“Nothing extraordinary technically speaking, but… such great atmosphere.”
Out of context, that kind of sounds like an insult*, but don’t think that. It’s true. It’s how I roll. When it comes to building skillz, I’m nowhere near your Goldmans, your Kelsos, or your DARKspawns. I don’t have the talent, dedication, or concentration to build the next Invisible Hand or Omicron Weekend. Instead, I go small. Little MOCs, usually indoor settings, few pieces. I choose intimate over spectacular. The neurotic in me would say even then my MOCs leave something to be desired, but we’ll leave the self-deprecation for another day.
It was with this little gem that I began experimenting with lighting. To be perfectly honest, it was an accidental discovery. Just outside the frame on the right side of this shot, there was a second wall, with a set of windows. It was meant to be part of the set, but when I turned the scene around to take a picture, the windows cast a few square rays of sunlight (this was before I took all my pictures at night) over the entire scene. The shot looked much better. The idea stuck. I traded natural sunlight for a $7 Ikea lamp and finished the three remaining scenes with the same lighting technique. In an odd twist of fate, that inaugural MOC, which paved the way for all my uniquely-lit MOCs to come, has remained as one of the projects with the fewest comments. Three comments. Young, Phipson, and Ocean: you guys are excused. Everyone else: what the hell, people.
ANYWAY, while I’m waiting for nightfall to come so I can take a few pictures, I thought I’d relay this little tale and offer a how-to. So, in case you were curious as to how I take these pictures and make them look so spine-meltingly, mind-blowingly awesome, here’s your chance to find out. A lot of this is pure common sense, but guess what: I’m bored.
This is my workstation:
A piece of foam core board on the floor. The white makes it ideal for shots as well as construction, and you can cut it to an optimal size if floor space is an issue.
Let’s take an average MOC. This one:
A diorama I’m making for this contest going on. Not important.
Just about everything I make has stage walls: moveable and unattached to the floor. It makes alterations easier for someone with such enormous hands as me.
The walls close in…
…and there we go.
The scene with natural light:
Notice the diagonal shadow on the right side of the far wall. Bad. Three ways to fix that: high walls, low shots, or ceilings. Low shots is the way I do it.
Now, onto the lighting. For nearly everything I do, I build one of these:
A window wall. Very simple. It doesn’t matter what color it is, or if it’s smooth or jagged: it won’t be in the shot. The number of windows can change depending on how much light you want in the shot.
Next, the lamp:
Seven dollars. Ikea is a wonderful place.
Put the window wall in front of the lamp and you get this:
A neat pattern of shadows and squares of light.
Cast those shadows over the scene and you get this:
This example MOC is an office setting, so instead of diagonal, angular lighting, I’ll go with…
…overhead, which produces this pattern of light:
Next, detail. There are four main points in this scene on which the light needs to fall: the minifig, the two stacks on the desk behind him, the stacks on the right side of the room, and stacks on the left side of the room.
This is, without a doubt, the hardest part of Lego. For me, anyway. For every one good shot I take, there are about twenty-five that aren’t so good, either because they’re blurry, or the lighting’s crap, or I dropped the camera, or I crushed the camera, or the camera became self-aware and attacked me for all the abuse it suffered, or a slight earthquake hit, which will happen in California.
Above are the 44 deleted shots it took to get the finished product, the one acceptable shot.
I take the pictures at night, when I can control the amount of light that gets in. In this daytime shot, for example…
…there’s blueish residual sunlight on the stack of tiles in the far left. Not good.
But when night comes, and after an hour or so on the floor with a camera in my hand, I get a shot like this…
…and it’s all good.
*Come to think of it, maybe it is an insult. Maybe it’s just a sneaky way of saying “Your one saving grace is you know how to light a scene. If not for that, we’d dump your untalented ass in the ranks of multi-colored Halo MOCers so fast it’d make your head spin.” That wily Kelso.
