with Courtney Slazinik
Photography Project Inspiration – The Toy Project

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

Every now and then I find a photography project that I find so fascinating, amazing, and inspirational. This project created by Melissa Gibson is a wonderful way to give your children a break from the camera and document their childhood. Enjoy this photography project inspiration.

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

1. What inspired you to start photographing toys?
This whole thing started out rather innocently, really. I mean, I wasn’t planning on starting and continuing. I was just planning on starting and, well, stopping after a month. Honestly, The Toy Project was intended to be a way to fill up a month of my P365 and help me to get out of my little rut. My girls weren’t into being photographed at the time (surprise!) and I needed somewhere else to focus my attention. Once I got started, however, I couldn’t bear to stop!

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

I remember seeing some of their Lalaloopsy mini figures on the floor and being so irritated that I was having to call them in to clean up AGAIN. I stopped and looked around the house only to see other toys scattered here and there. There were dolls on the counter, cars on the couch, a stuffed animal or three on the floor in front of the fridge. It sort of dawned on me that I pretty much live in a playground for toys.

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

That night, I went to bed and told my husband my idea. I was going to photograph a Lalaloopsy mini figure for 30 days in random spots around town or in our home. I mean, they’re all over the place anyway. Might as well take a picture of them. That idea lasted for 24 hours. One Lalaloopsy session in and I didn’t think I could manage creativity for thirty days with the same toy. I decided that I’d take turns shooting random toys instead.

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

Looking around my home that day, seeing my girls interacting with their favorite toys, stepping on a pile of Legos (again), made me stop in my tracks. It made me really stand back and observe what THEY love and what makes THEM happy. I know that they won’t play with these toys much longer. They will move on to another toy or game or stuffed animal, but I’ll want to remember those days. I know that they will want to remember those days as well.

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

Oh, if I had a pile of photographs of my old toys!! I’d give anything to see those little guys again. I want to preserve this toy love that they have. I want to recognize that toys being scattered about my home is beautiful chaos. It’s a sweet, sweet childhood for them and their toys; therefore, photographing them is a way for us to remember the fun before they move on to another toy love.

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

2. Do your kids help you with your project?
The toys that I shoot are mostly toys that they play with every single day, or characters that they love from movies or cartoons. Sometimes they come to me and say that they have an idea for a toy. Mostly, this is my 11 year old daughter. She loves to think up scenes as much as I do. They all really enjoy seeing the toy come to life in the images and get excited when a new idea comes up. Mr. Fredrickson (from UP) came to my daughter on Christmas and she and my 8 year old came up with the idea for him to be walking on the sidewalk and standing in front of the construction equipment. “It’s just like the story in the movie, Mommy. You have to do that!” So? We did. Basically, yes, they do help with the project sometimes and they point out toys online or in stores and beg me to buy it for a “session”. Usually? I say yes.

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

3. The light is beautiful in your images. Do you have a favorite time of day you like to capture these photos?
When I have an idea for a toy shoot, I think of it just as I would a real person. Creepy huh? Whatever light I love for my girls, I love for the toys as well. I try to keep my style the same across the board so I’ll seek out that same type of light and shoot the same way I would a human. That’s usually backlight, hard shadows, or some hazy flare. That said, I usually head outside near sunset for outdoor shooting. As for indoor shots in my home, I tend to just watch the light in different rooms. My middle girl’s room gets great light in the morning, so I’ll sometimes head in there when she’s gone to school and shoot whatever I find in whatever spot it’s in. That’s where the Little Prince was found a few months back. My youngest girl’s room gets beautiful, harder light, in the afternoon. So I’ll set up toys in there as well. The spaceman series and Mike Wazowski were both shot in her room.


Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

For me, the light is just as important as the toy itself. I spend a lot of time studying the light and treat it as a subject in the frame as well. When I’m shooting toys, I’m able to slow down and really investigate my surroundings. Moving this way and that, seeing what the light does when I’m down low versus being up high, and even using my hand to block some of that light coming in; it’s a huge part of the shot so I spend a good deal of time getting those thoughts together before I even press the shutter. I talk more about the toy project and using the light in the scene in my Breakout that’s in the ClickinMoms store: Don’t miss a thing.
Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

4. What is your thought process when planning the scene?
As I mentioned earlier, I treat the toys as humans. I just imagine them as teeny subjects with lives of their own (see? I told you it’s creepy!). Usually, I’ll see a toy that they’ve been playing with and think to myself, What is this toy’s personality on the show or in the storybook? Is this one strong? Is he scary? Does he TRY to be scary? Funny? Clumsy?

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

For example, a few weeks ago, I noticed that my middle girl (who loves Legos) had all of her girl Legos together on the building table, but the boy was alone. In my mind I just thought, Now, what would that boy be doing with all of those girls? What sort of storyline goes with ONE boy and a bunch of girls? That quick little thought process led to The Bachelor shot. I actually tried to set the scene up in my girl’s room near the place where I found them; however it just wasn’t working out right and fitting my style so I moved the toys to the driveway at sunset. (I know my neighbors think I’m nuts.)

