Using Old Glass in Toy Photography

Old Glass
Old Glass

Old Glass

Swirls of light bend and transpose
Stretched and tangled, bokeh galore
Changing perception
Warps the view
Deciding the factors of focus anew
Gathered inception
Sketched and revised, blur adore
Whirls of bright mend and expose

~ Joseph Cowlishaw

Using old glass in toy photography

I love the look of old glass.  It has  unique imperfections that really make the feeling of a photo.  The newer glass is almost too perfect.  They have successfully eliminated the character of uniqueness through perfected manufacturing processes.

I recently purchased a mint copy of the Jupiter 37a lens from a Russian auction.  It shipped from Moscow and arrived to my home only a little over a week later.  I purchased this lens for its uniqueness in creating creamy smooth bokeh.  My brother Nathan Arizona recommended it and after seeing many example of excellent bokeh swirls I decided to get one.

I have also added an old macro lens to my collection – the Minolta Rokkor 50mm.  It has added more dimension to my toy photography with its imperfections and it’s perfect focus at close range.

I recently found an old video lens at a local thrift store – it was only a video telephoto 2x lens and was made during the age of videotape.  It was $10 so I decided to pick it up.  Obviously, the poor quality of this cheap lens hampered my photos by destroying to look of some of my higher end old lenses.  I tried attaching it to the end of my Russian Jupiter 37a lens and the results were horrible.  So I decided to disassemble this video lens and use the inner elements.  I liked how big the glass was and it looked relatively unscathed.  The front element had a bit of coating on it which allowed for some interesting colors and reflections while photographing it.

Coated front lens
I disassembled this lens to use the glass elements!

Charlie saves an old friend

About the same time that I acquired this cheaply built old lens I also received a Charlie Chaplin figure in the mail from

I was trying to figure out how to use him in a shot, and these elements lent me some ideas!

Interdimensional portal
Charlie Chaplin finds and reaches for a blur in time and space…

I thought how cool it would be for Charlie to stumble into unknown territory.  Unknown even to us in all our futuristic grandeur.  The lens worked perfectly for this setting.

Panda Sucked into interdimensional vortex
Charlie’s old friend Panda was inadvertently sucked into the interdimensional vortex
Old Glass lens
It looks as if Charlie is trapped in the old Glass…

I love using my old glass to create new feeling mixed with a retro feel and look.  Plus it has the added benefit of being super affordable. Old glass on a newer camera body means it has to be manually focused and controlled.  Using manual focus has taught me so much about the technical side of photography.  I love being able to change every little detail and setting to get that perfect feel that I am looking for.

Old glass does not mean poor quality.  I have found that some of my old lenses rival my newer autofocus lenses.  And they have the added benefit of character that is hard to reproduce.

I also find it interesting that there are now so many new applications that allow the user to “add” character to their shots.  I guess we miss that feel that comes from character and glass.  It is fun to add these details to the image while composing.  Even more fun than in post processing!

Lego Horror Wednesday – VW Bug

Strange sounds clanking in the engine… ?actually, that ain’t the engine!??

Phantom VW5Phantom VW6

Phantom VW8Phantom VW9

Phantom VW10
And just like that the Phantom has a new set of wheels!

My wife found some old mini Volkswagen Beetle cars from her childhood.  I rescued them from the kiddos and took some shots before they got destroyed completely!

I wasn’t sure what to use this black VW in, so I decided to make a series of shots for instagrams new feature of multiple shots in a post.

I used our trampoline as the road because I liked the texture it provided.  This didn’t make it easy to balance figures though. The slightest touch on the trampoline toppled my setup…

But after much perseverance I really like the high contrast, old movie horror feel result of my efforts.  It was fun!

Don’t step on the crack or you’ll break your teddy’s back

via Instagram

Don’t step on the crack or you’ll break your Teddy’s back! ?

Good morning folks!  Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend the day with my brother Nathan Arizona at the Heard Native American Art Show in downtown Phoenix, AZ.

