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[Sticky] Creating action shots with dust, dirt, water, etc.
Creating an action shot with dust, dirt, water, or fire crackers is super fun and fairly simple if you know what to look for, have the right gear and settings, and know a little bit about retouching.
DSLR shooters can use manual controls but mobile shooters will need to install advanced camera apps that let you control shutter speeds and shoot in burst mode.
Freezing action means using high shutter speeds and getting the timing right means shooting lots of frames at a time.
Now that you know what gear you need, let’s get to the tips.
The best outdoors locations for LEGO action photography are ones that have a dark background but with strong sunlight as a backlight.
The backlight illuminates the dust or dirt particles and the dark background helps them show up better in your shot.
As you can see here, the location doesn’t look like much...
but once you get down low with your camera you can see the shadow of the plant in the background provides my dark background.
The small plant will make for some nice detail in the foreground.
Remember that the time of day you choose to shoot also makes a huge impact on your location. When scouting for future shoots, make a note of the time and weather so when you revisit the location, the sun will be shining light where you expect it to be.
I like to shoot mid morning as the sun is still fairly low but is nice and bright which will help to keep my ISO low enough to minimize grain.
If you prefer to do this indoors, you could create an action scene indoors using a strong light in place of sunlight. Of course, you’ll need to supply your own dust or dirt too (e.g. cornstarch, Atmosphere Aerosol).
The lighting and the scenery gets you halfway there but you’ll need a few more things to help you create a dynamic shot with LEGO: wire, putty, a bounce card (mine has seen better days), and optionally, a bean bag and wireless remote.
It’s very important to bear in mind where you place the wires. You always want to place the wires behind your subject for easier removal in Photoshop.
Once you have your set up in place you’ll need to fill your subject with light to compensate for the strong back light, otherwise it’ll just be underexposed. I use a simple piece of white card to bounce the light back onto the minifig to open up the shadows a bit.
Keep in mind that you may need to get in close with that white bounce card to reflect some of the sunlight back onto the LEGO minifig. You don’t want to get the bounce card in the shot!
I had my camera on a bean bag for stability and used a generic wireless remote for my camera so I can stand in a good position to throw dirt while taking the pictures. Setting your camera on a timer could work here too but YMMV.
If you’re new to shutter speed and burst mode or want to try using a wireless remote like I did, you should practice using those before moving on to the shoot. Check out the post about camera controls for beginners.
Now that you found the right location or created one and have your minifig positioned, it’s time to start throwing handfuls of dirt, dust, sand, gravel (or whatever you want to look like it’s exploding).
It’s very important to get the angle you throw at and the amount of dirt just right to get the desired effect. I usually aim slightly behind the toys so the dirt hits the ground first and then bounces up and over the toys towards the camera. I normally start with a bigger handful of dirt and slowly use less and less dirt each time until I’m happy with the results. Sometimes less is more but this will come with practice.
You will need a fairly high shutter speed in order to capture the moving particles, I normally use anything over 1/1000 but you can go lower for your desired effect, say if you wanted some motion blur on the particles.
For this shot I used:
- 1/1600 shutter speed
- ISO 320
Shooting in burst mode will increase your chances of capturing the right moment and save you some time -- and cleaning minifigs! This method can also be applied to water, snow, baking powder or whatever environment you are trying to create.
Unless you’ve shot your action scene using cleverly hidden wires and camera angles, you’ll need to open the image in Photoshop to edit out the wires with the clone stamp or healing brush tool.
Mobile shooters can use apps like Snapseed or Photoshop Fix for some basic healing tools but it will be harder to be precise, especially where the wire and minifig meet.
I generally use Photoshop and use the clone stamp if there’s a sharp contrast near the wire. Otherwise, the healing brush works well.
- Find a location that’s backlit with a dark background
- Get your figs in an action pose using wires and press stick
- Use a reflector to fill the subject with bounced light
- Throw just the right amount of dirt behind the figs towards camera
- Use camera on a fast shutter speed on burst mode
- Photoshop out the wires
Let me know if you have found these tips useful in the comments below and I look forward to seeing what you come up with in the future.
Thanks. Im glad to see it's a process of patience and timing. Good old hard work and practice.
@shundeez_official How are you protecting your camera from flying debris, especially since it's flying towards your lens?
Robert, @shundeez_official that's a great post. Thank you for all the little details and the matching pictures. I will definitely try this action photography.
Thanks Robert for this peek behind your scenes, very insightful!
In stead of the clone brush etc. you might also try quickly removing the minifigure(s) with wires after you final shot and then doing one more picture. Layer this last image underneath and add a mask to the layer with the wires in it... afterwards simply drawing over the wires in the mask revealing the layer underneath. I don't know how that'll work with the dust though, so you'll probably still have to revert to some cloning and brushing up, ut it helps for larger or thicker wires.
These tips are really informative. I have tried this before and have struggled a bit but I'mma nail it this time around....Now to go and make a mess somewhere and hope people don't think i'm weird for talking to the little people ???? ????
Enjoyed reading this @shundeez_official , thanks so much for sharing. I've always had half an idea of how people achieved these k8bd of shots but never the full picture. Really great glimpse into how you do things.
Thanks for the tips and advice.. just about getting the hang of static shots so this will be the next challenge.
Thanks for sharing this nice tips for action lego photography.
Practical effects such as dirt, spraying water and sprinkling glitter are quite important to give photos a little more alive.
Nothing to say!! Great Post. Could it more interesting a short video about "how catch the water drop, or create the the moving particles
Thx for share your work