Leveling Up With LEGO

Shooting LEGO minifigs is like a game for me, a quest to improve my photography. I invent personas for these iconic plastic toys, build MOCs for them and create worlds around them. With each photo, I rack up experience points, trying to level up my photography. With each new level achieved, I unlock a new skill: shot setups get more creative, shooting becomes more intuitive, editing goes faster. It’s a fun game, this open-ended free roam game of LEGO photography, and I intend to become a powerful wizard.

I’ve been shooting LEGO minifigs for a little over two years now and it’s taken me through a number of “boss fights”, the hulking enemy, the daunting obstacle I need to overcome before I can reach the next level: shooting full manual, mastering DOF, using reflectors/bounce cards to fill shadows, experimenting with low-light and long exposure, creating bokeh with LED lights, converting images to black and white in Lightroom, compositing with Photoshop, focus stacking, among others.

In the gaming world, the only way to defeat the boss is with correct approach and special knowledge. You have to pay attention, grind at it and use all the skills and tools in your inventory. It’s the same with photography.

The boss fight ahead of me at the moment is evaluating locations, finding interesting environments or backgrounds in my everyday surroundings for my LEGO minifigs. I look at other LEGO photographer’s work and I’m slightly envious that many seem to have access to these wild locations with carpets of velvety moss, tranquil sand dunes or whatever. While that might be true, I also know from shooting minifigs for 2 years that all you need is a little bit to pull off something big. This is the special knowledge, but what’s the correct approach to defeat this boss and level up?

I asked Shelly how to find good backgrounds and she told me to make the best of what you have. Just try it. So here’s what I have on my patio: 


And here’s how I made the best of it:


My approach was to shoot this from a higher angle than I normally use so that the brick the moss was growing on and the brick wall behind are completely out of frame. However, this angle included a lot of that unattractive brown dirt. I tried shooting wide open but the dirt was still pretty ugly and distracting for me. I wanted a lot of bokeh there so I screwed on a close-up filter and moved in closer because it made the focal plane shorter and the DOF incredibly tight. I got the bokeh, but then the faun’s ears weren’t in focus but I decided that was an acceptable trade-off.

So how did I do? Did I defeat the big, bad, background boss? Was I able to evaluate the location and make the best of it? I think so. Plus 100 experience points! Now to keep grinding at this while I work my way to the next level: flash photography.

~ FourBricksTall 

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7 years ago

You succeeded with honors! Such a pretty pic and that location in your patio is pretty cool…
Big fan of your account! Keep up the good job!!!

7 years ago

You did a great job with the location you had! Nice shot :-)

7 years ago

I love the DIY approach of “making the best of what you have”! Sure, getting out and exploring is fun, but sometimes we neglect what we have in our own backyards. Literally! How did you do? Brilliantly!

Lynn Moore
7 years ago

Wonderful article! I enjoyed the behind the scenes photo. I think you did a great job with your location and your patio. I always enjoy your pictures and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with flash photography :-)

7 years ago

I also think you did brilliantly! You really made that patio work for you! Recently I had someone accuse me of having too much time on my hands because my backgrounds looked so different, that I must be traveling a lot. But I don’t think people realize how different the world looks when you get down and look at it from a mini figures perspective. Your post clearly shows that any situation can be utilized if you get clever about it. Once you mast backgrounds, the next step is simply shooting for the light. Again, awesome job and thank for… Read more »

Leila @brickandmordor
7 years ago

Excellent job making use of that location! It really is just training your eye to spot little areas like that hiding all over in your ordinary surroundings. Like Shelly said, you have to look at things from a minifigure’s perspective, and from a shallow DOF perspective. DOF can make the ugliest backgrounds into a magically beautiful abstract background.

Boss fight won! 100 points well earned! Next level, here you come!

7 years ago

Love it! Great text :) I have the same problem with my background. I will try to make the best of it :)

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