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Photographing Action Figures

Updated on February 22, 2014
CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

"An action figure is a poseable character figurine, made of plastic or other materials, and often based upon characters from a film, comic book, video game, or television program. These action figures are usually marketed towards boys and adult collectors. It is argued that action figures are particularly popular with boys because they represent traditional masculine traits and are closely associated with the public sphere. While most commonly marketed as a children's toy, the action figure has gained wide acceptance as an adult collector item. In such a case, the item may be produced and designed on the assumption it will be bought solely for display.The term "action figure" was first coined by Hasbro in 1964, to market their G.I. Joe figure to boys who wouldn't play with dolls (A similar toy named Johnny Hero was introduced by Rosko Industries for Sears in 1965, but was known as a "Boy's Doll" since the term action figure had not gained widespread usage at that point.). G.I. Joe was initially a military-themed 11.5-inch figure proposed by marketing and toy idea-man Stan Weston. It featured changeable clothes with various uniforms to suit different purposes."Wikipedia

Photographing action figures is not difficult an can actually be lots of fun. With that said there are basically two approaches to the theme; one is to photograph action figures in comical poses and in a comical setting like the Mario Brothers figures or The Star Wars action figures.

The other is to photograph realistic looking figures in realistic settings. With the later the set up benefits from having a set made from scratch and one that fits the situation in which we are used to seeing these figures.

With most recent action figures, especially those that were born out of video games, the attention to detail, even in the smallest of items like weapons, clothing and make up or rather face painting has escalated into new heights not commonly seen in the earlier action figures that kids used to play with.

The video games figures are often made for collectors and it is assumed that they will only be used as display pieces.

These make the best subjects so far as photography due to the added realism that they often show.

CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

Most action figures lend themselves really well for a comical set up since it does not take much to pose them in funny poses and most any backdrop will do.

Take for example the Star Wars Storm Troopers. There are photographers who have actually made this a very popular theme and with the popularity and fan base that Star Wars still has, it is no wonder that these images are always popular.

You can use realistic figures or non realistic figures for a comical set up and they both do well since "funny" has no "set in stone ground rules".

Comical is also easier to do. Lets say that you take the figures from the Mario Brothers video games, they can easily be posed against a simple colored backdrop featuring the color with which each figure is associated with; red for Mario and green for his brother Luigi.

This is not the same for more realistic figures like the characters from the Assassin's video game. These figures are ultra realistic looking and a set for them should be no less realistic looking.

Although you can pose them in the ground and next to some small branches, rocks, tree stumps and so on, making a set that looks like a structure ads more realism to the scene.

If you were to do this project, would you go for a comical or realistic approach?

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For those who collect anime figures, they can be posed in similar situations but these figures are mostly "imaginative" and not that realistic so far as some of their facial features for which the market is known.

This does not mean that they are less impressively made, they are just not "human like" in most of their proportions, especially the eyes and their "assets".

Lets face it most humans are not that perfect and these anime exemplify a perfect human doll and mostly based in a creation of the designer's imagination rather than a real person.

Many popular female anime figures command a hefty price tag and are seldom used for anything other than as a collector's piece.

Photographs of anime figures are routinely used in posters, eBooks, and even in calendars. This genre is growing larger on daily basis and does count with a large and loyal following who usually spend over $100 per figure. This is a very popular genre among collectors and the industry does not seem to be slowing anytime soon.

The anime are usually non movable designs since they are mostly collector pieces. Keep this in mind if attempting to photograph them.

However they too can be posed in the same way or with the same theme in mind as the more realistic video game figures or more simply posed against a black backdrop which serves to enhance and showcase the workmanship and the exquisite attention to detail.

(CC BY 2.0
(CC BY 2.0 | Source
CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

One thing that remains certain is that if you intend on photographing action figures whether this is done from a comical, or realistic stance, you should do it from a low perspective; you must get at the same "eye" level as the figures. This is also true if photographing any action or anime figure.

Photographing them from above often produces unrealistic "toy like" pictures. Yes, they may be considered toys, but if doing the project pay attention to all technical issues and aesthetic considerations.

Another key piece of technical advice is that these figures are often made from reflective material (mostly PVC) and so is the paint used. Using a soft light or a diffused light source will be much better than using a direct flash.

If you take the shooting outside avoid doing so in direct light. Direct sunlight can often produce harsh shadows and a washout effect that hides most details. The best light is found under diffused skies like before or after a rainstorm. It is also better if you do not use a flash at all and use a reflector instead to re-direct ambient light towards the subject.

CC BY-SA 2.0
CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

The majority of these images will probably do well if used for an artistic purpose or purely from a creative personal reason like to build up your portfolio.

However, some images can be used by the industry, especially the video game one, in many of their industry related publications.

Whatever you do and whatever theme you choose to pursue, do so with a photographer's mindset.

Attention to detail, careful control of all technical matters and offering the viewer new ways of looking at the same thing helps in creating a market for your finished images.

© 2013 Luis E Gonzalez


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