Review: LEGO 76085 Battle of Atlantis

When first planning this week’s review, I set my sights on the new LEGO Ideas 21312 Women of NASA kit. Unfortunately, it’s out of stock both online and at my local LEGO store, so that review will be a bit late. In the meantime, I’ve decided to celebrate the release of Justice League with one of the film’s three tie-in sets!

The set in question is 76085 Battle of Atlantis, featuring DC Comics’ iconic ocean dwelling hero, Aquaman. The kit features a small piece of the lost city of Atlantis, where two Atlantean warriors are watching over a Motherbox, guarding it from a Parademon. It uh… all makes more sense once you see the movie.

Arthur Curry, the Aquaman

The biggest draw for this set will definitely be its four minifigures. The obvious jewel here is Aquaman himself, as he’s exclusive to this kit. This isn’t your traditional cheesy Aquaman, either, thanks to a more badass makeover. The minifigure is a spot-on translation of Jason Momoa’s likeness, and sports some pretty intricate details, specifically on his armor and hair.

LEGO Aquaman Justice League

I found the Aquaman figure incredibly fun to shoot. Despite the gritty makeover, this protector of the seven seas is still an easy target for jokes thanks to his long pop culture history.

LEGO Aquaman Justice League
Aquaman was NOT happy to discover this particular surface dweller delicacy!
LEGO Aquaman Justice League
Yes, he can really talk to fish!

His two expressions offer much more versatility than I was initially expecting. One side depicts the calm, stoic demeanor you’d expect from a superhero. The other portray’s Aquaman’s angry side, which looks especially intimidating with his big white eyes.

Atlantean Guards

Joining Aquaman are two Atlantean guards, clad in beautifully detailed golden armor and awesome fish-inspired helmets!

LEGO Aquaman Justice League
“Hey Steve, what do sea monsters eat?
“What, Dave?”
“Fish and ships!”

They both have two expressions as well, allowing them to go from neutral to angry and ready for battle.

LEGO Aquaman Justice League

LEGO Aquaman Justice League

The two guards are armed with white harpoon guns, which look cool but were a bit troublesome to shoot because of their size.

LEGO Aquaman Justice League

The Parademon

The last of the minifigures is the fearsome Parademon, one of the mindless bug-like villains that act as punching bags for the titular Justice League. He too is covered in great details, from his glowing red eyes and gnashed teeth to blue and yellow armored exoskeleton.

LEGO Parademon Justice League
RAWR!

The Parademon gets around courtesy of his four pliable plastic wings, which are adorned with intricate, scaly details. While awesome and fun to shoot, I doubt this minifigure will prove to be a very versatile subject. Such is the nature of being a specific and strikingly different character. I for one am excited to take on that challenge in the future and see what I can come up with.

The Builds

No LEGO Super Heroes set would be complete without some kind of vehicle or structure to offer “playability” for consumers. The builds included in this particular kit are a white Motherbox atop a pedestal, and some kind of Atlantean ruins around it. The ruins consist of two small pillars covered in barnacles, seaweed, and a few glow-in-the-dark pieces. The pillars surround an archway that breaks apart.

LEGO Aquaman Justice League

I love the colors on these builds; the sand green and dark blue perfectly suit the underwater setting. I love the detail on the Motherbox, and appreciate that the top tile has been printed on, rather than placed via a sticker.

LEGO Motherbox Justice League
Ping ping ping

The ruins can be extremely frustrating, as the smallest bump could cause the very top section and two pillars to collapse. That’s by design, which I’m sure is fun for the kids who will be playing with this kit, but it clearly wasn’t made with a photographer in mind. I suggest being extremely careful or making a few sturdier modifications.

The Verdict

All in all, I loved photographing this set. I was surprised by how many shots I was able to capture! In total I spent over four consecutive hours in my studio, gleefully setting up a handful of scenarios. I challenged myself with attempting to make each photo look like it had been taken underwater, and I’m very pleased with the results. I’ll be writing about that experience in a future blog post!

The ruins themselves are a bit tricky to shoot around, but if placed just right they act as nice set dressing to fill the frame and provide a great bit of background texture. The Motherbox and Parademon will likely end up being too restrictive for much use, but they’re wonderfully detailed for anyone that wants to try. The Atlantean guards have very little screen time in the actual film, so the story potential there is wide open.

LEGO Aquaman Justice League
“So long, and thanks for all the fish!”

