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A Lesson in Lighting
aka "A Quickie of Dirty Lighting Tutorial"
About this creation
“Nothing extraordinary technically speaking, but… such great atmosphere.”
-Mark Kelso


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.



Comments

 I like it 
  November 5, 2010
Thanks, I will use this idea!
 I like it 
  July 18, 2010
Last time I tried this, my Lego burnt. Figures....
 I like it 
  November 19, 2009
Excellent work here! This inspired me to try something out with lighting. It's smaller and obviously not as good as yours but would you mind checking it out? thanks, Sam
 I like it 
  October 13, 2009
taking pictures at night is NOT common sense, it's pure genius!
Alex Eylar
 I like it 
Blake B.
  September 27, 2009
Wait a sec, you live in CA? Thanks for the help! :)
 I like it 
  April 4, 2009
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?
 I like it 
  February 17, 2009
Wow, that's a really good way to make "real but fake" items just from lighting effects! Nice Job!
Alex Eylar
 I like it 
masterchief 1
  January 29, 2009
Great as ever!
 I like it 
  January 17, 2009
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
 I made it 
  December 31, 2008
The windows aren't part of the room, and blinds require money and incentive, both of which I'm lacking.
 I like it 
  December 31, 2008
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.
 I like it 
  November 19, 2008
great work. I'v only just started with lighting, and you have given me plenty to think about. Many Thanks. Allan.
 I like it 
  October 8, 2008
thats cool, like an office building..
 I like it 
  September 2, 2008
You truly are a master of effect lighting.
 I like it 
  September 1, 2008
This will help if I ever need to build a vig or dio in your style, thanks for sharing!
 I like it 
  August 31, 2008
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")
 I made it 
  August 30, 2008
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)
 I like it 
  August 30, 2008
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).
Alex Eylar
 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.
 I made it 
  August 29, 2008
Freddie - Home Depot
 I made it 
  August 29, 2008
All right: Heather gets the prize for best comment.
 I like it 
  August 29, 2008
Wonderful tutorial! Thanks for sharing!
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
Did someone say schoolgirl?...
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
The window wall is a simple yet clever solution. You've definitely hit the nail on the head with this MOC. C ya~Nick ("ElNickre")
 I made it 
  August 28, 2008
You got it, Phipson. The secret's out: Lego fan by day, gigolo by night. Just like Keith Goldman. Wait, what?
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
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.
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
Yeah, those camera's can be pretty touchy can't they? I am SO on the same level as you with those pictures. Twenty-five to one is a GOOD day! =)
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
Wow! Maybe I really can follow that crazy dream of starting a home business -- there appears to be a bigger market for my WWAD bracelets than I thought!
 I made it 
  August 28, 2008
Kelso - Hey, what I do to pay the rent is none of your business.
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
Thank you for this very informative article. Lighting has always been a trivial issue for me, for photographing Legos or anything else really, but this answered a lot of my questions.
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
Excuse me, Professor...did you say Eylar puts out? *sigh* Yeah, yeah. I know...another detention.
 I made it 
  August 28, 2008
Kelso, Phipson, Eggplant: Well gosh, fellas. *blushes like a shy schoolgirl*
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
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 like it 
  August 28, 2008
This is great!!! thanks for putting it together =) Now all I need is for Kelso to show me what he does in photohsop.
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
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!
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
awesome effects, a useful lesson, thanks
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
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.
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
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.
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
Frak, he's on to me.
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
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.
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
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
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
I saw him first people-take note! Check the link man. I should be a highly paid Lego talent scout!...So, the wizard has unveiled his secrets has he??? (Gotta get me some windows...) Great post BTW :D
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
its good I have the same lamp :)
 I like it 
  August 28, 2008
I have a lamp exactly like that one! I might have to try that window wall idea sometime.
 
By Alex Eylar
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