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One of the communities top toy photographers Hung Doan takes us behind the scenes on an exclusive shoot for us here at Exclu sharing a glimpse into his creative world and the ways in which he goes about creative the myriad of top notch shots that we see across our feeds every single week – a seriously in-depth BTS this one!
A behind the scenes look at the photography of Hung Doan
Hello everyone, my name is Hung Doan and I am a San Francisco photographer who started shooting toys in 2016. I shoot mostly 3.75″ Hasbro Star Wars figures. I think I have good coverage spanning all the eras, various characters include off-beat ones, and vehicles. I think my feed attracts those who are really into the 1/18th scale form factor. I, myself, really love that scale as you can build worlds by mixing and matching toys spanning the 40 year history.
With movies like Rogue One, I can use my 1990s POTF (Power of the Force) vehicles and figures which comes in very conveniently. When asked for this feature, I thought I’d answer the most asked question that comes into my inbox, “How do I generate so much content?”
My secret is to create a scene I can re-use with multiple characters and scenarios. A Saturday morning photo-session can generate 20-30 different scenes that I can stagger and schedule. As of now, I have about a backlog of 200 images. Over time, some don’t make the cut and the good ones rise to the top of the list. Photos I originally thought were cool, after a few weeks later, I realize they were not up to my standards. Those end up in the trash can. Hence, I have hundreds of un-edited photos sitting in a queue and I use an iPhone to edit most of my images. That is my secret. Here, I came up with 3 different scenes in the Bespin Duel alone. For the rest, I’ll share the app workflow.
Behind the Scenes
Today’s BTS is the Bespin battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. I just got a Vintage Collection (VC04) Luke that I wanted to photograph. Once the shot is done, I change things around to generate additional scenes for different characters.
I shoot with a broken Rebel T6 with a 50mm lens. The LCD screen is broken so I shoot blind and employ a lightbox for most of my shots. The setup is convenient because it is in the kid’s playroom. I’ll photograph some toys when the kids are watching TV or playing nearby. They often come up with the story narratives. It is a convenient schedule as I allocate about 3 hours a weekend to come up with different shots. This all happens in my basement and if I need an outdoor shot, I simply open the door and photograph in my backyard. Unlike other photographers, I don’t have the luxury or time to do on-location shots. All my shots are either done in my basement or in the backyard.
My lightbox is a 24×24 Neweer box that is $20 on Amazon. I use a flexible IKEA lamp with a 5500 kelvin LED lamp along with a bunch of different colored LED lights to stage lighting effects.
Here, I wanted to replicate the scene where Luke enters the Carbon Freezing chambers – dark blue background with a backlight on the floor. I used a set of GPT wall panels for flooring with a LED flood light aimed up. The background is a dark blue cardboard paper. I have a box of props of accessories (that come with the figures), salvaged parts from broken vehicles, and other diorama gizmos that I throw in to dress the background.
After my Bespin scene, I think of possible different scenes with different character. I came up with a scene where Boba Fett meets Saw Guerra. I swap the back-drop wall and change the flood light to orange instead of red. Voila, a different scene.
Once principal photography ends, I import all my files into Adobe Lightroom and curate photos for editing. I will do some minor color grading and cataloging in Lightroom but the majority of my post production is done on mobile devices.
After reviewing files for queue, I export them to my Google Drive. Those files sit there until I have inspiration for editing. I may edit immediately after reviewing them in Lightroom or I may let them sit for days to weeks. At my leisure, I will pull down a file on my iPhone and edit the scenes. I do most of my editing while I wait for my kids during his daily karate practice or when my kids are playing at the local park.
On the iPhone (iPad), I use the following apps: VSCO, ColorStory for colour grading. I use the entire BrainFever suite of FX effect applications. These including LensFX, LensLight, LensFlare, and Reflect. Most of my time is spent in LensFX. That is the only real app you need to replicate my effects. I will use Union for masking and layering images. Lastly, I use Mextures for texturing.
Here is an example of the effects I throw in LensFX for my Bespin scene. I add the saber effect, a jet glow to simulate the reflection of the lightsaber and I add some smoke/fog effect. LensFX allows you to stack layers of effects. Once the effects are done, I import them into Mextures.
Mextures is a cool app to give the scene some mood. Some people may not like Mextures as it can be viewed as filter app. I like it as you can stack light leaks, texture, and grain. You can have multiple layers of texture and save that as a formula (preset). The next time you import a new image, you can simply apply an existing formula. You can download formulas from other artists. Mextures has a thriving community of artists.
Here, I create a dreamy mexture formula named it “blue bespin.” I then re-applied that formula to consecutive images in the series.
Again, some people may prefer un-graded images. It is an aesthetic choice. The biggest problem with Toy Photography are hard highlights on plastic. White highlights on a figure’s hair is a dead giveaway it is a toy.Toys look more realistic when the shadows and reflection doesn’t look like plastic. Mexture is good at covering those through careful gradients. It gives my images a lot of tone and what I call “dreamy.” It takes a lot of experimentation.
I hope you guys enjoy reading this write-up as I love to share my techniques and methods. Here are some of the various scenes from this photo-session.