Photographing large toys – part 1

I’ve always felt quite uncomfortable when I have to photograph relatively large toys. I’m used to photographing minifig-size toys and when I need to move to a larger scale, I usually struggle. It’s completely out of my comfort zone. Bokeh is an important element of my photography and with a larger scale, it gets more difficult to rely on it. As an outdoor toy photographer, another challenge with large LEGO sets is transport.

For over a year now, I’ve been forcing myself to photograph larger toys, mostly complete LEGO sets and builds. My main goal has been to have photos of the entire build, not some close-up shot of details. (I consider close-ups as cheating as it would amount to going back inside the comfort zone.)

In this two-part blog post series, I want to look back at how I practiced photographing larger toys, in particular, large LEGO builds. Today, I will talk about how I rehearsed and trained myself. This will lead to talking next week about the story of how I ended up photographing the Disney Castle as the Ultimate Challenge. and what I learned along the way.

(And maybe there will be a third part later after receiving the new LEGO Dino…)

The 2018 Elves Review

My first attempt at taking a picture of a set outside for the first time was in August as part of my LEGO Elves review series. The house I used was still small enough to keep a nice bokeh of the forest. It was also easy to transport, but I didn’t go far from home.

The Classic Car project

My second attempt was part of an assignment for LEGO. Here I didn’t limit myself to one photo session with the set but several. I tried to go farther away from home which led me to transport issues. Something I already talked about before.

Besides transport, one challenge here was to keep most of the front of the car in focus, while keeping enough bokeh in the background. For that, I heavily relied on focus stacking. Most of my images resulted from at least three different photos to get at least both headlights in focus. Even if it required more work on computer, it allowed me to keep more bokeh (and keep some focus the attention on the car) than if I had used a smaller aperture to get a bigger depth of field.

Being further away from the subject, or using a wider angle, the depth of field is bigger and the bokeh less pronounced. Another challenge is to closely pay attention to details.

When you can’t have a tiny depth of field and a nice smooth blurry background, details in both the background and foreground are more visible and can easily become messy and/or distracting like in this photo.

Elsa Doll

Although a LEGO set, part of my personal challenge/project was also figuring out how to photograph larger figures without taking close-up photos of their face.

Last year in Paris, I bought at Disneyland a doll of Elsa to use for a winter photography project. As soon as fall started to leave place for winter, I decided to take Elsa for a spin. But failed.

Probably mostly because Elsa is a doll, not an action figure. What does this mean? She can’t stand on her own. I had to use metal wired to wrap around her legs under her dress so she could stand on the ice. But even there, taking test shots, the pose was very unnatural.

It’s only with the Disney CMF that I decided to give her another chance… But not as the main subject and without including her completely in the frame… Sometimes you have to loosen the constraints and allow yourself to cheat.


Before leaving Northern Finland for the winter holidays, I got to work on another assignment for LEGO who sent me a tall rocket I wanted to photograph outside. This was the test run for the Disney Castle as my idea was similar: go with the full set on the frozen lake where I take most of my photos during winter time.

With a taller toy, the background blur becomes very weak. Even with the widest aperture of my lens. Here I used this to my advantage to show the details in the clouds.

LEGO Movie 2 Rock Band

In January, the weather was quite cold in Northern Finland. I managed to beat my record of lowest temperature in which I did toy photography. (I can tell you that -30°C is way too cold for that…) But I didn’t want to take out that giant Disney castle with such cold temperatures outside. Instead, I’d rather wait for the temperatures to get to more acceptable levels…

But to prepare myself for the big challenge, I decided to try to have a photo of the full stage I used for my LEGO Movie 2 review. One issue here was that the set had many tiny elements, such as the lights, that can easily fall off. Another similarity with the Disney castle made this a good rehearsal.

The next step was the Disney Castle. The Ultimate Challenge. It took more time than I initially expected, partially because of bad and less than ideal weather conditions… But this will be for next week for the second part of this blog post ;-)

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5 years ago

Thanks for sharing this experience.

Tomasz Lasek
5 years ago

I totally share and understand your thoughts. I also would like to shoot more large sets, like my daughter’s queen of dragons. You however made few steps outof the comfort zone, I did it only once, in case of King Goblin’s dragon. And I was tough. I live in the city, without a possibility of leaving for few hours to take pictures so my first problem is setting and bsckground. The second is lack of editing skills, I don’t know how to make focus stacking, which can be a problem with big model. But it won’t stop me. It’s just… Read more »

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