Welcome to the Toy Photography World with Kato Guzman

Welcome to The Coffeehouse Invite! First up is Toy Photographer, Kato Guzman! We grabbed some drinks at our local coffee shop as we chatted the toy photography scene. It's great to see his hobby grow through his instagram (@DarthCinnamonBuns) Read on for more about his work.

Interview with Kato Guzman

The Coffeehouse Invite: I see that you're posting a lot of toy scenes on your Instagram, tell us all about it!

Kato Guzman: Toy photography is taking action figures, posing them and snapping some pictures then sharing them online, mainly through Instagram. There’s a large community of toy photographers. The inspiration came from old toy packaging and commercials. We’d always see these kids playing with their toys on these awesome set pieces but then we were never offered the set pieces, just the toys, which we still loved but we were never able to recreate that action. Now, the people that grew up with those toy ads are creating the dioramas they always wanted. There’s a main group referred to as the ACBA community which stands for Articulated Comic Book Art. They pioneered the toy photography movement. Then there is the ATA Dreadnoughts, another community, one in which I participate. It was made by @jr_doom and @marked4life (Instagram). That community is where I found my home. Occasionally there’s some drama between a few members of the groups but overall we usually get along and have fun with the toys we so lovingly refer to as “plastic crack”.

The Coffeehouse Invite: What got you started in Toy Collecting and creating sets?

Kato Guzman: I still have a ton of toys from when I was a kid. When I first got Instagram I started posting pictures of my toy collection and connecting with other toy collectors online. Then one day I posed a few figures like how I used to when I was a kid. I would set up these elaborate battle scenes. So I decided to do that again and take some pictures, I posted on Instagram and hashtagged toy photography without even thinking twice. Then a few days later I went back and clicked on the hashtag when I was bored and found this whole community of toy photographers. One day at Big Wow, a comic convention in San Jose, I went to a bar and ran into another toy photographer who goes by @el_sinestro. He told me about this podcast he’s in which I had heard about before but kept putting off listening to. So finally I listened to the podcast and I got hooked and started doing more toy photography and it became a full time hobby.

I’ve worked my way through the different aspects. I started with only shooting in real locations, then I did low light long exposure photography which was fun, then I moved on to Photoshop pictures and recently I started building dioramas for my shoots which is really addicting. I spend hours on each diorama. The small details pull it all together.

Iguanadon "This photo was taken on a long eight or so mile hike. I like it for the depth of field. It almost makes the dinosaur seem real. There’s been a resurgence in dinosaur toy photography since Jurassic World came out but I beat them to it!"

Iguanadon "This photo was taken on a long eight or so mile hike. I like it for the depth of field. It almost makes the dinosaur seem real. There’s been a resurgence in dinosaur toy photography since Jurassic World came out but I beat them to it!"

The Coffeehouse Invite: Tell us about your current project.

Kato Guzman: Currently I’m catching up on homework and trying to find an internship and spend what little spare time I have reading and writing. I’ll be getting my next diorama started once the semester ends. I don’t know exactly what it will be but I hope it’ll be something no one has seen before.

Every time I finish a diorama or after a few weeks of not shooting, I’ll make a list of ideas I want to do then I’ll go on my day off and just spend an entire day taking pictures. Usually after a day like that I’ll have fifty or so pictures to upload over the course of the next few weeks until I do another shoot. It takes a lot of time to get the pose right, to balance the figures correctly, and find the right setting or angle. I’ve spent hours on shoots before coming out with only one or two good shots.

The Coffeehouse Invite: Where do you find inspiration for your ideas?

Kato Guzman: Source material is always the number one inspiration for a shot. I love to recreate scenes with my figures, especially scenes from comic books that haven’t been adapted yet. Sometimes I’ll feel inspiration when I watch a really good movie and an idea will pop into my head. Sometimes I’ll want to do something funny. Sometimes I get ideas based on a cool prop I came across or some new figure I just added to my collection.

