In this post I want to talk about photographing Lego® scenes and share my experience of getting a photo you can be happy with. I usually use an iPod (gen-5), so this will hopefully be useful to any level of camera that you may use. The focus here is on how to arrange your set piece, not the lighting and camera angles. You can find plenty of info on that on-line and to be honest, I’m no expert. However, I do daily Instagram challenges and movies solely for my Lego® builds or themes. So, here’s some insight into how to get a shot of your MOC you can be happy with.
Often I will build a set, photograph it and tear it down on the same day, then rinse and repeat the next day. I find myself taking upwards of 50 photos per day to find the one right shot to put on-line. Sigh. I find getting the lighting and angle fairly easy – I’m going to filter it on Instagram anyway. But what always runs-a-muck is the shot’s composition. You’re building a 3-dimensional environment to try and compose a two-dimensional image. Parts will get in the way or interfere with a shot in ways you only really notice when you look at your photo. So in this post, I’ll present to you one of my builds and walk you through it’s in-shoot evolution, so you can see what changes I made and why, then hopefully have an easier time shooting your photos.
The photo shoot I picked for this was the TARDIS Spa for 16/01/16 – ‘Water’. Here’s the first go.
From the naked eye, this looked like a really good arrangement with lamps, ornament and a clear source and sink for the water. In contrast, when viewed through a photo the first thing you notice is the big clunky tap / pump distracting you from what’s going on in the scene. So, the natural solution is to streamline it. But that isn’t the only thing wrong with it when viewed in the photo. The pump doesn’t come from anywhere and once you notice it, it really tears you from the reality of the shot.
To improve, the next take did indeed have a streamlined pump system, but this time with the continuity of the plumbing added in.
Now the water has more continuity, but the business of all the fixtures is clearly interfering with looking at the people in the shot.
Tip: The closer your shot’s angle is to the character’s eye-level, the more you engage the viewer with your characters.
By that logic, the right-hand photo above clearly engages the viewer more and immerses you better in the scene. But, again. there’s a trade-off. The closer you get to eye-level, the more obstructed and busy the scene becomes. Additionally, you can again see the pipes end at the bottom, so the water’s continuity is again broken.
To add to the obstruction is the ornament in front of the robot. This isn’t in the way; it’s actually there for a good reason. But the problem with it is that it is brighter and shinier than the robot, so that’s what you look at. You can also see the same issue with the lamp to the left of Capaldi, even though it doesn’t directly obstruct him.
Tip: Items in the foreground that are brighter, bolder and shinier than your focus area will distract the viewer. Making them smaller and duller, or removing them will help put the viewer’s attention where you want it.
Finally, here’s my third attempt, with the actual filtered Instagram shot on the right.
You can see the lamp in the back is left in, but Capaldi’s lamp and the ornament have been removed. If I’d had more time, or this process hammered down (it was early for me at this point), I’d have had time to build a smaller item next to my robot. I’d probably have gone for dark red or dark blue and 3 plates high a most.
The whole pump assembly has shrunk, with the pipe coming out of a grid as you’d find in a swimming pool. The grid is over the slope underneath without the pipe overhanging, so the continuity is maintained.
Finally, now that we can see the characters properly, I moved Smithy’s cup into a more actioned pose to give the scene some life.
So now, here’s my process:
- Just build your set – don’t worry about shot angles, obstructions, focus areas or anything like that yet, or it will overcomplicate your build.
- Identify your shot angle – now you’ve built it, decide where you’re going to take the photo from (roughly will do).
- Take some photos – the only way to really see what needs to change or go is to look at it as your camera sees it, so with your camera.
- Look for:
- Complicated parts
- Direct obstructions
- Items of similar colour to your characters / focal area.
- Items of bolder colour to your characters / focal area.
- Now, you can make your edits:
Hopefully, this process will get you down to just one round of editing and make your shoot time a lot faster. Have fun, and if you have any great tips of your own, please let us know in the comments below.