As entries open for this year’s Brick Train Awards, we though it would be useful to offer some tips and guidance on how best to capture your models.
The Brick Train Awards aren’t a photography competition, but the better your images are, the easier it’ll be for the judges to appreciate your building skills. You don’t need to own a super expensive camera either. Whatever camera you have available will work fine (even your phone camera), as long as you take some easy steps as outlined below.
Here’s some general guidance to begin with:
- Take your model to a well-lit area. Daylight is the most readily available source; you can even photograph your model outside!
- Make sure your background is plain and uncluttered. The model should the only item of attention, with no other distractions. A table or the floor is normally a good option. Alternatively, you can use a sheet or even paper to create a neutral background.
- Clean any dust or other unwanted dirt from your model. A clean paint brush is good for this.
- Keep the camera as still as possible. Ideally the camera should be resting on something like a tripod. If you don’t have one available, you can still rest it on other items like books, furniture, or even LEGO!
- Don’t hold or place the camera too close to the model, or zoom in too much. This will help to show off the whole thing from front to back, and also helps to keep things in focus. If in doubt, go for a wider shot. You can always crop your photo after you’ve taken it!
- The best angle to aim for is an ‘elevated 3/4 view’. This essentially means that you can see the front, side, and top of the model all at the same time.
- Experiment with different views/angles to show off the different aspects of your model, and take many more photos than you actually need. Then pick just the best ones to submit!
If you’re still not happy with your photo, here are some more detailed steps to deal with commonly occurring problems.
If you’ve got motion blur, then keep the model and camera still extra. You can also use the ‘timer’ feature, so you aren’t touching the camera while it’s taking the photo. Or, if you need to hold the camera, try making the exposure time shorter. More light will help with this, or you can increase the ISO or aperture settings.
If your model is out of focus, then try using the ‘Macro’ setting for closer subjects. If only some of the model is in focus (a shallow ‘depth of field’), then try moving the camera back or zooming out more. If you have the option, try reducing your aperture setting (making the ‘F’ value bigger).
Finally, make sure your camera lens is clean, and clean off any smudges with a fine cloth.
Too Dark or Too Bright?
You might have not enough or too much light on your model. Most cameras and phone cameras will also have a setting to adjust the brightness compensation before taking the photo. This will automatically set the exposure, ISO and aperture settings to achieve a better result. Or you might be able to change these settings manually. The best thing to do is experiment with different settings, and see which photos come out best afterwards.
Noisy or Grainy Photo?
A grainy photo is normally caused by not having enough light. Your camera is having to make up for it by digitally amplifying the brightness. This causes noise, a bit like the hissing sound you get when turning the volume up on your speakers.
The best thing to do is get more light on the model. If you can manually change the settings, a high ‘ISO’ value is normally associated with grainy/noisy photos. So try lowering the ISO and increase the exposure time. If your camera and model are very still, the exposure time can be as long as you want; even several seconds!
The colour looks wrong?
Your camera has to adjust to different lighting conditions like sunlight, cloud, electric bulbs, fluorescent tubes etc. This is called the ‘White Balance’. You might be able to fix this by holding something white, like a piece of paper, or plain grey in front of the camera before taking the photo.
This will automatically ‘trick’ the camera into using the correct white balance. Or you can try changing the White Balance setting manually. If the colours still look wrong after the photo is taken, you can edit the colours on your phone or computer using the ‘warmth’ and ‘tint’ settings.
The model has dark shadows or bright reflections
If this is happening, try turning the model round on the spot, and moving your camera side-to-side. This can often help to avoid unwanted shadows or reflections.
Try to avoid lighting your model with a single lamp pointed straight at the model. For best results, the light should be dispersed evenly around the area you’re in. After you’ve taken your photo, you can also edit it by adjusting the brightness settings for ‘shadows’ and ‘highlights’ to get a more even result.
Thanks to Andrew Harvey, aka TechnoAndrew, for this article. You may also find our video presentation of improving your LEGO photography from 2021 helpful.