We got to meet several new native artists and visit with old friends.  We have our mining company Earthtone Trading to thank for this opportunity.  We hauled down from Utah two tons of our Mohave Brown Alabaster to sell to the talented sculptors.

We arrived to the show late and ended up taking a long time finding a parking spot.  We finally found an open spot large enough for our truck in the basement of a parking garage.  We walked the show and talked with folks and then I headed back to the truck to get some flyers and take a break.

I was trying to think of a good spot for Lego photography and I am always amazed at the simply mundane areas that make my shots come to life.  The shot of Mr. Bean above with Teddy was not the shot I intended to take.  It was a gradual process from the start of looking for the right spot with some rails in the parking garage basement.  The rails made for some great bokeh and contrast. 

Mr. Bean through the bars
I really liked where these shots were taking me so I continued to enjoy the creative process and setup different angles.  It was a bit tricky to get the depth I wanted on the right and still show enough of Mr. Bean on the left.  I also decided the shot looked much better in black and white.

A glimpse of Mr. Bean
After composing a few shots I decided to try it from the other side by sticking my camera through the bars.  Luckily I have a tilt screen on my Olympus OMD EM5, so I was still able to compose the shot without having to hike around to the outside.

Mr. Bean strolling on the outside.
This is when I noticed the striking crack on the concrete and an idea popped into my head.

Careful Mr. Bean
I was so excited to have stumbled upon this idea!  I had to balance Mr. Bean just right – the umbrella and the teddy were the counterweights.  It took some patience to get it just right and luckily there was no wind at all.  Even a slight breeze would have toppled Bean and mad enough this shot impossible.  So the heavens aligned and I was able to capture these images!

Mr. Bean has a somewhat childish outlook in certain ways and that why I find him so humorous.  He takes the moment like a child would.  I felt this image conveyed what I used to feel about cracks on the ground.  The old adage “don’t step on the crack or you’ll break your mothers back” seemed like the perfect title with a bit of a change to put what Mr. Bean cares about most.  Thanks to for making a great custom figure Mr. Bean.

~ Joecow

Surrounded by technology in the Stone Age batcave…

Batman surrounded by Stone Age tech
Batman surrounded by Stone Age tech

via Instagram 

Surrounded by technology in the Stone Age batcave…

I have been having a bunch of fun exploring the ideas of this Lego caveman batman.  I have been trying to match it to scenery that may have been visible in a time that lacks the bells and whistles of our day.  The Lego Batman Movie seems to be full of the latest and greatest tech because that’s what a single billionaire with a self absorption complex would likely do, right?

The ages of history, from Stone Age, to Iron Age, to Industrial Age, to the Information Age, are all defined by their technology.  Our age of information seems to flood the world with so much information that It’s also like sticking your head out the window while traveling at freeway speeds and trying to breath… I’m not sure how dogs can do that.

So much information and knowledge surrounds us but where is the wisdom?  My scoutmaster and friend when I was younger always said he had a lot of wisdom, heavy on the dom.  I’ve been thinking about that recently – and it’s true.  So many folks know so much, but what do you do with that information?  

What is wisdom?  

Wisdom is defined as having the experience, knowledge, and good judgement to act with the knowledge obtained.  So I think we are drinking up so many facts and tidbits of knowledge but maybe we are not getting the entire gulp.  We aren’t getting the experience.

It’s kind of like the image above.  Caveman batman is surrounded by the technology of his times, but what does it do for him?  How does he progress with that knowledge.  It gives him shelter and he can make weapons and tools of stone, but then what?  We are surrounded everywhere, and bombarded with information – but what can we do with this?  Where do we go from here?  How do we use the knowledge we obtain to our advantage?

Me found Beast Food!

Me found beast food!
Me found beast food!
When I was out taking shots with my boys we came across a stink bug beetle aka Pinacate Beetles.  It was the perfect setting for the caveman batman!  

