Rain in Toy photography tutorial

Behind the scenes; "A rainy forest walk".

Up until now I just could not figure out how to get rain in my images. I simply shopped it in…. it’s ok, but I always wanted the real thing! Then I read a comment written bij Anna (Fourbrickstall)- also remember to visit her VERY informative Youtube-channel if you want to know about Lighting and Lego-photography!) wherein she wrote something like that you simply need to keep your eyes open. When do you see rain on a wet evening; You see it in front of a lamppost! When there is no light… you can’t see light. So there you go; step one to get rain into your Lego-photo, you need to backlight the waterdrops!

Make it rain in a Lego photo

And that is what I did. I created a scene with the two monsters, backlit the scene (light B in figure 1), grabbed my water spray bottle and started spraying.

Light setup toy photography rain tips tricks

Nice! I saw some rain and light in the B-area of the photo…. but the rest was dark, I barely saw the monster in the back. To light the front of the scene I added the C and D lights at the sides. That lit the C, D-areas and the monsters sufficiently. However, now it irritated me that I only saw rain in the B-area. I also wanted rain in the A-area. That area was well lit by C, but from the side and not from the back. And backlight B was blocked by some trees. That ‘s why I finally added backlight A and voila…. rain in area A! Yay 😀

Light and camera settings

Another thing I completely ignored before where specific camera-settings. I have to admit, I feel a little stupid now because of this part. Usually I don’t care about shutter speed in my Lego photography because my scenes mostly don’t have moving parts. However… rain is a moving element in these photos (DUH!). So shutter speed IS important and the shutter speed determines if you’ll see drops, strips or just a mist. At the long shutter speeds I normally use I only saw a grey mist and that was it. I needed to increase the shutter speed! That also meant I needed to have more light than usual to prevent the image from becoming way too dark. In the end my camera-settings were: 50mm macro lens, ISO400 f1/7,1 1/40s.


I always used continuous light, so I can’t say too much about flash lights. However, I will be experimenting with flash shortly. Remember that flashlight is usually more bright that continuous light AND it has the ability to freeze motion/ rain. Both these qualities influence the shutter speed and thus the exposure-triangle. Anyway, I’ll get back to you once I know a bit more!

The result

The resulting image “a rainy forest walk” is shown below. Thanks for reading and until next time!

brick photography - Monsters in the forest on a rainy night

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storytelling photography tips tricks

Storytelling in Lego photography

First version: Feb 5th 2019
Updated: August 13th 2020

Storytelling is one of the most important aspects of Lego-photography. Photos that are nothing more than beautiful will certainly attract your attention and you may be momentarily awed by them, yet, you probably won’t remember them very long. It’s the images that tell you a story, the ones that speak to you, that will linger in your mind for a much longer time.

How does a single image tell stories?

A (Lego-)photo is an image frozen in time. As such, it does not tell the viewer what happened before or what lies ahead. The art of storytelling with a single image involves persuading the viewers to create their own version of a past or future, based on the image you presented them with. In short; a (Lego-)photo doesn’t tell the story, the photo motivates the viewers to create their own personal, emotional stories! And since all people are different, these stories will differ, amongst other things depending on memories, personality and experience.

This also explains why some pictures will tell an elaborate story to one person and are quiet to another. I cannot give you a straightforward recipe. I mean, storytelling through Lego-photograpy can be really hard. However, I can give you a few basic tips to increase the chances of your Lego-photo telling a story.

I need a hero

First off, who or what is the hero in your image? Is it a person, animal or maybe even an inanimate object (for example an old abandoned car, or a lonely house on the hill)? Then ask yourself if your protagonist is interesting enough to make people wonder.  Simply taking a picture of a tree or Lego-minifigure just won’t do it. You’ll have to provide the viewers with some context concerning your hero and ultimately take control of the entire frame. Thus, inviting viewers to (unconsciously) start thinking.

lego photography - lego wizard home potion
Figure 1; Willy, the one-eyed wizard

For example, Figure 1 shows Willy the One-Eyed wizard. As you might know there is an elaborate backstory on him in the first Foolish Lego Comic, and an even more elaborate backstory in my mind. Yet, I wonder, what is your story for him when you see this image? And maybe this Lego-photo fails to tell you a story at all, but, even that is interesting to think about! Why doesn’t it speak to you, what would you have done differently?

 The story is in the details

Second, it may be a good idea to include details! These may be larger or smaller details. And sometimes even the smallest of details may just be enough to get the train of thoughts of the viewer rolling. And a story is born.

Lego photography - Lonely elderly rain
Figure 2; lonely

Figure 2 shows the photo “Lonely”. There are quite a few details in there. For example, the ring and the closed umbrella even though he’s standing in the pouring rain. That alone could trigger a few (love?) stories. Another detail is that the protagonist is an elderly, so maybe he just became a widow? Besides, what is he doing street side, dressed up with a bow tie, but not caring about the rain? Enough to think about.  There are quite a few stories in there as long as the Lego-photo is inviting enough to make people care to look at the image long enough to find the one stories that appeals to them.

Plastic emotions

Third, storytelling through (Lego-)photography is all about emotions! And conveying emotion can be difficult with our little plastic friends, especially because not every facial expression is present in the Lego line-up. Also, body language can be a challenge.

Lego photography - elderly couple happy sunset
Figure 3; good old times

The first thing you need to do is to find a facial expression that fits your image or find a way to work around the facial expression. Take a look at figure 3; I wanted a loving face for the elderly lady, buy could not find one. Yet, by hiding the lady’s face, I myself create the loving face I wanted. On the other hand, other viewers might feel this guy has to make up for something while she is looking quite angry. Again, there are many stories in this one image.

Also, you need to pay attention to the stance of the Lego-minifigures. That is the closest thing to body language they have. And if there is a stance that seems impossible; sticky tack could be the solution to many problems. Also remember to pay attention to the hands of Lego minifigures; you wouldn’t believe what a difference the rotation of the hands can make for conveying emotions.

Lastly, do not forget the surroundings, lighting and especially color. These three elements can drastically change (or destroy!) the emotion and thus the potential for storytelling by your (Lego-)photo.

Go right… AND left

Fourth, if you’d like, you can add ambiguous or contrasting elements in your images.

In general, there are three types of stories that can be told through (Lego-)photography; personal stories, documentaries and lastly ambiguous stories. Documentaries generally don’t benefit from ambiguous elements. Also, don’t use this tip if you are looking to tell a singular story.

That being said; adding ambiguous elements in your Lego-images could increase the potential of your photo for telling more than one story, potentially reaching a wider variety of viewers.  However, don’t overdo it! You don’t want to completely confuse the viewers… unless you do 😉

Lego photography - Lousy hitchhiker with an axe
Figure 4; Lousy hitchhiker

Figure 4 shows “lousy hitchhiker”.  What happened here? And why is this person (M/ F?) carrying an axe in what looks to be a desert? Besides, why is (s)he still holding on to that axe, etc. Questions bring theories, theories bring stories, stories make a Lego-photo memorable.

