I've been making little monsters out of polymer clay for over 6 months now.  If I can recall correctly, it all started out of sheer boredom sometime last winter.  I was fiddling with some clay remnants and started making some silly little creatures, just giving my fingers something to do while we watched tv on the couch.  Before I knew it, I was making wizards and dragons and castles in addition to my little monsters ... and developing a rather elaborate backstory for them all.

It's funny how such a simple little craft can inspire so many ideas.  At this point, I have no idea where this project will eventually lead:  there are a lot of ways that it could grow, and I'm really excited to see how things develop.  But for now, I'm content to keep it simple and use these wacky little guys to practice my toy photography.

I've had this particular set-up in my head for quite a while now:  mossy hills, a distant castle and some seriously colourful monsters.  When Paddy told me that he wanted to go climbing in Niagara Glen, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to make this image happen.  So, I invited myself and a camera bag full of toys along for the adventure.

And what an adventure it was!  After a sunny drive, we noticed some ominous clouds rolling in as we started hiking down into the gorge.  We found the first climbing site just in time to duck under an overhanging cliff to take shelter from the storm.  However, the rain ended quickly, and we were left with a wonderful sun-dappled afternoon to play in the forest.

For a photographer who usually shoots landscapes and candid, as-they-happen moments, staging the scene for this shoot was an interesting challenge in several ways.  Being on-location meant that there were all sorts of non-image-related concerns like slippy sloppy muddy terrain and swarms of very hungry mosquitoes.  While I was smart enough to wear a pair of grubby old jeans (and slather myself with sunscreen), I somehow neglected the bug spray and ended up being quite the buffet for the buzzy little things as I crouched precariously next to a rock and carefully placed my creatures.

I think it really helped having 'the shot' largely sketched out in my head beforehand:  instead of searching the forest for any spot that inspired me, I only had to search for the right moss-covered rock.  But having this mental image also complicated things slightly.  It introduced a bit of urgency into the equation - the pressure was on to somehow create this lovely image that had been floating around in my brain for so long.  This meant a lot of fiddling with tiny details and being hyper-critical of all of the elements ... and a lot of test shots.

Shooting these tiny toys has proved to challenge my technical skills as well as my ability to focus on the details of a scene while balancing on a muddy hill surrounded by bugs.  I'll admit it:  I'm a lazy photographer.  Sneak a peek at my camera at any given time, and you'll likely see the dial tuned in to my beloved AV (Aperture Priority) with the widest possible aperture to let all the available light in and blur out the background.  However, working with such tiny subjects in a partially overcast forest required a more careful hand on the dial.  In order to get the depth of field necessary to show more of the scene, my aperture had to be dialled down significantly.  A smaller aperture opening meant longer shutter times, which meant either staying seriously steady or changing the ISO.  Somehow I've never gotten really good at trusting my tripod in such situations.  I'm not sure if it's laziness or unwillingness to admit that I need help, but I fell back on my old technique of bumping up the ISO or simply standing/crouching as still and steady as possible and taking multiple shots.  I think in the future this will be a lot simpler if I just pull that gorillapod out of my bag.  ;)

Anyway, I think that's quite enough technical rambling for today.  Let's take a peek at some of my favourite shots from the adventure!


As you can see, there are several variations of 'the shot'.  It was hard to narrow them down even this much ... I'm pretty fregging pleased with how they turned out!  

I'm certainly looking forward to many more photographic adventures with this crew!