Back in 2009, I wrote a lengthy post titled How to get featured on The Brothers Brick, in 3 easy steps. A lot has changed in 7 years, for both TBB itself and on the web more generally, and it’s time we shared how we go about finding and selecting what to highlight here on The Brothers Brick in 2016.
The “three easy steps” I outlined back then are still 100% true:
- Build something cool.
- Take a few decent pictures.
- Put them somewhere we’ll find them.
But it’s worth revisiting what we expect in terms of presentation and “findability.” I’ll also cover what we consider newsworthy, in case you have an event you’d like us to feature or a hot tip you’d like to share.
Build something cool!
I won’t rehash what we think is cool. We have a diverse team of contributors from all over the world, and we all like different things — castles, steampunk, cars, architecture, airplanes, spaceships, Star Wars, mecha… Read the website every day to see for yourself. Suffice to say that if we think it’s interesting, we’ll happily feature it.
Take good pictures!
Back in 2009, we mostly featured LEGO creations on plain white backgrounds — we ourselves jokingly called it the “Dorling Kindersley aesthetic.” A clean white background does indeed focus the viewer’s attention on the subject, and we certainly continue to feature plenty of well-photographed LEGO creations on the tried and true white background.
And it’s not hard — just get some inexpensive cardstock, set it up so that it curves up out of frame as a backdrop, and plonk your MOC in the middle. Moving away from the plain white background, don’t hesitate to get a bit creative. Here, I’ve used nothing but a single piece of brown cardstock.
I’ve tried a complex light-box setup, but have since just fallen back to big pieces of paper with plenty of lights.
Similarly, the photography itself and subsequent post-processing are not nearly as challenging as the process was back then. Back in 2009, LEGO photo albums on sites like Flickr were still cluttered with blurry photos taken on hand-me-down cellphones. These days, photos taken on an a recent iPhone, Nexus, or Galaxy are pretty indistinguishable from photos taken on older DSLR cameras. And whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, there are plenty of out-of-the-box and free tools, both for your computer and on websites, to help you with basic fixes like cropping, white balance, and exposure. There’s really no excuse for posting a dark, orange-hued photo with your stupendous creation surrounded by huge expanses of dead space — you don’t need an expensive digital SLR camera or pricy software like Photoshop.
All that said, making the effort to take high-resolution photos and post-processing them a bit does make a huge difference. Hannes Tscharner described the workflow he uses as a professional graphic designer with Photoshop in our interview about his Millennium Falcon. At the other end of the scale of technical aptitude, I recently described how I used just the Photos app on my Mac plus a couple of free photo effects sites to create my Knights of Ren scene from The Force Awakens. The whole photo editing process took barely 10 minutes.
So, good pictures on a good background — easy enough. But we still see a lot of photos that don’t meet the bar, so here are a few things to avoid:
- Bed sheets, blankets, and other fabric backgrounds: These often look wrinkled and the texture of the fabric is frequently visible. You can get cardstock at just about any craft or art supply store.
- Top down: Some builders try to avoid having random stuff in the background by taking their pictures from a high angle. Don’t. Imagine you’re a minifig yourself standing at ground level rather than a creepy drone flying overhead.
- The great outdoors: With rare exceptions, real-life trees, grass, and buildings make your LEGO creation look out of scale and take the viewer out of the immersive experience of seeing your small creation as though it were full-size.
- That giant fusion furnace in the sky: Strong sunlight can wash out your MOC and create overly stark shadows. One more reason not to take your LEGO photos outdoors — at least on a sunny day.
- Flash photography not allowed! Whether you think your MOCs are great works of art or priceless artifacts, they deserve better than blinding flash photography.
- On the floor against the wall: Like taking your LEGO picture in your back yard on your lawn, the obvious human-scale floor and wall severely detract from your creation.
- On the kitchen table: We don’t need to see your trash can and cat in the background.
- Lots of text and large watermarks: It’s natural to want to indicate ownership of your photo, but try to keep it subtle.
- Bad renders: Good renders of virtual LEGO builds are nearly indistinguishable from physical LEGO. Bad renders look like the first attempts at CGI in the 1980s. Share your great virtual builds with the world, but don’t expect us to highlight them if you haven’t taken the time to render them well.
