Rejected-Lego-photo-cover

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.

Concluding

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 he 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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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.

COMING UP…

A guide on sensor sensitivity/ ISO


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Behind-scenes-lego-photography-header-18017

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.

Setup

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

Post-production

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.


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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.

Conclusion

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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exposure lego photography

Camera exposure in Lego photography | A tutorial

If want to create amazing Lego toy photography or panels for your Lego Brick comic, you'll need to know how to correctly light your photos. Nowadays, many beginning Lego photographers or Lego comic creators don't even think about this subject because they use full-automatic cameras (or smartphones) to shoot their photos. However, if you would like more control over the lighting of your Lego photos, or if you simply want some background information, this extensive post on exposure is for you. This is the first post within a series of guides on exposure, the others being on aperture, shutter-speed and ISO.

Exposure, the basics

Exposure is the amount of light that your camera sensor is exposed to when you take a photo. It is directly related to the bright- and darkness of (parts of) your photos. To control exposure you can use three factors;

Related to exposure are the sensor sensitivity (ISO) settings. ISO settings do not influence exposure since it does not control the amount of light that reaches your camera sensor. It solely brightens the image after the sensor has already been exposed to light. Even so, many photographers describe ISO as part of exposure, simply because ISO effects the brightness of a photo, just like exposure does.

The exposure-triangle

The so-called ‘exposure triangle’ (figure 1) gives you the relationship between the aperture, shutter-speed and ISO-settings. Changing one of these settings will influence the brightness of your photo, besides each having other effects. Changing aperture-settings influences depth of field (DOF), changing shutter-speed-settings influences motion-blur and changing ISO-settings influences the signal-to-noise-ratio.

Exposure triangle ultimate guide
Figure 1; the exposure triangle (adapted from: actioncamera)

The relationship between aperture, shutter-speed and ISO

Exposure value and stops

A specific combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO-settings is named an exposure value (EV).  A change that either doubles of halves the amount of light reaching the sensor (or doubles of halves the 'sensitivity' in case of the ISO) is named a stop. The stops are displayed in figure 1 too; for example a adjustment in aperture-setting from f/2.8 to f/4 is one stop, from f/2.8 to f/5.6 is two stops etc. Same goes for ISO and Shutter speed.

If you want to keep the EV equal whilst changing one value a stop or more, you need to adjust one or two of the other values for the same amount of stops in the opposite direction. For example if you want to keep the EV stabile and you change the aperture-setting from f/5.6 to f/11 (2 stops darker), you could change your shutter-speed from (for example) 1/60 to 1/15 (2 stops brighter), or your ISO from 100 to 400 (2 stops brighter) or a combination; shutter-speed from 1/60 to 1/30 combined with changing ISO from 100 to 200. Is this way you will keep the brightness of your photo equal whilst changing other effects (DOF, motion-blur or signal-to-noise-ratio).

Camera priority modes

The possibilities are endless and dependent on many factors, however, your artistic vision is the most important. In the beginning you can simply play with these settings if your camera allows it. Most high end camera’s have priority modes you can use and the camera will determine other values dependent on the exposure the camera ‘decides’ is the right exposure.

  • Aperture priority mode:  You set the aperture and the camera decides shutter speed and ISO within the range you set.
  • Shutter priority mode:You set the shutter speed and camera decides aperture and ISO within the range you set.
  • Sensor sensitivity mode (Pentax): You set the ISO and the camera decides shutter speed.

Simply play with the settings and see how it influences your images. In the following posts over the next couple of weeks we will discuss aperture-, shutter-speed and ISO more in depth.

Exposure compensation

Most camera’s have exposure compensation (the +/- button). This compensation will come to your rescue if you’re using a camera priority mode and you disagree with the exposure the camera ‘decides’ is right. Via this button you can force the camera to change the exposure your camera thinks is right and make you photo darker or lighter. The numbers are stops, so if you want the camera to make your photo 2 stops lighter, press the +/- button and turn it to +2, if you want to make it 1 stop darker, turn it to -1.

Dependent on the priority mode you’re using, the exposure compensation will change different settings to get the exposure you desire:

  • Aperture priority mode:  exposure compensation will change your shutter speed (also influencing motion-blur).
  • Shutter priority mode: exposure compensation will change your aperture (also influencing DOF).
  • Sensor sensitivity mode (Pentax):  exposure compensation will change your shutter speed (also influencing motion-blur).
  • Program mode:  exposure compensation will change your shutter speed (also influencing motion-blur), in the camera’s I used.