Remember the effect of color(-temperature)

Fifth, colors convey emotion and have the ability to convey all kinds of information. So, using the appropriate colors and temperature is important for creating your story.
Warm colors (like red, orange and yellow) are exciting and can convey danger, passion, happiness and adventure, whilst cold colors mostly convey quiet, rest, contemplation, and sadness. All colors in between have their own characteristics and possible meanings.

Furthermore, it doesn’t always have to be about light-color. Giving a certain object a specific color can also be meaningful. For example (spoilers in examples); each time something red was shown in the movie: ‘the sixth sense’, a spirit/ ghost was near. And anytime an orange was shown in ‘the Godfather’-trilogy, someone was about to die.

Lastly, combining colors and lighting setup can be even more powerful; imagine a person sitting in a dark cold interior, with warm light coming in through the boarded-up windows; this image talks about someone battling their own dark thoughts whilst happiness tries to reach this person… and fails.

Lego photography - midnight snack dark house
Figure 5; midnight snack

Look at the photo in figure 5. The dark cold outside versus the warm and welcome interior, this person is feeling good! It’s not the build that’s speaking; it’s the color of the light. If the scene was identical and the inside and outside lighting was swapped so the outside light would’ve been warm and the interior blueish and dark, the story would be different.

Framing is key

Filling the frame only following compositional rules is not enough if you want your photo to tell a story. It is really important to focus. As I wrote before details can be important and contrasting elements increase the potential for storytelling. Yet, if you choose to add elements it must be possible for them to come together in the minds of the viewers. If the viewers can’t figure it out, they get confused and a story gets lost. That’s when you know you overdid it with adding details.
Remember that what you leave out from your picture is as important as what you include! Completely unrelated information in your photos will only disrupt the stories in the image. Always ask yourself if each element in the photo helps tell the story.

toy photography - peekaboo
Figure 6; Peekaboo

The photo in figure 6 shows that sometimes you don’t even need any elements at all. I used framing, lighting, focus, depth of field and a close-up and to try and tell a story. Adding any other element to this photo would’ve diluted the meaning of the image as a whole.

Get to know your subject

Sometimes a photo is created featuring a subject that needs more than one image to tell a story OR a subject that has a lot more than one story to tell (and again; the subject can be anything, not only a minifigure). If this is the case, you might consider creating a series of photos avoiding trying to put too much in a single image.
By creating a series of photos; a whole new world might open up. This time I don’t mean comics. I’m talking about showing different perspectives on a single subject, thus creating a whole new, deeper level of storytelling.

lego photography - frankenstein winter coffee
Figure 7; Dwaas enjoys a winter evening

I believe the image in figure 7 is a nice image in itself, showing Frankensteins’ monster enjoying some quiet time with his dog in the garden of his cozy home. However, the story it tells differs and might get to another level if you know who this monster actually is in the world I created for myself. The people that read the comic, also know this is Dwaas a lonely monster living with his ghostly friend Kemi. They also know he loves molded croissants and brings up the mystery of who this dog might be.

Be original

Nothing kills a story more than seeing an image that essentially has been created a thousand times before. Viewers are exposed to many photographic stories each and every day, and the photos that stick are the ones that do NOT follow the obvious path, just take a look at figure 8 (source: insta_repeat). Might be a great photo in itself… but when people have seen it a thousand times before; not so much.

same old, same old
Figure 8; Deja vu

You might have heard about the Pixar rules on storytelling. One of these rules is especially appropriate in this context: “Discount the first thing that comes to mind… and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th, surprise yourself!”
This tip might seem very obvious, but you might be surprised by the amount of relatively similar (Lego)photos out there. These more-of-the-same-images generally fail to surprise and engage the audience. Their story has been told too many times before and no one will remember another photo that looks like the one before.

In conclusion

Storytelling through Lego-photography is hard, especially because our little plastic friends generally make it more difficult to convey emotions. I hope to have provided you with a few tips and tricks to get the viewers thinking about your image, thus, creating a memorable image. For now, my last two tips on this subject are; be careful naming you image, because a name could guide away the viewer from a story if you’re not careful. And lastly, create technically good photos! People tend to get distracted if there are obvious – non-intentional – technical difficulties with a (Lego-)photo.

Now go and practice, because as you know; practice makes better. I look forward to seeing your creations and if you have any more tips and tricks, let me know in the comments.

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Rejected Lego photos - part 1

To learn is to make mistakes.

Over the years I've made many Lego photos. The first two years, because of the time-pressure of a 365, I published every photo I made. For better or for worse, readers of Foolish Bricks could follow my growth, and also see every mistake I made. Eventually, there were many failed images.

The last few years, I created less images, but still published (almost) every image. This year I decided to stop publishing images I was not happy about. Yet, it can be very helpful to keep them in mind. Once a mistake is made, i might be able to avoid it in the future. So, following are three of the images I rejected.

Wrong color-settings and 'texture: rejected

Rejected lego photography example
Figure 1: Rejected Lego image one

The premise of this image was of course my newborn and the non-existent sleep at night :). However, I just couldn't get this image right. For some reason the colors are off. The green just does not work for me. I tried to make this image 'pop', but I did not figure out how. It was just not there.

Too much going on: rejected

Lego photography tips rejected
Figure 2: Rejected Lego image two

There was just too much going on in this image. It was one of my first attempts at a backdrop, it did not look very natural. Furthermore, I just had to do too much to make it look a bit natural. The backdrop, the sun, the color-adjustments, the shadows. It was all too much. Besides I had a rel light in the car, but it did not bring anything extra to the image. All in all, a disappointment and so I rejected the image.

Too unnatural: rejected


Lego photo rejected example
Figure 3: Rejected Lego image three

Another try at a backdrop. This time I tried many things, and this image was shot with my computer-screen in the background. It ruined all the lighting and colors in this image, making it all way too unnatural. It simply looks as if it was shot in my basement.


There will be posts like this once in a while. I feel this is a nice way of using my rejected images, maybe someone will benefit from them. Or - even better - if anyone has an idea of how to improve them, just let me know!

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camera angles lego comic

Camera angles - a guide for Lego comics

This post on camera angles follows the post on camera shots. I will discuss the basics of camera angles int he context of Lego comics. Though you can also use this information for Lego photography not related to comics.

What are camera angles

The term itself says it all, camera angles are the angles at which a photo of a subject is taken. Using different angles can effectively add subtext to an image. By using you camera-angles carefully you can, per example, make characters look like giants or dwarfs, cool or insecure. Also buildings can look larger or smaller than in reality, making them look very impressive or insignificant. Just like minifigures. Besides you can influence the atmosphere of a panel or person. Is everything okay, or is something/ someone off. Choose you angles carefully, you probably don't want to inadvertently convey these kinds of information if you don't intent to.

