How I take the photos for reviews

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My photography setupA couple of people, including Tomas over at GrooveBricks, have recently asked how I take the photos for the reviews. A while ago I wrote an article about how I photographed minifigs which will be of interest, but since then I've changed my 'studio' to make it more permanent, so I thought I'd share a couple of photos.

 

My method is certainly not the only way to create decent photos of LEGO, and definitely not the best, but it works for me and produces acceptable results.

The key is lighting: it doesn't matter how expensive or cheap your camera is, or how many megapixels it has, if your models are not illuminated well and photographed on a clean background, the resultant pictures will be poor.

My 'studio' is built into an Ikea Effektiv unit, which would normally have doors on it. I've left them off and clad the inside with white card (an A1 sheet from a craft shop), which is curved at the back to form an 'infinite horizon'. The white card also prevents the light reflecting off the wood inside and causing a colour cast.

Having just searched the Ikea website for Effektiv, it seems it's been discontinued which is a shame because they are designed for office use and so are more robust and well made than normal Ikea furniture.

My photography setup

It's illuminated by two flash units, one either side, which are mounted into Lastolite diffusers. There isn't much of a gap, but there doesn't need to be. (The flash unit on the left is missing: it was mounted on the camera when I took the shot!). The flashes are remotely fired when the shot is taken.

My photography setup

Camera wise, I use a Nikon D7000 with 105 mm macro lens, or, as used in this case, a 35 mm f1.8 lens.

I shoot at the minimum aperture available, which is f22 for the 35 mm and f32 for the 105 mm. I hear that diffraction can be a problem at such small apertures but I've not noticed it.

Here's the image straight of the camera. A bit of the side of the diffuser on the right and a grey card on the left, which is used to ensure the correct white balance in post-processing, so that greys are grey and not slightly off-colour.

One unwanted side effect of using small apertures is that dust on the sensor is rendered more sharply and thus you'll see small grey dust spots all over the image below if you look at the larger version.

My photography setup

The final image is below. I use Photoshop Elements for post-processing. I am not an expert by any means but I can just about get by. It's been cropped, the white balance has been corrected and the levels adjusted so that the background is lighter. I've also removed the dust spots.

It's pretty good, but not perfect: the lighting is slightly uneven: it's brighter at the top (where the flash was reflected off the vertical back wall of the 'studio') than on the base. If the flash diffusers were higher and angled down, that could probably be improved, although that's difficult within the confines of my setup. It's really only an issue with larger models such as this, so I don't worry too much. Also, the highlights in the fluorescent wings are a bit blown-out.

My photography setup

So, that's how I make them. It's certainly not the only way. Atkinsar uses an iPhone and more conventional lighting for his reviews (for example 31008 Thunder Wings), and the results are perfectly acceptable so I will encourage him to write up how he does it.

21 comments on this article

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By in United States,

How'd you take the pictures of the picture-taker... time to write a new article: How I Took The Pictures Of The Picture-Taker.

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By in United Kingdom,

I can attest to the importance of lighting! I'm missing some diffusers, but I have a similar albeit smaller setup. I either shoot in auto macro mode or with the "P" setting at ISO 100.

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By in United States,

Lighting is key. so many things can be made to look that much better with proper lighting. just curious...is your studio big enough for every model? I am thinking specifically of the Vampyre Castle, and it's spires that add a few inches to it's already impressive height...Do you have a secondary setup for larger models?

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By in United States,

A Giotto's Rocket Air Blaster (check on Amazon - I use the Large one) should take care of most of the dust on your camera's sensor. You can use it to knock dust off Legos as well so it's a win win.

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By in United Kingdom,

A very interesting article Huw, I have started MOCing larger models properly for the first time this year and the biggest problem I have encountered so far has been photography.

Do the images shown here suggest a series of upcoming Galaxy Squad reviews? I would be very interested to hear some thoughts on them before they are released in the UK.

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By in United Kingdom,

One of the questions in the latest LEGO Survey posted today was regarding whether you would recommend LEGO websites to other people and for what reason. This article is a great example of why brickset is so important to the community. Reviews and "Hot News" are one thing to come here for but also, we all love to photograph our LEGO and show it off but it isn't easy (I'm still practicing). Thanks very much, always nice to pick up some new tips.

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By in United States,

Great information! Thank you for sharing!

I'm curious, did you get the diffusers online? If so, where.

Thanks! :)

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By in United States,

@Bernok: I don't mean to answer for Huw, but since you're in the US rather than UK: B&H is, in my experience, the best online source for camera gear (as well as many other things).

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By in United Kingdom,

@halcyon305, the castle will just about fit I think but you wouldn't be able to photograph it effectively in there. I usually do such large models on the floor, from above, on a sheet of white card, or avoid doing them altogether.

@CapnRex101, I did the smallest set a while ago, maybe I'll do brief reviews of the other two I have.

@BishBrick, thanks!

@Bernok, from Amazon.co.uk. In the US they are available from Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002FL4X2I/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B002FL4X2I&linkCode=as2&tag=brickset-20, and of course buying through that link helps me continue to bring you reviews :-)

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By in Sweden,

Any plans to keep photographing minifigures? I've been waiting for you to do Series 8 and 9, as well as the Hobbit ones. Your HQ photos are so much better than the crap on BL and elsewhere.

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By in United Kingdom,

Yes, I do intend to, but it takes a little while to setup to do it and post-process the images. If you can send me a 'round tuit' (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/round_tuit) I'll get to it once received :-)

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By in United States,

It seems you've found a technique that works. The photos on this site look great and I've never noticed any detracting aspects. The final product is all that matters where photos are concerned!

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By in United Kingdom,

I commend @Atkinsar on his amazing iPhone shots! I would never have guessed that they weren't taken with a real camera!

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By in United States,

Thanks for posting this Huw! I've been wondering about the best way to photograph LEGO models, and this helps a lot. Now if only I had a better lighting source and a way to diffuse it without breaking the bank... :)

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By in Switzerland,

For dust on sensor there are few tricks - you can either blow it out with some hand blower like mentioned air-blower or do something much more effectively - take your vacuum cleaner, put it on lower suction power and suck dust from sensor. It maybe sound crazy but I found this advice few years ago on the net, tried it and now use it all the time.

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By in United Kingdom,

^ Interesting, might be worth a try. I do have a Lenspen blower which is much like the Giotto's one mentioned above but the dust is stubborn. I haven't the nerve to try a wet and dry cleaning method myself.

When shooting normal images outside at f11, f8, f4 or whatever, they are not noticeable at all.

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By in Switzerland,

Dry cleaning is more or less ok, but wet is quite tricky. VC is, at least for me, the best. Can't damage anything (of course, VC shouldn't be on turbo mode) and suction is even less aggressive than manual pumps.

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By in United States,

Plasmodium, I'm a BlackBerry fanboy but I can admit that the iphone is the most popular digital camera on earth.

CaptRex, i can help with that: BUY EVERY GALAXY SQUAD SET THEN BUY MOARRR!!! ;-)

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By in United States,

@Huw & bishbrick-

Yes, whenever I get one of the surveys from Lego.com and they ask you what is your favorite website outside of Lego.com... its always Brickset.

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By in United States,

Excellent photos and article explaining them. I love your step-by-step approach to everything.

I just use Snagit for post processing since it's very quick and easy to use, but I don't think it has all the features. I definitely do need card stock and an SLR.

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By in Netherlands,

Nice compact setup. I use a photo table (cheapest model), a sheet of non reflective plastic and a ring light (only permanent, no flashes). This works great and requires minimal post-processing. But the setup takes up a lot of space. On the plus side I can modify the photo table to photograph large objects.

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