Photographer Spotlight: JD Hancock

Posted by: on Jul 09, 2013

Photographer Spotlight: JD Hancock
Photo by JD Hancock
Swimming In The iPool by JD Hancock
“I wanted to capture the fun aspect of being “immersed” in your smartphone.”

JD Hancock is a family-friendly cyborg who lives in Austin, Texas and loves photographing small plastic people. His photos have been seen in articles from CBS News, Forbes, The Guardian, Mashable, and Wired. We think his Flickr account could very well be one of the best things on the internet!

My first camera was…
My parents gave me my first camera when I was in junior high. It was a blue Canon Snappy 20, fully automatic with a 35mm lens. And I loved it.

I would describe tabletop photography as…
Tabletop photography is a type of photography in which the subject is positioned on a large flat surface, usually a table or work bench. Tabletop photography is a great way for me to practice photography. Since I’m not a professional photographer, I don’t take photos during the work day. And of course I try to spend my off hours with family and friends. So when it gets late and people start falling asleep, I can squeeze in some photography time.

I got started in tabletop photography…
As a kid I was always interested in photography, and while my photo albums were full of photos of family and friends, they were also peppered with the occasional photographic experiment. After college I began to focus on my career and starting a family, and my interest in photography waned. I only grabbed the camera for special events or to document projects.

In 2008 I upgraded my phone to an iPhone, and from that moment on I had what was essentially a point-and-shoot camera on me at all times. Like many people, this rekindled a love of photography. As time went by, I found myself increasingly reaching for my iPhone when something of interest came into view. Sometimes I would post them on Flickr.

But it wasn’t until 2009 that I fully embraced tabletop photography. It started with the idea of documenting objects in my home that had some meaning to me, which eventually became a Flickr series called “JD’s House of Miscellany,” or as a friend at work called it, “Artifacts from Childhood.” After looking around our home, I realized that the kitchen island was a perfect place for me to work because the room has good lighting and the surface is large and sturdy.

Photo by JD Hancock
Face The Music by JD Hancock
“One day I noticed that my headphones were smiling at me!”

The most difficult thing about tabletop photography is…
For me, finding the time to do tabletop photography is the biggest challenge. Once I’ve found the time, I think it really depends on what exactly I’m trying to achieve. If I’m working on an Instagram photo, for example, the most difficult thing is working with the iPhone’s built-in camera. While it is a pretty good camera, it’s certainly not the same as a DSLR with a macro lens. On the other hand, if I’m working on a Flickr photo using my DSLR and macro lens, usually the most difficult thing for me is the setup, which would include things like balancing the figure well so it doesn’t fall over, securing the backdrop so that it doesn’t fall onto the scene, and setting up the lighting such that I can alternate between taking photos and making small adjustments without the light changing.

The BEST thing about tabletop photography is…
With tabletop photography you are creating a small world in which to play. For me, the fun is getting to live in that little world for some period of time, an experience that I hope will translate into a happy moment for whoever is looking at the photo in the end.

I find most of my inspiration from…
My inspiration mostly comes from my geeky side: superheroes, science fiction movies, technology, etc. I am also inspired by communities on Flickr, especially the group Macro Mondays. And of course toys play a huge part in my photography as well.

Photo by JD Hancock
“It’s Fun To Stay At The …” by JD Hancock
“This was a hastily-taken afterthought at the end of a photo session, and it turned out to be one of my most popular photos ever.”

I would describe my style or shooting philosophy as…
Most of the time when I’m taking a photo, I’m going for something whimsical. I’m having fun with my photos, and I hope to give other people a smile.

Some of my industry role models are…because…
I have several photography role models, but three immediately come to mind.

The first person I think of as a role model is Nicolas Vallejos. I found Nicolas’ work on Flickr in the Macro Mondays group. He is a professional graphic designer and does a lot of tabletop photography. Nicolas has a style that is clean, precise, and fun. His setups are pro-quality, and he often makes his own props. Besides his delightful sense of humor, I think what I enjoy most about his photography is his mastery of lighting. I’ve spent a lot of time studying and attempting to reproduce what he does.

The second role model who comes to mind is Whit Anderson. I found Whit through Tumblr and the website he runs called Distracted by Star Wars. Whit’s passions include photography and Star Wars. He loves to express his sense of humor through toy photography, often stormtroopers. While my subjects are usually seen in front of a minimalistic backdrop, Whit’s are often surrounded by a detailed, well-designed environment created by him or an outdoors setting inspired by the Star Wars movies. I also admire his prowess with social media as he is active on Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, etc.

Photo by JD Hancock
Diagnosis: Doomed! by JD Hancock
“I always wondered what kind of advice Charlie Brown would get if he asked someone besides Lucy van Pelt for help.”

The third person who is a role model to me is Ed Steele. I’ve known Ed since we were kids in Denton, Texas. He is an event photographer, so in a way his photography is the opposite of mine: while I can spend hours tweaking a scene of my own creation until I get exactly the shot I want, Ed must capture moments in real-time as they occur in an environment over which he has no control. Regardless, Ed always seems to bring out the best in the performers he photographs, and he shares those intriguing instances with the rest of the world through social media and printed publications. What I like most about Ed’s photography is its realism and humanity

If I could choose one dream gig, it would be…
I would be honored to have a company hire me to photograph their toys as part of their marketing efforts.

My tabletop photography setup consists of…
My kitchen island is my photography studio. A typical setup for me would include:

  • My DSLR, a Nikon D50, and remote
  • My Nikkor macro lens
  • My MacBook Air
  • Binder clips to hold things in place
  • A Joby GorillaPod to hold up my camera
  • Small flashlights, push-LEDs, push lights, clip LEDs, etc.
  • Raisin boxes or sticky note pads to elevate action figures
  • An old black shelf, elevated, to use as a base to build upon
  • Clear plastic cups to hold up my macro lens or elevate light sources
  • A sheet of foamboard to function as the “back wall” of the scene and onto which I can hang or fasten various backdrops
  • A large circular diffuser positioned above the scene, resting on the foamboard in the back and an old broken desk lamp in the front

This would be typical for a photo intended to share on Flickr and my own photo site. However, if I was taking an Instagram photo, I would use my iPhone instead of my DSLR.

I have photographed some of my gear and setups for anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes look.

Photo by JD Hancock
Uncle! by JD Hancock
“What happens when a horrible monster from the Alien movie series encounters a cute little naive alien from Toy Story?”

My favorite piece of gear is…
While I love my DSLR, purchased at a discount from a friend, I would have to say my favorite piece of gear is my macro lens, a gift from my wife. It is an AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED.