- Ben Watson
Spring is finally here, so it's time to kick back and catch some rays but if you're anything like me, you'll be catching them with the lens of a camera. When people ask me about my hobbies, I say "photography". What I don't say is "taking pictures of toys outside" which is actually what I mean. I hugely appreciate the kind words I've received over the photos of mine that have been featured on the blog so far but if I'm being honest, I don't feel like they're my best work. So this week I'll be showing you why I love outdoors toy photography more than anything else.
Nothing lights a subject like natural light. Your eyes are made to appreciate sunlight and while moody lighting can be effective, nothing creates a bold and colourful image quite like taking it outdoors. Ok, my own lighting set-up could be leagues better and maybe that leads me to feel like I can't take good photos without the power of the sun but not only do you generally get a better picture at the end, the process itself is so much more fun.
A huge part of that fun comes from finding surroundings that fit the figures you're looking to capture. Where does a giant robot or a tank or a frog actually fit? What feels like the right habitat for these things to exist in? What's the quality of the earth under those treads like? Do the plants in the background compliment the figures colours? Does this look right? Once again, you can say that snapping bots under lights in a swish indoors set-up yields great results but these characters wouldn't exist in a formless void or on a giant desk or the top of a bookcase. Where can you summon a sense of action, of being rooted in the scene? Where human clutter doesn't exist. The great outdoors.
Stone and leaves and bare soil don't need to instantly betray scale. The small can seem as gigantic as fiction would have you imagine. Battle scenes suddenly become believable. But at a much more simple level than all that (one which I might favour the most) rugged vehicle modes come into their own and occupy a space you would expect to see real life equivalents in. Each picture can become some snapshot of a narrative if you really want. This is where I find a real flair can enter into the whole process of meticulously posing your latest plastic prize. And, boy do I mean "meticulously" because as soon as the wind picks up (usually just as you're about to hit the shutter button) and you curse under your breath, you've got to pick up and repose your subject. But it's all part of the fun in the end.
The elements pose a challenge sometimes and of course a certain risk too if you've picked up something old and expensive to shoot. I'm not saying I'd be out there in the pouring rain because it's really only when the sun begins to flicker out of the clouds that I sense it's time to get back to it but not every day stays as brilliant as when you start. Sometimes slightly bleaker skies can work with you but who really wants to look at that? Nah, give me an idealised blue sky every time.
The ability to capture seasonal ephemera, like Windblade's cherry blossom there is also a great inspiration. If I'd not seen that and turned up a week later, the blossom would have all blown away and there'd be no grimace worthy Japanese stereotype to capture. Some days the surroundings can give you all the ideas you need and other days all it takes is to get out there with a bot and find somewhere good to plonk it down. I'm not about to make it look like I do any kind of planning with all this, it's very spur of the moment - which is what it should be. You never know how long the sun will last. I like to think it's kinda zen that way. Life's impermanences.
I've been photographing figures out and about in gardens and quiet places like this for years now. I'm still learning. I'd like to say I'm improving but for me it really isn't so much about the end product. I'm happy with the shots shown here, but for every one there's another three that I regard with a sour look. It's all about trying to capture a good shot for me and it doesn't always pay off. But where's the fun in instantly snapping a magazine quality pic every time? Outdoors shooting like this certainly throws up a lot more in the "error" column of "trial and error" but that's why it's so much more satisfying to finally get that photo you're happy with.
I've been light on words this time round because I hope my pics speak for me, but the last thing I want to do is make this about me. I want to inspire you to get out there and find the spaces that your fave figures fit into. When the sun's out, get out there and leave that photo tent behind. Have some fun and play with your toys! This is really the only way I'd say I still do. Engage the imagination while you're looking for that nice angle to show off your latest purchase and just enjoy the whole process. Feel that sunshine, listen to the birds, smell the grass, try not to hurt yourself on old rubble. And when you're done maybe share your pics with us via our Twitter or the Facebook page. Come on, go get some vitamin D!
Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23