Over- and underexposure

Normal exposure is similar to what our eyes see. This does not mean that normal exposure is the right exposure. The right exposure gives you the amount of light you want in your picture, so it is an artistic decision. Maybe you purposely want to over-or underexpose (parts) of your image/ panel, related to the mood you want to create in your panel.

example correct exposure lego photography
The right exposure

Overexposure

Overexposure happens when to much light is captured by the camera, resulting in a (very) bright image. In the highlights the pixels are pure white and there won’t be any details recorded (so-called ‘blow-out’). Mostly you will get muddy, harsh, bleak photographs. Yet, when photographing low light scenes, overexposing a little (again, no more than one stop) can help you bring out more details.

example overexposure lego photography
Over-exposured image

Underexposure

Underexposure happens when to little light is captured by the camera, resulting in a (very) dark image. Many photographers will underexpose a photo just a little (no more than one stop) because this can lead to deeper and more saturated colors (for example a sunset). However you underexposure the photo too much, you will end up with a dark image where most of the details are lost.

example underexposure lego photography
Underexposed image

Generally speaking, you wil want to avoid overexposure when possible. When overexposing a photo the areas that were “blown out” to white are unsalvageable in photo-editing software. On the other hand much more detail is mostly preserved in areas that appear to be pure black in your photo, so you have more information to work with once you decide to edit  the photo (however, there usually will be some noise). So, when in doubt; underexpose your photo, and afterwards salvage the underexposed areas in post-production.

Sometimes it may be difficult to expose an image right within your camera, usually because there are bright and dark areas combined. A famous example is a bright window in an otherwise darker room. For some reason your eyes/ brain can deal with these differences perfectly, however, if you want to make a photo of this situation you have to make choices.

Coming up…

The following post, is an extensive beginners guide to aperture.


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Lighting a scene; lighting a subject part 1

I hate minifigures… sometimes

Sometimes I really hate Lego-minifigures! There, i said it! “Why?”, you ask? Well, for two reasons actually so keep reading to find out.

Mostly people think that the problem with Lego-minifigures is their limited movement capabilities and minimal possibilities of conveying emotion. While these two things do pose a problem sometimes, overall, these things are no problem and actually force you, as a photographer, to be creative in order to get the most emotion as possible out of your minifigures. I happen to like that.

How to get more emotion into photo’s of minifigures? There are many options; the one I’d like to discuss now is lighting the subject; in the studio.

 

Three point lighting principle

Many of you might know about the three point lighting principle. This principle can function as a basic template of how to light your subject. This concept was created for theater purposes, so every actor on stage was lit by three lights, one 45 degrees to the left, the other 45 degrees to the right and one behind the actors. The primary reason was that everyone in the audience would see the actors optimally, no matter where their seat was. Basically this principle is still used a lot, of course with many variations.

In many pictures I tried this too; however, it almost never looked very good because I didn’t have the proper lights. Nevertheless, I kept trying and now that use a range of daylight-lamps combined with lights from the company Brickstuff I’m finally getting there.

Lighting your subject this way, brings it to live, conveys different emotions, brings depth to your pictures and many other things.

The three point lighting system states that three lights are used:

  1. A key-light: the brightest light hitting your minifigure. This is also the light that needs to look like its coming from a logical source within or outside of the borers of your frame/ scene.
  2. A fill-light: a softer light that will fill the shadows produced by the key-light.
  3. A backlight: a light at the back of the subject, opposite of the key-light, this will separate your minifigure from the background.

Variations

As I said, there are many variations and additions, dependent on what the scene is about. Sometimes more lights are added to light the actors, though some of these are better not used on minifigures; an eye-light is useless in minifigures (I sometimes add this subtle effect in photoshop), a kicker (a light that hits the shoulder/ side of the head) should be used with care and a costume light. That last one is self-explanatory and might be helpful for lighting the torso and legs of the minifigure.

On the other hand, sometimes one or two lights are enough, a dark side of a head introduces a different sentiment in a scene than a head that is lighted frontally for example.

 

In practice

Some of you might have seen that I seemed quiet happy with this photo. The main reason was that it was the first time I successfully lighted Dwaas exactly as I wanted out of the camera and didn’t need any photoshop to adjust lighting at all. I used three light, a key on the left frontal 3/4, a backlight straight behind Dwaas and a small kicker on the left of Dwaas.

There were two versions the one published, is the one without the kicker. One of the readers mentioned in a comment that he found Dwaas was a little too dark; I guess that’s a matter of taste. The kicker does add a little more lighting from the right separating Dwaas from the dark. However, I like the fact that Dwaas (who LOVES the dark), is mostly in the dark, like the mystery he is to most people around him. Below you can see the difference with or without the kicker.

In the comic

lighting comic

Of course this image is very conceptional. So I am trying to incorporate variations of this principle into the comic. You may notice these principle in, amongst others, this episode. Panel four is based on this principle. The key-light from the left front is a little lower on Dwaas’ head to express dark thoughts, there is a fill-light frontal above and a backlight from the store-window. There is also a kicker from the right with the same warm light from the store. In each panel the lighting is adjusted a bit. More on that in another post.

 

So, do I really hate Lego-minifigures… sometimes?

Oh, I started this post stating that I hate Lego-minifigures sometimes, can you guess the reasons? Well, the minor one is that there are no shapes so the shadowing mostly falls a bit flat. The other (really annoying thing) is that minifigures reflect like crazy! That messes with lighting setup and is the main reason for using photoshop. I managed to avoid reflections in the dark photo of Dwaas, but that is not easy and I still need to refine techniques for that.

So, how do you light your subjects? And if you are a Lego/ toy-photographer; how do you deal with those annoying reflections