How to create epic toy photography using tin foil and pillow stuffing

Mar 8, 2019

Barry Mountford

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How to create epic toy photography using tin foil and pillow stuffing

Mar 8, 2019

Barry Mountford

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Have you ever found yourself looking at your children’s toys and thought to yourself man that would look great in an image? Well I have, I do and I love creating images this way, trying to create a realistic/surreal image which tells a story from using nothing more than a piece of plastic.

A portrait of a figure reveals the character you see in this inanimate object and brings it to life. The more I delve deeper into this genre of photography I am finding it very similar portrait photography, capturing a side of a person you see as you get to know them, you want to bring that out in the Photo. But that side you see may actually not be the real person in front of the camera rather your impression of them. This is the case in my portrait work as instantly, as soon as I see a model male or female, I have a vision of how I want a portrait of them to look. That similarity falls into the toy portrait genre. I am finding, photographing the side of the character as I see it.

Lighting the subjects is also very similar, as different skin tones and oily or dry skin, in real people can require a different light modifier to control the specularity on the skin. The same can be said with the materials a toy is made of, also creating dramatic lighting or whatever mood you want to bring to the image is very much the same. So, implementing the same lighting setups I use in my portrait photography produces the same results in my toy portraits.

This post is not about portraits of people or Toy Portraits but creating images using model planes, but using all the lighting principles I use in my portrait work to help create some epic images.

YouTube video

This small project came about over a little obsession with clouds and wanting to create them to use in an image. Now, I have failed a few times trying to make them look realistic in an image, but finally settled on using stuffing out of a pillow as this looked so much better than cotton wool.

I wanted to be able to light the clouds from inside, so I used a couple of Tupperware containers and glued lumps of the stuffing randomly all around, then spray painted part parts with black paint for a more dramatic look. When lit from inside with my strobes it gave a nice depth to the clouds and being able to add gels allowed me to play with the colours.

I initially wanted to create a big scene, a vast expanse of water and clouds behind the aircraft but soon realised that my small studio space just wasn’t big enough.  I settled on the perspective from my Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens on my Nikon D750 which allowed me to use the full width of my studio floor in the frame.

I used tin foil up on the floor to create the effect of water. Using a long focus reflector fitted with a gird and blue gel with a Pixapro PIKA200 (Godox AD200) created a moonlit backlit scene which gave nice reflections in the water and also backlit the clouds and aircraft a little.

I suspended the model planes around 3-4ft above the floor from thread inside a cardboard frame which I would later remove in Photoshop. The aircraft was lit using the Pixapro CITI600 (Godox AD600) fitted with a standard reflector and 60-degree grid for a small spot of light on the model.

To add a little more depth to the image, I also added some of the pillow stuffing around the frame to give the effect of clouds above and below the model. I wanted to create town lights below and on the edge of the water again to give more depth to the image so I added some fairy lights on top of the tin foil. The final element to add was smoke using a fog machine just to add a little more atmosphere.

Finishing the photo in Photoshop with removing the thread adding some dodge and burn, prop blur, vignette and in a couple of the shots I added the searchlights for effect, you can see this in more detail in the video, I wanted to keep this post short as I go into way more detail in the video, below are links to all the gear used if you want to check those out, hope this gives you a little inspiration to try something similar, until next time folks.

About the Author

Barry Mountford is a portrait photographer based in Gateshead, England. For more of his work, check out his website, follow him on Twitter and Instagram and subscribe to his YouTube channel. To get in touch, you can look him up on Facebook. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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