Inside the Mind of a Lego Photographer
Lego is a pretty popular topic here on GeekTech. If it isn't a hack, robot or Mindstorm NXT kit, it's a quirky take on something, like a disected Lego frog or a pinhole camera. Speaking of cameras, we also did a run down of where you can find awesome Lego prints and photography to buy. One of the guys we listed was Flickr user "Balakov".
Since then, I caught up with Balakov, better known as Mike Stimpson. From the UK, Mike is a self-confessed Lego geek and Star Wars fan, and when he isn't taking pictures, he's working as a computer programmer. Mike's Lego photography work has been featured in various magazines and UK newspapers, as well on TV for the BBC.
In his vast portfolio, Mike has 710 images of toys, and he regulalry adds to the amount. His shots vary from reenacting famous movie stills, posters, and photos to Star Wars sets, as well as more general toy photography. Predominantley though, he photographs Lego Star Wars, with fun results. In fact, he even has a book published with his Stormtrooper images inside.
Want to know more about his fascination with photographing toys and how he makes such capitvating images? Read on!
GeekTech: What is it that hooked you to Lego originally? Why did you decide to photograph Lego?
Mike Stimpson: I've been interested in Lego for many years, well before I was interested in photography, so there's always been some Lego around the house. I've had Lego toys since I was about 6 years old. When I got my first 'proper' camera a few years ago I took pictures of everything I could get my hands on, and the Lego ones turned out to be the ones that I liked the most. I've never been any good at making things with Lego, but I've always thought it was cool!
GT: What setup, camera, and lens do you use to take the pictures?
MS: I use a Nikon D200 for all of my Lego photos, normally paired with a Nikon 105mm macro lens. I normally use multiple off-camera flashes to light most of my indoor shots.
GT: Is there any post-processing that takes place?
MS: There's always a little post-processing. It's difficult to spot the specks of dust when you're photographing things to small, so they normally get removed in Photoshop. I often mess about with the colors a little to suit the mood I'm after. The only time I really have to work some Photoshop magic is removing supports if I've done something "impossible" with a lot of wires. I try not to be too heavy-handed most of the time.
GT: Which is your favorite image?
MS: My favorite shot of my own is my recreation of Henri Cartier-Bresson's "Behind the Gare Saint Lazare". The original is one of my favorite photos and I spent a lot of time getting it right. It was one of the hardest to set up; the figure kept rotating on the piece of cotton he was suspended from, and a lot of the scenery kept floating away!
GT: Do you purposefully photograph particular themes or emotions?
MS: I always try to convey some emotion in my photographs. If there's an obvious theme, like Valentine's day, then yes, I use that as inspiration.
GT: A lot of the images are of Star Wars and Lego. Is Star Wars a particular geeky favorite?
MS: My childhood consisted of Lego and Star Wars, those are the toys that stimulate my nostalgia centres. I've watched Star Wars more times than I care to admit.
GT: What are you hoping to do with all your images?
MS: I do sell prints of my photos, but I do this for my own enjoyment more than anything else. Hearing that they make people smile is always such a nice thing.
GT: After the Lego shoots, is there anything else (toy or otherwise) you would like to try photograph?
MS: It's a little known fact, but I don't just photograph Lego! I participate in a few Flickr groups with quite a diverse range of subjects, but I do find that my best photos are of toys.
GT: Other than photography, are there any other media projects you partake in or want to?
MS: My passion lies purely with photography. I have very little interest in video or other media. They just don't inspire me.
GT: If GeekTechers were interested in doing the same kind of photography as you, what advice would you give them? Also, if they were trying to do the same on a budget, do they have to have DSLR cameras or programs like Photoshop to achieve the same effects?
MS: Having access to Photoshop and a DSLR does make certain things easier, but they are by no means essential. A DSLR will give more control over depth-of-field and give you more lighting options, but as long as you're aware of your camera's limitation and you play to its strengths, the technical issues are minor. A compact camera with a good macro mode and knowledge of lighting are all you need.
That would probably be my one piece of advice, try and learn about light. There is so much information on the Internet these days about off-camera lighting, and it makes such a difference to the look of a photo when it's nicely lit.
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