Types of camera angles

Below are the most used angles

High angle

At high angle, the camera looks down on characters or objects. This makes them less impressive, small and insignificant. The readers seem to dominant the depicted character. Sometimes you can even make the character look scared or like a loser. Figure 1 shows an example, but its impact would've been significantly higher if I shot Willy from a little further away. This would've made him disappear in his surroundings a bit.

On the other hand, this is also a good shot to use to establish surrounding (for example combined with an (extreme) long shot. Also I've been seeing a lot of images from antman recently, these photos also benefit from high angle camera positions.

camera angle high angle lego photography
Figure 1: High angle

Overhead shot/ birds eye/ God's eye shot

An extreme version of the high angle shot is the overhead shot. A very unnatural view of a scene. It makes the readers look down on the characters and surroundings as if they were a bird or in a plane.

It is a distant, remote point of (world) view and sometimes conveys sort of philosophical thoughts and ideas.

Another thing to remember is that it can make characters or objects unrecognizable or look strange from this angle (like hats, parasols or anything for that matter).

camera angle overhead shot lego photography
Figure 2: Overhead shot

Eye-level shot

Eye level is the camera angle which is mostly used. Especially in conversations. This is the most natural angle to most readers and have no real dramatic power. If you deviate from this angle, make sure you think about the why. For example in a dialog scene, you can make a character look more or less significant than its conversation partner.

camera angle eye level lego photography
Figure 3: Eye level

Low angle shot

The low angle shot makes a character (or object/ building) look strong, powerful, gigantic and/ or ominous. You can also use this angle as a point of view (POV) shot from a character. In those cases the readers might share a feeling of awe with the character whose point of view is showing.

Examples in movies of this angle as point-of-view is in dog-movies or the ant-man. In those movies you instantly know you are seeing through the eyes of the dog or small antman whenever a low angle camera shot is used.

camera angle low angle lego photography
Figure 4: Low angle

Dutch tilt

The Dutch tilt is a camera angle that makes the reader feel there is something off or wrong. It's a confusing viewpoint for most readers. Usually we strive for straight lines in a photo (like the straight horizon for example). This is important because apparently human perception is very sensitive to off-levels, especially off-level verticals than off-level horizontals. This means that off-levels will create some sort of tension or confusion.

This angle is used just for that; to create confusion, anxiety, paranoia, danger, mall-intent or mystery. Below, figure 5 and 6 show examples. In itself they may not be as powerful, yet, combined with other angles these Dutch tilts camera angles become much more effective indeed.

camera angle Dutch tilt lego photography
Figure 5: Dutch tilt


example camera angle Dutch tilt lego comic
Figure 6: Another example of a Dutch tilt

What angle to use

Under normal conditions try to shoot a eye levels of your characters. Many lego comics out there are shot with high angle shots and doing so makes the Lego minifigures unintentionally look small, make everything look much more artificial than it already is and can take the reader out of the story.

However, it can look dull only photographing at eye-level. I myself change the angle of a shot a little to add some visual diversity to my comic. In these instances I'm always careful not to overdo it because I don't want to inadvertently add subtext to certain panels.

Camera angles vs. lenses

You can use any camera or lens. Especially smartphone cameras are so small they can easily be set at the angle you'd like. Yet, this (currently) still comes at the price of lowered quality of the image and I'm quiet attached to my RAW-images.

In the Foolish Lego comic I rarely use a low angle shot. And when I do, it's mostly not that effective due to technical issues. My camera (a Pentax K1 with f100 macro lens) needs to get very low and close and is often too large to get it where I want. And when I do get it in place, it's usually too close to be able to focus. In future I'll try to still use these shots and post-process them (for example shoot from further away and then crop so the character seems to be closer), that's what I did to get the low angle shot in figure 4.

In conclusion

There you have it. These are basically the most important camera angles to know. When thinking about shooting the scenes for your Lego comic make sure to use the right shots and angles. Combine camera shots and camera angles to make the best of the composition of your Lego comic panels besides adding all kinds of subtext.

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behind the scenes lego toy photography example lighting

Behind the scenes: "Coffeeshop"

This is a set I build specifically for the Foolish Lego comic. However, it was such an elaborate set I wanted to create at least one high-end picture too. To be more specific, I wanted to see if I could light it as close to reality as possible. This behind the scenes post will specifically be on the lighting of the ‘coffeeshop’ Lego image.

Lighting the scene

Mostly I like to have at least two color temperatures in an image because I like the subtle contrast. In this scene you'll see different regions with somewhat different temperatures somewhere between cool and warm . First I wanted to take care of the main light-sources; the light falling through the windows and the ceiling-lights. This part actually consist of three lighting sources. The ceiling lights over the counter are from a wonderful company called Brickstuff and emanate a warm yellow light (figure 1).

example lighting setup lego photography
Figure 1: Main lighting: counter and windows

The light through the windows is from a harsh, cool LED-light, coming slightly from above because the sun would come from above at this time of the day (the clock in the corner reads 11:50 AM ;) ). The customer-area was underexposed, so I added a third (soft) cool LED-light, whilst also blocking this light over the counter-area with a few large plates, so I would not lose the warm light at the counter (figure 2).

lighting Setup example lego toy photography
Figure 2: main lighting; customer area

Smaller lightsources

As you can also see, the pastry cabinet is lit. For this I used two strips, each consisting of two warm yellow LED-lights (Brickstuff). These two strips are fixed with a little tac (figure 3).

small light source example lego toy photography
Figure 3: A smaller light source: the pastry cabinet

Lastly, I needed a light in the fridge. This one could be better, but I had too little space to fix get more lights in there. Anyway, I used another Cool white LED light from Brickstuff (figure 4).

small light source lego photography setup
Figure 4: A smaller light source: the fridge

Final touches

Then Icarefully placed the Lego minifigures. I wanted to create the illusion of a busy coffeeshop without accidentally blocking interesting scenery with the minifigures. That was a challenge, yet, I feel it worked rather well.

I shot the whole scene with my Pentax-K1 at f105 mm (focal length), f/20 (aperture) 1,30’ (shutter speed) and ISO 100. In post-production, I deepened the contrast a little and added a few subtle light beams.

Lego photography - coffeeshop

That’s it! The final Lego image: ‘coffeeshop’, is done.

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cover guide to camera shots lego comic

Camera shots - a guide for Lego comics

Your Lego comic will consist of one or more scenes. Of course, these scenes need to build. And the actual building blocks of scenes are the so called camera shots. In this post I will discuss the basics of camera shots in the context of Lego comics.

What are camera shots?

Camera shots are camera positions related to how much of the subject and its surrounding area is visible in a panel. Not be confused with camera angles. Camera angles provide the shots at different angles. I discuss camera angles in separate post.

