Review: The LEGO Ninjago Movie 70606 Spinjitzu Training

To celebrate the impending release of The LEGO Ninjago Movie this Friday, I’ve decided that my latest review will be on one of the film’s tie-in sets, 70606 Spinjitzu Training.

At just $9.99 USD, Spinjitzu Training is the most affordable tie-in set, and I found it to be a great entry point for new fans. It’s actually the very first Ninjago set I’ve ever purchased, and after building and photographing it, I can promise you it definitely won’t be the last. I’m eager to get my hands on some of the larger sets once I see the movie.

Welcome to the Dojo

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The dojo wall is small, but has plenty of great details

Spinjitzu Training comes with two minifigures and four buildable components: A dojo wall, a Garmadon combat dummy (which has a cleverly placed pin at the bottom that allows it to realistically wobble), a dual katana rack, and a spinning wooden training station that, regrettably and confusingly, doesn’t actually spin.

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This is the kind of set that will really shine when it’s creatively utilized. As a small dojo, it looks great, but each of its buildable components can be used on their own, or combined with other pieces to create new scenarios. As a brand new fan of the Ninjago line, I found this the perfect opportunity to finally put my LEGO Ninjago Movie Collectible Minifigures to good use. Up until now they’ve mostly sat on my shelf without being photographed. I simply wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.

My favorite piece in this set is, by far, the wobbling Garmadon dummy. I just got such a kick out of its simple but ingenious design, and immediately paired it with my Lloyd figure – to great results.

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Take that, Dad!

I’m also a huge fan of the dojo wall, which looked fantastic in the background of my test shots. It’s a relatively small corner piece, but an avid collector could easily buy two or even four of these sets and create a great little dojo out of them. Again, I paired it with one of the Collectible Minifigures, this time Master Wu. He felt right at home!

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The Minifigures

If you haven’t picked up any of the LEGO Ninjago Movie Collectible Minifigures yet, don’t worry! This set comes with two of its own. I’m not sure if these particular variations have appeared in other Ninjago sets, but they’re different than their CMF counterparts, which I appreciated.

Kai is missing his messy hair piece from his CMF version, but comes with great faces that make up for it.

I liked the Kai figure best. His red outfit has some snazzy small details, like a dark red diamond pattern on his pants. I love his dual katana holder and attached shoulder pad, which look great from behind. He’s got two faces, and his mask comes in two pieces.

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The Zane figure looks pretty intimidating, with his glaring blue eyes and black bow and arrow. I foresee photographers having a lot of fun with his black quiver piece. I found his clothing to be a bit of a step down from Kai’s, especially the pants, but I really like the look of his white mask (which also comes in two pieces).

The Verdict

Like last week’s LEGO Star Wars set, I found Spinjitzu Training to be a fun entry-level kit for new fans, or those curious about a property they may be unfamiliar with. The dojo itself offers enough versatility to have some great mileage for photography. You may find yourself limited by the two included minifigures, but all of the pieces are easily paired with anyone from the LEGO Ninjago Movie Collectible Minifigures series. At just $9.99 USD, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth, and more, with this purchase.

Be careful though, because I suspect this will be a set that gets you hooked on the Ninjago line as a whole, and will have you anxious to pick up bigger and more detailed kits in the future!

-James

Have you picked up The LEGO Ninjago Movie 70606 Spinjitzu Training? Have you taken any great pictures with it? Let us know in the comments below.

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My Better Half

Yesterday, my wife Jordan and I celebrated our eleven year anniversary. We started dating the day we met – as teenagers at a birthday party who talked alone for hours, fell asleep holding hands, and told each other we loved each other the next day.

She’s my favorite person on the planet, my better half in every way, and instrumental in each and every photo I take and blog post I write. She’s more than my partner in crime – she’s the unsung hero of my artistic endeavors, of which there have been many over the last eleven years!

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Super Jo

She’s been supportive of every artistic itch I’ve had. Over the years I bounced back and forth between music, film, writing, and now photography. With each crazy new idea, she’s been along for the ride.

I’ve mentioned her in my posts a few times. She provided me with makeup brushes to remove dust, she was there for me when I dealt with depression, and she accompanied me to the Art of the Brick exhibit earlier this year. But when it comes to photography and even writing for this blog, she’s been pivotal in ways you’d never notice. While you’ve been looking at my work and reading my words, you’ve actually been spending time with her, too.

Jordan proofs each and every blog post I write.

I make sure to write my posts a few days before they’re scheduled to go out so that she’ll have a chance to sit down and go through them. She reads them out loud, with me sitting nervously next to her on the couch, and fixes every misplaced comma. She recommends synonyms that will spice up my language, and say things like, “I see where you’re going here, but think you’re forgetting this…

She’s the first one to look at my photos.

