Miniature Photography: Creating an arctic wonderland with fabric

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Hi, I'm Erin!

I am a photographer passionate about the outdoors, meaningful travel, creativity and intention in all things. I hope to use my platform online to show the beauty and complexity of the world we live in, and to encourage genuine connection to the world and all the magic within it.

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Add some wonder to your space

Thank you to Polartec for exploring the miniature world with me, and for sponsoring this blog post.

In the past year, I have photographed miniatures more than any other subject. I have been meaning to write a blog post about the success of Our Great Indoors– my quarantine personal project, and now a specialization of mine– and I promise, I will soon, but for now I’m highlighting one collaboration I recently worked on in particular. Shooting outdoor-inspired miniatures has expanded my work and my creativity in new ways I’d never considered before. It allows me to explore new places I’d never thought possible. And it has helped to form connections with new clients, brands, and collaborators, one of those being Polartec.

When I think of Polartec, I think of the fuzzy snap-T pullovers I wore growing up, or the cozy fleece pants I never go backpacking without. The Polartec team had seen Our Great Indoors, and was curious what I could do with their fabrics. I quickly saw the potential in a collaboration. They sent fabrics that they felt reflected the “shades of the arctic”, and I began brainstorming some wintry scenes!

Among my list of ideas and props to use was a set of penguin figurines I had acquired and not yet utilized. The Polartec team embraced & ran with this, and created a character and storyline for the scenes. I began sketching out the scenes based on their narrative, which follows a little penguin on a big adventure throughout four wintry scenes, all using Polartec fabrics as the landscape. Maybe it’s fitting that I shot all of these scenes on my bed… the fabrics were definitely cozy enough!

The fabrics

I went through each fabric and studied it– the textures, the way they held light, thickness, color. While doing that, I also studied images of the arctic, and of the “real life” places I wanted to convey using only fabric, figurines, and optical illusions. I wanted the viewer to do a double-take when they see some of the images, while showing off the textures of the fabrics, and conveying the expansiveness and wonder of Nature.

The concept

These images tell the story of a tiny penguin– “a small creature in a big world full of wonder. She decides to go on a magical adventure to explore what her arctic home has to offer, meeting snowy acquaintances along the way.” I know you may be thinking that penguins don’t actually live in the arctic… and you’re right. They live in the antarctic (the other side of the globe). But use your imagination. 😉 Now presenting, a penguin’s world…

The images

Penguin Family View 

Our little adventurer says goodbye to her family and sets off on her explorations. I used two main fabrics for the landscape here: Alpha and Micro Fleece. I alternated between these to create depth and layering, which is a huge part of making miniature scenes look and feel expansive. Though this scene is obviously part of a cold weather series, I wanted these images to feel warm, because of the family element. I added snow in post, to add to the cozy winter feeling.

Cross-Country Skiers

The penguin encounters some skiers, out for a day of fresh air. For this scene, I used Alpha insulation for the snow, given how light and fluffy it looks. The background is Power Stretch, and the trees are figurines I have from my (ever-expanding) collection.

Polar Bears and Glacial Lakes

This is the first and, I hope, not the last time I’ll ever photograph polar bears in my life! Though it will probably be the first and last time I’ll ever photograph polar bears & penguins together. 🙂 For this scene I wanted to portray an icy landscape, dotted with turquoise lakes that you would find in glacial areas. I learned to brush out the texture from the Thermal Pro fabric to make it look like there are little waves on the lakes.

The Northern Lights

Welcome home, tiny friend! This scene was achieved by using Thermal Pro as the ground, and Micro Fleece draped over paper for the sky. In order to create the lights, I cut strips of paper out of a poster board, and then positioned the paper in front of a colored lightbulb. From there I used Micro Fleece to soften the lines, and a tiny bit of Photoshop (really, just a little) to add some more movement in the sky.

Over the past year, I’ve played with fabrics here and there in creating my miniature work, but utilizing them on this level was a first for me. Another first was using an animal as the main character. I think the images in this set are some of the most playful (and joyful?) images from my whole series. The Northern Lights images stand out to me as some of the most memorable from my entire miniature collection, thanks to how that scene in particular pushed me to create the sky in camera.

This was also the first time that I followed a narrative from scene to scene. As a photographer, I am already always thinking about telling a story in one frame. But in this case, I also needed the images from each scene to go together, and flow nicely into one another (something I wanted to do regardless of what order they were positioned in).

Shooting in macro forces you to pay attention to the details. It also opens you up to a whole new world (just a much smaller one). In these images, I was very aware of the unique textures in each fabric, and how they related to the textures in our outdoor world.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that I would be creating in this exact way, but I’m so happy that you’ve been along for the ride. And I’m grateful to have collaborators and partners who want to see these visions brought to life, too. Hope you enjoyed this spotlight.

Read more about this project on the Polartec blog here.

And PS – if you want to try miniature photography yourself, I have a free guide of the gear I use (including where I buy the little figurines) here. Enjoy!

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  1. Lyanne says:

    I love the story but penguins don’t live in the Arctic. They only live in the Antarctic regions of the world.

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