The Aquaman figure is easily the biggest asset, and I cannot wait to put him in front of my lens again. I do wish that a Mera figure had been included, as she’s heavily involved in this particular action sequence in the Justice League film and at this point does not have her own minifigure. Alas, we’ll have to bemoan the plastic gender gap for another day, and cross our fingers that she’ll star in one of the inevitable promotional sets for 2018’s Aquaman solo film.

Tell us, have you picked up this set? What photos were you able to capture? Tell us all about it in the comments below.

-James

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Review: LEGO 40261 Thanksgiving Harvest

November upon us, and the Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner for those of us in the United States. At the risk of being region-specific, I decided to take this opportunity to review the latest LEGO seasonal kit: 40261 Thanksgiving Harvest.

Like its predecessor, 40260 Halloween Haunt, 40261 is a small vignette with two minifigures, a handful of accessories, and several mini-builds. If you’re looking to get into the holiday spirit, or take some nice autumnal shots, is this the set for you?

The Builds

There are a total of five mini-builds in this kit: Two brick-built birds, a tree, a wagon, and a vegetable patch with accompanying scarecrow.

I must admit that I found these builds underwhelming. For starters, I’ve never been a fan of brick-built animals, which often show up in the LEGO Creator sets. I definitely prefer to have actual animal pieces; they’re much more photogenic! With that said, I do like the look of the turkey, with its red gobble and back arched plate resembling feathers. It’s harder to tell what the small bird is. A poult (young turkey) perhaps?

The life cycle of a turkey

I was looking forward to photographing the wagon, which has a nice rustic look to it. It doesn’t come with a horse, symboling to me that it doesn’t get much use on the farm.

The tree is frankly nothing special, though I do appreciate the use of orange flowers on the brown leaves. This is the first time I’ve seen them in that particular color, and I can’t wait to play around with them in future shots!

I found the vegetable patch and scarecrow the most difficult parts to photograph. The build on the vegetables is awkward; it’s especially hard to tell what they’re supposed to represent. The yellowish carrot tops could be wheat (they’re used for wheat in the LEGO Minecraft line) and I suppose the yellow cones could be… corn? Or gourds and squash? I suspect this will change depending on the viewer.

The scarecrow is a good idea, but I’m not a big fan of the build. I much prefer the Scarecrow from Collectible Minifigures Series 11.

The Minifigures and Accessories

Speaking of minifigures, I’m a fan of the two that are included in this kit: A farmer and little girl. I like to imagine that they’re a father and daughter, out picking vegetables for their Thanksgiving dinner (and avoiding those pesky birds along the way!).

Old McDonald had a farm…

The farmer is comprised of pieces we’ve seen recently, though his red plaid shirt and green overalls are perfectly suited for this kit. The little girl appears to be more rare. I love her determined face and red sweater tied with a cute bow. We’re always in need of more female minifigures, so I’ll definitely use her pieces often in future photos.

In addition to the aforementioned vegetable patch pieces, there are a handful of accessories included: A red bucket, carrots and apples (one red, one green), and a large, light brown bushel basket.

The pieces are nothing new, but you probably know by now that I’m always up for adding new accessories to my collection! Of all the pieces I’m likely to put the bushel basket to the most use.

What does a zombie farmer grow? Graaaaains!

The Verdict

The cute vignette provides a fun glimpse at the holiday, and will look good on display near some other decorations. The rustic wagon is a nice scene-setter, and the brick-built turkey was fun to shoot. As a whole, however, this kit doesn’t offer anything particularly new or exciting. As a photographer, I unfortunately left underwhelmed by 40261 Thanksgiving Harvest. I’m hoping that the upcoming Christmas seasonal sets have more to offer.

Gobble gobble!

Tell us, have you purchased this set? Did you have any more luck than I did while photographing it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

James

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Shootin’ in the Rain

Just a few weeks ago, I celebrated the change of season. The color change in the leaves, the crisp autumn breeze in the air, everything around us reminds us of fall. While it’s an invigorating time of year for me, there’s just one thing I forgot about…

Shooting in the rain kinda sucks.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love the rain. Whenever it rains, my wife and I open up all the windows in the house, breathe in the wonderful smell, and listen to it fall. I also love how rain looks in photographs. Actually capturing those photos, however? That’s a different story.

