Imaging LEGO Models
for the Web

I HAVE TRIED a number of techniques, all of which can still be seen on my pages. I'm sure many people have different methods that work well for them. But here I describe only my experiences. Following links in the text below will bring you to example images.

When I started out, I used a macro lens and traditional film for a photo-shoot of some of my models, including the outdoor stage and the pictures of Eddie's bar. Those were taken in a professional studio with backdrops and lighting, etc. I worked at a magazine at that time and my friend was a staff photographer. He helped me to get set up. Overall, I found it to be a fairly frustrating experience. It was difficult for me to get even lighting in pictures taken from within the models. And the models came out much shinier than I wanted them to. Reflections were a real problem. (I was later told that I could have sprayed my models with a non-damaging substance which cuts down on the shine.) I also found it difficult to get much depth of field, backgrounds got very bleary. An experienced photographer would probably have been able to achieve better results by making adjustments in the film, lighting, and exposure time. LEGO themselves must be using traditional photography and most of their pictures look really great. But I decided that the traditional route was not for me. Call me a wimp, but I'm pretty impatient and even just waiting for film to be developed and then having to scan in the pictures, etc. made it feel like a huge job.

Many pictures here were taken with a color Quick Cam. It's not the greatest device for image quality, considering its low resolution and noisy nature, but it's able to get up very close to the models (within 2 inches) and it's extremely light sensitive. Perfect for placing -inside- models. It's less expensive than film overall (around $200). And the results are nearly instant (woo-hoo!).

I kept my QC mounted on a tripod next to a small table which I put models on, making the camera level with the minifigs and only a few inches away. I would focus the camera while looking at my computer monitor.

I found the best lighting results to come from the indirect light of a nearby window. Positioning lamps around the models often resulted in frustration when lighter colors became overly lit and burned out while darker areas were sometimes still too dark. Light reflecting off the white LEGO bricks seemed to be blinding the camera's CCD chip. Natural light on the other hand, causes a nice even lighting all around. It can make for a realistic looking light source. This is how my pictures of staff minifigs inside the Legopolis Online office building were taken.

Once I have the picture, by using Adobe Photoshop, I can usually pull out the best parts and knock out the bad. Photoshop's "dust and scratches" filter removes noisy single-pixel specks like magic. Color saturation can be increased and hue adjusted. I sometimes do a little "dodging" in the dark areas and "burning" in the light areas to enhance detail. Finally, I drop the image's resolution in half and run a sharpening filter.

In rare cases I have taken multiple pictures and combined them as one within Photoshop. An example of this can be seen on citizen Becky's page. She was propped up on an angle for the shot with an object which was replaced with roadplate background from another picture minus Becky and the propping object.

As soon as I am happy with how an image looks, I save it first as a TIFF file (for an archive copy) and then as a high quality JPEG for the web.

mavica picMy web backgrounds, and all imagery for The Minifig Generator were made by placing LEGO elements directly on a flatbed scanner. This works fine if you don't need much depth to your images. Depending on the capabilities of the scanner you're using, you may be able to hold up clarity until a few inches off the surface of the scanner where everything starts to blur out of recognition. Some examples of my using the scanner for small models include: the catalog of flower arrangements at "Flowers-By-Harry" and my Under Construction symbol.

These days I use a SONY Mavica with 10x zoom. It's still not my dream camera, but it really works out well for website pictures. It's far faster and takes better quality images than the QuickCam. Not to mention, it's portable! Someday I'll write more about it here.

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