Choosing your shots and angles carefully will help you convey information about the story you are telling. Like, where you characters are, who is present, how everybody is positioned related to each other, if there is anything going on besides the main action, any emotions that need extra attention, etc. An example of conveying information is combining a full-shot (see below) with a shallow depth of field (remember your aperture settings!) focussed on a specific character or purpose, can tell your readers who is present in this scene whilst also directing the readers to the person or element you’d like them to focus upon.

Besides these functions you can also alternate camera shots to make your comic visually more attractive. Some Lego comics out there have very static panels which, in my opinion, make comics visually less engaging.

Anyway, you’ll want to try to keep the readers of your Lego comic engaged in multiple ways so choose your shots carefully.

Types of camera shots

In general, there are two types of camera shots; framing shots & function shots. Framing is defined by how much is included in the shot; function about what the purpose of the shot is.

Framing shots

First; any shot that includes only one character is called a single. Furthermore, a shot with two character included is called a two shot, one of the most essential shots of storytelling.

example two-shot lego comic
Figure 1; Example of a two-shot (ch 2 ep 8)

If the shots are focused on characters; there are usually called character-shots. Figure 1 shows examples of several character shots.

character camera shots lego comic
Figure 2; Character camera shots

Below, I listed a few of the more well know camera shots. However, the naming and definitions of all these shots might vary somewhat.

  • Extreme long shot, shows the general area of the current setting. For these shots you would have to build a large stage. This shot all about scenery and gives your readers some idea of the geography your scene takes place in. I haven’t used these shot in my comic yet, simply because it is too much work to build such a large stage. However, I might use it in future using micro builds of a city or forest for example.
Example extreme long shot lego comic
Figure 3; Example of extreme long shot. Establishing shot, showing the geography, general mood and more (ch 2 ep 1).
  • Long shot, (wide shot); still is about scenery, more  specifically showing where the action in the scene takes place. This time however, there (mostly) are characters present in the shot.
Example long shot lego comic
Figure 4; Example of a long shot (ch 2 ep 51)
  • Full shot; a complete view of a character. There may also be more than one character in this shot, showing what the relationship between characters is.
Example full shot lego comic
Figure 5; Example of a full shot - single (ch 2 ep 148)
  • Cowboy (American shot); a variation of the full shot, where the character is in view from the wast up. This comes from the western genre to show the gun-holster on the characters.
  • Medium shot (social shot); the character(s) from the waist up. For example characters at a table or behind a counter/ bar. This shot brings your readers closer to the characters and into the action.
example medium shot lego comic
Figure 6; Example of a medium shot (ch 2 ep 7)
  • Close-ups (personal shot);  there are many variations of the close-up and brings you readers up close and personal with your character. With Lego there are no subtle emotions that can’t be seen from a medium shot, however mostly it does change the feel of a frame if you move in real close. The variations of a close-up are;
    • Medium close-up: mid-torso and up. In my comic, this is the tightest shot I used up until now. The tighter close-ups did not seem to bring me any extra.
    • Choker: from the throat up.
    • Tight close-up (big head): just below the head, cutting of part of the hair.
    • Extreme close up (Italian shot): even less of the head is visible in the frame. You can also use this for objects; for example only a knife, or part of the character.
example medium close-up lego comic
Figure 7; Example of a medium character close-up (ch 2 ep 131)


Example close-up object lego comic
Figure 8; Example of an object close-up  (ch 2 ep 18).
  • Over the shoulder: a shot where we are looking over the shoulder (close-up) of one character to another character/ object (medium shot or close-up). It ties two characters or a character and an object together.
example over the shoulder shot lego comic
Figure 9; Example of an over the shoulder shot (ch 2 ep 60)

Function shots

  • Establishing shot; A shot that shows the readers of your comic where the action is taking place. Besides giving the readers a ‘where’, it can convey much more information; what’s the weather, is it a busy, hectic place or the opposite, are we in a rich environment, is there a lot of police in the street and much more. The possibilities are endless. Usually an extreme long shot or long shot is used.
  • Reaction shot; shows the reaction of a character to some kind of event or text. Usually a medium shot or close-up is used.
  • Insert; a part of the larger scene that gives your readers extra information about what is going on. For example a clock showing time or a name on a name tag. Usually a close-up is used.
  • Transitional shot; A shot between scenes that is not a part of either scene. This can help for atmosphere or give some information. For example a sunset or sunrise, or a busy street indicating that the workday has begon.

Camera shots vs. lenses

If you’d like to get all the shots straight out the camera you will need a macro-lens, certainly for the medium shots and close-ups. Alternatively you can photography your scenes as full shots or bigger and crop the images in an image-editor (for example: Photoshop or GIMP). If you edit afterwards, use the highest quality images you can shoot with your camera to prevent having too much noise in your images after cropping.

For the really tight shots, you might need a combination. I use a f/100 Pentax macro for most of my comic photography and should I need anything tighter than a medium close-up, I’d probably need to crop in post-processing after getting in as close as I could with my lens. Thos Lego minifigures are really small after all.

In conclusion

When I started my comic I had no idea of camera shots. I only varied shots to make the panels look different from each other so the comic looked better. Over the years I started thinking about my panels and the shots more and more. I have to admit, it makes shooting the comic more amusing, thinking about how you want to shoot the frame to use as a panel, how to get information across. Yet, I still have a long way to go, especially because Lego is a very different medium than the more classical comics out there and I have to figure out how to use these camera shots in Lego.

Are you a Lego comic creator? Do you ever consciously use camera shots?

Next time: camera-angles

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ISO settings in Lego photography | A beginners guide

After writing on several aspects of exposure the past few weeks,  we will end this beginners-course with a post on ISO. As mentioned before ISO is not a part of exposure because it influences the brightness of your photo AFTER the light is recorded by the camera sensor as opposed to exposure settings which influence the amount of light that reaches your camera-sensor. However, it is good to know about ISO, because it gives you a bit more freedom to adjust other settings (like aperture and shutter-speed) to your liking given a certain amount of time.

What does ISO mean?

In analog photography ISO (/ ASA) was the mark of how sensitive a film was to light. This light sensitivity was indicated by a number; the lower the number the lower the sensitivity of the film. The main governing body that, amongst other things, standardizes sensitivity ratings for camera sensors is the International Organization for Standardization. Many photographers think ISO is an acronym of this organisations name.However, because  the name would have different acronyms in different languages (IOS in English, OIN in French for Organisation internationale de normalisation), they decided to simply name the sensitivity ISO. And ISO is derived from the Greek isos, meaning equal.

Is ISO about sensor-sensitivity to light?

Well, actually: no. As stated before ISO stated the sensitivity of film to light in analog photography. At higher ISO-numbers, the resulting photos will be darker at a given exposure-value (EV). Conversely, at lower ISO-numbers, the resulting photos will brighter at a given EV.