Thanks for the tips, I can relate those to standard macro photography tips / lightbox tutorials.
The windowed wall is cool by itself and could be used as a background for City MOCs.
For the window shaped-shadows or for irregular shadow/light a cardboard cutout might also be an option.
Of course you must shoot at night. To pull off your shots, you need to be in control of all aspects of the light. Even with blinds, natural light will seep in. The only solution, of course, is to shoot in a windowless room. Have you tried bouncing light off your foamcore to create a softer effect or lessen shadows?
Well well well, the secrets out. I might try the window wall on a small Moc 'cause i don't have many windows, It would have to be a very small one. Like 16x16 tops. sigh.... Pce out check out my creations. :D
Wow. Pretty amazing stuff, but there's something a little up with him having traditional, shuttered windows in his ceilings. Yes, it looks beautiful, but who has ceiling windows like that? And also, couldn't you just buy some blinds to put over your (as in YOU, not the minifig) windows? That would save all this night-time stuff.
All right Alex, I respect your decision. I too used to occasionally suffer from writer's block. Alright I need to get cracking. Anyway, keep building, my friend. You've got talent. C ya~Nick ("ElNickre")
ElNickre - Hmmmm... this sounds suspiciously like a MOCtag tagging about to happen. If that's the case, I'm afraid you'll have to count me out. I bowed out of the MOCtag sign-up list before the whole thing started. Not because I didn't like the idea - I've been following Rory's exploits since day one with eager anticipation - but because there are other things I want to do. Plus, I suffer from the most brutal writer's block when it comes to stories and such. And I don't have a good Chuck Norris minifig head. So, if you were planning on doing what I think you were planning on doing, thank you very much for considering me, but, as I told Shannon, I'm sitting in the bleachers for this one. A thousand pardons, ElNickre: thanks but no thanks. (By the way, I'm replying via comment instead of email because apparently I deleted the Mail program off my computer, so I couldn't get your email address)
Hello again Alex. This may sound like a strange request, but I would like to know your e-mail address so that I can put forth a project for you (possibly involving a CHICKEN, hint hint).
I like it
Heather LEGO Girl
August 29, 2008
Congrats on this getting blogged by the Brother's Brick! You've got mad lighting skillz. So you've got an interesting evening job. How much for an hour? Of lighting tutorial, of course. Dirty lighting tutorial.
Blushes like a school girl AND won't tell us what he does to pay the rent? Do I detect a secret lifestyle choice? I'll stop now before I get thrown in detention again with Kelso. He tried to take my apple juice last time... bully.
Oh yah, you're building is also really good. interiors are difficult to do and everything you put out looks awesome. btw, your time machine is on the brothers-brick blog!! That spinning effect is superbo.
I have some good sets I made, but I can't get the lighting I need for good shots. Check my creations and give me some tips. Good creations too, I love the way the lighting on the "Lesson in Lighting" gives it that lonely office boredom feeling of having to do repetitive tasks forever. Good Job!
Mark's right. No amount of lighting skill will save a bad moc. God knows I've tried. But there's no lack of skill 'round here! And the lighting just makes it that much better! and um Mark, Inkers just trace. At least that's what I learned from "Chasing Amy". Thanks Alex ~ Chris.
Okay, seriously...First: no amount of skill with lighting or photoshop is going to save a bad MOC. So I'm saying it now, folks - the man can build, too! Second: Hats off to ya, for sharing the technique. You've also got a talent for value contrast (much like a skilled ink artist in the comic industry, for example), and it's that ability to select and control the placement of light and shadow that really makes your presentations sing.
This encourages me even more to build a modern interior, thanks for the tip. What'd beeen pushing me before were MOCs like Mission: Impossible and Arkham Asylum. I need a few more white trans 1x2 plates before I get started, though.
Really helpful Alex. I appreciate the tip. I might try that window technique next time I build something smaller. Thanks for adding to the knowledge base. Learning something new every day, that's a good thing. see ya. garth