Help us find your great LEGO masterpiece
In general, we try to find the LEGO creations we end up highlighting on our own. Most of what we write about we find through the LEGO photo pool on Flickr. We also pore over dozens of other sources and we do check messages sent to us on our Facebook page and through our contact form, but if you want to be sure that our contributors see your LEGO creation, share it in the main group on Flickr.
As with photography and presentation, there are a few things we’d ask builders to avoid:
- A bazillion photos: Pick just a handful of your photos and share only the best. Include key angles like front three-quarters and low, immersive “minifig’s eye view” angles. You don’t need to upload every photo you took (and choosing your best photos early will help avoid unnecessary editing).
- Nagging and spamming: Contributors and the editorial team all talk amongst ourselves behind the scenes. If we learn that you’ve sent a bunch of our contributors identical or repeated requests to feature something, you’re liable to get an instant veto. Cool it.
- LEGO Ideas: No, we’re not suggesting avoiding LEGO Ideas in general. But please don’t post your LEGO creations exclusively on the Ideas website and expect us to somehow find them there. You’ll get a lot more feedback by sharing photos of the creation itself on Flickr, where you can link to your project page. If it’s a good project, it’ll naturally get the attention it deserves.
- Facebook: Facebook makes it incredibly hard to reference photos and information from external sites without being logged in. Please don’t host your photos only on Facebook.com and expect us to be able to highlight them here on Brothers-Brick.com.
- Brickshelf and MOCPages: As much as we’d love to see a LEGO-specific photo hosting site succeed, this seems unrealistic today. Sadly, sites like Brickshelf and MOCPages (both still operational as historical archives, thankfully) are no longer the hub of the LEGO fan community that groups on Flickr have become. We truly wish it were otherwise, but spending time digging up hidden gems on Brickshelf or MOCPages has not proved fruitful for the last several years.
For better and for worse, all this makes it that much easier for you as a LEGO builder to ensure we see your LEGO creation — just put it in the LEGO photo pool on Flickr. If you’ve done that, trust us when we say that at least one of our 18 contributors will have seen it.
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
As I promised we would in my 10th anniversary post last summer, we’ve made a number of substantive changes to improve TBB over the last six months. Among them, we’ve significantly increased our coverage of LEGO news and LEGO set reviews. As a result, we’ve covered a lot more news items on The Brothers Brick than we had in the prior couple of years. We still have a ways to go, though, and we need your help.
In addition to our own news hounds, we also rely on our readers, event organizers, and even our friends and counterparts who run other news sites for tips. If you see something LEGO-related that you think might be newsworthy, let us know by messaging us on Facebook or through our contact form.
- LEGO in the news: See an interesting story on your local news? Want to hear an AFOL perspective on something that’s gone viral? Let us know.
- Events and conventions: We’d like to do a better job of giving LEGO fan conventions and exhibitions more attention, but we can’t keep up with the worldwide explosion of events — it’s up to you as an event organizer to make sure we know about your event. To keep things manageable, we’re happy to announce when registration is open, and a reminder a few days before any public exhibition. We typically won’t post intermediate reminders like badge cutoffs, MOC registration, and so on. Please follow the event information guidelines we posted back in 2008.
- LEGO product news: In general, we receive official set details and high-resolution photos directly from our designated contacts in various departments at the LEGO Group. However, LEGO is a big multinational company and there are rare cases when things fall through the cracks and get revealed at conventions or other events. Unlike less-scrupulous LEGO news sites, I cannot stress enough that in more than 10 years The Brothers Brick has never been and never will be the source of under-the-table leaks. Similarly, we do not deal in low-quality rumors (such as set lists) or known confidential information (like retail catalogs with watermarks). But we are not LEGO Group employees, and our duty is to you our readers. If you see something elsewhere that you haven’t seen us cover yet, let us know. Chances are, we’ll be able to get better-quality information directly from LEGO to share with you shortly afterward.
We hope this helps clarify how The Brothers Brick finds the LEGO models we feature, what we expect from builders in terms of presentation, and how we continue to work at improving our news coverage. Questions? Fire away in the comments!