
  • Canon EOS M3 (Mirrorless)
  • GoPro Hero 3 Black Series (not the newest but it does a decent job)
CAMERA BAG
  • Mindshift Photocross 13 - The perfect sling bag for a photographer on the move. It has a spacious padded inside with well thought out and designed storage for all the extras.

LIGHTING

I am absolutely hooked on Litra Gear. It's like having a professional studio lighting setup for an entire room that fits easily in my bag with my cameras and lenses. They also scale perfectly for toys and other small subjects. I don't have to pick and choose what to bring because they are small enough to bring them all.

  • LitraTorch (1) & LitraTorch 2.0 (2) - They are the perfect size for toy photography. Each comes with a nice silicone diffuser that easily slips on the front.
  • LitraPro - Such a useful light for getting accurate colors with kelvin temperature and intensity adjustments. This bluetooth light makes it easy to adjust remotely using your phone. Perfect for hard to reach spots.
  • LitraPro Filters - I used the LitraPro Filters extensively in this shoot. The filters are handy and easily snap on and off for quick mood changes.
  • LitraPro Softbox - The LitraPro SoftBox gives a nice smooth transition of light over a scene. It collapses flat for easy storage in my pack.

LENSES

  • Rokkor 58mm f1.4 - This manual focus lens is a go-to of mine. My brother actually picked it up in a thrift store find for only $10. It was full of dust and he took the time to take it apart and meticulously clean the innards. It was a Christmas gift a few years back and I usually have it in my bag. It's vintage glass. I love the look and feel of it. You know those filter apps that add lens flare and all sorts of aftereffects in post processing? Well, vintage lenses like this will give you that straight out of camera.
  • Voigtlander 25mm f0.95 - This is a bokeh monster. Wide open it brings in tons of ambient light and focuses sharp with a razor thin depth of field. The lens delivers a swirly oblong football shape bokeh that draws the eye to the subject. It's manual focus and a bit tricky to nail that focus wide open but when you do it’s a treat for the eyes. This lens hardly ever comes off my Olympus because it was designed specifically for the MFT format. I highly recommend it for Toy Photography as it can focus within a few inches. It is also highly versatile for indoor or outdoor use in high or low light. The focal length is great for portraits and landscapes and pretty much everything in-between.
TOYS
  • 1000Toys (Riobot) Iron Giant
  • LEGO
  • Heroclix Ant-Man
  • Prieser figures

Why Joseph Chooses Litra Gear

Litra Gear is by far the best tool I have for my photography besides the camera itself. I have learned over the years (15 years), that lighting is the key component that makes or breaks your shoot. Having the LitraTorch 2.0 and the LitraPro that rank high on CRI (color rendering index), allows for eye-popping color that just made me say WOW!

I have been super excited to shoot since I discovered and purchased my first LitraTorch. They have added such a dynamic element that covers almost everything I shoot now with soothing tones or contrasting colors. I find I focus more on the feel of the image I capture than the subject. Lighting is key to developing the feel that delivers the image to the core of the viewer. I feel since adding Litra Gear to my everyday carry, the feeling of my shots has gone up exponentially.

Before Litra Gear my images felt rather flat. The story being told and the subjects are great but introducing portable studio lighting has upped the ante. I am grateful for colors and the fact that Litra has focused on delivering proper color for professional portable studio lighting is a game changer for me and should be for every photographer no matter your niche.

Tips For Shooting With Litra Gear

CHARGE: Make sure you are charged up. Having four Litra products now was a bit tricky as many wall outlets were being filled. I was lucky enough to receive a gift of a wall outlet that includes many USB ports. This has made it easy to charge all my Litra Gear in one single location.

POWER DOWN: When shooting with Litra Gear I have found it is good practice to test my lighting and colors and move them around a bit and then turn them off until I am ready to shoot with my camera. This saves juice. Also when setting up its good to start on the lowest setting of brightness. Once the scene is set then you can adjust brightness as needed. I found when I first started shooting with Litra Gear I was leaving the lights on the highest setting and not even utilizing the light as I messed with features and settings on my camera.

DIFFUSER: The diffuser is the best thing for shooting toys - especially LEGO. LEGO has a nice reflective quality that makes it look rather new for a long time but this means glare. The glare from Litra Gear will totally obliterate details in LEGO faces and accessories.

ANGLE: I have found it is not necessary to point Litra Gear directly at subjects. One can usually obtain the desired lighting and colors by upping the power of the light and pointing it perpendicular to the subject. This also is a good trick for avoiding glare on LEGO. Change around the angle - mount the lights higher. It all helps to reduce glare where you don't want it.