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Court of the Dead

Jul 24, 2015

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HOW-TO: Photograph Custom Toys at Home, On a Budget (Part 1 - Setup)


So I have this thing I'm doing called Rollin Gobis. It's a rolling online custom show featuring the Muttpop Gobi platform - a 3.5" vinyl humanoid (luchador) figure which is basically part of the lime of toys that the popular Tequila came from.

As I gather up my images for this release, I had one custom Gobi by Cash Cannon left to shoot, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to show all of you how to photograph a custom toy for the web. Initially I thought this might be a short tutorial but I realized that not all of you have access to the same DSLR camera and Photoshop like I do. So... those tools are great for me but maybe not a useful tutorial for many of you.

The reason I am doing this is the same reason I've been bitching and whining about your images for years: when you sell stuff on the web, the images are all you have to make an impression. They have to look pretty good and professional, even if you do them yourself.

Many of you seem to fall back on the good old "shot in dim lighting on my kitchen table with busy background" shot. Please stop doing that. I know many of you are working a day job and sculpting at night, and you're exhausted by the time you finish, but also super excited... so you snap the first picture you can of that piece, at night, on your table, in front of your bored cat and overflowing garbage can. And then you post it to IG because you're all proud, and some bloggers pick it up and run with it, and BAM - that's your actual official picture that gets circulated of that piece.

So your pictures look like you don't give a shit. And that's bad. Whether you want to believe it or not, there is psychology involved in selling your art to people, and you have to appeal to their inner sense of "must have this thing right now." Not giving a shit, in sales, leads to not selling shit.

So, to recap: your images of your custom toys should be brightly lit, against a white (preferably completely blank) background. 

MANY of you don't seem to think you able to produce images like this without hiring a photographer, but you can. In this How-To series, which I think will be 4 posts long, I will show you how to: set up your photoshoot, edit the images on your iPhone, OR edit the images in Preview if you have a Mac, OR edit the images in Photoshop if you have it. All with the intention of creating nice clean images that help sell your artwork. So, 3 different image editing options according to what equipment/tools you have available. I chose this particular figure to demonstrate because black objects (and sometimes white objects) are the most difficult to photograph. This piece by Cash happens to be both black AND glossy, so it's actually pretty difficult- all those reflections plus a high contract between object and background.

Part 1 - Setup of your Photoshoot
So here we have the awesome Vader Gobi

A "seamless" is a piece of equipment for a photo studio into which you place the object to be photographed. The intention is to give you proper light and a nice clean white background behind the object.

You can buy a seamless pretty much anywhere. Google that shit. They're not expensive.

I don't own a seamless, despite having considered myself a photographer for a while.

I make one every time I have to shoot a toy in my home.

How do I magically make a seamless? you may ask... well, I'll tell you, slappy: it's a piece of damn paper.

Yeah that's right, regular old printer paper works just fine.

So basically, I did this shoot at about 10AM today when the light was shining right into my kitchen through the window. I chose this time and location because ambient light (the amount of random-ass light in the room) is strong here.

On the floor I placed a heavy, clean, white envelope that is supposed to be used for shipping prints. It's big on purpose, just to give me more white space to work with. Taped to the side of the cabinet is a regular piece of white paper, low enough that almost half of it hits the ground and curves. That's a seamless right there. It prevents the viewer (the camera) from seeing a line between a floor and a back wall inside the frame of the image.

So you can see right at the bottom of the shot above that the patch of sunlight gets really close to my little shitty seamless.That's awesome and intentional. Sunlight (natural light) is great but being in DIRECT sunlight makes for really difficult photography. What you want is AMBIENT light bouncing all around the room, lighting up your subject from all angles (instead of hitting it directly on the top and making really dark shadows right next to really bright spots). The sunlight will get close to Cash's Vader but will not hit it directly.

If you or I owned a professional seamless, there would be one or 2 lights affixed to it that would achieve this ambient lighting effect. And it'd be better... but we don't have a seamless and this makeshift shit will work just fine for us to sell items on the internet.

From the side, the seamless looks something like this. You can slide the curve in or out as needed.

So I place the feet of Vader right at the edge of the paper to hold it down flat.

Above you see the subject right up at the edge of the seamless, approx 4 inches from the back wall. Feet of the toy hold down the edge of the paper. You can also do this with tape if needed. Keeping that edge down flush is key because we are doing a bit of half-assed editing after the shoot, and I want to keep the work as basic as possible so you can execute without having to use a clone stamp or some weird tool in Photoshop to remove the shadow that would be created if that edge wasn't flush.

This image shows a tiny shadow under the piece of paper near Vader's feet. I can edit this out in Photoshop but just try to do a better job than I did in eliminating that shadow and you won't have to edit it.

Above are the unedited shots from this photoshoot. They have not been cropped or adjusted. These were taken on an iPhone 6 Plus with the HDR setting turned on. All iPhones have decent enough cameras for this, and many of the Samsungs and other smartphones do too.

All that weird stuff like the edge of the paper, the shadow cast by the figure, the different colors of the envelope on the floor vs the paper, and the crap on the floor in the background will all be edited or cropped out.

That's it. In the next post in this series, I'll show you how to edit these images on your iPhone.
Good game.


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