How I take the photos for reviews
A couple of people, including Tomas over at GrooveBricks, have recently asked how I take the photos for the reviews. A while ago I wrote an article about how I photographed minifigs which will be of interest, but since then I've changed my 'studio' to make it more permanent, so I thought I'd share a couple of photos.
My method is certainly not the only way to create decent photos of LEGO, and definitely not the best, but it works for me and produces acceptable results.
The key is lighting: it doesn't matter how expensive or cheap your camera is, or how many megapixels it has, if your models are not illuminated well and photographed on a clean background, the resultant pictures will be poor.
My 'studio' is built into an Ikea Effektiv unit, which would normally have doors on it. I've left them off and clad the inside with white card (an A1 sheet from a craft shop), which is curved at the back to form an 'infinite horizon'. The white card also prevents the light reflecting off the wood inside and causing a colour cast.
Having just searched the Ikea website for Effektiv, it seems it's been discontinued which is a shame because they are designed for office use and so are more robust and well made than normal Ikea furniture.
It's illuminated by two flash units, one either side, which are mounted into Lastolite diffusers. There isn't much of a gap, but there doesn't need to be. (The flash unit on the left is missing: it was mounted on the camera when I took the shot!). The flashes are remotely fired when the shot is taken.
Camera wise, I use a Nikon D7000 with 105 mm macro lens, or, as used in this case, a 35 mm f1.8 lens.
I shoot at the minimum aperture available, which is f22 for the 35 mm and f32 for the 105 mm. I hear that diffraction can be a problem at such small apertures but I've not noticed it.
Here's the image straight of the camera. A bit of the side of the diffuser on the right and a grey card on the left, which is used to ensure the correct white balance in post-processing, so that greys are grey and not slightly off-colour.
One unwanted side effect of using small apertures is that dust on the sensor is rendered more sharply and thus you'll see small grey dust spots all over the image below if you look at the larger version.
The final image is below. I use Photoshop Elements for post-processing. I am not an expert by any means but I can just about get by. It's been cropped, the white balance has been corrected and the levels adjusted so that the background is lighter. I've also removed the dust spots.
It's pretty good, but not perfect: the lighting is slightly uneven: it's brighter at the top (where the flash was reflected off the vertical back wall of the 'studio') than on the base. If the flash diffusers were higher and angled down, that could probably be improved, although that's difficult within the confines of my setup. It's really only an issue with larger models such as this, so I don't worry too much. Also, the highlights in the fluorescent wings are a bit blown-out.
So, that's how I make them. It's certainly not the only way. Atkinsar uses an iPhone and more conventional lighting for his reviews (for example 31008 Thunder Wings), and the results are perfectly acceptable so I will encourage him to write up how he does it.