Toy and Nendoroid Photography; Tips & Tricks
Updated: May 19, 2019
Creating the magic you imagine in your mind can become a painful experience once you start trying to build the pieces together, that being said, the outcome makes all the stress worthwhile. Living in the Cotswolds means two things. One; you're always within driving distance of any location imaginable. Whether that be the rolling hills of the Malverns, the historical architecture of sleepy villages or ominous castles, busy cities roaring with life, hidden lakes, and trickling streams that weave through dense forests, there's always a new place to discover. However, fact two embraces that being in the UK, the weather doesn't stop for anyone. It's always like being led into a false sense of security, as the weather forecast predicts sunshine, Mother Nature decides send a welcoming package of rain or wind.
Anyway, when it comes to Figure Photography there is a whole world of tips and tricks to help create images that pop and take you into the world of that particular character. So I'll start at the beginning.
INCOMING NEW FIGURE
You know that feeling when you hear the doorbell ring as the post service waits outside your door with that exciting package of a new figure, (well, in my case they just leave a note for me to collect it, whether I'm home or not!) and you rush to tear the box open as quickly as you can in order to take your figure out on a new photography journey... Well, sometimes to create that image you have had in your minds eye for weeks takes a little bit of patience.
First of all I'll sit down and explore all the options and ideas, setting up each figure with their different face plates and positions so I know exactly what I'm aiming to achieve when I set them up to photograph. I know, you're probably thining; 'What's the point, I know what each set up looks like cause I can see it on the box...'
This may be true, but by setting up scenes on your living room table first will give you time to see which angles work best, which ways hide the stands best (if being used) and also give you an indication to what location may be most suitable.
Once you've found your location, whether it be a water set up or wooded area, the key is to find somewhere which makes your figures look realistic. By this I mean sweep away any leaves or shrubbery which may look obscurely large in comparison to your figure, or make sure if using water then you set up at a shallow point. (Water set ups can be tricky and there's a lot to it, so I'll tackle this at a later date in another blog!)
I always tend to set up my figures first, and set up my camera so I can keep the view on, then work around my set up to build up the location how I want it to be. Don't be afraid to put items in front of the figures as this helps create depth, for example, in the image below I have place rocks closer to the camera to add detail, and additionally help draw the viewers eye the figure.
This sense of depth also applies to the backdrop too. For beautiful natural bokeh I tend to set up in an area with lots of trees where the light is coming through (See below for more tips on lighting!) and then add extra shrubbery or items behind the figures which fade into a soft blur.
ANGLE, COMPOSITION AND PERSPECTIVE
With Toy and Nendoroid Photography it's important to make sure that you capture the right angle and perspective in order to help make your image look more life like. I would say I mainly use 4 different angles throughout my work depending on what image I'm trying to create.
The first angle is being at ground level. This then allows you to photograph across the surface or ground which makes you feel as if you could be stood there beside your figure. I tend to find this works well most when photographing a figure with an extremely shallow depth of field to help make the main focus point stand out most.
The second angle focuses more on a higher approach, but not completely top down. By doing this you can capture more of your set up that is used in the foreground or backdrop, and by using the right f/stop to help draw attention to the focus point. I tend to use this most when dealing with an image that uses a prop I don't want to be hidden due to the perspective, for example, the Monopoly Board below would be barely visible if taken at a ground level.
Thirdly, Top Down Photography is a great way to capture scenes which you can fill to the brim with miniatures and detail, that maintains an effective look. I use this angle when creating a scene which includes lots of set up, but also to have variation in the work that I do. If you're aiming to take a top down image with lots of depth, try balancing your main point of view on top of something tall to have it closer to the camera, then fill the background with props, that, if using an effective f/stop, will help bring the main subject to attention.
Last but not least, get low and shoot for the stars! I'm sure you've all seen this angle being used before. It's used widely across photography and cinematography to help give the subject the sense of empowerment, giving the impression that the subject is above all else. Below you can see how I've used this angle to look up to a character, which helps pack a punch and give your character the sense of being a hero.
