One thing I really like about Sugegasa’s blog is that he presents practical tips on LEGO-related issues ranging from organization to photography. About a month ago, he posted a couple pictures of how he takes pictures of his LEGO creations. What I noticed immediately is that he uses a fluorescent desk lamp to illuminate the creations.
Inspired by Sugegasa, I decided to try my own LEGO photography experiments.
Until recently, I’ve always tried to take my minifig pictures in sunlight. Here’s my Cloud Strife minifigure (from the PS2 game Kingdom Hearts), taken in full sunlight:
Here’s the setup I used last summer, on the back deck at our old house (nice flowers, huh?):
Those are the top of banker’s boxes left over from moving. Sunlight obviously provides fantastic lighting, but living here in Seattle, it’s cloudy more than 200 days a year, and right now we’re nearing a record for consecutive days of rain (the record is 33, and as of January 14, we stand at 27 days). Partial clouds provide great diffused light, but I just can’t rely on weather to take my pictures.
After Christmas, my wife suggested I go ahead and spend the $100 for one of those “Studio in a Box” light box kits. The idea is great. It comes with two small but powerful lights, a camera stand, a reversible backdrop (blue and dark grey), and the light box itself. According to the instructions, you’re supposed to place the lights on the outside of the box to provide diffused light.
Here’s the result following the instructions to the letter:
My camera flash obviously went off, and it totally washed out the picture.
I manually turned off the flash and tried again:
The diffused light is far too dark and way too yellow.
I tried lighting Cloud directly, with the flash turned on:
Again, the flash washes out the picture.
Here’s direct lighting, without the flash:
That’s better, but I don’t like the backdrop color choices, and I’m not using the light box, so what’s the point of the kit? I returned it for a refund and got depressed.
Then I remembered Sugegasa’s post that showed the fluorescent desk lamp he used, so my wife and I looked around for a fluorescent desk lamp. Lighting stores sold full-spectrum lamps for $100, but that didn’t seem worth it. Target had a couple choices for under $40, but they weren’t in stock.
My wife saw a “natural light” desk lamp on sale for $25 at Bartell Drugs (a local pharmacy chain), and there was much rejoicing! She picked it up for me on Friday, and said it was actually on sale for $20 instead of $25. Cool! (For those of you here in Washington, the sale runs through tomorrow, if you’re interested.)
Without any additional light sources, here’s the result:
Hurray! Check out the Brickshelf gallery for higher-resolution versions of each of the pictures I’ve featured above.
Overall, I still prefer sunlight, but the “natural” or full-spectrum desk lamp provides a great result for a very good price. If you want to improve your LEGO photography, spending $20-$30 on decent lighting seems well worth it. (Of course, you might need something significantly bigger to take pictures of your four-foot-wide castle!)