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I find lot of fun shooting pictures of toys, especially Lego bricks.

To light my scenes, I'm using one or more of those elements :

  • Natural light
  • Canon 430 EX II
  • Small torch LEDs torch

Here is a shot I took yesterday with a Canon 430 EX II and basic light bounces (sheets of paper) : http://500px.com/photo/84252271/-by-andy-m?from=user

I like it but I would like to find a result more "realistic" and less plastic and colored. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a website of a photographer who is, to my opinion, filled with talent...

https://www.flickr.com/photos/40195501@N06/with/10929663324/

  • I'm looking for ways to improve my lighting and my overall composition.
  • Is it necessary to have expensive equipment to do such stuff ?
  • Can those results be obtained only by editing the pictures ?
  • 1
    Not a lighting comment, so I'm not going to post it as an answer, but my biggest comment on your photo would be that I find the background very distracting. It almost looks like a giant hand coming to pick up the orc. – Philip Kendall Sep 24 '14 at 9:11
  • @PhilipKendall Very true, I didn't see it like that... Now you told it, I can't see something else :) Despite my picture not being very good, it lacks of this realistic touch you can find in Mr. Lehtimäki's work... – Andy M Sep 24 '14 at 15:51
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  • I'm looking for ways to improve my lighting and my overall composition.

Tips on composition are outside of the scope of this site, as regards to lighting technique then that's bordering on too broad a question also, as the flickr account you link to contains many images with different lighting styles and techniques. Maybe you could pick out a single image that you want to emulate?

The only thing I can say in general is that a lot of the images contain a volumetric component to the lighting, which is achieved by lighting through some cloud of particulates (smoke, dust, haze etc.) I recall a comment from the photographer, Avanaut that the Hoth images were accomplished using reacted plaster of paris dust and an old fishtank full of water. The water helped suspend the dust for long enough to get a photograph.

  • Is it necessary to have expensive equipment to do such stuff ?

No. You can get by with DIY stuff for this type of work. The only thing I'd spend money on is a good tripod, preferably with a geared head so you can adjust the camera angle very accurately.

You can pick up other supplies (lights, old fishtanks etc.) second hand pretty cheaply and they will do just fine.

What you do need is experience and a lot of practice. I first became aware of Avanaut with the Hoth images, which were created in 2009, you can see a progression in the complexity of the lighting over the last 5 years, and you can imagine how many shots were taken and never posted to flickr over this period.

  • Can those results be obtained only by editing the pictures ?

Excluding the shots where models are superimposed over standard outdoor images, most of the work has to be done with the lights. Post production is not strictly necessary but adds that layer of polish, giving nice deep blacks, contrasty edges and rich hues to the coloured lighting queues.

  • Hey, thank you for your answer ! This picture looks realistic to me : flickr.com/photos/avanaut/8505574868. Of course, there is the outdoor feeling because of the dirt and stuff like that, but the light looks so different than the one I'm able to produce... – Andy M Sep 24 '14 at 15:56
  • @AndyM - the difference between the index of refraction of air and the index of refraction of water will have a huge effect on the apparent glossiness of the LEGO pieces. You don't need much to try it out to see the effect, a glass of water will do. – user32334 Sep 24 '14 at 21:44
  • @user32334 Thank you for this comment. I never tried that and it's a very good idea, I'll give it a go tonight! – Andy M Sep 25 '14 at 7:16
  • @AndyM not every picture was done by submerging the bricks, just the snowy Hoth ones I think. The key to lighting the image you posted was a snooted hard light, shining through a tree branch in the presence of light haze, which creates interesting shadows and a sense of depth. The snoot also concentrates the light in the centre of the image creating a natural vignette effect which draws in the viewer. My advice would be: build yourself a snoot for your 430EX, create some light haze using hairspray or similar and experiment! – Matt Grum Sep 25 '14 at 9:31
  • @MattGrum I've had a look and yeah, I've seen the tank idea to create those Hoth shots. Very clever, I'll try whenever I find some time (and a tank :)). I'll build myself a snoot with black straws (plenty of tutorial out there) and give it a go! – Andy M Sep 28 '14 at 16:38
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That's a very broad question, so it's hard to give a specific answer. A few points:

  • Decide what you want. It's great to just mess around sometimes and see what you get, but if you want to create consistently better images, work on creating the image in your head first. If you can do that, it will be much easier to figure out how to use what you have to create the image you want. Compare to traveling: it's sometimes fun to just wander, but it's far easier to get where you want to be when you know the destination from the start.

  • Time is money. Expensive equipment is nice to have and sometimes necessary, but one of the fun aspects of photography is that you can often improvise a way to get the light you need where you need it. That's especially true when you're working at small scales.

  • Yes, some of the images you pointed to can only be created through compositing, etc., unless you're willing to build a full scale spaceship in you back yard. There's nothing inherently bad about that, though. Everything you do in "taking" a photo is really part of making an image. Editing is only a problem if you're trying to misrepresent reality.

  • I'm not sure what you mean by "some of the images you pointed to can only be created through composition, etc., unless you're willing to build a full scale spaceship in you back yard." Composition refers to the selection and arrangement the visual elements in a scene -- for example, the rule of thirds and so on. It sounds like you mean "compositing": gluing together more than one image, e.g., the photo of space ships flying over trees. – David Richerby Sep 24 '14 at 12:57
  • Sorry, I think that was a missed autocorrection. I did mean compositing. Will fix. – Caleb Sep 24 '14 at 13:06
  • Thank you for your answer! A point you're very true about is "Decide what you want"... I hardly know what I want before starting my shooting... In this case, I wanted to shoot my orc, to make it look frightening... I chose to put some background rocks (that turned out to be a hand to PhillipKandal :)) and I started playing with light... But you're right, I'll try and plan more... – Andy M Sep 24 '14 at 15:54
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I've found this flickr page which is highly interesting in term of lighting and composition...

You can actually see how "DIY" are his pictures ! Hope it will help someone else !

https://www.flickr.com/photos/balakovsetup/

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Post processing can be useful if you only have limited control of the lighting. E.g. suppose that there are external light sources that you cannot fully eliminate. In that case you can take pictures with the desired lights on and without the lights in which case you only have the external lights. To eliminate the latter, you need to do a weighted subtraction of the two pictures.

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