See How This Famous Children's Book Series Was Photographed

The photo-illustrator of the popular "I Spy" series is interviewed about his process on the creation of the incredibly detailed book series. This includes the styling, behind the scenes, and yes, the cameras he used.

Walter Wick may not be a household name, but his work certainly is. He's the photo-illustrator for the "I Spy" series of books. Every child has owned one of these books or seen them in their dentist's office. The books were first published in 1992 and are still going on today with a multitude of series and even a collection of video games.

The video, although short, dives into his process of building scenes that could take up to weeks to finish. He shows off his work not only for "I Spy", but also "Can You See What I See?", and "Hey, Seymour!". In all three series you can see the imagination of an artist using only every day objects to tell a story. In one of the books, he even tells a story of a train set being built throughout the pages.

What I love now about this series seeing it from a photographer's perspective is the lighting. As you look through the pages highlighted in the video, each scene's lighting fits the context of the composition perfectly. The school scene has flat, fluorescent-styled light. The beach scene has much harder angled light and it all fits the context perfectly. This is something I couldn't have appreciated back then that I definitely do now.

This video made me want to dive deeper into a look at Walter's work. A quick Google search led me to his website, which has a treasure trove of behind the scenes for all of his books. His YouTube shows a more in-depth look at his studio with an even more detailed explanation of his process from conceptual drawing to the final lighting of the scene. 

As for his camera, the original video goes into the fact that he used a large format camera, but on his Instagram I was able to find a little more information.

Me with the “I Spy” camera. 8x10 film cameras are simple devices. One end holds the lens, the other end holds an 8”x10” sheet of film. The bellows is needed so no stray light spoils the projected image. I shot all the I Spy books shown with just two lenses: a 300mm Fujinon, and 210mm Schneider. One was a “normal” angle of view, the other is slightly wide angle. There wasn’t anything inherently exciting about these lenses or camera. The magic all had to be built into the sets. #ispybooks #8x10film#filmphotography #walterwick#childrensbooks #photoillustration

This dive was a nostalgia trip for me. It's incredible seeing the pages from some of my favorite books from a different point of view and noticing all of the different intricacies that went into production. Did you grow up with this series? What photo series do you wish you could get a more in-depth look behind?

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5 Comments

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

I can tell you one thing, it's a lot harder and tougher than you'd think. My respect.

Rob Mitchell's picture

That’s brilliant. Never seen these books or his work. Proper skills all round there. Budgets though.. ouch. Hate to think what each book costs to shoot. especially in this climate of tight publishing budgets.

David Justice's picture

These were classic waiting room books that I remember vividly. From the second video it said he has over 15,000 props and the wall of storage bins was massive.

Rod Kestel's picture

As author of 2 books I can tell you to expect earnings on a good day around 2 cents/ hour before expenses. No idea what Wick earns but there aren't many Rowlings and Martins out there.
So you do it for love mostly. Also the glory.

Michael Aubrey's picture

All of these books were part of my childhood.

Scholastic is huge in the US--in most public schools, so he's definitely got the audience built into his publisher. I remember every year in grade school when all the students got a copy of the Scholastic catalog in a run up to the school book fair. Lot's books got sold this way to children. And Scholastic was huge in stocking the elementary & middle school libraries.