Mastering Toy Photography with Scott Bourne

Words by Scott Bourne
Edited by Eryka Bagwell

When you notice a photographer’s work, it’s probably because they have great vision (and I don’t mean that in a 20/20 sort of way). What I mean is that they probably have the ability to look at something and see an opportunity to make a photograph where others see nothing.

I have that gift to a degree, although, not as strongly as I wish I had it. Although, there are ways that you can learn, train and exercise your vision. I've done all of that. But to a certain degree, you have to be born with at least a little bit of it. Unfortunately, in my case it was a very small bit.

Regardless of my skill (or lack thereof), I have always tried to see the final image I plan to make before I ever press the shutter on the camera. This is my preferred style of photography. I don’t like to merely react. I want to be deliberate, thoughtful, contemplative and I want to make sure I am telling a story with each photo — even if I am the only person who gets the story — I still want to tell that story.

I take it for granted that I “SEE” that way. My assistant doesn’t have that gift. When she saw the picture of my set (See above), she said “how’s that gonna work?”

She saw a 3D printed background, a diorama, a toy and some colored lights.

What I saw, was a Tie Fighter pilot getting ready to embark (or disembark) the space craft, which was parked in a hanger deck on some far-flung star system nobody has ever heard of.

Since so many photos of space are bleak and black I decided to make this one colorful because — well I can.

I used the Lume Cube Panel Pro lights — which can be controlled from a smart phone, and dialed in this combination of colors. I started with just red but then in my mind’s eye I saw blue, purple, red and green. I combined all those to make this final image.

After I photographed the fighter, I photographed the pilot in the same light. I composited him on top of the hanger shot and shrunk him to scale. Then I went into BorisFX 2022 (Save 20% off Boris FX Optics, go to and enter my special coupon code on checkout: bourne-optics) and did some finishing work.

The best thing about this photo for me is it came out exactly the way I saw it in my mind despite what the behind the scenes photo shows. That is a thrill for me. Being able to SEE is so important. As David duChemin says, “Gear is good, vision is better.”

For a list of my toy photo gear and props go to:

Remember, toys are joy.

P. S.
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