Just another snow day at Echo Base

Meet K-3PO, protocol droid and part of the rebel Alliance. Stationed at Echo Base on the ice planet Hoth, he monitored troop movements, personally delivered messages within the military command centre, and operated the loudspeaker system. Oh, and apparently, kept the sidewalks clear. We saw K-3PO on screen in during early scenes of The Empire Strikes Back, however, he did not survive the Battle of Hoth and casual fans may not recognize him.

K-3PO first joined the real world in LEGO minifigure form in 2007, as part of the Star Wars set 7666 Hoth Rebel Base (Limited Edition). This is the version shown here, one that I found last year at a local collectors market. A second version was released in 2016 as part of the Star Wars set 75098 Assault on Hoth – UCS. The newer version is more authentic to the source character, with upgraded torso design, printed legs, and yellow photoreceptors. I really like the look of this minifig, and will be keeping my eyes open for an opportunity to add it to my collection.

Behind the Scenes

With the level of technology available to today’s consumers, it’s easier than ever to take a technically competent photograph. And yet, some images clearly ‘work’ more than others.

With LEGO photography, where we can often control almost every aspect of the scene, I believe that investing time and mental energy in the creative process can help make this difference. So I’d like to share a look behind the scenes at how I considered four fundamental things in making this image:

  • The Idea
  • Light
  • Subject
  • Composition

The Idea

The idea was prompted by an overnight snowfall. Yes, snow on May 1st is unusual where I live, but not unheard of …

Having recently written a review of the silver-plated TC-14 protocol droid, my thoughts turned to K-3PO and my Hoth Rebel Base set. I decided to explore the general idea of a snowy scene at the base, with the character outdoors and framed by the hangar doorway.

This is the scene that I eventually came up with, using baking power as snow and a black ceramic tile as simulated ice. (I have more time to mess about and clean up on the weekend!)

Subject

Bringing life to toys can be challenging and I find it helps to put them in ‘motion’ and engaging with their surroundings. I isolated K-3PO as a subject with light, colour, and depth of field, making sure that our eyes were drawn to him first and with no distracting background element to divert our attention.

Here are a couple of early attempts that I discarded. I found the first one, with C-3PO, to have too many competing elements in sharp focus. The second one was my next-to-final version, but I felt it wasn’t telling enough of a story.

Light

My preferred style is low key photography, using light to draw attention to a specific part of the frame while letting shadows dominate the remainder. The result can be a moody or mysterious atmosphere that I quite like.

To create soft light and shadows, I used a single LitraPro with softbox, feathered away from the subject, and positioned just out of frame with a gooseneck arm secured to a Platypod Ultra tripod.

Finally, I added a two-stop vignette in post to further emphasize the central area of the frame.

Composition

To help draw our eyes to the subject, I used the rule of thirds to place him within the frame.  I moved off-centre from the doorway so that the pathway is on a diagonal, adding dynamic tension to image. This framing also created negative space on the right half of the frame. Finally, I used a reflection to help fill the scene without introducing any new element 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

Here’s a close up look at K-3PO, shot at my minimum working distance and with cropping only at the sides to make the image square.

And here’s a crop for an even closer look.

Conclusion

These two photo show exactly the same scene that brought my idea to life. The only differences are subject isolation, lighting, and composition. But what a difference!

Published by Scott Murphy

Photography for the love of it.

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