In digital photography the brightness of your photos will still change when changing the ISO-setting on your camera. However, strictly speaking the light sensitivity of a camera does not change when adjusting ISO-settings. ISO is simply a post-sensor gain applied to the signal from the camera sensor.

What do the ISO-numbers mean?

Digital cameras (DSLRs) typically have ISO-settings that range between 100 (low sensitivity) to 204,800 or even higher (high sensitivity). Compact cameras and camera phones will have lower maximum ISO-settings than DSLRs.

Effects of changing ISO

Changing ISO-setting influences the brightness of your images and it changes the signal to noise ratio. It also has (some) effect on color and dynamic range (the ability of the camera to capture detail in both highlights and shadows)

Effects of changing ISO: brightness

The effects are:

  • The lower the ISO-setting, the less gain applied to the signal from the camera-sensor and the darker the resulting photo will be at a given EV.
  • The higher the ISO-setting, the more gain applied to the signal from the camera-sensor and the brighter the resulting photo will be at a given EV.

The gain applied to the signal will double between each ISO-setting. This means that doubling the ISO-setting will double the brightness of your photo and increase the EV by one stop. Conversely, halving ISO-setting will halve the gain applied to the signal, decreasing the EV by one stop.

These stops are, again, the same as the ones when adjusting aperture or shutter-speed. This means that when you increase or decrease the shutter-speed and or aperture by a number of stops, you can adjust the ISO in the opposite direction by the same amount of stops. The brightness of your image should remain the same, however motion-blur might, depth-of-field (DOF) will and the amount of noise might change between settings. Remember the exposure triangle! Figure 1 gives you examples of how the brightness changes resulting from changing the ISO-settings.

example iso brightness lego photography ultimate guide

Lastly, brightness can also be changed in post-processing. Yet, the quality of the photo will usually be better if the ISO is set correctly in the camera as opposed that adjusting the brightness in post-processing.

Effects of changing ISO: signal to noise ratio

Image quality will change when adjusting ISO. The higher the ISO is set, the higher the amount of noise (/ grain) in your photo will be. The lower the ISO, the lower the amount of noise in your photo.

The signal to noise ratio depends on the sensor in your camera. In general the smaller the sensor; the more noise a sensor will produce.

Besides, as said before ISO is about the amount of gain applied to the signal that is produced by the sensor after exposure to light. And the higher the ISO, the higher the gain applied to the signal. However, the gain is applied to both the noise and the signal. So, at higher ISO-values the noise becomes visible. Figure 2 shows you the noise in pictures at differing ISO-settings. The EV is equal because I adjusted shutter speeds.

example iso noise levels lego photography

Okay, to be honest, I never tested my camera (like I recommend later on in this post) until I decided to create figure 2 today. As it turns out, my camera is pretty good with noise levels, I need to go to very high ISO-levels to get an amount of noise that is not acceptable anymore. In the end, figure 2 loses some value because of this. Just compare the level of noise at ISO 100 with the level of noise at ISO to get an idea of what is possible. Also recognise the difference in color and dynamic range between the two most extreme settings.

Setting your ISO

Most cameras only have aperture- or shutter-speed priority mode. In these modes you usually can set a range of ISO-values from which the camera can choose. As far as I know only Pentax camera’s have an ISO-priority mode. And of course you can use Manual (M-)mode.

Test the ISO noise-effects of your camera

Each camera sensor differs with respect to ISO. It is best practice to test your camera at differing ISO settings, deciding for yourself which amount of noise is acceptable. Be sure you judge the amount of noise on your computer (!) and not on a small telephone of camera-screen. Also remember that noise is usually higher in darker photos at a given ISO-setting.

Choosing your ISO-settings

All in all it is recommended to shoot your photos at the lowest ISO-number possible. This will produce the best quality photos. Also keep in mind that quality of color and dynamic range increases at lower ISO-settings.

However, sometimes that may not be possible. The worst circumstances being if you want a relative small aperture whilst freezing motion (high shutter-speed) in a photo at low light shot from the hand. That photo will not be possible without increasing ISO-values.

Anyway, I almost exclusively use ISO 100 when shooting Lego. The fact that Lego scenes are usually pretty static makes it so that I can usually shoot from a tri-pod at low shutter-speeds without needing to increase ISO. Yet, sometimes I still need to increase ISO, this is almost exclusively due to the need of a certain shutter-speed. For example, to freeze the motion of an object in the scene but mostly because I need a higher shutter-speed because I can’t use my tripod and need to take a picture from the hand. A higher ISO means I can use faster shutter-speeds with a lower chance of camera-motion due to my hands shaking.


This post concludes the course on the basics of camera-settings. Reading about exposure, aperture, shutter-speed and ISO, understanding how these values relate to each other and practice will surely increase the quality of your (Lego) photography. Besides, it will give more freedom to photograph a scene exactly as you like.

If there are any more questions, let me know in the comments!

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Beginners guide shutter speed Lego photography

Shutter speed in Lego photography | A beginners guide

After writing extensively about exposure and the aperture in (Lego) photography, todays post will be on shutter-speed. Again, everything you need to know to switch the camera from automatic to manual for your (Lego) photography will be in this post.  Anyway, let us dive right in.

What is shutter?

The shutter is a part of your camera that is in front of the sensor. As you know the camera-sensor is responsible for actually ‘recording’ the light from a scene you’re photographing, ultimately forming your photo. In front of this sensor, there is a blinder, named the shutter.  The shutter covers up the sensor until a photo is being recorded.  When you press the shutter-release-button (or simply ‘shutter-button’) the shutter uncovers the sensor for an amount of time equal to the shutter-speed and records the light from the scene you’re photographing and then covers the sensor up again.

What is shutter-speed?

Shutterspeed, also called exposure time, is the amount of time your camera-sensor is exposed to light. In other words, it is the amount of time the shutter of your camera is open enabling light to reach your camera-sensor.

This time is measured is seconds or fragments of seconds. The larger the denominator; the faster the shutter-speed with less light reaching the camera sensor. For example 1/60 is faster than 1/30.

Different cameras have different ranges of shutter speeds, usually between 1/4000 sec (fast - sensor exposed for  short time) and 30 sec (slow - sensor exposed for along time). Usually shutter speeds will  (approximately) double between each setting. For example: 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8 etc.

Effects of changing shutter-speed

Shutter-speed influences two aspects of the photo you are making; exposure and motion-blur.

Effect of changing shutter-speed: exposure

As I wrote before, shutter speeds in your camera will  (approximately) double between each setting. This is good to remember, since doubling the amount of time the shutter speed is open will also double the amount of light that reaches the sensor, increasing the exposure (EV) by one stop. Conversely, halving the the amount of time the shutter speed is open will halve the amount of light that reaches the sensor, decreasing the exposure (EV) by one stop.

