Sorry haven’t posted anything in a while. I’ve been pretty caught up lately with work and got back to playing Diablo 3 with a friend 😛
Part of the whole building with LEGO experience is to be able to share your works with the entire international and local community. Personally, I believe that no matter how great your work is, if you’re not able to present or package it properly then people wouldn’t fully be able to grasp how much time and effort you put into whatever it is you’re showing them.
This will be part 1 of 2 on my post-build process where I talk about LEGO and photography. This article is aimed at builders with average photography skills and DIY setups and would talk about how to take proper photos with technology that is widely available today.
Understanding the need for a proper setup
Even before going into the actual process of taking photos of your builds, I’d like to talk a little more about what kind of setup I actually use and the reason for it.
When I take photos of my mechs, I’m actually preparing them for a lot of post-editing work I’d later be doing inside Photoshop (this will be part 2 of this series). Hence, most of my shots have to be focused, show good clarity, and are taken against a clean background to really show the whole build and details. Even if I don’t do heavy post-editing, I’d still have to take photos that would look presentable and give proper highlight to the finished builds.
The way I do my photography would be similar to how robot toys are presented inside catalogs or toy manufacturer sites. Models would be taken against a simple background, with good contrast to the model’s color and shape (if it was a light colored model then a dark colored background would be used and vice versa). There would also be a wide variety of shots, covering mostly your front, side, back, and 3/4 view profiles, while also showing some close up shots of the face and details. There’d also be some action shots to show the model’s range of motion and play functions.
As a general rule, I tend to have an excess of photos, covering the above mentioned, even though when I go into post-editing, I’d only end up using 3 or 4 photos. It’s safer to have a good excess of source materials to work on than having to come back and retake shots later on. That and it’s also a good practice for cataloging your own works for your personal files.
My setup is a simple DIY setup that utilizes the following:
- A recycled box of substantial size
- White Cartolina paper
- Illustration board
- Aluminum Foil
- Bull Clips
- Desk Lamps
- Translucent white tray (that doubles as a sorting bin when not taking photos :P)
- White LED bulbs
- my iPhone as a camera
Creating the “box”
You can actually find quite a lot of DIY toy photography blog posts online that walk you through various setups for home toy photography. (I’ve added a few links at the bottom of the article in case you want to check those out.) Personally, I use an old printer box (30 x 30 x 45 cm) that I’ve cut out 2 sides of that forms miniature studio setup and at just the right size for my builds.
I covered up the inside of the box with white Cartolina paper, making sure the entire inside is as white as possible. The reason for this comes later with the explanation on lighting. You can glue most of the paper to the inner walls then tape of the ends for added security as the glue tends to peel off at the edges over time. I then place a relaxed sheet of Cartolina that will serve as my background, clipped from the top and at the end of my box’s opening. You’ll want this relaxed and not stretched out or folded at the corner as this will form a “seamless” background once you start taking photos.
Your background does not have to be white and can be any sort of medium you want. I’ve seen some toy photographers do a carbon fiber look and that works for a specific kind of subject. Some have also used metallic foil that has a more dramatic effect. You can also opt for solid colors for your background and with the way you make your box, having an easy way to change your backdrop is something you’d want to consider into the design.
Next up, take some of the illustration boards and cut them to a size big enough to go under your lamp heads (mine’s a little too big actually). You can bend them in the middle just so they can stand on their own. Cover them up with the aluminum foil as these will serve as your reflectors that would redirect light going out of the box back into it (more in the lighting section).
For my lighting setup, I use two desk lamps and have another clip on lamp from a previous setup. I use 2x 15 watt white LED bulb and another 3w white LED bulb. You might need an extension cord to have all the lamps powered up and the cables not being in the way of your camera or the model. My light setup isn’t as ideal as I’d like it to be but I’ll discuss that further under Lighting.
And lastly is the camera. Now again, no matter how great your build is or how good your photo setup is, if you have a bad camera to take your photos with then you’d end up with poor quality photos and no amount of post-editing will make it better. I highly recommend investing in a digital camera or if your phone’s camera is good, you can use that instead. For reference, I used to have a Nikon D50 then switched to a Canon Ixus digicam (because my D50 was quite outdated), and nowadays I’m using my iPhone 6+ camera to take photos (I find it funny and sad at the same time that my phone’s camera now takes better photos than my DSLR or digital camera :P).
If you had to ask me what camera you should get then I’d say DSLR > Digicam > Phone camera. A well invested DSLR with a macro lens would allow you to take the best photos but would require quite the monetary investment. A digital camera might just be slightly better than a smartphone’s camera nowadays.
What you’re looking for in your camera of choice would be the resolution it can take photos in (check the megapixels but also check what’s the maximum pixel size the images would be saved in). The higher the resolution, the more information / details it can pack into each photo.
Putting everything together
My current setup looks like this with all the room lights off. Notice how the reflectors are setup at an angle to bounce light back into the box and how I’ve placed the translucent bin on top of the whole thing with a lamp on top of it to just give it a top filler light (filling in the spots that have too much shadows).
The Lighting setup I currently use is a little too harsh on the subject with my lights having no diffuser on the two lamps pointing to my subject. Maybe in a future setup, I’ll cover those lamps up with a thin piece of cloth or paper just so the light wouldn’t be too direct on the subject and would bounce around the white walls / reflectors more.
Hard lighting (what I have here) would have light streaks show sharply on top of the model especially with LEGO pieces being slightly reflective. A soft light setup would have light just evenly land on the subject, giving it a softer overall lighting look.
The reason why you’d want reflectors is to have any amount of excess light bounce back inside the box to fill in the darker, shadowed areas of your subject. With our white walls there, those too would also serve as light reflectors so your subject would be better illuminated. If your subject is too poorly lighted, you’d end up with a lot of grains in your photo and would end up “murky”. Lastly, make sure to turn off all other light sources except for the lamps you’ll be using during the shoot (this has something to do with the “white balance” but if you’re using a digicam or phone camera, this would be set to auto). You don’t want the extra light contamination that you haven’t accounted for ruining your entire setup.
External / Extra links:
If you want to check out other articles on toy photography, you can check out the links below or just do a quick Google on DIY Toy Photography.
Next article I’d focus more on the post-editing part of the packaging process which includes cleaning up your photos via Photoshop then how I add all the other finishing touches.