Interview with Mitchel Wu | GBPW Episode 125

I had most of the camera gear that I needed, but I had no toys. I had a few toys from when I was a kid that my mom saved – and I have them with me now – but nothing that I would go out there and shoot. So whereas most people have the toys and not the gear, I was exactly the opposite. I had all the gear, but none of the toys.

Mitchel Wu

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In this episode, toy photographer Mitchel Wu talks about his incredible life story and his love for practical effects. Mitchel Wu started taking photos of toys in his 50s. Before that, he was a product designer, a wedding photographer, a headshot photographer, and the list goes on.

Mitchel’s eclectic mix of interests has given him all the tools he needs to take emotive and eye-catching photos of toys. Today, he’s an incredibly well-known freelance toy photographer with a very impressive portfolio.

In this episode, we talk about:

  • Mitchel Wu’s exciting toy photography journey
  • Ideas and tips for practical effects in toy photography
  • The importance of taking risks

& much more!

Mitchel Wu is talented, friendly, and full of interesting stories! If you’re interested in listening to a unique and heartwarming story, you’re in the right place.

Here is a preview of our conversation with Mitchel Wu.

Q: How has your diverse background affected your creativity as a photographer?

Mitchel Wu: I never intended to be a product designer or product developer. I always intended to be a traditional illustrator and illustrate movie posters, book covers, magazine covers, and editorial illustrations.

One of the things I learned through this whole experience is that you really need to be aware of the decisions you make, especially when you’re young. At least for me, I tended not to think so much about what this decision would do and where it would lead me. Five to ten years later, you see that you’re so far off your path. You can pinpoint the moment that you diverted off that original path.

Not to say that my path was good or bad. I definitely don’t regret it because it’s led to where I am today. It’s interesting to see how far off my path I have gotten. It’s only within the past seven years, when I really got into toy photography, that I feel like I’m firmly back on the original path that I thought I’d be on.

Q: What advice would you give to photographers who want to create strong emotions in their work, especially if their subjects aren’t people?

Mitchel Wu: If you’re working with toys, it’s a little more obvious on how to tell stories. A lot of times, the characters already have stories. They always do. Any toy that is character-based will have a story behind it if it’s a character that was from a movie, a cartoon, or a book.

One of the ways that I create my images is by looking at ways to show a character that everybody’s familiar with, and show them in a different way. With toys, I’m at an advantage for telling stories. What it comes down to is storytelling.

Q: What was it like to go from being a wedding photographer to a toy photographer?

Mitchel Wu: I was spending too many weekends on it. Weddings, probably 90% of them or more, occur on the weekends. At that point, in 2015, my daughter was entering high school and she was a competitive swimmer. I was missing so much. I knew that I only had a very limited amount of years left that I’d have her with me in the house. It just wasn’t acceptable to me that weddings were going to keep me from being with my kid during these super important years.

I had no problem leaving it when I made that realisation. One of the things that I consider myself is a restless creative. My wife knows this all too well. I had gone through so many product design and product development jobs. I was at Disney for six years, and I left Disney because I was getting restless working with the same characters, the same IP, the same movies. Of course, looking back, I still consider those six years by far the best job I’ve ever had.

In 2015, I knew that I had to make a change. I didn’t know what I was going to do. Almost at the same time, my nephew – who was also just playing around with toy photography – introduced it to me. Just for fun, we went to a park and photographed some toys.

It was that first click of the shutter when I realised that there was definitely something amazing about toy photography. I felt strongly that there was absolutely a career to be made in it. I didn’t know of anybody who was doing that as a career at the time. Even now, I can’t name anybody that’s doing 100% full-time toy photography on a freelance basis. So I made that realisation and just dove in.

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