Like Brett, the idea of my camera getting wet terrifies me. In high school, I was shooting a short film and reviewing footage at the bottom floor of a parking garage when suddenly, a gush of water fell on me and destroyed my camera. Someone on the top floor thought it’d be a funny prank! Ever since then, even the smallest water drop on or even near my camera makes me nervous.

I won’t deny that I’m overly cautious. Most modern cameras are built with some kind of water resistance, and as long as you don’t go out in a downpour and pay close attention to how much water gets on your equipment, you’ll likely be okay.

Still, I like to play it safe, and have found these quick fixes can help ease my worries and allow me to enjoy that sweet, sweet rainfall.

Fake it

star wars k2so black series
“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”

The simplest and sometimes most effective way is to simply fake it. Make it look like you’re in a downpour, either through a bit of creative editing or by sitting underneath a covering. It could be an umbrella or awning, inside a gazebo, or under a heavy cover of trees.

The K-2SO shot above employed several of these methods. It was taken on my covered back patio, and given some extra rain in Photoshop. If you really want to sell the illusion, make sure to actually get some water on your subject. I’ve found that simply sticking the figure out into the actual rain does the trick while ensuring that you and your gear stay dry (and safe!)

Stay indoors completely!

This one might feel like cheating, but staying indoors and finding ways to shoot the rain outside can lead to some excellent photos.

lego friends 41305
Rain, rain, go away…

I’ve also found that a spray bottle with a slow shutter speed, or more magic in Photoshop, can turn any studio setup into a nice rainy scene as well!

lego singin' in the rain
“I’m siiiiiingin’ in the rain!”

Cover your gear

If you do want to be brave and venture out into a rainstorm to capture the perfect shot, go for it! Just make sure to protect yourself and your gear accordingly. Keep your head covered, wear layers, and cover your camera, either in an affordable rain resistant case, or even a simple plastic bag.

I personally like the plastic bag method, and have found great success with it in both rain and snow.

All dry!

The plastic bag trick isn’t a perfect fix, and may take some trial and error. Once you get it right though, you can turn inclement weather into a prime photo opportunity. Here’s a great video tutorial and how to achieve a seal better than the one I used above.

Do you brave the elements for your photography? What methods have you found helpful for keeping you and your gear safe? Let us know in the comments below! 

James

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Ace & The Dame

It was an ordinary Thursday, but she was no ordinary dame…
“Strange… These clues just aren’t adding up…”
She was a mystery… and I was starting to fall for her.
“So… it’s comes to this.”
“Guess this means our Friday night’s canceled, eh, doll?”
She was no ordinary dame… *sigh*

~r.e. wolf


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One year, 365 photos: an update

Just over 250 days ago, I wrote on this blog about my 365 toy photography project. At the time, I was on photo #39. As of writing, I just published photo #295!

Over the last 8 months, I’ve taken a lot of photos, many of which are consigned to the recycle bin. I’ve been to Sweden and played with Duplo, I overused breakfast items from the Ninjago minifigure series and I broke out ‘Pop’ figures and Playmobil for a change of pace.

I spoke about accidental themes in my photos last time, and about finding my style. I’ve been doing a little bit of both of those, with a prevalence of a certain winged skelly figure, and a lot of light play over the summer months. A summer style certainly developed, with lots of light, bright photos that really made me smile.

Minifigure photographer at play
A little light play

Too much of a good thing?

However, it’s all become a bit much.

Work has been really tough this year, and the (admittedly self-inflicted) requirement for a daily photo means that they have often been taken and thrown up onto Flickr and Instagram with little thought. I’ve been nowhere near as active on G+ as I wanted, and I’m missing the engagement that I felt during the early part of the year.

The whole experience of a year of toy photography has left me feeling slightly empty and I’ve had some serious ups and downs. I’ve photos I love, and photos I hate, but now I’m struggling to make myself take the photos at all. The joy is beginning to fade. It feels a little too much like work.

Stormtrooper cleaning floors
Working hard or hardly working?

So what now?

I will make it through the year of toy photos (because I’m stubborn like that), but then I need to take a step back from daily photos (I’ll probably be aiming for weekly).

I want to start to think about the photos I take, to work on composition, lighting and meaning. I want to tell stories with my photos. I want to get more involved with the community and ultimately, I want to reconnect with my photography again.

By taking the aim off of daily photography, and allowing myself more time to contemplate what I am doing, I hope to improve and produce more photos that I am happy with, rather than a whole lot of photos I don’t particularly like.

Spooky girl with a magic wand
Make a little magic

Only 70 photos to go.


