The Photographer Behind ‘I Spy’ Books

“I spy a shovel, a long silver chain, a little toy horse, a track for a train…”

Does this riddle sound at all familiar? If so, chances are you’ve paged through an ‘I Spy’ picture book at one point or another. Since the iconic series launched in 1992, the books have been distributed to millions of readers across more than 30 countries.

As any ‘I Spy’ fan will readily admit, it’s not the words the book contains that captivate the imagination but the immersive still life photographs. Take a look at the man and method behind the camera; you may be surprised to learn just how much effort goes into these children’s books:

As described in this segment from Insider. It all started in the 1980s, while NYC-based commercial photographer Walter Wick was tidying up his apartment. As he swept through his home, he collected a sizable number of nuts, bolts, and screws. While these ordinary objects wouldn’t prompt a second glance from most, something about the metal bits inspired Wick. Carefully arranging them, he created a still life that he would eventually use to promote his business.

i spy photography

Somehow, the images eventually caught the attention of author Jean Marzollo. At the time, she was working on a magazine designed for kindergarteners. She requested that Wick assist her in illustrating a promotional poster for the publication. When their collaboration passed by an editor at Scholastic, the publishing company offered the duo the chance to work together to build a children’s search-and-find book of their own. As soon as they accepted, the first ‘I Spy’ installment was born.

For the original ‘I Spy’ installments, Wick used a large format camera that produced 8×10 negatives to ensure as much detail as possible. Today, he uses a Canon 5D. However, aside from the means he uses to capture each scene, surprisingly little has changed about Wick’s technique.

picture taking for i spy books

Every single item included in Wick’s set is real and sourced from the photographer’s expansive studio workshop. Bins are filled with everything from toy cars to pinecones, at the ready to fit whatever theme he may be working with. Because of his incredible attention to detail and the intricacy involved in creating a successful ‘I Spy’ still life, it can take weeks for Wick to complete a single image.

how i spy books are made

It’s not all fun, games, and picture books for Wick. As a matter of fact, his most recent publication was a science book designed to illustrate the properties of light to young readers. But that doesn’t mean his passion has gone away. To date, about 45 million of Wick’s books have been printed, and he’s been making search and find images for nearly 30 years. Nevertheless, he still finds ways to work his menagerie of everyday objects into the exciting visual stories he invents.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever