Photographing Toys – The secret life of Danbo

Danbo… I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked why when people see my Danbo pictures. The answer is, it’s a bit of fun and something to do when the real photography gets a little dull or the dark nights finally take away the post work photo outings.

So who is Danbo? Danbo, or Danboard to give him his Sunday name is a popular cartoon figure in Japan, he’s a small boy in side cardboard boxes to make him look like a robot. Danbo figures appeared quite some time ago and more recently the amazon.co.jp and 7-11 brands had special editions made. The Amazon version seems to be particularly popular and comes in 2 sizes. Big Danbo is about 5 inches tall, mini Danbo about 2 inches.

Although a bit of a Flickr phenomenon Danbo isn’t that easy to get in the UK. Amazon doesn’t sell them on the UK site and the Japanese site doesn’t ship to UK addresses. EBay is your best bet but expect to pay around £40 for either version. Yesasia.com do occasionally stock them at about half that price but I’ve yet to actually see them in stock on that site,

The idea with Danbo and indeed any other toys is to make them seem almost real. To put them in posed real life situations. Let your imagination run riot, add props, and add even more toys to the shot, whatever you like! I use a Domo Kun (another Japanese cartoon favourite) in my Danbo shots a lot to give me more scope what they an do and have built up a theme of fierce looking Domo torturing the cutesy Danbo, just for the fun of it! I’ve also go a mini Domo, Morph (remember him?) and the Corsa guys. All have been used at some time or another in mainly silly shots that make me laugh.

It’s popular on Flickr for people to use Danbo in cute, twee poses, as you’ll see from the pics that follow, that’s not what really what I go in for…

1. To Boldy Go…

To boldly go... - Explore #2, FP

This is the best one I done. This shot not only made Flickr Explore, it went onto the Front Page and peaked at number 2 for November 4th 2009. By far my best Flickr performance! The white borders either side were to turn it from portrait to square as Flickr never features portrait shots on its front page.

This was actually 2 shots grafted together in Photoshop, as are a lot of these. Danbo was taped to the rocket for shot 1; I placed it in the light of my back security lights and played about with a few shots on a 50mm lens at about f4. With shot 1 in the bag, Danbo was carefully removed from the rocket and the rocket lit. Camera was triggered at the same manual settings from a remote and high speed drive to get the lit shot then both RAW files were processed the same and merged together in Photoshop.

2. Danbo Arrives

Danbo arrives...

My first attempt at a Danbo. Nothing to taxing here. A 50mm lens at f1.8 and job done. The huge bokeh effect was tin foil behind, crumpled up and flattened out again, lit from the side by a little flash.

3. Danbo Gets a Fright

Danbo gets a fright

This shot was 3 shots grafted together. It was just too hard to get Danbo to sit in that position so I had to hold him, take the shot, hold him in the same place but with fingers in another bit, take a shot and finally take the pic of my hand with the mini blowtorch. The first 2 shots were put together, I took the 2nd one to replace the bit of Danbo where I held him in the first, and then this was blended to the 3rd shot with the blowtorch.

4. Up, Up and Away

Up up and away... - Explored

This was done in a single shot and took a bit of setting up to get right. The background is an A0 piece of mounting card with a huge sheet of paper attached to it. Danbo was taped to the balloon and the balloon taped to the top of the board. The fan and Domo were placed in last. Getting the angle to take the shot wasn’t the easiest!

5. Trapped in a Mac Danbo was sad…

Trapped in a Mac Danbo was sad - Explored

Again, 2 shots needed for this one. Shot one was the Danbo in the Mac shot on a white background with his head down looking sad. That shot was processed and placed in the bottom corner of a white background jpg. That shot was then opened using OSX’s preview and the Macbook and Danbo placed into shot together for the final shot.

6. Danbo Rain

Danbo Rain

Danbo works well looking sad. This was again shot with the 50mm f1.8 lens, flash on and Danbo stood on the roof of my car. The rain was provided by the garden hose with a sprinkler attachment. The flash worked well in freezing the motion of the raindrops.

7. Domo was being nasty

Domo was being nasty today... - Explored

Taken with the same background as shot 4, the pen is blue tacked to Domo’s arm (handy stuff).

8. Domo’s Snowball

Domo's snowball

I quite like to try and tell a story with these shots, and 2 shots are always better than one for this. With the camera on a tripod its easy to take shot 1, then adjust for shot 2 and it’s easily combined for the final image.

9. If you gotta go…

If you've gotta go... - Explored

Easy one this. Danbo positioned at the edge of the table and the water spout aimed just past his waist level. Water jet not in front of Danbo cloned out to give the Danbo piddling impression!

10. Danbo’s little switch

Danbo's little switch - Explored
Danbo has a little switch on the side of his head to make his eyes light up or at least mines did till it broke off. Here it’s got an alternate use. 2 shots again, Danbo suspended from a washing line with fishing guy for shot 1. Shot 2 is the mini blowtorch photographed outside at night and the resulting flames grafted on to Danbo’s legs in Photoshop.

So, there you go, 10 ideas for photographing Danbo but its done regularly on Flickr with all manner of toys, Lego figures are particularly popular. Give it a try; you might just enjoy yourself with it!

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2 responses

  1. looks very good!

    December 30, 2010 at 7:58 am

  2. this is excellent. well done.

    I wanted to do my own danbo photos but I couldn’t find anywhere to buy one.
    I ended up making my own from cardboard. What he lacks in movement, I think he makes up for in charm.

    check it out

    day 75 - if the hat fits....

    Keep up the good work 🙂

    December 10, 2011 at 6:40 pm

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