This particular shot was a bit tricky to get because those beetles are fast when you don’t want them to be.  He was definitely feeling the pressure to hide and get out of sight.  After about five shots I finally got one I was happy about.  I actually wanted the beetle facing the camera but it was not to be.  Apparently stink beetles have fairly good vision.  When I placed batman at the right spot it would abruptly change direction.  Basically it didn’t want to cooperate with me.

No run away from batman!
No run away from batman!

My boys were somewhat fascinated, but their attention was quickly steered towards the mine shaft we had hiked up to and the “mysterious” rock door that blocked the entrance.

I bet they felt they were on some Indiana Jones adventure.  When I was a kid I had many Indiana Jones adventures.  

One such adventure was exploring the Old Ohio Mine in Milford, Utah with my brother.  My grandfather had given us our very own black lights and had told us we could find many examples of fluorescent stone down inside the mine.  He told us not to go there because it was dangerous and susceptible to cave-ins.

We drove out the following Saturday.  We followed directions from grandpa scribbled on lined paper.  We arrived near the base of the mountain dump and hiked to the entrance of the mine.  The old Ohio mine has several different shafts.  The main opening was large enough to walk through without needing to duck.  We broke out our flashlights and entered the dark abyss.  As we ventured deep into the mine we saw a steep angled set of rail tracks exiting the ceiling high above us and entering near the floor.  We shined the flashlights done that shaft but it spooked us when the light didn’t reach the end.

We crept along until we reached a large underground cavern that could’ve been natural but was most likely dug out.  We turned on our black lights and were met with an amazing glow of vivid fluorescent colors.  Pinks and greens, blues and purples.  It was as if bright paint had been splattered everywhere!  When we turned off the black light – darkness.

This caveman batman got me to thinking about caves and bats and all this random meandering down my memories of deep mineshafts.  Thanks batman! Thanks Lego!

Me hunt beast food all day

Caveman Batman Hunts beast
Me hunt beast food all day

via Instagram

Out on the hunt for Lego photography locations!

Yesterday, I took my boys with me to sell Wowflutes at the Tuacahn Saturday Market.   There were a few vendors there enjoying the perfect weather.  No wind, no rain; just sunshine and some whispy clouds.

After our morning of selling we headed over to target so they could pick something out with the money they earned helping me.  Target had no Lego Batman Minifigures… 🙁  They had a whole bunch of the series 16 CMF though.   I guess they were trying to move those before putting new stuff out.

So we went over to Walmart and they had the big display in the aisle with a bunch of Batman Movie CMF.  I picked up this Clan of the Cave Batman (above) along with the Mime and a Catman.

We then set off to find a good hiking location and photo spot.  We drove around Quail lake to a spot on the north end I used to raft when I was a kid.  Quail lake catches the runoff from the Pine Valley Mountains to the north after it has carved it’s way through the slot canyons of Redcliffs desert reserve.  The water flows slowly into the lake through a covered lazy river.  In the summer it is heavily shaded and is the perfect swimming hole.   There was about  four inches of dead leaves covering the entire area.  We hiked around a bit and then headed towards Redcliffs.

Redcliffs was blockaded for construction on the access road so we headed down a dirt road north of Leeds, UT.  It was such beautiful scenery all around.  I love taking my boys out in the hills where they can hike without trails and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.  We hiked up to a mining dump and I was hoping to show them what a mine shaft looked like, but the opening had been sealed with a rock and mortar wall.  My boys were still curious about it.

While up on top of the mine dump we heard what sounded like distant barking – lots of it.  We looked everywhere for dogs, but then the barking slowly morphed into honking.  It turned out to be a flock of geese flying over the desert.  I snapped a quick shot.  Overall, today was a nice relaxing Saturday!

geese flock over the desert
Flock of Geese over the desert, Leeds, UT


There are ways of making you talk – BTS

Joker in the spotlight
Joker in the spotlight

via Instagram

There are ways of making you talk…

This shot started out as a completely different idea in a completely different location.  It’s interesting how the creative process works in that way.  You come up with something and you start working on it, and it just isn’t that great; but then because you started you are led on a process that concludes with an outcome that is generally more awesome!

The secret is to start.

