Mitchel Wu: I was a wedding and portrait photographer for seven or eight years. My daughter was in high school, and I was missing a lot of her weekend swim meets, and weekends in general. So I decided to stop shooting weddings in 2015. Around that time, I came across some toy photography on social media. It was kind of strange but intriguing at the same time. I tried it, and it was fun.
Sli: Was it difficult to switch from weddings to toy photography?
MW: To go back a little further, I went to art school and got my degree in illustration. Some of the best training I had for the work I’m doing now was illustration, because it taught me about composition, lighting and fundamental storytelling. With wedding photography, you’re shooting details and still life, and you learn lighting. For me it wasn’t that big of a jump from wedding photography to toy photography. But there was a learning curve because I include a lot of practical effects in my images.
Sli: Like what?
MW: If you look at my images you’ll see fire, smoke, water splashing. None of that is Photoshopped. It’s pretty much all in-camera.
Sli: Do you storyboard images and scenarios?
MW: When I’m working for a client and I know that I’ve got to do 20 images of something, I start by jotting ideas down and then I’ll do a thumbnail sketch of each one. When I do a sketch, everything becomes clear as to what I need to do, how I’m going to position things, what props I’m going to need.
Sli: How did you learn the tricks of the trade?
MW: A lot of trial and error, plus you can find information out there [on the internet].
Sli: How do you come up with the story narratives?
MW: It’s really just observing everyday life. Sometimes [inspiration] comes from a prop I find at a swap meet. It can come from a lot of different places. I have a warped sense of humor. I think that helps, too.
Sli: How do you convey emotion, when expressions on the action figures don’t change?
MW: Interaction between characters can help. Obviously the story will lead a lot of that [emotion] into the characters, as well as the viewers. My goal is to show motion and emotion when there really is none. If I can do that, and there is a good story, then I know I’ve got a great image.