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

So, sometimes I shoot the toys exactly where I find them and other times I set up the scene somewhere else; just depends on the story I’m trying to tell and whether or not it blends well with the other toys in the series.

Finally, I also try and think of what sort of mischief the toys would be in if the adults weren’t looking. Silly things that they may do or friends they may hang out with when humans aren’t watching. A bit like Toy Story, I guess you could say.

Photography Project Inspiration - The Toy Project by Melissa Gibson via Click it Up a Notch

5. What do you plan to do with all the images you create?
My plan for the images is simple really, create a book for each girl to have and probably a quick story or memory to go along with each photograph. Also, I’d love for this project to inspire others to shoot the toys that are in their homes as well. It’s so easy to get frustrated with the mounds and mounds of teeny tiny toys on the floor; however, taking a moment to think of how much the child LOVES that toy may bring new meaning to that mommy or daddy. Stopping to shoot what THEY love in those toys is important to them and I’d love my project to be a reminder of that. A photograph is a reminder to my girls that THIS is important to YOU so it’s also important to ME. I know that my little ones will treasure these images one day (they already get a big kick out of them!) and having them right in their hands as a book is something that’s high on my list.



headshot150x150Melissa Gibson – Interview
Melissa is a southern girl living in north Georgia with her husband and three girls. She shoots a Nikon d700 + d3. She loves prime lenses, 50 1.4, 35 1.4 and 105mm. When shooting the toys, she mostly uses the 50mm lens, but will probably be using this new 105 a bit more once the warm weather comes around. (She’s a wimp and thinks 50 degrees is cold. Hey, that’s why she lives in Georgia.) Melissa shoots all images in Jpeg and edits in Photoshop Elements 11. You can catch up on her silly stories and images on her blog here: Melissa Gibson Photography

  • March 11, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    I love this project SO much Melissa!!! The way you use light & storytelling with the toys is inspiring. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • March 11, 2014 at 11:44 AM

      Thank you, Allison! :)

  • Jenn MacGregor
    March 11, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    I am totally doing this! I have a TON of girlie toys hanging around that I am constantly picking up! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • March 11, 2014 at 11:45 AM

      Thanks! Yes, stop picking those toys up and just take their picture instead! ;)

      • September 9, 2014 at 4:46 PM

        lol… me too! maybe is more relaxing than asking them to pick their toys ;)

  • March 11, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Those are so cool! I love the one with the elephants! ❤️

    • March 11, 2014 at 11:45 AM

      Thanks so much, Rose! That’s one of my favorites, too.

  • Susan Strope
    March 11, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    I absolutely love what you’ve created here. I wish I would have done this many-many years ago; as my 2 kids are 27 and 24 now. But, thinking I should drag some of their loved toys out and do this anyways. I am going to pass this along to my niece who is a young mom with 2 little boys and maybe she’ll get inspired. Thanks for sharing!

    • March 11, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      Hi Susan! Thank you for your sweet comments. I am sure your niece has plenty of toys around that she can photograph. We always have too many here, that’s for sure!

  • March 11, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    Your ability to bring inanimate objects to life is unreal. Your girls are going to love having these pictures and books to look back on!

    • March 11, 2014 at 11:47 AM

      Katie, you are too sweet. Thanks! :D

  • Preet
    March 11, 2014 at 11:11 AM


    Is the tilt shift effect created in Post Processing?

    • March 11, 2014 at 11:43 AM

      HI! There’s no tilt shift applied or lens used. I shoot really wide, often between 1.4 and 1.8. That’s what is creating that effect you see. :)

  • March 11, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    This is such a creative, inspiring, and awesome project! Thanks for sharing!

    • March 11, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      Thank you, Jennifer. I’m so happy you found it inspiring! :)

  • March 11, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    Minutes before I saw this post and worried about my lack of creativity, I thought, “Can I really take another photo of LEGO minifigs?” The answer is a resounding “yes!” Beautiful shots.

    • March 11, 2014 at 11:48 AM

      Haha! You can TOTALLY take pictures of Lego Minifigures!! Get on it, Cynthia! :D

  • March 11, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    I am so glad I read this post. I have also been in a rut and searching for something new and creative to take on. This has definitely inspired me and thank you so much for sharing!

  • March 11, 2014 at 11:48 AM

    I’m so happy you found this post inspiring, Cameo! Have fun shooting!

  • March 11, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    I love Toy Photography and have been accumulating far too many for this purpose, my only child is 27… I missed the boat with her toys. I’ve been shooting toys on and off for a few years you they are on flickr, where there a quite a few toy photographers.

  • Allie
    March 11, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    I love these! They are very inspirational! I have a 10 month old and she has a bunch of bath toys that I’m thinking will make for some great pics!! So excited to try this out!

    • March 12, 2014 at 9:43 AM

      Oh bath toys are fun, too!! Thanks for the sweet comment. :)

  • March 11, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    LOVE this interview Melissa! All of the images are a-mazing! :) Inspiring work :)

    • March 12, 2014 at 9:44 AM

      Hi Laurie! Thank you!! It’s been a fun project, for sure!

