When I started LEGO photography a few years ago, I thought I was pretty cool sacrificing my knees to get eye-level photos of my minifigs. I was so rugged putting my camera unprotected on the ground. I am working it! I am legit!
Then Brick Sailboat showed up on my feed one day and quickly deflated my ego with his amazing lower-than-low perspective photography.
Behold this photo of the swamp pirate, Insert Name Here! (I wish he had a name because that statement really loses the oomph I was going for.)
Brick Sailboat’s use of a low camera angle makes Insert Name Here look powerful standing on the gondola of the steampunk airship. It’s like looking at an oxymoron: an imposing minifig. You can’t help but stare while you reconcile that notion. The pose and facial expression of the minifig adds even more to his presence.
Notice, too, that the swamp pirate and his backpack create a shape that mirrors that of the space he occupies: he’s framed perfectly by the mast on one side and the bulbous envelope of the airship on the other. The effect this has on creating depth in the photo is marvelous.
You can see how I instantly became a huge fan of Brick Sailboat’s work. He’s not only a masterful storyteller, but a talented photographer as well, pulling you into his story with interesting camera angles.
Coming up with the concept
“I had just picked up this small Ninjago airship set and was super pumped to take pics of it with some of my swamp pirates aboard. My account is a continuous story, so when I get a new set I’m trying to see how I can fit it in to the narrative somehow without changing the overall plot too much,” Brick Sailboat explained.
“Also, as a kid I loved the 90s cartoon TaleSpin and immediately thought of it when purchasing this airship set. Can I get a high five for TaleSpin? Anybody?”
Getting the shot
Looking at the photo, it’s obvious that Brick Sailboat had the airship positioned higher than the camera. What I didn’t expect was that he was hand-holding everything.
“I held the airship up with the fingers of my left hand. With my point-and-shoot camera in my right hand, I rested the heel of that hand on the heel of my left hand. Since the camera isn’t heavy, doesn’t have a big lens sticking out, and has 1cm macro, this technique worked. If your minifig is on something, an airship in this case, your hand holding the setup won’t get in the way.”
His point-and-shoot is a Canon PowerShot G15, a compact camera with some manual control dials and a macro feature. The small size of the camera and its minimum focusing distance of 1cm (less than half an inch) allow Brick Sailboat to hold the camera and a LEGO set as he described.
For this particular setup, the airship was held in the air but for other scenes shot on the ground, Brick Sailboat has dug holes and put his camera in them to get the same effect.
Shooting toys in midday sun
Most photographers shy away from shooting in full sun but Brick Sailboat has developed a “cheat-the-sun” move for his LEGO photography.
“With my hands full of toys and camera (and heels locked in place as described), I move the whole setup, always keeping an eye on my camera’s LCD screen. When the light, background, and my subject look the way I want, I shoot away. By moving your subject and camera together in this way, it’s like you’re adjusting the time of day and how it reflects on your subject.”
Brick Sailboat also applied photography techniques like using flags to block harsh light and reflectors to bounce light onto the subject, but cleverly did this with what he already had in his full hands.
“Another technique for the full sun I employed in this shot was using a set piece (the airship in this case) to shade the subject from the full sun (but still allow me to shoot in full sun). Since LEGO is reflective, the full sun was bouncing off the pieces and coming back at the minifig like a reflector. Even my lens (held very close) bounces light at the figure.”
Most of Brick Sailboat’s editing is culling photos from a shoot and making adjustments on his iPad with Snapseed:
“For this shot I erased blemishes and dust using the heal tool on Snapseed, enhanced the colors just a bit, and used the vignette tool just a little bit to darken the edges and bring focus to the minifig. I used the select tool to darken the minifig’s black facial features and to brighten the whites of the minifig’s eyes.”
The Brick Sailboat challenge
A super low angle – in this case, a below angle — can bring a lot of impact to the minifigs and bring viewers deeper into your photo.
So for this challenge, I’m going to shoot from much lower than eye-level to make my minifigs look imposing. I don’t think that I will dig a hole in the ground for my camera or try to hold everything in my small hands as Brick Sailboat does, but I will be shooting my minifigs from below somehow.
If you’re playing along, and I encourage you to do so, we’d love to see your work!
Post your photo as usual to Flickr, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or whatever you use then head to the forum for this challenge and post the link there. Your photo will show up inline for everyone to see (so long as your social media profile is public, of course).
It would be cool if we could see a behind-the-scenes shot too! (I really just want to see someone dig a hole and put their camera in there. I still can’t believe it.)
If you want a critique on your submission from me, Brick Sailboat or the community, ask and ye shall receive.
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