The Toy Project: Remembering My Kids' Old Toys Through Photographs

by Melissa Gibson
Grandpa from the cartoon "Up" as a little toy placed on a road surrounded by grass
Courtesy of Melissa Gibson Photography

As moms (or grandmas, dads, or aunts), we are either tirelessly cleaning up toys only to watch them mess up minutes later, or we are tirelessly telling the *kids* to clean up. And they can never get it right, can they? Bless their hearts.

Good gravy. It’s a never-ending cycle, isn’t it? At least it is at my house. A mound of LEGO in the floor every minute of every day.

Every. Single. Day.

It was about 8 years ago that I found myself saying (for the 478th time), “For the LOVE of all things chocolate GET THESE TOYS OUTTA THE FLOOR!” Because really, the vacuum couldn’t suck up one more bit of perler beads.

It was in that moment that I decided to start photographing their toys. I wanted to remember something that is so dear to them. Something that I see so much of and that is oftentimes so very annoyingly mundane simply because I am tirelessly cleaning them up.

Oh. The. Cleaning. Up.

I chose to look for the beauty in their toys while helping them to remember the ones they love so much. And so began The Toy Project.

Do you also want to hold on to the toys your kids love most? Here’s how:

Courtesy of Melissa Gibson Photography

Try not to ask your children to play with the toys while you take photos. That’s not the point here. Instead, try and make this memory project fun for everyone. Especially the kids. Having your mom stand over you with her camera while you play? Not fun. It’s pretty annoying. Instead, try to see the toys separate from them; on their own with their own story. Showing what they love rather than how to they love to play with them.

Honestly? Just treat the toys as humans or as live animals and, in turn, decide on how you want that shown in the photo. If the toy has a sneaky personality? Make sure to show that.

Courtesy of Melissa Gibson Photography

Also, be sure to photograph what they currently love; whether that’s a movie character or LEGO; Minecraft or bracelet making. It’s all about what they are into in this season of their life. For my house, every one of my girls has always, always been into making their figures “talk”; therefore I have loads of photos of their favorite figures.

Do you need a fancy camera for this project? Absolutely not! Not at all. Although all of my images are taken with a DSLR, you certainly don’t need one. In fact, your phone’s camera will do the job perfectly fine. How about I give you a couple of tips that will help no matter which camera you use?

Courtesy of Melissa Gibson Photography

GET DOWN LOW: Getting low and on the same plane as the toy is highly effective. If you’re wanting to show that the toy has its own life, its own personality, you’ll need to get down next to it. Squat down, get on Bo Peep’s level. Then, take the photo. Think of what that LEGO guy would be up to as a human, then get down low.

GET BELOW THE TOY: This is what we call the hero shot. Just getting a teeny bit below Wreck it Ralph makes him seem larger than life. Tap your phone’s screen and keep your finger there to lock focus on the face. That pulls the eye in and makes your photo more interesting!

Courtesy of Melissa Gibson Photography

LOOK FOR LIGHT: No matter what camera you use, phone, film or DSLR, light is always the most important. Always. Bad lighting will result in a bad photo every single time. Placing the toy next to a window will give you much better results than standing in the middle of the room. Also, look for shadows on the ground and wall. Great light is all around you. Don’t forget the light!

I’ve had the best time photographing my kids’ toys. And many times they love helping me come up with ideas. Just listening in on their playtime gives me loads of ideas as well. Mostly, I just want to remember what they’ve loved during the different seasons of their lives. Rather than get annoyed at the mounds of toys in the floor (although I still do), I’ve decided that photographing them will keep those memories fresh in their minds long after they have outgrown their favorite toys.

Courtesy of Melissa Gibson Photography

I encourage you to look around for that special love your child has. Maybe it’s a lovey, a dress up outfit, or a certain action figure. Whatever your child loves? Photograph it. You won’t regret it and your child will enjoy the memories, too.