Over the last five years or so we’ve seen the emergence of highly professional-looking Transformers fan photography, to the great benefit of the collecting community and fandom. The studio quality images produced by collectors and TF enthusiasts have not gone unnoticed by 3rd party companies who regularly employ the work of the better known photographers for product work, or online retailers who send review samples out to be photographed and shared on social media. This week we asked as many of these Transformers photographers as we could (and who were available) to tell us why the invest so much time, effort and money into photographing these toys, and to submit one photograph that best represents the work that they do.
Robotochan – Pete Slater Flickr
“I have been interested in photography of all types for a long time and really wanted to try my hand at product photography. As a fan of Transformers, it only seemed fitting that I practise product photography on my collection of robots in disguise. I already had most of the gear I needed to do it, I just needed the time and perseverance to give it a go. According to Flickr, I started this journey around May 2013 and looking back over my photos from that time I would like to think I have improved greatly during the intervening time.”
Sean Meece – Jetbolt’s Toy Photography
“For me, taking pictures allows me to be creative and have fun at the same time, especially when I’m able to go to different locations to take pictures of my Transformers figures. Sure, it would be less time consuming to take a picture in a light box and use Photoshop to insert a background. then it wouldn’t be fun for me. I wouldn’t be able to hear the ocean waves crashing on a shore or be able to say I took a Transformers picture on an actual aircraft carrier. There are scores of talented people that I respect and am friends with that take some great indoor photos, but that style isn’t for me. I have fun taking pictures in my bamboo forest, in the snow, at a park, on the beach, in a desert and so on. To my surprise, there are others out there that actually like what I’ve done. Apparently, some have even credited my pictures with the reason why they bought a figure, which still always shocks me when I see that on TFW2005 or elsewhere.”
TCracker – げんもん Photo Vault
“I started taking pictures of toys back in 2007 when I started my own webcomic on TFW2005. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decide to dabble more in proper photography techniques and know how. I drew my inspiration from reading through Japanese Manga and American comics to achieve the dynamic angles and poses and apply them to my photos. Not only do I get to photograph cool toys and share it with others, but it is also a form of relaxation for me. Not only do I get to play with the toy but also try to achieve cool poses and show off the figure’s articulation. As for the end result is money well spent on something that I love to do. To me, every day is a learning opportunity, and I motivate myself to strive to be better in my photos so that people can enjoy them, but also as a sense of satisfaction for me, knowing that I have come so far.”
Bryce Rutledge – Brr-icy Photography
“I have been doing Transformers photography for about four or five years now, the main reason is that I love sharing pictures of my collection with people. At first it just gave me another reason to get the toys off the shelf and transform them, which hasn’t gone away, but the main reason I do it now is that I collect more obscure and hard to find G1 toys. I do this to get good quality pictures out there of things that the majority of the fandom either won’t get to hold or just haven’t seen. I also thoroughly enjoy the Masterpiece line as well as the G1.
“At first I just had a point and shoot camera but I really enjoyed the look of a well done shot, so I pushed myself to learn all that I could on that camera, and when I felt there was nothing more I could get out of it, I invested in a decent DSLR and other equipment.”
RICEMASTER – ricemaster76 (Flickr)
“Toy photography, in my opinion, is the ultimate escapism! After a long day, it’s my own personal woo-sah moment. I thoroughly enjoy pawning noobs online to blow off steam, but I’m more content on grabbing a figure from shelf, popping some headphones in and just zoning out as I sit behind a lens trying to bring my figures to life. Photographing my figures truly enhances the value of my collection, which otherwise would be lifeless statues hidden behind a glass prison. While it has some serious therapeutic benefits, what I enjoy most is being able to share my passion with my wife and kids! They are my toughest critics, but love it when they get involved in what my daughter and son call their ‘daddy’s picture show’!
“TFW feedback is also a major plus, as I love getting input on my photographs. Whether it be from other photographers or board members, receiving feedback from you guys is vital, as it helps me grow! At times, taking pictures can be very time-consuming, from getting the right lighting, pose, angle and any final touches needed in post processing. It can also be a total pain, from realising you had the figure mistransformed after the photo shoot or – my favourite – accidentally bumping the table and knocking everything down. One side note, don’t think for a second that you need expensive DSLR/mirorless cameras to take quality shots. There are many individuals using point and shoots or cell phone cameras who take fantastic photos. Also, the same goes for lighting, as I started with poster board and desk lamps, which I still use on occasion. Plus, a lot of this can be done on the cheap as there are many DIY solutions that you can find online, from creating a light tent to making a soft box, which are very useful when shooting in a controlled environment. To sum this babbling up, taking pictures is fun, therapeutic and sometimes rage inducing, but most importantly it makes me happy!”
