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BTS - Hidden Side: Graveyard Mystery
Hi everyone, AlanRappa here with my entry into the behind the scenes contest. It’s a bit of a read, but I’ve packed in as much BTS info as I could stuff into this post. I did my best to break it out into sections so you could jump around to whatever interest you. Hope you enjoy this post, and big thanks to Brickcentral for running this contest. Best of luck to everyone who is entering.
When I set out to create an image for this contest, I thought it would be a fun challenge to use a Hidden Side set. These sets have such a great, otherworldly-vibe, and I was eager to try and convey that feeling in my photo.
The end result was a shot that consisted of 5 different light sources, and a dancing Pirates of the Caribbean bandana to get the look I wanted. Don’t worry, I’m going to break it all down step by step, starting with the gear I used
Gearing up for Getting Down
I shot this image with a Sony a6300 camera. This is an interchangeable lens camera with an APS-C (cropped) sized sensor. It’s a few generations old, but it has yet to let me down in performance or image quality.
My 50mm f/2.8 macro lens is my go-to for LEGO photography, but for this image, I used a 24mm f1/.8 lens. While not a true macro lens, the 24mm has a great, minimum focusing distance and allowed me to get me a wider angle of view than my 50mm.
Unless using it creatively, I make all efforts to minimize camera shake when shooting. For shots like this one, I mount my camera on a sturdy tripod and use a timer or remote shutter release. Even the tiniest camera movement can ruin your shot especially when working with a subject as small as a LEGO minifigure.
On top of my camera, I have a Yongnuo wireless flash controller. This allows me to set the power of my flashes, and trigger them wirelessly during the exposure. I’ll talk more about that when we get into lighting.
Settings Settings Settings
When I shoot, I want to have full control over my exposure. In order to do so, I set my camera in manual mode. This allows me to manage my aperture, shutter speed and ISO individually to balance out my light.
When I start a new shoot, I begin with my aperture set between F/8-F/11 and adjust as needed. My starting shutter speed depends on the ambient lighting I’m using, and I always try to keep my ISO at its lowest value (typically 100)
In addition to manual exposure, I also use manual focus with focus peaking & focus assist turned on. Focus assist magnifies the image on my camera’s LCD & viewfinder to help me dial in my focus while while focus peaking helps confirm my focus by highlight edges in yellow (most cameras allow you to change this color).
Modify & Compose
With my camera prepped and ready, the next step is to set a scene and compose the shot. I wanted to create an image that put our Hidden Side heroes inside the graveyard, so I made some slight modifications to the set.
I removed the gates from the left and brought them around to the front to use as foreground elements. Then, I shifted the tree monster closer to the center to balance the scene against the statue.
Everyone shooting LEGO minifigures knows how frustrating it can be when they fall over. To eliminate this from happening, and to make them easier to position, I mounted our heroes on a modified 1x2, 1 stud lego plate, while the ghool in the middle is standing on a clear 1 x 2 x 2 hollow stud panel.
Before shooting, I always brush my minifigures with a soft brush to remove any dust that may be on them. I want to try and catch any specs before shooting so I don’t have to spend time remove them in post.
Once dusted and in place, I focused on Parker (on the right), making sure to place my focus directly on her eye closest to the camera. Focus assist makes this easier, by zooming the view while adjusting. After locking in my focus, I shut off all the lights in the room to begin lighting my scene.
Lighting a scene is one of my favorite parts of toy photography, and where I spend the bulk of my time when creating an image.
I usually start by setting up my ambient lighting first. For this scene, my ambient light consisted of 3 lights:
For the first light, I used a Manfrotto Lumimuse with a blue gel pointed at a sheet of black paper in the background. This light was intended to be subtle, just to add a little blue hue to the background. Here is what the exposure looked like with just this one light
My second light was another Mandrotto Lumimuse, this time with an orange gel, positioned behind the graveyard and facing towards my lens. Originally, this light was intended to add a highlight to the edges of the scene (kicker light) but it ended up using it a bit differently for the final shot - I’ll get into that soon.