So many people build warehouse and back alley dioramas as if superheroes only hang out in those places. I’ve done the back alley and got it out of my system, but I like to do things no one else has. I’ve done a cemetery diorama with graves that open and coffins and a mausoleum that opens. I did a movie theater with some really nice marquee lights. I just finished an abandoned room that I’m donating to a raffle.

Iguanadon "This photo was taken on a long eight or so mile hike. I like it for the depth of field. It almost makes the dinosaur seem real. There’s been a resurgence in dinosaur toy photography since Jurassic World came out but I beat them to it!"

Iguanadon "This photo was taken on a long eight or so mile hike. I like it for the depth of field. It almost makes the dinosaur seem real. There’s been a resurgence in dinosaur toy photography since Jurassic World came out but I beat them to it!"

The Coffeehouse Invite: What is your favorite scene you’ve created?

Kato Guzman: My favorite photo wasn’t necessarily my best photo. It was one of my first shoots. I went to a park in Milpitas with a backpack full of toys, my camera, my tripod and my poor girlfriend who does a great job as my photo assistant. I set this millennium falcon memory game from when I was a kid and this tiny Han Solo toy on a rock. It was a tribute to the scene where they hide out on a meteor and are nearly eaten by the resident exogerth. This photo was taken around 10 or 11 at night, in the dark, but using the long exposure functions on my DSLR I achieved perfect lighting. It isn’t my best staged shot but it is definitely the one that always pops into my head when I think back.

"This was taken in an environment so dark I needed a flashlight to set it up but it came out so well lit it changed how I learned to manipulate light for photographs."

"This was taken in an environment so dark I needed a flashlight to set it up but it came out so well lit it changed how I learned to manipulate light for photographs."

My favorite diorama though is a toss-up between the cemetery and the movie theater. The movie theater was difficult to get right but it came out so nice, the lights I put on it are a really nice touch and the cemetery was my first diorama which came out great.

Gwen’s Grave – "This photo is from my cemetery diorama and is my most liked photo on Instagram. I’m most proud of this for how dramatic it turned out."

Gwen’s Grave "This photo is from my cemetery diorama and is my most liked photo on Instagram. I’m most proud of this for how dramatic it turned out."

The Coffeehouse Invite: Do you attend toy conventions/meet-ups? What’s the scene like? Any future events you will be attending?

Kato Guzman: There are conventions once or twice a month any given month. I’m a part of two toy groups right now. The ATA Dreadnoughts is a community spearheaded by a few guys that host a weekly podcast called the Action Toy Art Podcast. People in that group are way more talented than I am. They build insanely realistic dioramas and take great pictures. I’m also in the Bay Area Toy Collectors. It’s basically a group for local toy collectors to find each other and sell locally instead of having to deal with shipping costs or eBay. We like to meet up at conventions and trade or sell and hang out. I actually designed the logo based on input from the group admins. It was really cool to walk into a convention and see the logo I helped create on a giant banner and fifteen people wearing shirts of that logo.

I always make my way to the Super Toy Show in San Jose. I usually find some pretty good deals there. The next one is December 5 and then of course there’s always the flea market.

The Coffeehouse Invite: Anything else you would like to add?

Kato Guzman: I want to apologize to my beautiful and wonderful girlfriend for her having to be dragged to toy conventions, toy stores and on photo shoots. She’s been a great help with building some of my dioramas and helping with my photography at times. I know she’s sick of my action figures but she’s great for putting up with it. I also like to hide and scare her and put it on YouTube.

Also, there are so many people in the toy photography community that have so much more talent than I do. People like them make me never want to pick up my camera again because I can never take a photograph that well. At the same time, they’re the nicest people when it comes to talking about toys and they often offer tips, advice or encouragement and that makes me want to try harder to improve my own work.

Thank you to Kato Guzman for being my first feature. His toy photography can be found  @DarthCinnamonBuns and find him on youtube.