These stops are the same as the ones when adjusting aperture. This means that when you increase or decrease the shutter-speed by a number of stops, you can adjust the aperture in the opposite direction by the same amount of stops. The exposure should remain the same, however motion-blur might and depth-of-field (DOF) will change between settings. Figure 1 gives you examples of how the exposure changes resulting from changing the shutter-speed.

example shutter speed exposure lego photography
Figure 1; The effect of shutter speed on exposure

An example; lets say your make a photo at 1/30, f/5.6. You decide you want a deeper DOF so you adjust your aperture to f/11 (2 stops). For the exposure to stay the same you can adjust your shutter-speed to 1/8, however, increasing the possibility of motion-blur. If you have trouble remember how to calculate these values at first you can use the exposure-triangle to help you. Lastly, besides changing shutter-speed or aperture, you can also change the ISO, as I will discuss next week.

Effect of changing shutter-speed: motion-blur

The other effect of changing shutter-speed is that you might introduce motion-blur. Motion-blur can occur if there are moving objects within the scene you are photographing. Moving objects can be at one location when the shutter opens and your start recording light, and at another location when you close the shutter again, stopping the recording. The more distance between those two locations; the more motion-blur occurs in your final image.

Effectively, If there is movement in the scene you want to photograph, shutter-speed gives you the choice of either freezing the movement (so it looks still) or giving the object a motion blur (and so a sense of movement). Figure 2 shows you examples of motion blur at different shutter-speed settings. I adjusted the aperture and ISO to keep exposure equal.

example shutter speed motion blur Lego photography ultimate guide
Figure 2; The effect of shutter speed on motion-blur

Effect of changing shutter-speed: camera-motion

A second kind of motion blur can occur, even when the scene your photographing is static, because of (unintentional) camera-movement. Mostly, this is an unwanted effect when shooting in low light and or hit aperture-values, underexposing your image so you need slow shutter-speeds. As a rule of thumb, if you want t o take a photo with a shutter-speed of 1/60 or slower, it is probably best to use a tripod. Also keep the rule 1/focal length rule in mind (explained below).

To be honest, I usually have no problem with motion-blur at whatever shutter-speed I use. The Lego scenes I usually photograph are static (and you need moving elements to get motion-blur), and I almost exclusively use a tripod, eliminating both motion-blur and camera-movement. I usually decide on the depth-of field I’d like, and then change the shutter-speed to whatever setting is necessary, even if it is several seconds.

Lastly, there sometimes are two other sources of camera-movement which can give some unintentional camera-movement. Especially when shooting macro-photos of Lego I have this problem. First, when I press the shutter-release-button it can move the camera a little. This means I usually use a remote-control besides the tri-pod. Second, SLR-cameras can move a little when the mirror goes up. So, when its crucial to have a perfectly still photo, I lock the mirror before shooting the photo.

How to pick your shutter-speed

Picking your shutter-speed is -again- an artistic decision. So, when considering what shutter-speed to use you should always ask yourself whether anything in your (Lego) scene is moving and how you’d like to capture that movement (water, cars, birds, etc…).

Wanted; motion-blur

Motion-blur is not always unwanted. In fact, it can really improve some photos if you purposely introduce motion-blur in your photo. As I’ve written earlier yo can choose to freeze a moving object, making it look perfectly still, however you can also intentionally introduce motion-blur giving the object a sense of movement. The more motion-blur there is, the faster the photographed object is perceived to be moving. Two examples are below. Figure 3 shows motion blur in the moving water coming down the waterfall and stream showing you how fast he water is moving.

example Slow shutter speed motion flow lego photography
Figure 3; Slow shutter speed, showing the motion and beauty of flowing water and the waterfall.

For the photo in figure 4, I used a slower shutter-speed and followed the motorcyclist with the camera, giving it a sense of speed because of the motion-blur of the background. Should the background have been completely in focus, it would have looked as if the motorcycle stood completely still. I don’t consider this a good photo btw, mainly because I have trouble keeping a moving object in focus, that is the reason I only sporadically create pictures like these.

example fast shutter speed motion ultimate guide
Figure 4; Motion blur of the background, giving the motorcycle a sense of speed

Focal Length and Shutter Speed

When you are holding you camera, you will notice your hands will always tremble a little, giving rise to camera-movements. Mostly, you can get rid of these movements by using a faster shutter-speed. Or you can get rid of them by using a tripod.

However, the amount of camera-movement is magnified by the amount of zoom (focal length) of the lens your using. The more zoomed in you are (longer focal length), the higher the amount of camera-movement and the faster the shutter-speed needs to be to counteract this movement.

To decide on what shutter-speed to use, some photographers use the 1/focal length rule;

Minimum shutter-speed (sec) = 1/focal length (mm)

It means that, to prevent camera-movement, your focal length in mm should be equal or greater than the denominator in the shutter speed fraction.  For example, if you are shooting a photo with a focal length of  50 mm, you’ll need a shutter-speed of no slower than 1/50 (so 1/125 or 1/500 etc, is ok too.)

This rules works fine for cameras with full-frame sensors, yet many cameras these days have a cropped sensor (APS-C sensor). If that is the case the 1/ focal length rule changes to:

Minimum shutter-speed (sec) = 1/focal length (mm) x2

For example, if you are shooting a photo with a focal length of  60 mm, you’ll need a shutter-speed of no slower than 1/125.

This is simply a rule of thumb. However, you might get away with faster shutter speeds at a given focal length because of new stabilised lenses, camera-bodies (Pentax) and sensors.

Setting your shutter-speed

In a camera the fractions of shutter-speed are usually displayed as the denominator only; so, 1/100 sec. as 100, 1/8 sec. as 8, ect. Shutter-speeds over a second are followed by an apostrophe; so, 2 sec. as 2’ and 30 sec. as 30’.

If you want to select your shutter-speed manually for a photo there are two modes you can use: Shutter-priority mode (S or Tv (=time value)) and manual mode (M). In shutter-priority mode, you select the shutter-speed, and the camera automatically selects your aperture. In manual mode, you select both the shutter-speed and aperture manually. Some cameras also have a bulb-mode (B). this mode lets you keep the shutter open for as long as you hold the shutter-release-button down.


The shutter-speeds on your camera are relatively straight-forward. Simply decide how you want to capture movement and how you want to deal with unwanted motion-blur and camera-movement considering the available light/ exposure. Then, set the shutter-speed accordingly. Use you knowledge of the exposure-triangle to adjust aperture and ISO accordingly.

Again; there is nothing better to learn, that to practice and try, practice makes perfect. As always, I’m looking forward to the results.


A guide on sensor sensitivity/ ISO

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Behind the scenes; into the sky

This is a behind the scenes post for the image; ‘into the sky‘. And though this image is not very difficult to create, it is useful to know how to make objects (or Lego minifures) fly in Lego photography.