My final ambient light, was a blacklight flashlight that I used to highlight the ghoul’s face. Fun fact, blacklights make certain translucent LEGO elements glow. I don’t get the chance to use this light often in photos, but it always provides an excellent result when I do.
With my three ambient lights in place, I used my shutter speed to balance them. I finally arrived at a speed of 4 seconds to get the exposure I wanted.
My ambient lights lit the background (blue), edges (orange) and ghoul (green) but still left much of the scene in the dark. Here is where I introduced my flashes into the scene.
Flash number one was positioned to the left of the graveyard, pointed directly at the scene. I modified the color of this flash with a purple gel and used it to add more light to the graveyard.
My second flash was my primary light, and mounted directly over Jack and Parker in the front of the scene. I used a small softbox on this flash to create a larger light source for a smoother spread and to minimize hot spots & reflections.
Shooting, Adjusting & Refining
I don’t have lighting down to a science, so my process involves a lot of shooting, reviewing and adjusting. To increase or decrease my ambient lights, I adjust my shutter speed. To increase or decrease my flashes, I rely on my aperture and flash power.
The image was coming together, but I was still facing a couple of challenges. First, F/11 wasn’t providing me enough DOF of field to have both the minifigures in the front and the ghoul in the middle in focus. Remember, the closer you are to your subjects, the shallower your depth of field becomes. To remedy this, I had to stop my lens down to its minimim aperture of f/22.
The next challenge was the shot was… boring. Despite all the lights and the prep, there was no drama to the image at all. Here’s where that dancing bandana came in.
Effects & Angle
While trying to think of ways to spruce up the photo I just happened to see a Pirates of the Caribbean bandana that my son got while sailing on a Disney cruise ship. The bandana was a thin material, and gave me an idea.
I held the bandana in front of the orange light, and during my exposure gently moved it and bounced it around. With a slow shutter speed, the motion of the bandana in front of the light added a great splotch of color to the image which was just the drama I was looking for. I shot a bunch of images, fine tuning the degree and speed of motion of the bandana until I was happy with the results.
In addition to adding the bandana, I tilted my camera slightly which is referred to as a Dutch Angle. This is a technique frequently used in cinema and photography to create a sense of unease or tension and it was the final touch I needed for my image. I finally had the shot I wanted, and it was not time to get it onto my computer and prep it for posting.
Post Processing & Posting
While I shy away from using Photoshop, 99.9% of my photos are edited in Lightroom (the other .1% are edited in Lightroom Mobile). After importing into Lightroom, I crop the image to a 16x9 ratio. While not the best crop for posting on Instagram, I like the widescreen perspective.
Once cropped, I apply a pre-set I created to give me a starting point from which to adjust the image. This preset bumps the exposure and shadows while pulling down the highlights. It also bumps the vibrance while adding slight vignetting.
From there, I’ll make minor tweaks until I’m happy with the look of the image. Once finished, I’ll move from Lightroom’s Develop module over to the Print Module.
In the Print Module, I’ll use a custom print template I created to add black bars to the top and bottom of the photo to add a cinematic feel. Yeah, I know a lot of people hate these, but I like em 🙂
From the Print module, I’ll save the edited photo (print to file) to my computer, placing it in a Dropbox folder that I use for images I want to post.
Then, on my phone, I’ll open the Dropbox app, find the image, and save it to my phone for posting to Instagram.
I don’t have a strong IG game, so I manually enter tags for each photo. I try to keep them as relevant as possible, using smaller tags first before jumping into the bigger ones.
Then, I hit post and the image is out there for the world to see.
Are you still reading?
Hope you enjoyed this walkthrough of my process. - if you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a note.
Thanks again to Brickcentral for putting this contest to get and see you guys next time.
@alanrappa thanks for sharing this. I watched the video first, I thought it was nicely shot and edited btw. As someone who doesn't use "proper" camera accessories this was really useful. I've seen lots of photos of set ups but seeing the lights in motion really made a difference.
Great video! I love the bandana effect ????