Have you felt lost when in the midst of a long project? Did you overcome it? How do you keep the fun in your projects? Answers on a postcard please (or you know, in the comments!)

– Lizzi
@stepping_on_bricks

P.S. I’m actually not quite as despondent as I sound! Seasonal toys are starting to bring me a little inspiration and I’m looking forward to breaking the Christmas LEGO out!

Review: LEGO City Jungle Theme

Each year, the LEGO City theme gets some kind of adventurous line to break up the traditional, run-of-the-mill settings. In the past we’ve seen LEGO City citizens go to outer space, explore the arctic, and even face a volcano! This summer, seven sets took a group of adventurers into the LEGO Jungle.

The wide range of small and large sets included things like alligators, helicopters, a plane crash, waterfalls, secret tombs, Venus fly traps and fantastic new panther, tiger and leopard pieces.

While I admitted a few weeks ago that I tend to skip the LEGO City line as a whole, I couldn’t help but be excited about this Jungle sub-theme. I was first drawn to the aforementioned big cat pieces; you can never have too many LEGO animals to photograph! Once I began looking at the sets at large, my curiosity only continued to grow. I knew that I had to take them for a photographic spin and review them here.

I picked up two sets: 60157 Jungle Starter Set and 60159 Jungle Halftrack Mission. Rather than review them both individually, I’ll look at the two together, to see what I think of the Jungle theme as a whole.

Welcome to the (LEGO) Jungle

lego city jungle halftrack

The first and biggest challenge I faced while shooting was one I didn’t expect: the vehicles. As it turns out, I don’t shoot vehicles very often! When I do, I tend to stick to cockpit closeups or using them as scene-setters in the background. I felt a bit awkward staging the “halftrack” truck (above) and the ATV that come in set 60159.

The build on these vehicles is both sturdy and photogenic, I especially like the treads on the halftrack’s back four wheels. I’m also brainstorming ways to highlight the four floodlights on its roof.

Don’t let my apprehension scare you. I suspect that someone with more experience shooting around vehicles will find a lot to enjoy with these kits.

While I missed out on the various airplanes and helicopters in other sets, I did get my hands on two of the aquatic vessels: the red kayak and small boat. My particular kayak is from the 60153 Fun at the Beach people pack, but there’s one just like it included in 60160 Jungle Mobile Lab.

lego city jungle kayak

I may not shoot vehicles very often, but I shoot boats floating on water even less! I knew going in that I’d have difficulty here, but luckily I had Shelly’s tips to guide me. I’m very happy with the two shots I ended up getting. The kayak is extremely photogenic. It took me a bit longer to snap a shot of the small boat that I liked. I found success once I created waves to represent motorized movement.

Get your motor runnin’!

60157 Jungle Starter Kit also comes with an alligator (or maybe it’s a crocodile?) that was a bit easier to shoot around. I only owned one of the classic, all-green gators from older LEGO sets, so this menacing version is a sweet upgrade!

lego city jungle alligator
Crikey!

The Minifigures

I was pleasantly surprised to see the variety of minifigures represented in the Jungle theme. I originally assumed that the same two or three characters would be repeated throughout the seven sets. From what I can tell, there are seven kinds of explorers (three male, four female), each with with beautifully detailed jungle outfits and adorable little machetes. There are also three scientists/photographers (two male, one female), two male mechanics, and a female pilot.

I absolutely love the design on each of the minifigures. In terms of faces and hair, there’s nothing that different or unique about them. I did get a kick out of the scientist’s panicked face though, which you’ll see later in this article. The real stars of the show here are the torsos. The LEGO Group nailed he designs, and the detail is astounding.

Each of the machete-wielding explorers looks pretty similar, with small variations on the torso and different hair or face pieces. The scientists have lab coats to immediately differentiate them from the rest of the crew. The mechanics have stained white tank tops with overalls, and the pilots have cool flight suits. I don’t have any of the pilot or mechanic figures yet, but hope to pick them up and photograph them soon.

The minifigs alone are worth purchasing these Jungle kits for, and have convinced me that I need to pay closer attention to the LEGO City line. You simply won’t find these designs anywhere else, and I had a lot of fun shooting them.

The more I shot, the more the ideas came to me. For my test photos I travelled to a beautiful nature park nearby my apartment, and had been shooting non-stop for two hours by the time I looked at my watch. I’m anxious to go back and capture all the ideas I wasn’t able to, and re-take the duds.