Whether it’s on my LCD screen immediately after a shot, or on my computer screen after a long editing session, Jordan’s always the first to look at my photos. I tell her most of my ideas before I shoot them, so she knows the basic premise before I turn my computer screen toward her. It’s fun to see her light up when an idea comes to life. It’s also hard when she frowns and says, “I’m not sure about that background,” or, “Why are the minifigure’s hands upside down?”

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This original Hangover picture only had 1 bottle. Jordan recommended I add more for a better effect.

Jordan even helps me take photos.

Some of my favorite photos couldn’t have been taken without Jordan helping me. I once put the Pig Suit minifigure on a chopstick and asked her to hold it above her head, so that I could get a shot of it against the clouds from the angle I wanted. The picture ultimately didn’t turn out because we were both laughing so hard that the pig kept flailing around and falling off of the chopstick! Like Marco and his family portrait, now every time I look at that minifigure, I smile.

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This is the final shot we got, a few days later – her personal favorite photo I’ve taken.

Jordan once saved my camera, a lens, and a minifigure from getting lost at sea! While I was bent down taking a shot at the beach, she quickly pulled me up as a wave came barreling towards me. She then grabbed the minifigure from the sand and managed to catch a lens that was falling out of my pocket.

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This one’s dedicated to her and named after one of her favorite songs, California Dreamin’

Jordan has come up with great photo ideas of her own for me to take. She buys me LEGO sets she thinks will be fun to build or photograph together, and she always goes with me to feel up blind bags when the latest Collectible Minifigure series arrive. She even created a Sig Fig of her own, to accompany mine on his little adventures.

LEGO and photography are a huge part of my life, and it’s amazing to have someone to share it with. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and it simply wouldn’t be possible without her.

Thanks for always being there, Jordan. I love you.

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-James

Do you have someone that you share this hobby with? Are they a photographer too, or an unsung hero like Jordan? Share your stories in the comments!

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Review: LEGO Star Wars 75176 Resistance Transport Pod

While Brett is always on hand to review the latest series of Collectible Minifigures, we felt that expanding our reviews to include full sets was in order. We’re also looking forward to premiering some non-LEGO reviews as well for the action figure crowd.

These new reviews will come with a twist! Instead of centering the discussion on things like piece count or the build itself, we’re taking a look at its overall photographic potential. We are toy photographers after all!

“BB-8, meet Rose Tico”

The first review out the gate is the LEGO Star Wars 75176 Resistance Transport Pod, which hit store shelves last week as part of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi Force Friday event. The transport pod is a new vehicle with a unique design, and comes with two minifigures (an updated version of Finn and a new character, Rose Tico) and the fan-favorite droid BB-8.

The Minifigures

The two minifigures alone offer a lot of photo potential. The Finn figure is slightly updated from those released in previous The Force Awakens sets. He comes with two new faces – one smiling and one panicked – which are a welcome change to his two previous stern looks. Both his jacket and pants have slightly updated designs as well and are an overall improvement to the original design.

Rose Tico is a maintenance worker in the Resistance who teams up with Finn during the film. She comes with two faces, and a fantastic new hair piece! It flares out on the sides, has detailed bangs, and a pony tail. From the little I’ve seen of Rose’s character in the new movie, it’s remarkably accurate. She comes wearing a brand new set of heavily detailed coveralls, complete with a shiny belt and plenty of pockets.

This is the sixth set to feature BB-8, and his design remains unchanged. At only $30.00 USD, the Resistance Pod is the cheapest kit featuring the cute little droid. If you still need to add him to your collection, this is your best bet. It’s also the only set currently featuring Rose Tico, who I suspect will become a fan-favorite character come December.

The Vehicle

As I mentioned earlier, the Resistance Transport Pod is a new vehicle, with a design we have yet to see in the Star Wars universe.

It’s not as unique or flashy as some past ships, but has a stocky build and a few great details. The cockpit fits both minifigures, a side panel hides a weapons cache, and there’s a cozy little spot for BB-8 in the back.

BB-8 is cozy (but hidden) in the back, and behind the side panel is a place to store weapons. This set comes with a few guns and 3 little remote charges, a piece I’ve always liked a lot.

I found this a tad troublesome when taking photos, only because it meant I had to find clever ways of including him in my shots. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means, but something to consider if you’re hoping to feature him in your photos.

“BB-8, get back in the ship!”

I additionally struggled shooting the pod itself. To be fair, this is mostly because I have no context for it yet. It looks like it’s an ejected part of a larger vessel (which is alluded to in its name), though it could be some kind of short-range transport that Rose and Finn use on their mission for the Resistance. I think I’ll revisit these photos once I actually see the film, since I’ll know more about its purpose.

