Toy Tech: Picture Perfect (Part 1 of 2)




Toy: Marvel & Subs. © 2012, Hot Toys Limited © 2012, Camera: Canon S-Series lenses


Through blood sweat and tears, a toy painstakingly makes its way from brilliant concept to final product breaking one sales record after another along the highways and byways of retail sales. Yes, the parking lot is swarming with endless hordes of customers all fighting for their place in a mile long line outside the store. They shiver in freezing cold blizzard winds but bear all that nature has to throw at them eagerly waiting, no, begging to buy your toy.

The retail giants inform you their shelves are cleared out and there just isn’t enough of your product to fill the demand. The toy industry roars with applause at the mere mention of your company’s name for such outstanding work and visionary genius. A parade forms around you with grateful customers carrying you on their shoulders lovingly chanting your name.

Yes indeed, just an average day in the amazing life of a toy designer. Yet, after all of the success and adulation, most companies simply snap a bland photo of their treasured toy with a point and shoot camera. Oh the folly! Oh the heartbreak! It’s amazing how many really poor photos are actually used in portfolios and corporate presentations considering the actual significance of their unique design.

Recently, while viewing several portfolios, my lightning fast mind realized how these technically challenged product shots diminished the impact of some really talented people. This, my friend, should never be allowed to happen because the process of taking good digital photos of your cherished toys is actually pretty darn easy—once you know the steps of course.

The process is built around the camera’s exposure triangle dialing in the proper ISO, shutter speed and aperture—all three settings work hand in hand to make your final manufactured toy gleam and glow. I won’t go into detail regarding the triangle because this subject alone would take too long, but the basic idea of it will take shape as the process of shooting digital toy photos is explained in the following stages:

Stage 1: Gear

I learned the ins and outs of camera technique at the Disney Orlando studio when there was a Disney Orlando studio. The mouse factory taught me how important it is to always use top quality equipment and highly recommended the Nikon or Canon DSLR cameras.

I love the ergonomic design of Nikon but use the Canon because my left hand has tendon damage and I can’t work controls very well. The Canon has most of their function dials all positioned for right hand use so for me it’s the way to go. Also, the Canon S-Series lenses are absolutely amazing and worth their weight in gold.

Keep in mind there is a major difference between quality glass and the cheap lenses that come in camera kits. Also, image resoluton plays a major factor in the over all sharpness of a photo, so make sure your digital camera is up to date or it will be a bad mojo. Whatever your choice is regarding cameras and lens selections, you’ll also need studio lights, backdrop, polarizer filter (optional) and a gray card to achieve the perfect white balance. What’s white balance? Glad you asked!



Studios lights with grey card

Stage 2: White Balance

Every light source has a color temperature—warm or cool. When you set your camera to automatic you hope it reads the color balance properly but in most cases the temperture is off target. That’s why so many product shots in presentations look dull and lifeless because the key settings are so far removed from the actual toy in real life. Look closely and you'll notice in most product shots, details in the area of light are blown out or shadow areas are filled in losing really important details.

Set up your tungsten studio lights and position your toy against the backdrop, which could be a fancy soft light tent cube (as shown in the above photo) or just a large sheet of white paper covering the table and curved up to form the backdrop—I actually prefer this. In any case, place the grey card under the same light and take a shot filling your viewfinder with the card. Now, simply select the photo of the card as your white balance. Make sure your camera is set to custom white balance and the dishes are done. From this point on all of your photos will have the right color temperature and be spot on. Do not lose heart—it’s actually a pretty easy process once you get the hang of it.

Now, secure your camera on a tripod and adjust your lens polarizer filter (optional) to get rid of any camera glare or excessive highlights. I kinda like gleaming highlights on pristine polypropylene so you’ll have to decide for yourself on a case-by-case basis.

Don’t you dare shoot your photo as a jpeg or you’ll limit the selection of image controls available once you import the photo into Photoshop. How should you save your shots? We’ll, you’ll have to wait till next week to find out.




Toy Tech: Picture Perfect (Part 2)

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