Ian Reid – HardReturn Photography
“I remember getting my second and third ‘modern’ Transformers (MP-8 and MP-4S), messing around with them and enjoying it. Then I took a couple pictures of Sleepy Prime and they were HORRID. I hated them. I just thought ‘I have this really cool thing, and I want to show off how cool it is, but I don’t have the tools’. Turns out I did have the tools, I just didn’t know what I was doing. Years and years of messing around with the camera and settings and lighting and backdrops, and a million other things, along with help and advice from other photographers in the community, and I got to a place where I felt good about my pictures. But the best part about that process was I was always messing with the toys.
“Part of what keeps my engagement with this hobby high is that I handle my collection all the time. Whether I want to show off the figure itself, or want to try something new photographically, I have a reason to walk up to a shelf and pull a figure off it and engage with the actual toy. I love learning new techniques and methods for working on pictures, at this point it has become its own (expensive!!) hobby, so the whole process feeds into itself. Additionally, I ended up working for Mastermind Creations doing packaging photography for their Ocular Max and Reformatted lines, so even if I were to get bored with my own stuff (I don’t), there’d always be more to work on. I want to take these cool things that I love and let people see them. Maybe it’s a familiar figure in a new pose or lighting, or maybe it’s something on the rarer side that I can let people enjoy vicariously. I love getting those images out there. At this point, I’m not even sure how to separate photography from collecting Transformers. It’s a good thing I don’t have to.”
“I started taking regular pictures of Transformers pretty much by accident. A couple of years ago I shared a few iPhone photos of some new figures I’d acquired on TFW2005. I then thought about having a go with my DSLR, and found that fellow posters seemed to enjoy them, so I carried on. I already enjoyed photography outside of taking pictures of Transformers so this was a seemingly great way to combine two hobbies. Also, because the subject matter was incredibly different to the types of photos I would shoot otherwise (mostly landscapes & animals), it was great practice and a chance to learn something new. I look back at many of those early photographs and don’t actually think they’re very good now, but then I’m probably my harshest critic, even today! I frequently reflect on photos from even a few months prior and try to think about how I can improve as I go. I can honestly say that I have learnt so much in the last two years and continue to do so, which is probably one of the things that keeps me going; I’ve deepened my own passion for collecting as much as I have my own interest and, hopefully, ability when it comes to photography in general.
I’ve also found that it’s a great way to share a passion for the hobby of Transformers collecting and build a connection with other fans, which has led to a few genuine friendships along the way. These days I am lucky enough to have the chance to review test shots of upcoming toys, which is great fun and something I am truly appreciative of, even though it was never my ambition. Ultimately, I’m just a fellow collector who enjoys taking pictures of their own collection and will continue to do so, hoping that other people appreciate the results.”
Ben Parfitt – Benparfitt.com
“To me, taking pictures of my Transformers is kind of an extension of how I enjoyed them as a kid. Back then I’d sit there and play with them on my bed, imagining little narratives that were acted out in my mind as I manipulated them. Capturing these make-believe moments on camera is pretty much the same thing. Perhaps it’s even a substitute – grown adults get funny looks for playing with their toys but sticking them in a light tent and taking photos of them is regarded as perfectly fine, bizarrely! These little objects are a design delight that ooze character and beg to be part of a story. Seeing these strengths teased out by the lens was so inspiring that I desperately wanted to try it myself.
As much as I know I’ll never match the efforts of folk like yourself, Sixo, Kuma Style and Robotochan, I do think I’ve stumbled upon my own style. I tend to focus on the feel and mood of the character rather than the actual object itself, although it may just be that it’s simply an excuse to allow the darkness and shadows to hide my poor colour reproduction! It’s a wonderful feeling when you look at a finalised picture and feel you’ve really captured something special about an object. If nothing else, it definitely eases the pain of being rubbish at drawing.”