I love the 4 clear blue LEGO heads used to resemble the engines, and the piping around it. If you turn the wheel on the back, the gun on the side rotates.

Unlike a lot of other Star Wars ships, the Resistance Transport Pod is asymmetrical. There are a handful of small details on each side, so finding one particular angle to shoot from was a bit tough. I fully expect this will be fun to experiment with on future shoots.

The Verdict

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“Punch it!”

So, is the LEGO Star Wars 75176 Resistance Transport Pod worth the purchase? Absolutely!

This is currently the most affordable set in the Star Wars: The Last Jedi sub-theme, and is the only one to feature Rose Tico. So if you’re at all curious about the upcoming film and want to start experimenting with new vehicles and characters, this is a great entry point. The build itself was fun (if you don’t mind stickers, of which there are a lot), and while I don’t have much context for it yet, I enjoyed playing around with the Pod in various photo scenarios.

Overall, this is a promising addition to the ever-expanding line of LEGO Star Wars vehicles. With a new ship, two minifigures, and a BB-8 droid, this set contains plenty of bang for your buck.

Have you picked up the LEGO Star Wars 75176 Resistance Transport Pod yet? What do you think of it? Sound off in the comments below! 

James

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When in Doubt, Accessorize!

When Shelly discussed her love of shooting in threes, I decided to take a look at my own catalog of images to see if there were similar patterns in my own work. Luckily, one quickly emerged: accessorizing.

Rather than bring together several elements to make a photo work, I sometimes like to add just a single accessory. These small but mighty pieces can carry the story all by themselves.

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Whether I’m in the occasional photo funk, or simply lacking concrete ideas, I take comfort in knowing I have this trick up my sleeve! I take out some minifigures, open up my containers of LEGO accessories, and mix and match! How would this figure look holding that accessory? Or if that minifigure was playing with this… Sometimes I get a chuckle out of a particular mashup, and will snap a pic. I won’t change anything else about the minifigure. Just the accessory.

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Take this shot, for example. The tale of Little Red Riding Hood changes dramatically with just one added accessory. Is she on the hunt for the Big Bad Wolf? Or did they already cross paths, and now she knows better than to enter the forest unprepared?

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Analog vs. Digital

Ultron is a fun minifigure, but I never found the right scenario for him until I paired him with this phone accessory I took from LEGO CMF Series 17. Now it’s a commentary on analog vs. digital, or just a fun shot of an angry Avengers villain being stumped by old technology.

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“He’s more machine now than man.”

A simple wind-up key takes this Vader portrait to the next level, and acts as a funny call back to Obi-Wan’s ominous words about him being “more machine than man.”

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While I tend to pick accessories that feel out of place with my minifigure of choice, I sometimes find that keeping it simple can yield great results too. Case in point, Groot gazing peacefully at some flowers.

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Fearless Warrior?

A simple teddy bear (a go-to favorite for many LEGO photographers) can add a lot to a scene, and make a fearless Viking warrior a lot more relatable.

I could go on, but I think you catch my drift. By playing a little game of mix-and-match, you can come up with some pretty great scenarios. Luckily, LEGO releases new accessories all the time, so there are endless possible pairings.

Needless to say, you don’t have to limit yourself to just one accessory! Adding multiple accessories, or adding more minifigures into the mix, can truly bring a scene to life!

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“Oh my god, it’s Bigfoot!”

What’s your favorite accessory/minifigure pairings? Do you stick to one accessory in particular, or find it impossible to pick just one?

James

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Art as Therapy

Sometimes, life gets you down.

By the time you’re reading this article, it’s been written and re-written several times over. Just when I think I know how to gather my thoughts about this particular subject, I hit a roadblock and start fresh. What I learned is that I need to be honest from the jump: I’m having a hard time. I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m depressed, I’m disillusioned, I’m disappointed; I feel hopeless and powerless.

Depression is a very real issue that’s hard to talk about, and certainly one I felt nervous about discussing here at Toy Photographers. Luckily I was emboldened by Leila Cheiko, who used her art to speak up about her political frustrations, and Harley Quin, who did a wonderful and touching series about her own depression and how it effects her as an artist. So, here it goes…

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About a month ago, I was hit with depression. Hard.

It invaded every aspect of my life. I felt sad the minute I woke up, I lost interest in things that usually brought me joy (like photography), I felt disconnected from my wife, friends, and co-workers. I felt alone, and most of all, guilty about being depressed. I bottled it in for several weeks, pretending like everything was normal and trying to just smile more and move on. Instead of letting myself feel it, I hid it away from myself, and the world.

This is, of course, not a healthy way of dealing with depression, and in the end it only made things worse. It wasn’t until my wife asked me to open up to her about it that I was able to face it head-on. Over time, it subsided and my life (generally) went back to normal. Such is the nature of depression: It has its ups and downs, it hits me at unexpected times, and can depart as quickly as it arrived.