I wanted to create a scene with a balloon-animal flying into the sky hanging on a balloon after a woman lost it. Whenever possible, I go outside for a photo so the sun will take care about the lighting. The set-up is shown in figure 1.

Setup lego photography
Figure 1; Setup for ‘into the sky’

This time the camera is placed steady, this is important since I need two photos within the same frame (see later on). I use the remote control to take the photo after setting up the scene and adjusting the camera-settings. This will diminish the chances of me accidentally moving the camera between shots (like I often do 🙁 ) .

Setup lego photography
Figure 2; Close-up of the setup for ‘into the sky’

TAC - behind the scenes lego photography
Figure 3; Tac

As you can see in figure 2 the balloon is attached to some wire to make it fly. Also the balloon-animal is attached to the balloon.

I use ‘tac’ (in the Netherlands this stuff is named ‘Pritt poster buddies’) for this purpose. Tac is very useful, I use it a lot, for example to stick minifigures to the floor when their center of gravity is such that they can’t stand on their own.

If you look at the image the Lego minifigure is bend a bit backwards to make her look at the balloon. This time it was not necessary to use Tac though. I simply placed the brick underneath at a slight angle so the minifigure wouldn’t fall backwards. The photo itself is shot from slightly underneath so you wont’t notice this angle in the final image.

Lastly, I take two pictures. One of the setup in figure 1, and one with the same setup but without the whole balloon. IMPORTANT: Be sure to set your camera-settings to manual for this, especcialy the focus. You’ll want the second image to be exactly the same as the first one. Also don’t linger to long between shots when you are outside. I often did and when I was ready for the second shot, the clouds moved in, completely changing the lighting.

Out of the camera

Figure 4 and 5 show you the images straight out of the camera. I wanted the background to be substantially blurry so it wouldn’t distract the viewers from the central image. Eventually, the images were shot at ISO 100, shutter-speed 1/800 s and aperture f/5.6.

behind the scenes lego photography before B
Figure 4: Image 1 - out of camera
behind the scenes lego photography before A
Figure 5; Image 2 - out of camera


For post-production I always use Photoshop. I don’t know any other software from experience. However, there are (free) alternatives to Photoshop; the most well-known being GIMP.

In photoshop I performed a few steps.

  1. I put the images in one file in two separate layers. Image two is the layer underneath image one. Then I put a mask on the image 1-layer and simply paint everything I want out of the picture black in the mask, revealing the layer underneath (image 2). Figure 6 shows you the proces, figure 7 shows the result.

Figure 6; masking in photoshop
Post production lego photography A
Figure 7; The result of using the mask

2. I accentuated the green colors in the image (figure 8).

Post production lego photography B
Figure 8; Green colors accentuated

3. I added a little vignette and accentuated the reflection of the sun on the balloon (figure 9).

Behind the scenes lego photography final image
Figure 9; Added vignette and accentuated reflection of the sun.

The final result

That’s it. Clean and simple. Only thing that remains is a before and after image.

behind the scenes lego photography before B Behind the scenes lego photography final image

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Aperture guide in Lego photography

Aperture in Lego photography | Tips & tricks

In the previous post I wrote an extensive guide on exposure in (Lego) photography. One of the aspects discussed was the exposure-triangle. As you know, one of the three camera settings that give you control over exposure is the aperture. The other setting is shutter-speed (and ISO for the brightness of your photo).

In this post, I will cover everything you need to know about aperture for your (toy) photography. Aperture-settings affects many different elements of an image. Most importantly it can add dimension to your scene by blurring the back- and foreground, while altering the brightness of your photos. There is a lot of ground to cover, so we better get going.

What is aperture?

The look of an aperture.
Figure 1: The look of an aperture.

Aperture is the opening in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera body. The aperture consists of several metal ‘blades’ that together form a circular opening. You can move these blades thus changing the size of this opening.  So, essentially, aperture is like a human eye’s “pupil” for your camera, which can open and close to change the amount of light that passes through. Ultimately, by shrinking or enlarging the aperture size you’ll allow more or less light to reach your camera sensor, thus brightening or darkening you photo. Figure 1 shows you what an aperture looks like.

Size of Aperture: Large vs Small Aperture

f-numbers and aperture-size

To be able to work with all the different aperture-sizes the ‘*f-number*’ has been agreed upon as standard for measuring the size of the aperture. So, whenever you see an aperture-size value, the letter f is added, like, for example, f/2.8 or f/4. Sometimes the ‘/‘ is omitted and f-numbers are written like f2.8 or f4.

Confusingly to many beginning photographers small f-numbers are large apertures and large f-numbers are small apertures. For example f/4 is a large aperture and f/22 is a small aperture.

However, the actual f-number is calculated by dividing the focal length of your lens by the diameter of the aperture. That means aperture is a fraction! Thus, f/4 = 1/4th and f/22 = 1/22th. And clearly, 1/22th is much smaller than 1/4th.  Regarding the f-number as fractions suddenly clarifies the relationship between f-number and size of the aperture.

f-stops and exposure

Another confusing fact is that when the diameter of a circle doubles, the surface of the opening enlarges by the square of two. So a change of aperture from f/8 to f/4 does not double the exposure, but multiplies it by eight!

A change that either doubles of halves the amount of light reaching the sensor is named a stop. Consequently, the most common f-numbers /do/ double or halve the exposure value (EV) for each consecutive f-number. These are called the *f-stops*. They are (from large to small aperture): f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32. Figure 2 shows you what different apertures look like at different f-stops.

Common aperture-sizes ultimate guide aperture
Figure 2: Common aperture-sizes

Effects of changing aperture-settings

Changing your aperture value has an effect on the depth of field and brightness of your photo. In short; The higher your aperture value, the busier/sharper the back- (and fore)ground will be and the darker your photo will be. The lower your aperture value, the blurrier the back- (and fore)ground will be, whilst the lighter your photo will be.

Effect of changing aperture-settings: Exposure

When you change the aperture-size, you alter the overall amount of light that reaches your camera sensor, and therefore the brightness of your photo. A large aperture (a small f-number) will pass a lot of light, resulting in a brighter photograph. A small aperture (a large f-number) results in the opposite, a darker photo. Figure 3 shows you what happens to exposure when you change the aperture from f/2.8 to f/32.

Example aperture exposure Lego photography
Figure 3: The effect of aperture on exposure.

Effect of changing aperture-settings: Depth of field

Changing aperture-size also changes the depth of field (DOF) of your photo. Essentially, only the object you focus upon (the focal point) is 100% sharp. However in front of and behind the focal point there is a range where the sharpness of the image is generally accepted as being nearly 100% sharp. This range is named the depth of field. Of the total DOF 1/3th is in front of the focal point and 2/3th is behind it. In macro-photography and close-ups this distribution is more like 50/50. Figure 4 shows you the basics of depth of field.