Fabian Wong – U.NEM Studios Production
“I first ventured into Transformers photography more than a decade ago when I embarked on a personal project to photo-archive my collection. While the photos taken during the first few years were nothing to shout about, the continued experimentation and gradual improvement kept me going. In fact, photographing the figures opened up another aspect of the hobby for me and is something I look forward to when a new figure joins the collection. As I am more of a ‘display collector’ than a ‘play-collector’, the shoots actually provided me with the much-valued opportunities to interact with the figures. No doubt, toy photography takes time (and probably money) when you take it seriously. Sometimes you get one good shot out of the twenty that you take. Sometimes photos that you share are not appreciated. Sometimes your photos may not measure up to those of others. But the thing is this: you need not be the best. As long as you are happy with what you are doing, that really is all that matters. This is a hobby, and the joy will be eroded if you make it into a competition. For me, the very mundane desire to archive my collection is what drives my photography, and I sure hope I can complete this project in my lifetime!”
Josh Lang – Plastic Spark Photography
“Transformers and Toy Photography in general is an incredibly vital creative outlet for me. I used to be a very dedicated 2D artist. I spent a lot of time sketching, designing characters, and drawing comics but one day I just…stopped. Life events lining up ever so cruelly landing me in a severe depression that became a creative slump that lasted years and that I was never able to get over. It was devastating as, like most artsy, creative types, I had a desperate desire to create and put my stories and art out into the world but no method with which to communicate these ideas. With no creative outlet I poured my time and money into collecting. I’ve always had a love and fascination for Transformers and it was around this time that I started collecting Masterpiece Transformers and 3rd Party.
“Fast forward a couple years and a good friend of mine was teaching me how to use my Nikon DSLR camera that had been collecting dust for years. Knowing my love for Transformers and other action figures he encouraged me to participate in a 365 day photo project he was involved with. He used a Revoltech Danboard figure to shoot in various situations every day which eventually became a project titled ‘The Danbox Memoirs’. While I never followed through with the full 365 day challenge, through his encouragement and Jedi Master-esque mentorship, I was inspired to try and use my extensive toy collection to find a new way to express these stories I had trapped in my head. Toy photography became my medium and I’ve stuck with it ever since, gradually moving from outdoor photography to a studio setting, to eventually working as a freelance guest reviewer/photographer for Kuma Style and now to photo galleries and reviews of Transformers and other action figures and collectables for my own website and Facebook page. Ultimately my goal is to continue to improve, grow my skill set, grow my brand and website, and eventually work directly with some of the awesome companies putting out the toys that I collect to advertise and review their products.”
Jon Strong – Drinking About Robots
“Simply, I do it because I love it and photography goes hand in hand with playtime now. Moreover, I do it for me and it’s fortunate that through the hobby I get a chance to share it with others. Tech’s great at times, eh?
“Shooting Transformers and the subsequent image manipulation taps a vein of creativity I wanna keep bleeding. That’s a big deal on a personal level, something I rarely get a chance to express elsewhere these days. I love composing a shot, I particularly enjoy capturing a mood or an expression and it totally helps me connect with a piece as well. Time spent doing this kind of passes me by, although the other half likes to give me a gentle nudge as I’m prone to losing myself once I get started. 30 photos of roughly the same thing at a slightly different angle because why? Tiny edits only your own eyes might notice because..? Because it’s awesome fun.
“Anyway, waffle waffle when a picture says a thousand words. I chose this one above – it’s recent and that’s likely telling – but it’s probably the closest I’ve got to being satisfied with an end result. Not the greatest thing you’d want to wake up and see…”
Liam Davey – Toybox Soapbox
“You might not believe this, but when I first started I had no interest in photography. My interest was purely in writing and the images were all snapped on an old, terrible phone camera. Most of the pictures I take are of the characters doing things, like fighting or other silly things to amuse myself and very quickly I realised it gave me a grown up excuse to play with them like I did as a kid. In the 80’s, I would spend days obsessed with a new Transformer and would put it through its paces, at some point it would challenge Miles Mayhem’s control of his band of toy box villains, until it eventually became consigned to that box and was replaced by something new.