Starting is the best way to develop your creativity.  I find that when I have an idea and act on it almost immediately I get more and more ideas.  If I don’t write down my ideas when they come – they go.

So for me the start is writing down the idea.  Then I have some time to mull it over and think outside the box for effects and lighting and figures and sets.

With this particular shot I first set it up randomly on top of my jewelry kiln that I use to make my Relic Wowflutes.  The top of this kiln was the cleanest spot in my office, so naturally it has become my spot for taking indoor shoots.  I could not get the lighting just right because there’s a window behind it that brings in lots of natural light; but it dims the shot and turns it into silhouettes.

So I decided to move my shot into the kiln!  It has a fireproof material that is sort of fuzzy on the walls inside and gave a nice texture to the “room”.  The advantage of moving my shot into the kiln is it gave me complete control over my lighting.  It removed any outside source of light.  The only light I could see was the ones I put there – a high powered 300 lumin led flashlight!​​

BTS inside the kiln
BTS inside the kiln

I used several different lighting techniques that gave me many different results to choose from.  I use some translucent Tritan material samples to place in front of the flashlight to get different colors in the kiln/room.

1st shot - too far from ceiling
1st Shot – to far from the ceiling

This first shot looked sort of plain which was perfect for Arkham Assylum, but I just thought it was a bit boring with a lot of empty space above the figures.

Added the commissioner
Added the commissioner

So then I brought it in tighter by raising my platform (books, blocks – whatever was the right thickness).  I also added a few more props so it didn’t look as bare.  The story also changed a bit when I added commissioner Gordon with a syringe.  I still felt the ceiling was a bit too far away – so I added to my stack.

Tightened up the scene
Tightened up the scene

Once I was happy with the structure of the scene and the ceiling height I then added a few more random props and then it was time to play with the lighting.

Lighting through red Tritan
Lighting through red Tritan

The red filter on my flashlight warmed up the scene a bit too much for my liking.  I kind of wanted a scary scene that was a bit darker.  The red also limited the greens which I wanted to highlight especially with the jokers hair style.

Through the blue Tritan filter
Through the blue Tritan filter

A blue filter added a bit too much coolness to the shot and made for a somewhat purple hue on the ceiling that I wasn’t too fond of.  Out with the red, out with the blue.  I found that the best solution for the effect I wanted was just the pure white light of the flashlight.

Final shot before editing
Final shot before editing

The final step was just a small adjustment in Lightroom with the application of a cross process that added a bit more blue to the greens to match the hue of jokers hair.  I also thought that the red of the hand truck was a bit destracting so applying the cross process finished putting the focus I wanted on the joker.

Finished shot
Finished shot


Powerful Chi – Chima Lego

Who drank all the Chi!?
Who drank all the Chi!?

via Instagram

Who drank all the Chi!?

I have not been much of a fan of the Legends of Chima Lego line, until yesterday. I guess the Chi finally woke me up.  My boy had a parent teacher conference scheduled for after school.  I arrived to pick him up about 45 minutes before the appointment when he got out.

Elementary schools are marketing geniuses!  They conveniently created their book fair around the conferences week.  They know lots of parents will be at the school with their children – and parents have money and care about reading.

Children are very good at manipulating their parents to buy them things.  Mine are no exception.  Especially when there are “educational” Lego books, and it’s buy one get one free…  So, yes, I ended up getting my boy a Ninjago book that came with a black ninja.  I picked out the Chima book just for the bird figure that looked like it would be great for winter shots.

I gave the book to my boy and was helping him read it later.  That’s how I was introduced to the storyline of Lego Chima.  I think it is pulling a lot of its rhetoric from eastern cultures that believe in a spiritual power called Chi which the animals in Chima battle for.

From what I understand of Chi, it is not necessarily something you can handle physically, but more of an inner spiritualness and mindfulness.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormon, I feel there are many similarities to the idea of Chi.  Chi is sometimes referred to as the breath of life that God gave to Adam in the garden of Eden.  I look at chi as our soul. Mormons believe in an afterlife, but they also believe in a pre-existence.  We believe that we existed before this life as a spiritual being.  When we are born into this life our spirit takes on a physical body that is sort of like a hand in glove analogy.  Our spiritual body combined with our physical body makes up a persons soul.