While shooting on the water or in the grass was nice, I will admit that I had the best time placing my little explorers in… dangerous and precarious situations. Namely, the male scientist with his big blue glasses and shocked face. He’s clearly out of his element, which was too good to pass up!

lego cit jungle scientist spiders
Spiders?! Why did it have to be spiders…
lego city jungle scientist snakes
“Oh no! I knew I shouldn’t have strayed so far from the group!”

The Tomb

There are several tombs and treasure hideouts sprinkled across the Jungle theme. 60159 Jungle Halftrack Mission had one, though I found a bit of trouble photographing it well. You’ve already seen a glimpse of it in one of the photos above, here’s another in which I tried to capture its hidden and mysterious nature:

Despite having some trouble with it, I really like the tomb piece. It has a great Indiana Jones feel to it, and is rigged to drop a scary red spider on anyone who attempts to steal the jewel within.

The Panther

As I said before, the black panther is what initially drew me to the Jungle theme, and the beautiful big cat did not disappoint once it was in front of my lens.

I unfortunately don’t yet have my hands on the leopard or tiger, but spent a great bit of time with the panther. Its piercing green eyes are unbelievably enticing, and I was surprised to find that it can stand on its hind legs. Place it just right, and this jungle cat can be quite intimidating.

lego city jungle scientist panther
Again, sorry Mr. Scientist!

The head piece swivels up and down, giving the panther either a curious and attentive stare, or a far sneakier pre-pouncing stance.

lego city jungle panther
The Jungle theme is versatile enough for indoor, studio photography as well! 

The Verdict

I can’t recommend the LEGO City Jungle theme to photographers highly enough. The wide range of available kits offers a nice variety of minifigures, creatures, and scenarios to photograph. With just two of the smaller kits, I was able to shoot for hours.

Awkwardness in shooting vehicles aside, my test shots were a big success. I hope to add some of the other Jungle kits to my collection, especially for the chance to photograph the other tombs, Venus fly traps, and two big cats.

If you’re bored by the other LEGO City offerings, looking for something more affordable than modular buildings, or seeking an original line instead of the plethora of licensed kits, I encourage you to take a trip to the LEGO Jungle. Countless adventures await, and I for one can’t wait to venture back out into the wild and capture more of them myself.

What about you, have you had a chance to shoot the LEGO Jungle theme yet? What sets did you pick up, and what did you think of them? Share your stories in the comments below! 

-James

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Review: LEGO Friends 41305 Emma’s Photo Studio

Inspired by my foray into the LEGO City theme last week, I decided this time to expand my horizons and review a line of LEGO I’ve never purchased or photographed before: LEGO Friends.

The LEGO Friends theme has been controversial since it first launched in 2012, largely for being stereotypical about gender (a problem we’re still facing today even outside the Friends theme). It’s clearly marketed as a “girl’s toy,” with its bright purple boxes, wide range of pink and pastel colors not found in other LEGO lines, “minidolls” in place of traditional minifigures, and scenarios specifically targeted at a female audience. These often include boutiques, cupcake and frozen yogurt shops, and many cute animals (Bunnies, puppies and ponies, oh my). Continue reading Review: LEGO Friends 41305 Emma’s Photo Studio

Ode to the LEGO Ladder

I really like the LEGO ladder. So much so, I thought I would write an Ode to the LEGO ladder. I think the LEGO ladder is a frequently over looked accessory. Sure we see plenty of cats, dogs, teddy bears, coffee mugs and the like well represented in toy photography. But when did you last see a LEGO ladder used?

James made a great case recently about how accessories can bring depth to your story or add an unusual twist. I even wrote a piece a while back about how the venerable teddy bear seems to be everyone’s favorite prop. Now it’s time to take a closer look at the possibilities of the humble LEGO ladder. Continue reading Ode to the LEGO Ladder

Review: LEGO 40170 Build My City Accessory Set

This week’s review takes us back to the world of LEGO. This time, we won’t be discussing one of the many licensed sets, but something from LEGO’s long-running and under appreciated original line, LEGO City.

I will admit that I don’t purchase LEGO City sets very often. While I was a big fan of them as a kid (back when the line was called Lego System), the various police, fire or airport kits haven’t caught my interest. I did snag last year’s 60134 Fun in the Park and this summer’s 60153 Fun at the Beach people packs, due to their assortment of minifigures. Continue reading Review: LEGO 40170 Build My City Accessory Set