Creating Emotional Toy Photographs

Photography is all about light, composition and, most importantly, emotion. – Larry Wilder

I aim to make emotive photos that elicit an emotional response in the viewer. Whether I’m successful in that or not is really up to you, but I feel, to a degree I am.

It starts with emotions I feel poured out into the photo. Lighting, color, blur, setting, posing, all play their part to then make that vision a reality however.

So here’s how I go about this task.



I tend to return to figures without facial expressions and with limited detail. The more blank the figure, the more I feel the viewer can place themselves within the story. The human mind is wired to find faces, and human features. So as the photographer, I don’t have to offer much in the way of human iconography in order to get the viewer involved – bringing their own experiences to the scene before them.

As for HO scale (2 cm tall figures), which are the backbone of where my toy photo journey began, I plan the desired scene, then source the figure based pose, gender, etc., whether from my collection or by purchasing new. These figures are immobile, so the pose they are in is where they stay. On occasion I have cut off an arm and glued a new one in a new position, but this isn’t feasible for every joint.

As for larger figures with articulation, posing is key. As someone who can’t visualize, for my body chan shots I would look at myself in the mirror, and pose the figure to match. Even if you can visualize, this can be super helpful in getting realistic posing. Something slightly off can throw the whole image off as it becomes the focal point rather than what was intended.


Monochrome 50

Contrast lends to more intense images – fear, anger, stress. Even lighting is more calming. Whereas airy lighting, bokeh, etc. while also calming, can represent happiness and whimsy.


Similarly, color casts, with gels and reflections or elements within the image of a certain color bring out emotional overtones as well. The rules of standard color theory apply here. Red – anger, pink – love/harmony, blue – trust, yellow – happiness, orange – adventure, green – growth, white – purity, black – sadness, purple – power, brown – homliness/energy.

In the same way, when certain colors are combined they reference new emotions or experiences. The example above has a red car and white house with blue roof. The series as a whole is a reference to WWII. I made it in 2012 and feel now it was a bit odd/misplaced in scope, but the muted color scheme aimed to lend an Americana vibe. Depending on who you are and your world view, this could bring either negative or positive emotions. So, if I want to direct you in a certain way, say negative, I’d add in contrasting lighting, maybe with shadows arching toward the main subject, or an overall red color cast. This series however is somber, and in this frame we don’t know what’s about to happen, so the lighting is even and calm.

There are a ton more color schemes that elicit certain responses as well. Have you ever wondered why so many restaurants use yellow and red? Those colors together are believed to make you hungry. Tech companies use blue and green to represent trust and industry growth. Pastels are considered innocent and calming. The list continues


Fugue State

Last, but not least, setting. Place your figure by themselves in the middle of a dark forest and you get an unsettling situation. However a forest in itself doesn’t have to be unsettling. Lighting will play a huge part here still. But place your figure in an abandoned warehouse, with the ceiling collapsing in, give it gorgeous lighting, and you still may have an unsettling, or at least confusing, situation.

So really the moral of the story here, is to make your setting match the overall tone you’re going for in the image as a whole.

In Conclusion

While so many other pillars of art making – composition and such, come into play as well, lighting and color are huge staples to making compelling emotional imagery. And the more emotional elements you add, the more you bring your toys to life.

How do you convey emotions in your art? 

Leave a Reply

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: