A Call to Action (Figures): Better Figure Photos

Anyone who’s followed this column from its humble beginnings to its equally humble present has likely noticed a stark improvement in the quality of my photographs. I’m still by no means a photographer, but this week I thought I’d share some advice from the things that helped me take a few steps forward to better figure photos.

The background of the photo is one of the most important parts of a picture, and it’s probably the area I struggled the most. (Shout out to Karina for the help here). I started with a white piece of paper and the painted white wall of my old apartment.

Where’s the rest of the lunch money?

It wouldn’t have been totally awful if it hadn’t been for that crack in the wall. I graduated to using two pieces of white printer paper.

That led to another weird crack, the one between the two pieces of paper, getting into all my photographs. Sometimes I’d manage to hide the cracks, but most the time I couldn’t.

Around that same time, and you can see it in the above photo, I had some serious lighting troubles. (Shout out to Nick for the help here). I was using a yellow lamp bulb, because I honestly had no idea different bulb colors existed outside of Christmas lights. The white looks better.

Even better than those though, is natural lighting, which I started using and saw immediate improvement.

It took me another while longer to find the right backdrop though. I got into my head, somehow, that a t-shirt or pillow case would be great, and it would’ve been if I’d had an iron, and a way to stretch the background, so it wouldn’t be wrinkled in my photos. Instead, I got months of photos with pictures like this.

It got a little better when I switched to a black t-shirt. The wrinkles didn’t show, but neither did darker figures. (Although, lighter color did pop. See Freddy’s legs versus his upper-half).


Once I saw this article Nick wrote, I made this here light box and things really started taking off. I keep it under the window for the most natural lighting.

And here’s a figure in the lightbox:

I’ve been using the phone on my iPhone 4 the whole (Shout out to Nancy and Katy for the help here), and there’re also two things that I’ve found that really help. (Although, it may be better to check out the article I got them from, which has ten things instead of two).

Taking photos from below is really important, especially when it comes to action figures. They’re small, much smaller than the larger than life characters they’re modeled after. Taking a photo from below can lend them some size through perspective though.

The last piece of advice I’ll offer is to try to get symmetry in the photos. A lot of action figures come with doubles of a weapon, so I like to have them hold it the same way in both hands. I think it makes for a more dynamic photo.

Nothing goes over my head!… My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.

These are the things that have helped me, and I hope they help you too.

A Call to Action (Figures) is a weekly column published on Wednesdays, chronicling my rants and raves about all things action figure. Next week I’ll be talking about how to identify used figures.

Are you going to use some of these tips? Which ones are most helpful? Do you have some tips for me? Let me know in the comments!

By Nick Lenihan

Nick is toy fan, geek, and action figure collector. When not geeking out about action figures and keeping up with the latest Toy News, he likes to pretend to play guitar. He's just another one of those pop culture fanatics that likes to share his passion with the world.


  1. Bonus Tips!

    Here’s what I do, but depending on your situation it might be different.

    Background: I have tried many different types of fabric and paper and I have found that black felt works pretty good. I like the black background, but if you don’t you can probably get white or some other color. The felt doesn’t reflect the light, so it’s good for action figure photos.

    Lights: As Ryan mentioned, there are different kind of lights. The more standard household lights are yellowish, but you can buy bulbs that are the same wattage that are white. You want them to be 5500K to be the more natural. You probably have to adjust your camera’s white balance with 5500K lighting. Of course, the best lighting is going to be outdoors where you get the 5500k lighting directly from the sun.

    Camera: You can pretty much use anything here. Ryan is using a cell phone in the photos above and they aren’t half bad. I do however find it much easier to get the photo effects you want by using a camera that you can control the shutter speed. After playing around with the settings on my camera, I take photos (like the one below) without using any photo shop. IMO it’s all about the lighting and setting your camera up specifically for that lighting. If you are really constrained to a cellphone, there are apps (i’ve tried one that was good) that allows you pick what part of the photo’s frame you want the lighting from. It’s hard to explain, but you can find tons of apps like this on the app store. They make the default cell phone camera way better.

    Posing: I’m by no means a pose master, but posing is just as important as the lighting. I like the pretend that I’m the character and try and imagine what I would do as them. How would I move my arms? How would I kick? etc.

    I now have studio lights (they cost about $150 ish) and if you can afford them and have the space to set them up, I highly recommend it. I started out with the light box (link in article above), but I didn’t like using it after awhile due to the small space.

    I’m still by no means a professional, but everything I know was just self-taught. Go take pictures of your figures frequently and you will be surprised at what you learn.

  2. Great photos! Another thing maybe you can try is using different colored paper for the top of the light box and/or different colored lights for special effects.

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