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© Ute Reckhorn

© Ute Reckhorn

Five reasons to photograph toys

  • 4 min read

Lensbaby Sweet 35 | ISO | 800 | 1/200 | Sony A7iii

Have you considered photographing toys? I've been photographing them for over ten years, and I continue to find them to be a fascinating subject—a photo subject with a depth that defies their humble origins as a child's plaything.


Here are five reasons why I think you should consider photographing toys:


Lensbaby Edge 50 | ISO | 50 | 1/100 | Sony A7III

First, they're a fabulous way to practice basic photo skills. If you're new to photography, toys, dolls, and action figures of all kinds are great subjects. They don't talk back, will work for peanuts, and are endlessly patient. Practicing lighting, posing, and camera skills on very patient subjects will help you advance your photo skills quickly.


Lensbaby Edge 50 | ISO | 200 | 1/125 | Sony A7III



Did you know that toys are a language all their own? I know you think I'm a bit crazy and that's ok; I play with toys! I've discovered that using toys as a subject can be a shortcut to connecting with my audience. Most people have some passing relationship with popular toys associated with Star Wars, Batman, Spiderman, Barbie, or even the LEGO Minifigure. Knowing this can help you connect your story with your audience's own experience.


 Lensbaby Edge 50 | ISO | 320 | 1/2500 | Sony A7III


After the original Star Wars franchise launch, almost every major movie and television cartoon have a line of toys accompanying it. This has created a shorthand language for the toy photographer to connect with nearly any audience. When both you and your viewer have a relationship with a well-known character, an immediate connection is made. Playing on that connection by working with it, alongside it, oragainst it can lead to interesting places.


Lensbaby Twist 60 | ISO | 50 | 1/100 | Sony A7III


Using toys in your photography is also a great introduction to storytelling. When you combine any popular character in new or unexpected ways, you convey a story to your viewer. That story can convey a sense of humor, ask a viewer to change perspectives, or share a moment of intimacy. These stories can be a one image glimpse into your unique world, or you can create multi-image story arcs. You can even take storytelling to a deeper layer by combining toys with mythology, books, historical moments, philosophy concepts, etc. Toy photography is a flexible photography niche with no rules and limits.


Lensbaby Sweet 50 | ISO | 200 | 1/200 | Sony A7III


I've found that toy photography is wonderfully creative. Ideas flow faster than I have time to jot them down. You're probably thinking that I'm unique because I've been doing this for so long. But once you give yourself permission to connect with your inner child, the ideas will come pouring out. Look around you. I'm sure there is a toy for someone. Maybe not an action figure, but a figure that you've kept because you're connected with it, or you simply liked how it looked. Now think about that toy and what it means to you. Next, try to photograph that image. See where it takes you. I'm sure it will be somewhere interesting.


Lensbaby Sweet 35 | ISO | 200 | 1/1250 | Sony A7III

"Remember how I said that there are no rules in toy photography? I lied. There is one very important rule: have fun!"

While these are all great reasons for photography toys, my favorite reason is that it's a wonderful avenue for self-expression. I use toy photography to explore the make-believe world of my childhood, it's my stress reliever, and I express my anxieties through the photos I create.

I look at what it means to me to be a mom, what kind of person I want to be, and how I want to move in this world. You may not realize this, but all these ideas exist in my photographs. I leave a little piece of myself in every image I create.


Lensbaby Sweet 50 | ISO | 640 | 1/60 | Sony A7III


There are so many wonderful reasons to try toy photography. My fondest hope is that you will try it and find your own wonderful reason to continue. Whether you enjoy connecting with your inner child, it's a way to connect with your children playfully, or it's simply an excuse to purchase the toys of your youth, these are all incredibly valid reasons to join the fun world of toy photography.

Remember how I said that there are no rules in toy photography? I lied. There is one very important rule: have fun!



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Shelly Corbett

Shelly is a long-time art photographer residing in Seattle, Washington. You can connect with Shelly through her frequent toy photography workshops, at art shows where she sells her photography or on the community-oriented blog that she founded.



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