Lighting a Lego scene – lighting a minifigure

March 1, 2018

I hate minifigures… sometimes

Sometimes I despise Lego-minifigures! There, I said it! “Why?”, you ask? Well, for two reasons actually, so keep reading to find out.

Many people believe that the problem with Lego-minifigures is their limited movement capabilities and minimal possibilities of conveying emotion. It is true these two issues sometimes pose a problem. However, they don’t NEED to be problematic. It actually forces you, the photographer, to be creative in order to get the most emotion as possible out of your minifigures. I like that.

How to get more emotion into photos of minifigures? There are many options; the one I’d like to discuss now is lighting the subject; in the studio.

Three point lighting principle

You probably know about the three point lighting principle. This principle can function as a basic template for lighting your subject. They created this concept for the theater. Every actor on stage was lit by three lights, one 45 degrees to the left, the other 45 degrees to the right and one behind the actors. The primary reason was that everyone in the audience would see the actors optimally, no matter where their seat was. This principle is still used a lot in many variations.

In many pictures I tried this too; however, it almost never looked very good because I didn’t have the proper lights. Nevertheless, I kept trying and now that use a range of daylight-lamps combined with lights from the company Brickstuff I’m finally getting there.

Lighting your subject this way brings it to life, conveys different emotions, brings depth to your pictures and many other things.

The three point lighting system dictates the use of three lights:

A key-light: the brightest light hitting your minifigure. This is also the light that needs to look like it’s coming from a logical source within or outside of the borers of your frame/ scene.

A fill-light: a softer light that will fill the shadows produced by the key-light.

A back-light: a light at the back of the subject, opposite of the key-light. This will separate your minifigure from the background.

Variations

There are many variations and additions, dependent on what the scene is about. Sometimes more lights are added to light the actors, though some of these are useless for minifigures. An example of a useless light for minifigures is the eye-light (I sometimes add this subtle effect in Photoshop). A kicker (a light that hits the shoulder/ side of the head) should be used with care. A costume-light (self-explanatory) might be helpful for lighting the torso and legs of the minifigure.

Sometimes one or two lights are enough, a dark side of a head introduces a different sentiment in a scene than a head that is lighted frontally, for example.

 

In practice

Some of you saw I was quite happy with this photo. The main reason was that it was the first time I successfully lighted Dwaas exactly as I wanted out of the camera and didn’t need Photoshop to adjust lighting at all. I used three lights, a key on the left frontal 3/4, a back-light straight behind Dwaas and a small kicker on the left of him.

There were two versions, the one published, is the one without the kicker. One reader mentioned in a comment that he found Dwaas was a little too dark. I agree. There should have been more lighting from the front/ side.

Even though the kicker adds a little more lighting from the right, separating Dwaas from the dark, it needed more. Story-wise, I can explain the fact that Dwaas (who LOVES the dark), is mostly in the dark, like the mystery he is to most people around him. Below, you can see the difference with or without the kicker.

With kicker Without kicker

In the comic

lighting comic

Of course, this image is very conceptional. So I am trying to incorporate variations of this principle into the comic. You may notice these principles in, amongst others, panel 4 of season 2 – episode 138. The key-light from the left front is a little lower on Dwaas’ head to express dark thoughts. There is a fill-light frontal above and a back-light from the store-window. There is also a kicker from the right with the same warm light from the store. In each panel I adjusted the lighting a bit.

So, do I really despise Lego-minifigures… sometimes?

I started this article stating that I despise Lego-minifigures sometimes. Can you guess the reasons? Well, the minor one is that there are no shapes, so the shadowing mostly falls flat. The other (really annoying thing) is that minifigures reflect like crazy! That messes with lighting setup and is the main reason for using Photoshop. I avoided reflections in the dark photo of Dwaas, but that was difficult and I still need to refine techniques for that.

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