LEGO Photography 101:

Presenting your LEGO creations on-line, and doing it well, is a challenging problem.

Having built your super-duper new MOC, you want to show it off to the world.

You've snapped off a couple of photos, but you're not happy with them ... what do you do ?

There are all sorts of obstacles to taking good photos of your LEGO creations, but hopefully this page will help you get started and overcome the basic problems. It's a combination of general photography guidance, tailored to taking photos of small things, plus some more LEGO-specific issues.

Here's a simple 6-step process for taking good photos & getting them onto the web in a way that will do them justice. Follow any links for more detailed information.

Follow these simple steps & you should start get admiring comments on your photography skills straight away ... or after a little practice anyway. I can't do much about you MOC building skills though ...

Once you've mastered the basics you might want to take things a little further; check out the Hints, Tips & Techniques pages for more info.

1. Preparing your "studio"

Find, or make, a clear area with a neutral background for posing your MOCs in - you don't want a cluttered background distracting people from your MOCs. Try drapping a bedsheet or large piece of paper or card make over a desk; a solid, pattern-less neutral color works well - white or pale grey is usually a good start. Try attaching it to the wall behind, or hang it over some boxes, then drape it gently onto the table or floor, creating a smooth transition from upright to flat; try to avoid creating any ridges, or obvious edges. Or you could try building a partial box from LEGO base-plates, or by cutting open a cereal box.

2. Knowing your equipment

Cameras can be complex pieces of equipment. The first thing you need to do is read the manual. Seriously. Then take lots of photos & look at them critically; try to work out why they don't look like you expected ... then take some more photos. Don't be affraid to experiment.

The things you want to try to work out are:

  • how to switch off the flash
  • how to switch "macro mode" on & off (for close focussing)
  • use of "shooting modes" to control the look of the photos (creative focussing effects, compensating for dark models, etc.)
  • controlling ISO settings, and the trafe-off between low-light performance & image noise
  • how the shutter release works, and how to use it to control focus & exposure settings (e.g. the "half press" to lock focus & exposure, followed by recomposing the shot before pushing all the way)

3. Preparing & posing your model

Think about what you want it is about your MOC you want to show, and how you want to show it.

Think about how the MOC looks - obvious dust & finger prints can ruin the look of a model. Try to remove as much as as you can before you start taking any photos.

Think about interesting angles you can photograph your MOC from - if it's got distinctive features, how can you best show them off ? If it's a mini-fig compatible MOC, think about using a "mini-fig eye view" for some of the shots.

Think about how to support your MOC if you want to get an "in flight" shot - a clear drinking glass, or a thin column of transparent bricks work well. For underside shots, simply turn it over !

Think about what the purpose of the shot is - are you trying to record the MOC for posterity, demonstrate a clever building technique, or tell a story ? Or something else ? This should guide you on how best to photograph your MOC.

4. Lighting & Camera Support

The two most important things to get right are lighting your MOC & supporting your camera - it's all about getting as sharp a photo as possible. You are looking for an even, natural, difuse lighting effect - the MOC should be well lit from all directions, without any hard/harsh shadows. Outside on a bright, but overcast, day shot outside, or if indoors, use several lights, boucing them off nearby walls or ceilings to get a diffuse look(no sharp shadows). A bright room light and an angle-poise lamp or two should do. If you haven't got a nearby wall, try using the side of a light coloured box as a reflector.

Knowing how to get the lighting right can take time & experience - if it doesn't work first time, don't give up. Experiment. Try lots of different combinations until you get a look that works for you.

It's usually best to avoid using the cameras flash if you can - they are usually set up for a target at +10ft, so it'll be too bright on your MOC, plus your MOC is shiny - never a good combination ...

Getting a decent camera support is really important - camera shake can ruin an otherwise excellent shot. Get the best tripod you can afford - a simple table-top one can be picked upfor around $10 and will be fine for most small cameras. Check you don't have one already - many webcams come with a small flexible tripod.

If you can't get a tripod, there are alternatives. Basically, you want to be able to put the camera somewhere where it won't move when you take your hands away - a small bean-bag toy could make a good substitute, or a bag stuffed with tissue, anything that you can deform to a shape then rest your camera on while you take the photos. You could even build a camera support out of LEGO ... if you really can't get a tripod or any other support, become the camera support - sit down, hold the camera in two hands, and rest your elbows on the work top. If you have to stand up, place your feet slightly apart, again holding the camera in both hands, but brace your upper arms against your body & think like a tree ...

5. Taking the shots

Finally, it's time to take some shots ... first, set the camera to the highest resolution & highest quality settings. Sure it's going to fill up your memory card quickly, but you're at home and can clear the card/camera regularly. The final shots will end up much smaller, but start with the best quality you can.

Think about composition - what of the MOC is actually going to be in the frame for this particular shot.

Think about the use of zoom (if you camera has one) - wide angle & close to the subject, or further away but zoomed in close ? The effects are different, so have a play & work out what works for you.

Think about exposure - the camera has two controls, aperture and shutter speed, which are related but have different effects. If you can control them directly experiment to find out what they do; if you can't control them directly, try the pcicture modes, which allow you indirect control ... again, experiment to find out what effect they have.

Set your ISO top the lowest setting (usually '50' or '100') as this will give you the highest quality results. Only increase it if you have to because the lighting level is too low. Higher ISO settings mean moe image noise & softer looking images.

If you need to get close to the MOC, switch on 'macro mode', which allows the camera to focus closer. If you haven't got a 'macro mode', step back from the MOC but zoom right in. If you can't zoom, crop the image in post-processing. Remember to switch off the macro settting afterwards.

Now, point the camera at the point on you MOC you want to be in the centre of focus (the sharpest point) - now press the shutter release button half-way. This will focus the lens & take an exposure reading. Now re-compose the shot (without moving further away) to achieve the "look" you want & press all the way.

Repeat until done.

6. Prepare it for on-line & posting

You've got your photos. Now get them off the camera and onto your computer. Stick them in a folder with a name that means something to you, so that you can easily find them in future.

Now you need to think about workflow - how to go from a big bunch of large photos of mixed quality, to a small number of small images of high quality ...

Think of it in four steps:
(a) Selection - organise the images, then pick a few that are the best, the ones that are in focus, reasonably well exposed and that look interesting.
(b) Correction - fix any major, image-wide flaws (e.g. cropping to recompose, color balance, exposure, etc.)
(c) Spot fixing - remove dust specks, unwanted elements, general touch-up, etc.
(d) Export - prepare the images for the web (resizing, sharpening, jpeg compression, etc.). Shrink them down to a reasonable size (800x600 maximum), then save as "jpeg" with a medium to high quality setting (if you've got an output preview use it to check when the compression becomes visible; if in doubt start around the "60%" setting). Upload to your favourite hosting site (Brickshelf should be your first choice). Wait until it's available (or work out how to post "deep links") and then post a "check out my cool new MOC !" message and link on your favourite forum !!!

Good luck & don't forget to check out the detailed sections over in the Hints, Tips & Techniques section.



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