“Fast forward to grown up, boring, bill-paying life and reviewing and taking photos of toys fills a scarily similar void. Instead of the toy box it’s a display shelf and photography gives me a chance to really experience and enjoy a figure, to try to recapture some of the childish glee I felt every time I was lucky enough to get a new toy. At some point along the way I fell in love with photography and wanted to start making sure my pictures actually looked good to other people who weren’t seeing them through my imagination. Luckily, another side effect of all of this has been being introduced to some fantastic people who have gone out of their way to give me help and advice and who I consider to be very good friends. And it’s them I blame for having spent a small fortune on a camera and all the equipment! So in the end, toy photography has gone from something I wasn’t interested in, or confident enough to do, to being something I can’t wait to get home to do.”
Marian Hilditch – MMortAH( Tumblr)
“I’ve been a picture taker for as long as I can remember myself and a collector of things for an equally indeterminate amount of time, so it’s not a big surprise to me that two of my favourite things have found happy co-existence. It wasn’t till 2008 when I joined Flickr, that I realised there was a huge community of toy photographers out there and I’ve not stopped learning from every picture I’ve added to my favourites since. I can’t overstate how happy taking pictures of toys makes me.
My personal approach to photographing Transformers is to take that painted plastic and try to find the character I love inside. If I can see them there I know I have a good figure in my hands. My job then is to gently blow that breath of life. Until I’ve been through this process, the figure may as well stay in the box. Taking pictures is for me part of collecting.
I’ve never had the patience for studio photography, so I rely a lot on natural light. I shoot a DSLR and my current favourite lens in the Nikon 40mm 2.8G macro, which is an amazing piece of kit at its price.”
TJ – Kuma Style
“My story of getting into photography is a bit weird. I believe it was around 2011 and I had a ‘desk job’ doing tech support where I had a pretty darned big desk completely to myself that I could leave things at and whatnot. So of course I chose to fill both the desk and cabinets above with toys! I was fairly new to collecting and I noticed the photo threads and began sharing just the most horrible camera pictures. Looking back, the pics were pretty awful, but when someone called out how bad they were at the time, I got pretty bugged. From there, I started looking at some of the more ‘nice’ photography, asking questions, and learning about different photo aspects like lighting, backgrounds, etc. etc.. I do have to give big props to U.Nem and Brr-Icy both for being extremely helpful as I was learning! From there, I bought my first DSLR camera and I was just in heaven. I really like technology in general so as much as it was cool to be able to take nice pictures I absolutely fell in love with the variables aspect; how light works with different f. stops and shutter speed, light placement, and things like that. I remember bringing that camera to work and taking pics outside on breaks then getting home and taking pics in my crappy cardboard “light box” (I wish I had pictures of that thing to share; so bad!) I just really enjoyed it, and the fact that I was getting better definitely motivated me to stick with it. Then, MMC saw some photography of mine and shot me a message to say thanks and after talking for a bit they’d let me take pictures of a few of their products. Next thing I know, I’d linked up with another company at a convention and got to work here at TFSource. Things spread, people seemed to like what I was doing, and more people emailed me to do photos.
“Fast forward to today and now I’m doing actual toy photography for toy companies both Transformers-related and not. I also do non-product photography for people. It’s not something that I would have ever imagined becoming of it, but I’m extremely appreciative to have been granted the opportunities! A lot of people instantly think “free toys” in terms of motivation, but to put it mathematically, I can put at of 20 hours into a gallery between shooting, editing, reshooting, re editing, being told I need more of xxxx shown, shooting more, editing more, etc… for a product that maybe retails at $100. That’s $5 an hour on top of “opportunity costs” (like most others in this list I have a full-time day job, family, pets, and other hobbies,) so needless to say it’s a labor of love. The very BEST part about toy photography (and photography in general,) is being able to show people how things look in my eyes. What makes these things special for me. Photography has become so synonymous with collecting that admittedly as soon as I see a product reveal for something new I start looking over the articulation and thinking of shots to take! It’s crazy, but it makes collecting fun.
“I’ve also been able to meet, talk shop with, etc. other fantastic photographers like yourself, Hardreturn, Plastic Spark, Projekt Zero Three, Foibles/Bonkers, Ricemaster, Zy80, and so on so forth. We really have a great community and we’re at an all-time high with really great options for characters we grew up with. Even outside of photography, this is a fantastic time for everyone to be collecting this stuff and I’m just glad to be a part of it”.
Enormous thanks to our exceptional toy photographers for their words and breathtaking images, and my apologies to the other prospective contributors who I did not give enough time to due to the last minute request!
All the best