Another tip that may prove useful when photographing your set up is; don't feel the need to always place your figure in the centre of the image. By using different angles, photographing the figure at it's side rather than face on, or placing your subject slightly out of centre helps create an eye catching image. This doesn't heavily apply to every image, but just think how your composition effects your photo. How does the viewers eyes move across the photo? Can you shoot past or through props to create foreground depth, yet still take the viewers eyes across the image to the main focal point? If taking a shot of your figures walking, do you want to leave extra negative space to the side of them to suggest where they may be moving to? Composition can really help tell a story through your photography, so use it to your advantage!
FOCUS AND DEPTH OF FIELD
With any form of Photography focus is a key aspect that can help create stunning visuals. If you're looking at achieving an image where the figure is the main focus point the try using a shallow aperture. (The majority of my Nendoroid Photography is taken at f/1.4 in order to create a soft focus with a lot of foreground and background blur, allowing the viewers focus to be drawn only to the figure and miniatures I want them to focus on most.)
However, you can also create stunning depth when using a higher aperture (such as f/7 or more) when creating an image that you want the viewer to have more focus on. This works well for detailed set ups, or if you're in a beautiful location such as a landmark which you want to be more visible in the backdrop.
I mainly work within a lower f/stop, not only because I want to have the figure as the main focus, but also because I feel I have developed my own style by using a shallow depth of field and adding my own touches to make each photo recognisable to my style. I can't help but love a great bokeh shot, or stunning blur that really makes the focus point pop! More so, using a lower f/stop can help eliminate any surrounding features which may overpower your image, or draw attention away from your subject matter.
As there is no rule to how much depth of field you have in your work, and all photography is subjective, there are some tips that can help create beautiful work for different types of photography, which I guess I'll have to delve into in yet another blog!
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!
Okay, Okay, so we all know that one of the most important aspects of photography is lighting, but how to choose what type of lighting you need can be a tricky one to handle. Depending on the atmosphere you're aiming for lighting can differ immensely to help create different effects, or set a mood. Most of us don't tend to have access to their own studio or lighting, and even though I own some great bits of equipment for lighting, I seldom even use it. Personally I'm all about natural light. For indoor set ups I'll set up right next to a window to allow as much natural light to come through. Additionally, by having only one source of light shadows can be really effective, helping create the depth needed. I won't go down the road of Studio Lighting in this blog due to the fact that I live for Natural lighting when it comes to Toy Photography!
So, I guess I'll highlight something to take into consideration before you set your bags and roam off on an adventure for a location... Time of day and weather can be crucial! Make sure you know what kind of lighting you're aiming for, whether it be shooting at Golden Hour to give your image a warmer, soft glow, or finding the right amount of light seeping through the forests on a cloudy day. Finding natural spot lights can be great for creating an impact in your image, you know the type, where a sliver of light falls through the trees, lighting up a patch of ground and descending the rest of the woods into darkness. However, it can also become your worst enemy on those bright, summer days. Seek out shaded areas in order to help not over expose your subject, or consider the suns placement when setting up. There are days where I've been desperate to shoot an image, but have waited a few hours for the sun to start setting so I'm able to shoot in conditions with softer light. When you time it right though, the outcome is worth the wait! Be patient, wait for the sun to hide behind some clouds, or to hit the backdrop nicely to create powerful colours. keep an eye out for spots of light that hit your subject harsher than the rest of your image to avoid unwanted patches of light.
Last but not least, enjoy the process. It may take a while to set up, and trust me, I know all about the frustration of figures continuously falling over or weather that proves difficult to handle, but keep your persistence and keep in mind the objective you have set yourself. There's nothing more satisfying than spending hours on an image, working on the set up, posing, positioning, lighting, for it to all come into place when you finally capture the image you were striving for!
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