Friday, 22 January 2016

Toy Photography - A Massive Pain in the...

When the internet first came about most images were low quality and small to accommodate people's slow dial up connections; teens loaded with hormones would have to patiently wait while pictures of naked women slowly loaded from the top down bit by bit. 

20 years later and connection speeds have vastly evolved meaning that images on the internet have also evolved from their 10KB sizes to high definition pictures with a size measured in Megabytes rather than Kilobytes.

Long gone are the days where you could list on Ebay and AuctionUniverse without pictures and a buyer would send a cheque in the post as Ebay now has minimum requirements for pictures. Toy photography has also evolved massively from what it once was, even when you look at the pictures of the most respected Transformers collectors, their efforts from 15 or so years ago are pretty awful by modern standards.

Someone once said "A picture is worth a thousand words" and if that's true then most of my pictures are about as wordy as a Spot Book.

Spot's Dreadful Transformers Photos book coming soon

The first toy photos I took waaaaay back in 1999ish were of a weird Prowl figure that I'd bought in a massive collection of Spanish language figures. The pictures below were taken on a digital camera which had to be plugged into the mains or the batteries would go flat after 2 pictures; a camera that would now be probably classed as a lethal weapon if you were to carry it in public as it could probably crush a grown man's skull if used as a club.

A whopping 9.8KB file

Obligatory 1999 figure-in-scanner picture

Believe it or not, the pictures above were pretty important because it was the first time anyone had documented a Mexican Prowl. Some London dealers like Paul Hitchens (The Spacebridge), Jason Joiner (now the organiser of Showmaster Events) and Dealer Maz (not to be confused with Maz who writes for TFSource) had seen them but no one had ever taken pictures and shown them to the fandom. 

Documenting the Mexican collection I had bought was the beginnings of the Skywarp website I set up ( back in the day, archived at Between myself, Daniel Vink/Devvi and Maz (the TFSource one this time) we started documenting Mexican figures and tried to establish what was out there. Meanwhile I started putting together an accurate list of Japanese Transformers and oddities I found along the way but my photography skills were definitely lacking even though I had a slightly better camera now. By 2005 the pictures were passable.

Up to a massive 29KBs!

After taking a break from collecting I came back to find everyone taking hugely impressive photos that were better than I could imagine. One of the first pictures I saw was a custom by FrenzyRumble which made me realise that both toy customising and toy photography had changed in my absence and changed massively.

Something told me the bar had been raised

Initially it didn't matter that everyone's figure photography was miles ahead of mine because I was just selling on Ebay so my photos didn't need to be professional, just functional. I delete auction pictures but here's one I found from 2012 and it's easy to see that I was still stuck in 2005.

This carried on when Masterforce launched in 2013 with pretty dreadful photos of stock but again, I was going for functionality rather than impressive. Meanwhile, Maz started writing for TFSource in December and was regularly posting pictures like this one:

My lack of abilities when it came to photography was starting to frustrate me, because I wanted to take nice pictures of rare figures as I came across them and it was hard to post reviews on this blog when the photos are awful. 

So recently I've been trying to improve and so here's some lesson's I've learned along the way.

Light is vital 

I took the picture above to mock the Age of Extinction trailer and it's taken with a flash. Never use a flash or you get pictures like this one. If toy photography is something you're serious about then get some lamps and natural lighting bulbs. They are expensive but will give you a more evenly lighted picture and you can move the lamps around to minimise shadows.

Camera settings 

If you have a point and shoot camera it's worth playing with the settings as it can make a big difference. Learn about ISO, Macros and the very basics of photography as they sound boring but are really important. 

Above is a screenshot of a folder where I took the same picture over and over with different settings, in all I took 18 pictures to find the settings I preferred. Below is a good example of the difference settings can make.

Bear in mind that some cameras are better than others and you won't get great pictures out of a cheap camera no matter how much you try.


Photoshop or a free equivalent makes a huge difference to photos. Ignoring the fact that this picture is out of focus, I had the ISO settings all wrong so the picture is light and has an orange hue.

Cropping the picture to remove the folds in the background and using the automatic colour balance definitely improves it. Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect but it's a step in the right direction and shows how 60 seconds of Photoshop can improve a photo.

Even More Photoshop!

How do Hasbro and the best photographers get those completely white backgrounds? Why is it when I take a picture the background is visible but the best photos around don't have that? Well, you either need to be a really good photographer or you can just delete the background.

It takes an awfully long time but you can lasso your figure in Photoshop and then delete the background to get that perfect look. Below are two pictures I took where I've removed most of the background using this method. 

Be Creative

The best photographers bring the figures to life by using perspective, props or poses which make them seem bigger and larger than life.

Such Heroic Nonsense

So while my photos aren't in the same league as Robotochan, Maz, Sixo, TJ Dukkett, Brr-Icy, Liam or Boastful Manfish I'm improving. Hell, I wouldn't even say my photos are good, but the moral of the story is that if I have no creative ability and no natural talent for photography but can learn to take better photos then anyone can do it. 

With that in mind I leave you with some pictures to laugh at :)



2004. A rare shot which didn't look like it had been taken with a potato.

2013. Masterforce stock photo

 Various pictures from 2015 taken on the day when the light tent and lamps arrived.

Bad attempt at an action shot

Unedited, featuring the edge of the backdrop and my finger.

Getting a little better but I should have dusted Sabretooth before taking the pic.

Current photos. Nowhere near perfect but compared to that Ratchet picture...

A few dust specks were removed with Photoshop but otherwise this picture is natural.