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.


Other posts on Foolish Bricks that might interest you:

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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.

With kicker Without 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


Dwaas befriended a rat in his house

Lighting a scene; white-balance part 1

White-balance red

 

I never considered myself a good (Lego)photographer, there are so many great toy-photographers out there. Yet, I am getting there, slowly but surely. This year I will write some blogposts on the things I learned over the past five years I’ve been photographing lego. This first episode is on white-balance. It is very, very basic; but at the time it was a real eye-opener to me… showing how little I actually knew about photography. Makes me wonder how many basic things I am oblivious to.

To me, the hardest part of lego photography is lighting indoor scenes, composition of a scene coming in as a close second. There are so many factors to consider before you can take the shot. In the beginning I didn’t really look at specific lighting at all. I just saw to it that my subject wasn’t dark and that was about it. At some point I started paying a little bit more attention, using the lights I had in and about the house, lightbulbs, Leds, iphones, etc… The photos back then didn’t really come out my camera the way i wanted. So i would turn to photoshop and correct them as much as I could. However… I couldn’t really get them right. I had no clue what I was doing, shadows everywhere, uneven lighting, reflections… etc.

The problem: white-balance

One thing I found very, very annoying was the fact I couldn’t get the color temperatures/ white-balance right, At first I thought I could solve that problem by just shooting in raw and post-processing the white balance in photoshop…. again, it didn’t work. Even two photo’s that were lighted approximately the same way gave completely different results at exactly the same settings for color temperature in photoshop.

I considered that was a huge problem for the comic. In those times I shot each episode the day it went up and for the better part I couldn’t get them consistent (just take a look at the first comic and you’ll see).

The crucial finding… providing more problems

It took me some time to figure out that not every light had all colors incorporated. For the comic episodes I used more than one type of lamp, all simple home lamps, all with different types of lightbulbs. Furthermore, for each episode the scene was lighted a bit different because I moved the lamps and so their light wasn’t evenly distributed. I didn’t notice with the naked eye… but, as a result, in post-processing I couldn’t get the temperatures the same.

To solve this i bought daylight lamps. And that solved most of that problem! At least the scenes were lighted the same regarding temperature. So most of the time I shot all photo’s in those lights (I became afraid of all other types of lights) and then corrected the white-balance in Photoshop, coincidentally introducing more problems. It was a lot of work, I had to remember all kinds of settings and, not surprisingly; mostly these photo’s looked artificial even when i longed for a more realistic look.

Solution(s)

Nowadays, i don’t let the lights control me anymore, i control the lights! I still use the daylight lamps, but added smaller lights with different colors and temperatures whenever necessary (I got them at Brickstuff – check them out!). That means more consistency and less post-processing and more time for the shoot itself. Yay!

White-balance moodTwo different moods, in one scene. Is Dwaas inviting the rat from its cold and lonely hideout into his warm and cozy area?

At least now I know how to basically get the white-balance right. However, there is so much, less basic, stuff to now and learn. I’m working on that and hopefully take you along for the journey.

So if you are into (toy-)photography what was something very basic you didn’t realise at first? And how do you deal with the white-balance in your photo’s, straight out of the camera, or mostly in post-processing?


photoshop lego photography enhancement

Photo enhancement

Over the past few years my photography skills are progressing in small steps. As you all know, photography is about light and of course the thing I have the most trouble with, is the lighting of my photo's. For some reason I have so much problems getting the lighting right in most of my photo's shot in unnatural light. My favorite source of light is -and always will be- the sun. And i'm still looking for the perfect lighting setup for in my small basement studio. Not only for the larger lights, but also concerning the smallest of light sources. So if anyone has any ideas/ tips on lights; please share in the comments.

Because of this all, I do use photoshop. Mostly to correct color, light and small things that disturb me. Sometime for special effects.

For example:
- In sunlight I don't have to enhance photo's that much;
The original right out of the camera

The end-result. I only applied a graduated neutral density filter and corrected the necklace a bit.

- This next photo took a bit more work, unnatural light

These are the two originals. I need two because of the ghost-effect. The only part of the first photo that will be used is the background of the ghost (and wire holding the ghost up), everything else will be the second photo.

First I removed some irritating reflections (the couch, tv, Dwaas arm, etc.) and I removed the brown brick in the left upper corner.

The second photo is layered over the first photo and a mask is applied over the ghost, making the ghost transparent showing the first photo underneath (same goes for the wire holding up the ghost; this one is completely masked, showing the first photo underneath). Also I removed the reflection on he forehead of the bear. Another detail is something nobody will really notice I guess but I reconstructed the upper part of the remote and put that underneath the ghost his hand. A detail 'm very happy with by the way :)

Making the photo a bit darker.

I'm still not happy with the light, so I darkened the edges in the hope that the central part looks lighter.

Still not completely happy.... I darkened parts a bit more. Still not happy though. It looks a bit to smooth for my tast. For example; it almost looks like Dwaas' hand is glowing.

 The final photo; I optimized the contrast and darkened many parts in the photo. I wanted this photo to have a bit of a dark, gritty feel to it. It is Dwaas' house after all, and he still lives like some kind of gloomy monster.

photoshop lego photography enhancement

So that's it. Just two examples of my photo-enhancement techniques. I hope it enhances the feeling I want to transmit about the world Dwaas and his 'friends' live in.

I like the possibilities of enhancing photo's without changing essential parts and hopefully in the (near) future) I can use less and less of it by enhancing my lighting-skills.

So, do you enhance (some) of your photos? Why (not)? Some people feel cheated by this kind of enhancement; do you?