Dan’s Cover Artist Oliver Peterson Talks Toy Photography

This week’s unique Halloween cover was created by our very own DansPapers.com editor and East End toy photographer Oliver Peterson. Here he discusses putting together the plan that would become his first Dan’s cover, transitioning from painting/collage to toy photography and refining his artistic voice.

Frankenberry by Oliver Peterson

Oliver Peterson discusses toy photos and more

How did you come up with this haunted woods scene and weird lighting?

It is made using 3.75 inch action figures by a company called Boss Fight Studio. The figures are called Vitruvian HACKS… They were white plastic, so I painted all the bones to look real. And then I customized the characters how I wanted them to look.

In a background, any twig or branch can look like a tree, but I try to look for elements that visually shrink so they look more like a tree. Then there are miniature evergreens there…and it’s all in my garden soil.

I get some great lights from a company called Lume Cube. … The green is a filter that you can put on it, so there’s a backlight of green and then I have a front light with a regular colorless filter. Lighting is certainly an important part of all of this. It takes a lot of practice, and I still think I have a long way to go in some ways. …

I started doing this in 2013, and if you go back and look at my pictures, they’re pretty terrible. …You can set the same thing up and shoot it, but it will look dead if you don’t turn it on properly.

"USMC Corpsman" toy photo by Oliver Peterson
Photo of the “USMC Corpsman” toy by Oliver Peterson

What kind of photography training did you have before you got into toy photography?

Not a lot. I took a few photography classes in art school. I used to shoot a lot of Polaroids in college and a bit after college, and I would do these big Polaroid collages.

Even when I took photography lessons, I never really took much time to figure out what ISO or ASA meant with a Nikon, F-stop and all that, and as I started to I became more interested in (toy photography) I started to learn more about it, watch YouTube videos and read stuff online to try to figure out how to shoot better.

When I started taking pictures of toys I used my cell phone and then eventually I started learning from other people like Matt Rohde – the guy who lives in Shelter Island and does this on who I wrote an article some time ago. He helped me understand some of these things better.

WWII Britons on a Farm by Oliver Peterson
WWII Britons on a Farm by Oliver Peterson

As a child, have you ever grabbed the family camera and taken pictures of your toys?

Yes I did it. … The first time I did this was in 1987 with action figures of GI Joe in the grass at my grandmother’s house. She had this Buddha fountain in her garden, and I filmed these two characters with slides, oddly. … I was 10 or 11 when I photographed them.

I have always collected toys. Toys have always been a big part of my life, from my childhood to today. While I was doing my art, my mixed media collage, I started to burn out at some point, so I started doing it more for fun. …

I remember Bill McCuddy buying me a painting, and he saw the photoshopped toy photography that I did, and he was like, “Oh, I’d buy one of these if you printed them.”

Made me think maybe you could do something with this. I didn’t know everyone in toy photography at the time.

The fact that you can juxtapose all these weird characters (from fictional worlds and real-life history) and play around with that – I always thought there was probably something cool I could do with that .

It percolated for a long time, and then when I started trying to do it, it turned out there were a lot of people doing it, and I started learning from others.

Mandalorian and Grogu pictured in Razor Crest toy by Oliver Peterson
Mandalorian and Grogu pictured in Razor Crest toy by Oliver Peterson

What is your greatest achievement in toy photography?

I was one of the winners in 2016 of a competition for the force awakens, when the new Star Wars movie was released. … They displayed our pictures at San Diego Comic Con that year. And they sent this press release everywhere, so there are articles all over the internet from different cheesy news outlets about these pictures and the winners, so that was really fun.

It was pretty big, although I also did some print and show exhibits (pictures of toys) at Ashawagh Hall. One show didn’t do well at all; I think I sold a piece. But then there was another show that I basically sold out except for one track, so that was exciting for me. …

Also, David Dastmalchian shared my picture of him (as Polka-Dot Man in The Suicide Squad), which was fun. … It’s always fun when people you look up to notice your tributes.

Polka Dot Man and Doc Brown by Oliver Peterson
Polka Dot Man and Doc Brown by Oliver Peterson

How do you hope to further develop your toy photography?

As an artist, I tend to think that some things that are too IP-related (IP) are just fun, but if I try to think of myself as an artist with this and really do art… I look at (shots like my) WWII images as more “art”.

Over the past eight or nine years, I have tried to improve my art and my photography, setups, shooting and composition, but also to shape my own original voice, rather than recreating a scene from star wars, which is fun and cool, but not as interesting to me as creating a WWII scene or some weird surreal image. …

What is the most personally rewarding aspect of creating your toy photography?

What is most rewarding, for me, with this art or any art, is to do something that I know is good. There are very few things in life that satisfy me more than doing a painting or a photograph or something that I really know well.

For more works by Oliver Peterson, visit @oliversees on Instagram.

October 28, 2022 Cover of Dan's Papers Halloween Toy Photography by Oliver Peterson
October 28, 2022 Dan’s Papers cover by Oliver Peterson (@oliversees)

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