It’s #spacecowboysaturday – thought I’d join in on the fun!
Behind the Scenes
I get a fair number of encouraging comments and questions about my LEGO photography on Instagram (@toyingwithlight), and I’ve started sharing my creative process.
If you’ve seen any of these before, you’ll know that I consider four fundamental things:
- The Idea
The idea is not original… I’ve noticed space cowboys popping up on my feed on Saturdays for a little while now. Since I love the LEGO Classic Space theme, as well mashups, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring.
The last Western movie I saw was Netflix’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a truly offbeat and absurdist dark comedy written and directed by the Coen brothers, so I decided to feature a singing space cowboy striding across a vast dark plain.
My setup was simple – the minifig is balanced in a walking pose on a piece of black ceramic tile, with a large piece of black foam core as my background.
Continuing with my style of low key photography, I used a single LitraPro with softbox positioned just ahead of the figure. Using a Platypod gooseneck arm, secured to a Platypod Ultra compact tripod, I tilted the light away from the subject, so that the minifig was lit just by the edges of the light. This technique is known as feathering, and helps softens the light and emphasize the area of interest within the frame.
Finally, to further emphasize the subject, I added to two-stop vignette in post.
The transformation from Classic Spaceman to space cowboy was simple: swap the helmet for a cowboy hat, and add a guitar.
To add some life to the scene, I put him in motion and looking off into the distance.
I thought I’d also share two versions that I discarded. The first didn’t show the facial features, and to my eye made the guitar feel more like the subject – not my intent. The photo second was better, but I decided that the stock face didn’t show as much personality as I wanted, so I swapped heads with a City-themed minifigure.
This is an image of my camera’s live view just before I took the picture. Since I display my images in square format, I use a 1:1 crop mask and grid overlay while shooting to help me compose as precisely as I can. You can see that I used the rules of thirds in placing my subject, with the head just above the top third line, and the body just ahead of the left third line. This framing balanced the image to my eye, and allowed me to use a reflection to help fill the frame without introducing any new element to the scene to distract from the subject.
As for as the technical details of the shot, my LEGO photography standard operating procedure is as follows:
- Tripod mounted mirrorless camera set to ISO 100 and triggered with 2 second delayed shutter
- 120mm macro lens shot at f/8 and manually focused using magnified live view
- Aperture priority centre-weighted metering with exposure compensation to taste
- Post processing the RAW files with custom white balance, luma curve, saturation, contrast, sharpness, vignette, levels, and dust removal
Just for fun, I pushed my system to its limits with this photo and shot the guitar at my minimum working distance – the only cropping here is to the square format.
For an even closer look, this is a crop from the image above – incredible detail!
Thanks for reading folks. Hope you enjoyed this quick look at my creative process for LEGO photography: coming with the idea, creating mood with light, emphasizing the subject, and composing with care.