Shi Qing Yuan (Louis Cheok)

Shi Qing Yuan (Louis Cheok)

Toy Photographer

This week our featured Under the Macro Toy Photographer spotlight is Shi Qing Yuan (Louis Cheok).  Hailing from Singapore Louis has taken the time to share a bit about himself and what he’s able to do with toys and his camera. With an amazing eye for detail and lighting, Louis’s brings his photos to life. We’re happy to learn and share with you more about Louis and provide a glimpse of what he does to bring so much creativity to his photographs.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, and where you’re from.

I hail from the sunny Little Red Dot called Singapore. I enjoy toys (and toy photography obviously!), movies (sci-fi, drama and autobiographicals), and HBO series like Game of Thrones, Netflix  – Gotham and the like.

When you’re not photographing toys, what do you do for a living?

My day job is Creative Services Manager of the studio in a multinational insurance corporation. I served as a Weapons Systems Officer in the Republic of Singapore Air Force for 13 years before joining the advertising and communications industry, of which I am now into my 21st year.

When did you get started with toy photography?

I started photographing toys around the same time when I started collecting Hot Toys (Dark Knight and Ironman).

Is there a specific type of toy you like to shoot the most? Brand, type or size?

I started collecting Kotobukiya ArtFX Star Wars statues over 15 years ago. Then I got into Hot Toys 1/6 (Dark Knight and Ironman) around 2011, which I had to give up most around 18 months ago. Since then I have been collecting mostly SHFigarts and MAFEX 1/12 figures from the Star Wars line. I still have a very small collection of 1/6 figures and a few random Kaiyodo Revoltechs (Dark Knight Tumbler and The Bat). My largest toy is the 1/12 The Bat from Hot Toys.

Before you started taking your own shots, did you have any interest in the world of toy photography?

I started out admiring the work of toy photography bloggers online. And I wanted to create my own toy photography with my own backdrops, and diorama scenarios using everyday stuff and affordable lighting.

“Something that looks expensively created doesn’t have to be expensive to make.”

Did taking toy photos lead you to collecting toys, or did you already collect them?

I was collecting them before I started shooting them…. Not literally of course! HAHA.

In the beginning, do you feel there was a learning curve?

Mostly, it was not too difficult. I had used DSLRs in my earlier years as a birdlife enthusiast, so I was pretty familiar with photography techniques. But as I was not using DSLR but a phone camera for toy photography, I had to learn how to maximize the features of my phone cam, i.e. Samsung Galaxy S5, to compose and take the kind of shots I wanted.

What is the hardest part about toy photography?

Conceptualizing the shot with the available resources I have at my disposal. My principle goal is to create shots that give my toys the cinematic or realistic feel.

If you could go back and impart a bit of wisdom to yourself when you were just starting out, what would you tell yourself?

Pick your toy purchases wisely! :)… We want every toy that gets released, but it really is hard on the wallet and even harder when it comes to space for them. The best wisdom I would give myself is look for value in the possibilities the figure can create for your stories.

What can you explain and share about of your process?

Sometimes I see an image online that might be a suitable background for one of my toys. Other times, I may be shooting my toys first and then incorporating them into a ready background as a composite. Of late, I have been trying to create dioramas with everyday items that can be sourced from the local Daiso $2 store, with the objective of creating a story that portrays the dynamics of the characters involved. My inspiration for this comes from a legend of the New York Mad Men, George Lois who famously said: “I make $1 million, look like $10 million!” – ie. something that looks expensively created doesn’t have to be expensive to make.

Want to be featured?

Are you a toy photographer, that wants to be featured in our Under the Macro series? Let us know:

  1. Like our Facebook page
  2. Reach out to us on FB and we’ll get in touch with you

When you’re looking for ideas of types of images to take, what do you do?

I love to walk outside a lot and use the time to observe how light operates in nature, from sunrise to sundown. Paying attention to details like highlights, shadows, auras, can be useful lessons when translated into toy photography, albeit on a smaller scale in a mini-studio setting. I also revisit well-made movies like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as well the Marvel franchise to study their cinematography to understand the lighting nuances and camera angles.

Can you tell us about your equipment?

Up till last month, I had been using a Samsung Galaxy S5 phone camera (12MP front camera) to do all my toy photography. Now I use an Oppo R11 phone camera (with 20MP front camera).

How do you display your photos?

Mostly I post to my own FB page SQYCraft Imagician Studios as well as on FB groups which I am part of like BTSTP_Intl (Behind The Scenes Toy Photography – International). I also post on my Instagram account: @shi.qing.yuan . Occasionally, I do large format prints which I display on my office wall.

What is your favorite image or series of images you’ve taken?

Always tough to pick a favorite, but I guess some of my favorites include my HT figures – Dark Knight, Scar Predator and, more recently, SHFigarts Star Wars.

What type of photos do you feel are the hardest to take and why?

Putting the toys into environments that replicate flight or low light. Mostly, its about how the toy needs to be blended into a backdrop or composited well so that it looks absolutely natural in situ.

What was the most challenging photo you’ve taken or attempted to take?

I think every photo presents unique challenges in themselves, because I am always thinking about the posing, lighting, dioramas/backdrops, and looking for the angle that tells the best story with the shot.

How much do you rely on staging and how much on post-production processing?

Staging is always necessary if the idea is to create a look from a movie or envisage a situation which I want the toy to be a part of. Depending on the idea, some post-production processing can be as simple as using apps on the phone like Snapseed or Eye Candy. Most complex post-edits will be done in Photoshop CC, e.g. for lightsabre glows. I love Snapseed and Eye Candy for how powerful, some filters can be quickly applied to render imaging results which used to be more complex and needed to be done in PS.

Other than your camera, do you have a favorite piece of equipment?

Portable LEDs (mostly purchased from our local Daiso $2 store). These can be customised with coloured glass paper filters to create any combination of lighting and colours which provide flexibility to play with many lighting setups.

Be sure to follow Louis online through these platforms:

Toy To Life Series Branding-11 300-1Do you love toy photography?

Want to take your photography to the next level? is excited to announce the upcoming launch of the multipart online video course teaching the ins and outs of taking better photographs of the miniature world. The multi-session series will get you up and running and perfect your skills.

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