Things that damage the soul include sin (spiritual) and other physical aspects (sickness).  It really is interesting to see how many of the religions of the world correlate so well to each other.

Now I like the Chima line, or at least, I am aware of it.  Unfortunately, Lego has replaced the line with Nexo Knights, so I guess I’ll have to check that out sooner!  The only other Lego Chima figure I have is the fox, Furty.  I thought it made a great motor cross figure (fox racing) pun!

So what are your thoughts on the Chima line? I’d love to hear your comments.

Father and Son Stranded Adventure

homer and bart simpson broke down
Father and Son brokedown

via Instagram

Father and son adventure; it’s always interesting when there’s car trouble out in the middle of nowhere…

This is the image I wasn’t quite satisfied with because the endless road in the background was not really as visible as I wanted it to be.  This dirt road is called Lund Highway and leads to the small almost ghost town of Lund, UT.  I believe it has a population of two.  Not sure if that is two households or two hermits, but either way there are lots of empty and abandoned buildings.

I had many experiences as a kid with exploring the deserts of southern Utah.  As part of this exploration processes there were always many predicaments we got ourselves into.   One such experience was driving a “shortcut” because we were almost out of gas, then finding the hard way that the shortcut was blocked off by a new lake from recent rains.  This particular predicament was with my brother and a good friend of mine, Zack Fitzwater.  We could not turn around because we didn’t have enough gas to go back.  Just forward.  My friend Zack came up with the brilliant idea of hydroplaning the small truck across the massive puddle.  We didn’t know how deep it was, so we made sure he got a good running start.  He got up to about 60mph before he created one of the largest splashes I have ever seen, slamming into the puddle.  The water engulfed the truck and he just kept gunning it.  The truck skidded across the puddle and came out the other side – completely dead.  The engine wouldn’t turn over.  It just clicked.  So now we were stranded.  It was about fifteen miles to the nearest help and this was before cell phones.  So we just sat there.  Waited… waited some more.  after what seemed like forever we tried to start it and VROOM! it started up.  We rocked the truck on fumes till we arrived at my friends house.  We siphoned gas from his truck and then we were back in business.

I can guarantee that if we hadn’t had the bad experience of getting stranded I would not have remembered so much.  I look back at these times with fondness and they inspired my toy photography today.

Lenny Raptor – Puncture Proof

via Instagram

Lenny’s bike is so small he doesn’t have to worry about nails!???

You really never know when the right time is to take a toy photograph.  I always carry my gear with me which consists of a clik camera bag and the Olympus EM5 along with several legacy glass lenses and of course my Lego and other toys.  The lens I prefer and use most often is the Minolta Rokkor 55 mm 1.4f.  It is the perfect lens for a good balance in detail and excellent bokeh backgournds.  I also have a Sigma 60mm AF lens and my old trusty Russian lens the Helios 44mm.  That Russian lens is built like a tank!  and it brings in some nice light leak details that add a bit of glow to the shot.

Anyway, I was on my way out to get a load of worked up Alabaster sculpting stone and we stopped to fuel up and get some breakfast.  Actually it was so my brother could get some breakfast.  I had eaten something on my way out so I used this opportunity to jump out and grab a few shots with my Lego.

We were at the Maverik gas station (Adventures First Stop) on the west side of Cedar City and I noticed a small broken down pioneer house right next door.  The ceiling had caved in long ago and it looked as if the stone walls and foundation had either sunk several feet – or maybe it was built that way as sort of a fruit cellar…  either way it was sunken and sad looking.  The wood was rotted and had deep grooves throughout.  The grooves matched the size of the tires on Lenny’s bike so it was the perfect setting to get a quick shot.  I setup Lenny and got a few great shots in before my brother was back in the truck honking for me.  I raced over – repacked my bag and jumped in.  Off to load the stone!