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  • Writer's picturemitchelwu

Toy Photography Behind the Scenes: Desert Shoot

We recently had the opportunity to stay in the San Jacinto Mountains, located high above Palm Springs. We stayed at a friend's guest house located at 3500' elevation, which meant the temps were usually 20 degrees cooler than on the valley floor. During the winter they occasionally get snow. The trip was primarily to get away with my wife and daughter, and get a much needed change of scenery - like many of you, we'd been sheltering at home since the pandemic began over two months ago. Of course I also wanted to shoot some toys while there, especially since I knew the environment would be filled with amazing rock formations, cactus, and desert shrubs.

This was a really fun, quick setup of Adventure Kermit (by Palisade Toys) riding a dino (by Schleich Toys). I rarely shoot in direct sunlight, but being in the desert I allowed myself to go with the flow and work with what I was given at the time. (That meant sandwiching in some toy photography between swimming, meals and cocktails!) The image was shot with my Canon 5D Mark III paired with the Canon 135mm f2L, at f2. And if you watched the above video, my camera stand is the Platypod Max, which allowed me to set up my camera very safely on the uneven rock. The tool I used to blast the dirt is called the BAAM! Drain Cleaner, a device originally designed for plumbing.

The Platypod Max (shown here) and smaller Platypod Ultra comes with 4 adjustable "feet," which can be adjusted independently of one another to get a super stable setup on irregular surfaces. The feet, which are essentially long screws, have very sharp tips on one end (which are perfect for providing non-slip stability on rocks), and soft rubber padded tips on the other (for safe and secure stability on smooth surfaces). Just attach your favorite ball head to the Platypod and you're set.

The camera carrying system and handstrap that I use, and swear by, are from SpiderHolster - the perfect setup for location shooting in all kinds of environments. Being able to keep my hands free for climbing over rocks, or just setting up my toys, is important. It also means I'm not putting my camera down on rocks or in the sand and dirt, where there's always a good chance that it be damaged. I've used this camera carry system for over 12 years, starting back when I used to photograph weddings - it's the right tool for almost every type of photography.

Ouch - sorry about that chair, Gollum! These were the first photos I took upon arriving in the desert. Very quick, environmental setups using the available light, which was direct sunlight on the left image, and shade on the right. You can see how much harsher the shadows are in the direct sunlight. This is why it's generally preferable to shoot in indirect or diffused light, and then modify that light with your own lights if needed.

This is what the overall environment looked like in the San Jacinto Mountains. Desert shooting presents it's own unique set of challenges, but it is so beautiful!

If you want to shop the gear and toys I use, or simply see and learn more about what I use - check out my store on Amazon -


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