One of the things that helped me get through it was art. More specifically, my art. I used to use photography simply as a way of telling the stories in my head, or putting jokes out there with fun setups and characters that I love. As I’ve grown as an artist, my photography has become more personal, and I’ve learned to use it as a method of self expression.

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Sometimes, art is the very best medicine

Art can be very therapeutic.

I’m not nearly qualified enough to speak on just how helpful it can be, or why; for that I recommend Alain de Botton’s book Art as Therapy and its accompanying website. I also found a great blog, which discusses the therapeutic nature of art in detail:

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process of making art to improve a person’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being… The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help people to resolve issues as well as develop and manage their behaviors and feelings, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and awareness.

While I was able to overcome my latest bout of depression, I was hit with sadness again this past week. The threat of nuclear war and the sight of white supremacists rallying in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia will do that to you. Again, I felt hopeless and powerless in the face of evil. I felt angry at the world for being so dark. I wanted to disappear and shut myself away from all of it, while at the same time knowing I couldn’t just bury my head in the sand.

I’m still working through how I can turn to art, and specifically my own art, to help overcome this latest wave of darkness. I’m also thankful to have the supportive Toy Photographers community to lean on. We aren’t just a group of photographers sharing our work. We’re friends who are there for each other in times of need. Shelly helped me accept that I could turn to photography when I was sad, and not just as a means of therapy, but as a quick escape from the world. In a discussion we had on Google+, Shelly told me:

I think we have to allow ourselves to escape. Otherwise we will go crazy. Never apologize for directing your energies to art.

She’s absolutely right. So I will unapologetically go back into the studio, turn on my camera, and see what stories I can tell – either to escape the troubling current events for a little while, or work my way through them. One therapeutic photo at a time.

– James

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The Tricky Trio: The 3 Hurdles of Every Photo

Just yesterday, Shelly wrote about the power of the number three in photography. Little did she know, I was writing an article centered on the number three as well! I wasn’t thinking of how magical it can be, but about how there are three stages to taking a photo: the Idea, the Setup, and the Execution.

The idea actually came from my wife! She was looking over some of my recent pictures when she mused, “I love how you have to constantly problem solve before you get to the final product!” When I asked her what she meant, she explained that the three aforementioned stages each have unique problems to be solved. Some require a hat trick to complete; others may only have one or two hurdles to clear. As I applied this way of thinking to my catalog of images I realized that every single one had at least one problem I successfully solved. Continue reading The Tricky Trio: The 3 Hurdles of Every Photo

A New Perspective

“The world sure seems different from down here, doesn’t it, Scott?”

-Hank Pym, Ant-Man (2015)

I tend to spend a great bit of time and energy hunting new sources of inspiration for my photography. I do this by looking at other people’s photos, getting feedback from and interacting with my peers, or participating in challenges.

The easiest way to find inspiration is to simply add a new LEGO set, minifigure, or accessory to my collection. This usually leads to at least one new photo, or I get lucky and it opens up a whole new series for me to dive into. Continue reading A New Perspective

Recovering From Your “Best” Photo

Earlier this week, Brett discussed what it’s like to chase after your “White Whale” shot, that one perfect photo that’s been floating around in your head for a while and sometimes feels completely unattainable. It’s something I resonated with deeply, as it’s a struggle I face all the time in my own photography. Then it got me thinking…

What happens when you finally take that shot? How do you recover from your “best” photo?

Photography is, of course, subjective, so how you define your “best” shot may vary. For me, my “best” photo is the one I take and think, “Wow! This came out exactly how I wanted it to, and might just be the best picture I’ve ever taken!” Continue reading Recovering From Your “Best” Photo

The Great Indoors

It’s now officially summer (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), and like Brett and Shelly before me, I’ve been inspired by the change of the season. However, the sunshine has taken me somewhere I wasn’t expecting it to…

Back into my studio.

That’s right. While the rain clouds that cover most of the Pacific Northwest have subsided and the world is in full bloom, I’ve actually opted to stay indoors to take my first summer photos, thanks to a new find on Amazon: fake grass! Continue reading The Great Indoors

Is Toy Photography Going Mainstream?

Call me crazy, but I think our little corner of the internet – the fun corner where all the cool kids hang out with their cameras and their toys – is starting to draw some attention from, dare I say it… the “mainstream.”

Over the last few months, I’ve noticed a lot of toy photography come from sources I wasn’t quite expecting. At the risk of tooting our own horn, I suspect that this awesome community, and most importantly the work of the people in it, have something to do with it!

Continue reading Is Toy Photography Going Mainstream?