  • March 11, 2014 at 8:03 PM

    I love this idea! What type of lens did you use? I tried to do a couple but I couldn’t get that nice background like you have in yours. I have a lot of little figures of Disney characters around here and I would love to do some pictures like these.

  • March 11, 2014 at 8:08 PM

    never mind I see you use a 50mm which is what I used but they just didn’t seem to look like yours. Maybe I just need some practice! :)

    • March 13, 2014 at 9:05 AM

      Thank you! Yes!! A 50mm and really wide. :)

  • March 11, 2014 at 11:46 PM

    I am BIG fan of Melissa’s and this project is so wonderfully inspiring and perfectly done. The styling, use of light and story are each little masterpieces. Love!

    • March 13, 2014 at 9:06 AM

      Thank you, Kristin. The feeling mutual you talented girl!! :)

  • Dina
    March 12, 2014 at 3:09 AM

    WOW! It’s realy talanted :)))))

    • March 13, 2014 at 9:07 AM

      Thanks so much, Dina!

  • Kasia
    March 12, 2014 at 8:29 PM

    Hi Melissa, love this series (and your work in general)! Just wondering, when shooting JPEG which “preset” in your camera do you use? (not sure what they are really called, you can choose “standard”, “vivid” “neutral” and few more in Nkons).

  • March 13, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    Hi Kasia. Thanks a heap! I shoot standard on the Nikon. :)

  • March 13, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    LOVE this project…the light, the stories they tell, the personalities that come to life, and the positive outlook you put on all the “junk”

  • March 16, 2014 at 2:06 PM

    I just simply love these pictures! and the way they are taken is outstanding.

  • Danielle
    March 18, 2014 at 12:41 AM

    Hi Melissa, I came across your project on Pinterest. I cannot stop looking at your wonderful work. I will be doing this for my three nieces. What a wonderful project. I still remember my favorite toys….I just wish I had memories like this…WOW!! My 50mm has work to do!!!!

  • March 19, 2014 at 5:15 PM

    That is awesome!!! I love the image of Mike Wazowski.

  • Ali
    March 19, 2014 at 10:29 PM

    This is such a great idea! and very well done! I’m sure your kids will appreciate this :)

  • Marcus
    May 21, 2014 at 12:11 PM

    Hi Melissa, I love the way you captured the toys living in a Big World… I want to try this idea just in a different way. I just don’t want to copy your great idea….

  • May 24, 2014 at 8:46 AM

    hello Melissa

    I just wanted to say thank you for the sharing and plus I just Love your Website , well done

  • A Lindsey
    September 9, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    I cannot LOVE this enough! I run a day care and I’m a photographer so this speaks to my heart on so many levels. And…lol it would be a nice break for the kids. Thank you so much for your inspiration and for sharing. ;)

  • Nicole S.
    September 9, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    This is spectacular! I’ve photographed a few of my boys toys, but I love the idea of a whole series…I think I’ve found my new project :)

  • Shelby
    September 9, 2014 at 6:27 PM

    This is an amazing idea!! I always struggle for subjects for my pictures!! Thanks for this awesome idea! :)

  • September 9, 2014 at 6:41 PM

    I know I am asking too much from you if I am asking you to guide me and review my fb page but still I am doing so because life is short and I want to learn a lot :)
    Joy of Photography by Nishant Dwivedi

  • Cathie
    September 10, 2014 at 1:26 AM

    I am so going to do this. I’ve done it a few times, but with no real intention of letting the toys shine through or tell a story. More just shots of funny positions or places I’ve found the toys in. These photos are so beautiful.
    Wonderful idea. :)

  • September 10, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    How fun is this! I love the images.I really need to pick up a fun project like this. :) Thanks for sharing.

  • Marisa
    September 10, 2014 at 2:24 PM

    Love Love Love this! I need a project like this. How did you think of this/ where did you find your inspiration?

  • January 20, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    What a lovely idea! My children are grown and I can tell you, it does fly by in a blink of an eye. In cleaning out a storage closet I ran across one of my girls’ AF Barbie and it brought back so many memories. We now have a grandson who leaves Legos, Imaginext characters, and Hot Wheels all over the place. I recently shot a scene he created with a wooden village while he was playing and only showed his hand or arm while he was playing and liked how it turned out. I like this idea too and the way you thought of the subjects as people with lighting, composition, etc. Wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing!

  • January 20, 2015 at 1:11 PM

    This is just AWESOME – what a fantastic idea. Totally going to do this – thank you Melissa.

  • Michele
    January 20, 2015 at 3:32 PM

    Amazing idea – I just love it and am so going to use this idea – thanks for being inspirational and sharing your creativity!!

  • Tanya Monroe
    January 20, 2015 at 5:32 PM

    Melissa this is so awesome. Your pictures are amazing and the memories you are capturing are going to mean so much to your children as they grow older.

  • Dawn Garner
    January 21, 2015 at 10:10 AM

    Starting this challenge TODAY! Thank you for the inspiration! Heading to the toy box !

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