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Photographing Toy Soldiers

Updated on September 20, 2013

If one likes antiques and likes to dwell on their childhood years as well as appreciated the way things, even toys, were made with plenty of attention to detail and with good workmanship then this photographic project is surely one to be enjoyed and treasured.

This particular theme involves photographing toy soldiers like the ones made many years ago and often from lead, which is why they probably are not made anymore since it was found that lead posses certain dangers, especially to small children with their habit of putting almost anything into their mouths.

"1966 marked a turning point in the history of toy soldiers. International concerns about lead poisoning brought about new laws which banned the manufacture of toys containing lead." The Toy Soldier Company

Another kind of toy which was very popular among children as recent as the early 60's were the lead or tin carriages like the type used by Europe's kings and queens or the masterfully made western style coaches and wagons. Even though these were in fact toys meant for child's play, many were regularly collected by adults much like some metal replicas of cars are so today.

Needless to say that finding good intact samples that are still worthy of being captured through photographs can prove to be very difficult if not nearly impossible. Nearly all can be found at specialty antique shops and museums. However, there are some Chinese made replicas which only a trained expert can distinguish from the real ones. Want to know more of the history surrounding toy soldiers then follow this link to The Toy Soldier Company.

For this project real or replica will do, since the theme is to capture their images from various angles and perspectives to showcase their detail in workmanship and attention to detail, especially the paint, and the replicas which are available today at many antique stores, toy stores and curious shops are just as detailed as the real items. However most are made from other metals except lead, but don't worry since the camera won't recognize lead from something else in most cases.

Like with many other projects that involve expensive subjects, fragile ones or really hard to get, your best bet is to ask the shop owner for permission to photograph the pieces, mostly on site and provide them with copies of the images.

Most owners will gladly agree since it costs them nothing and provides them with copies which they can in turn use to advertise their products. Another alternative to locating suitable subjects is to advertise in your local newspaper for anyone who happens to be a collector and ask if they would allow you to photograph them, again most of the time all it will take is for you to provide them with copies of the images.

Your focus should be on doing close ups of the most interesting details and designs alongside more complete body shots. Macros and very close shots work really well since this is mostly the only way that an audience can truly appreciate the intricacies and detailing that went into the production of such a specimen.

Pay attention to small details in the faces, uniforms and weaponry. Also to note is the head gear which often accompanies these toys. Try to group similar looking pieces as if part of an army and take their image, this is good to showcase in a presentation were the group photo is the featured enlargement and the individual pieces are separately positioned near it.

As with a majority of photographic projects that involve doing close ups and macros, a tripod to prevent movement and a diffuser positioned with the light source are strongly recommended. Position your light source and a reflector at 45 degree angles to the subject; one of each side.

Lead or metal carriages are even more difficult to locate since they were formed by many intricate pieces with usually several moving and often interlocking parts and often these parts are lost or broken over time and with use.

I have two very good condition samples which took me approximately two years to find and a couple of hundred dollars to acquire and have since almost doubled in value.

With these, detailed close ups are the norm but equally so are photographs which show the entire subject. These are usually harder to handle since they have a lot of movement although most good samples will be attached to a platform that prevent the many separate parts from being dislodged and are therefore easier to handle.

These carriages, especially the ones that were true representations of actual ones, such as the Britain's Historical Series, were very detailed down to the exact same clothes worn by the actual dignitaries, kings & queens. Recording these often quite minuscule details should be the point of emphasis of your images.

This is a seldom covered photographic project and there still room for growth among dedicated photographers and should be treated as most product photography were attention to every aspect of the shoot is carefully thought off in advance.

Many of these images are widely sought after by collectors, industry magazines and other publications, catalog companies. general history publications and can often be sold as individual fine art prints.

Some pieces can fetch hundreds of dollars and modern replicas of earlier models go for less, there are even auction houses that speculate in this type of commodity and many toy shops who do so too.

The secret to success is to make images that are superior in their technique, yet creative and show unusual and hard to find samples.

One good tip is to also recreate a battlefield or historical time appropriate scene and photograph your subjects on it and another is to record the images at eye level.

The more realistic that the scene appears the better, and if you have children, especially us boys, then they can prove to be invaluable sources for creativity and can be involved in the entire project with a pleasant by product of bringing you and your kids closer together.


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      pmccray: Thank you, glad you enjoyed it

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Cardisa: Thank you darling, glad you liked it

    • pmccray profile image

      pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

      The attention to detail on the toys shown are amazing. Thank you for sharing, voted up, marked useful and interesting.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      Hi Luis, these are some of my favorite stuff. This project would be fun for me. I read the lock and key hub but was so swamped with work I couldn't comment on all the hubs I read.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Cogerson: Thank you buddy...Your profile made me remember my stay at home days...those were great

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      Excellent and at a perfect time of the year as my wife have a tradition of taking at least one carriage ride each year during the holidays....thanks as always for sharing such great tips. Voted up and useful.