Depth of field - DOF chart - ultimate guide aperture
Figure 4: The basics of depth of field

So, depth of field is the portion of your photograph that is sharp from front to back. Some photos have a “thin” or “shallow” depth of field, where the back- (and fore)ground is completely out of focus/ blurred. Other photos have a “large” or “deep” depth of field, where most of the back- and foreground are sharp.

Figure 5 shows you a comparison of the effect on DOF between aperture sizes. The EV is equal in all images because I adjusted the shutter-speed (remember the exposure-triangle!)

example aperture depth of field lego photography
Figure 5: The effect of aperture on depth of field.

What more affects depth of field?

If you aks a (beginning) photographer, what influences the DOF, most will answer the aperture. Of course that’s not wrong, but there are three other factors that come into play; the focal length of your lens, the sensor-size and the distance to the object you are photographing. In short:

  • Object distance: The closer your object, the shallower the DOF and vice versa.
  • Focal length:  Focal Length refers to the capability of a lens to magnify the image of a distant subject. DOF gets shallower as the focal length increases, and vice versa.
  • Sensor-size: The larger the camera-sensor, the shallower the DOF and vice versa. So, for example, a full-frame camera will have a shallower DOF compared to a compact camera.

Controlling depth of field

In summary:

To increase your DOF (deep DOF)

  • Narrow your aperture-size (larger f-number)
  • Move farther from the subject
  • Shorten focal length of your lens
  • Use a camera with a smaller sensor

To decrease your DOF (shallow DOF)

  • Widen your aperture-size (smaller f-number)
  • Move closer to the subject
  • Lengthen focal length of your lens
  • Use a camera with a larger sensor

Effect of changing aperture-settings: Bokeh

Bokeh (pronounce like ‘bouquet’) comes from the Japanese word meaning blur. It is the way that out of focus areas beyond the depth of field are rendered.  In other words, the bokeh refers to the quality of the blur in the out of focus areas.  Photographers often describe a photo with good bokeh as having a  ‘creamy’ out of focus area.

The best results are usually obtained by using a lens with an aperture consisting of many blades (9 being typical). These blades should have a rounded edge to create a near spherical opening for the best Bokeh (figure). Eventually, bokeh is a property of a lens rather than a camera. Figure 6 shows the relationship between quality of bokeh and aperture.

the relationship between quality of bokeh and aperture
Figure 6: the relationship between quality of bokeh and aperture.

Bokeh also refers to the pleasing circle shapes caused by the shape of the lens aperture. This effect is usually created when shooting with your aperture wide open, such as f/2.8.  However, bokeh can also be created with smaller aperture-sizes as long as the background is distant enough from the in focus subject! The edges of these highlights should also be soft and not haloed or hard-edged to be perceived as pleasing. Figure 7 shows you an example of how, even not that good a bokeh, can influence the mood of your Lego photo.

Bokeh lego toy photography
Figure 7: An example of Bokeh

Effect of changing aperture-settings: Starburst effect

When shooting into the sun or other light sources, you may notice that some of your photos show a more intense light with clearly defined light rays. This is known as a “starburst” effect.

This effect has its origin in the aperture size and shape. In short; imperfections in the circle formed by the aperture blades create lightrays. Since the number of imperfections are dependent on the number of blades of your aperture, the blade-count of your aperture will tell you how many rays of light you will get in your photo. When you have an even number of blades you will get the same amount of rays. And when you have an odd number of blades you will get double the number of rays as you have blades. Figure 8 shows you an example of starbursts.

Starburst effect
Figure 8: An example of the starburst effect (Pentax forums)

The smaller the aperture-size, the more the more “starburst” you’ll see in your photo. So, to create this effect you need an aperture-size of f/11 or smaller, I would recommend maximally f/16.

Lastly, remember that the lower the focal length of the lens, the smaller the physical opening of the aperture, so the more you zoom out, the more “starburst”.

How to pick your aperture in Lego photography

So, now that you know a bit about the background of aperture, how do you know what aperture-size to use for your Lego photos?

Lens limitations

First look at the specifications of your lens, it says what the maximum and minimum apertures are because every lens has a limit on how large or how small the aperture-size can get. The maximum aperture-size (smallest available f-stop) is the most important value since it tells you how much light the lens can capture at its maximum. If you’re using a zoom-lens, also look if the maximum aperture-size changes dependent on the focal length (zoom) you’ll be using.

Brightness of the scene

Usually if you’re shooting a darker scene, you may want to use large apertures like f/2.8 to capture a photo of the proper brightness. However, many Lego-scenes are pretty static, especially if you’re using a tri-pod. So if there are no moving objects in the scene, simply change the aperture-size dependent on the DOF you would like to have in your picture and adjust the shutter-speed (and/ or ISO) to get the brightness of your photo you’d like.

Lastly, if there is a chance of motion blur try to keep your aperture-size to a value that enables a shutter speed (possibly combined with a decent ISO-value) that is still fast enough to capture a subject without motion blur.

Depth of field

Depth of field does not only make your photo look different, it also has clear effects on how everything in the photographed scene is perceived.

First; the viewer’s eye will always go to the area within a photo that’s in focus. It will more or less ignore parts that are out of focus. This effect is named *selective focus*. To accomplish this effect mostly a large aperture-size (small f-stop) is used.  It is very useful to show the viewer what you believe to be the most important part of the scene. Take another look at figure 5. At f/2.8 your eye is immediately drawn Dwaas while at f/32 you will probably be confused on what is the most important part of the image.

For example; if you have a dialogue in a scene of your Lego comic you can put selective focus on the person most important. This could be the person speaking, however, maybe you would want the person speaking blurry and put the selective focus on the listener. That way readers will register the text, but will focus on the reaction of the listener!

Second; You can put more or less focus on the background. If you want to make your subject stand out of the background (or if you’d like to make an ugly background more or less disappear), use a large aperture-size. If you want to make your subject go up in the background, or put more focus on the connection between your subject and the background, use small aperture-sizes.

Setting Your Aperture

If you want to select your aperture manually for a photo there are two modes you can use: aperture priority mode (A or Av) and manual mode (M). In aperture-priority mode, you select the aperture, and the camera automatically selects your shutter speed. In manual mode, you select both the aperture and shutter speed manually.


Aperture is arguably the single most important setting of all camera settings simply because it has so many effects on your photo. In this post I only discussed a few of all effects aperture has on your photo. Some effects that were not discussed are ability to focus in low light, possible focus shift on some lenses, sharpness due to diffraction, sharpness due to lens quality and the visibility of camera-sensor dust specks . It is good to know these effects exist and that aperture is involved.

Lastly, as you know; practice makes perfect. So go of and start making experimenting! I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

Coming up...

An extensive beginners guide on shutter-speed.

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