Photography is fun. Toys are fun. Putting them together just makes sense (and it justifies your juvenile obsessions). If you try using the following ideas to maximize your own macro and close-up photography you’ll find a whole new world that’s always available, no matter the weather. Combine this with Dave DeBaermaeker’s tips and you’ll have a whole of fun.

Key tools I’m demonstrating

I’ll list for you the exact tools I used to make this picture, but you can substitute any of them. Each of these tools can be used in many other facets of your photography, though, so if you buy them you won’t be getting a single-purpose item you may not use again.


It’s much easier to manipulate the camera perspective than a tripod. If it’s too low, add a book. If it’s too high, put a book under your subject. I used a Max (B&H | Amazon) for my camera and an Ultra (B&H | Amazon) for the lights.

Vanguard grip head

You need to add a ball head to the Platypod, and I’ve had good luck with many Vanguard models. I like this grip head — until I get the new Platyball head, this is my favorite.


Platypod’s goosenecks (B&H | Amazon) are perfect for getting your lights or even your subjects into the right place. They bend all over and have standard 1/4″-20 threaded holes and studs.

Lume Cube

These lights have long-lasting batteries, excellent color, and terrific modifiers. Here, I used the 2.0 version with three orange filters, a diffuser, and a grid to focus the light. Alternatively, you could use a flashlight, but in the long run, these lights are worth owning.

Macro lens

I’ve got the Leica 45mm f/2.8 for my Lumix G9. You don’t have to have a macro lens; extension tubes are also excellent. Close-up filters also work well. I would recommend a moderate telephoto, though. This lens is similar to a 90mm lens on a full-frame camera. Longer lenses make it easier to control the background composition.

Tether Tools cables

Tethering your camera to your computer is a terrific way to say your back and neck when making close-up pictures. Tether Tools (B&H | Amazon) makes all kinds of durable accessories to help.

Viewsonic 27″ Monitor (VP2768)

Using a monitor as the backdrop gives you unlimited background options. Just put any picture you’ve ever made anywhere on the screen and you’ve got a backdrop. I like this Viewsonic model (B&H | Amazon) because its matte finish reduces the problems of lights glaring off it, and its height is fully adjustable without tools. Also, it’s a 2K monitor, which is marvelous for editing your pictures and it’s priced nicely.

Start with a subject

First of all, you need to find something to photograph. Toys are fun because you can use your other photographs to enhance their environment, which we’ll discuss below. But flowers and favorite curios are also excellent to experiment with. In this case, I chose a Star Wars figurine.

Choose an environment

Think about where you’d like your subject to appear. Star Wars is famous for dramatic environments, and I like to photograph that kind of thing, too. This background is the sunset during a forest fire I made ten years ago. I used a telephoto lens to make the sun look larger. It seemed like a good choice as a classic Star Wars backdrop.

You can choose anything you like. Maybe a picture from your trip to Paris would be great with a flower or coffee cup. Perhaps a mountain scene for a flower. You could even choose something comical to enrich your photo.

Have you seen “The Mandalorian?”

I got this idea from the recent Star Wars series, “The Mandalorian.” That entire show was filmed in a studio, but they didn’t use any green screens. Instead, the whole room was covered in screens and they projected the environments and scenes on the screens. That means the actors and photographers could see the world around them and interact with it.

The lighting from the environment shone on the actors, too. It’s an incredible way to work. My setup with one monitor is simple in comparison, but the whole idea inspired me so much. For me, this is much simpler to accomplish than building a terrific set for my toys.

Craft the light

The light on your subject should match the light on the backdrop. To achieve a match here, I positioned my Lume Cube behind the figurine, which gets the light looking like it’s coming from the sun on the screen. But that sun is so orange compared to the white light from the Lume Cube. So, I used the gels for the Lume Cube and stacked up three CTO gels to make it as warm as the smoke-obscured sun in the back. I reduced the light on the front so it looked totally backlit.

Position your subject so that the light on it is of a similar direction, quality, and color as the light in the background.

Start clicking

Now get to work making pictures. Remember that all the techniques you use to make a good photo apply here. Make sure background elements don’t merge with your subject. Move the camera for a better perspective. Turn and adjust the subject in the light for the most flattering view. Use different apertures to change the bokeh on the backdrop. Make lots of pictures.

Then switch backdrops and switch subjects. Do it again. It can be a lot of fun. It’s got me thinking about making portraits with a projector for the backdrop, which isn’t a new idea, but it’d be a new experience for me. That’s the thing: Everything in photography has been done, but it hasn’t been done by you. Until you’ve experienced you really don’t know how to do it. So give it a shot! I’d love to see your results in the Photofocus Facebook group.