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.

LEGO City 40170 Build My City accessory set
LEGO City 40170 Build My City accessory set

The subject of today’s review, 40170 Build My City accessory set, is similar, but is missing the minifigs altogether. Without them, is it worth investing in for photography? Let’s find out!

Streetlight Construction Zone

This accessory kit comes with an array of pieces organized into nine mini-builds. The first is a streelight with an attached speed limit sign, a yellow rack of tools (holding a generic shovel and push broom), and a construction sign depicting a minifig using a shovel.

For photos, I separated these pieces, though looking back I could have easily used them to make a construction zone scene. By experimenting with the streetlight next to some of my modular buildings, I got a nice photo depicting the hustle and bustle of city life!

lego city 40710
Hustle & Bustle

The shoveling sign is, admittedly, a bit less fun to photograph. Maybe I’ll take my own advice and build a construction zone next time…

lego 40170

Bench and Box of Fruit

lego 40170
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

The second mini-build is a bench, with two drinks and a newspaper, and an accompanying box of fruit. The box holds a carrot, banana, and rare green apple piece. These little builds themselves are nothing special (the bench in particular is built using a blue 2×4 tile, which is a weird color choice), but the accessories are a nice bonus. You likely already have your hands on the very common coffee cup, newspaper, and fruit pieces, but it never hurts to have more.

In order to get the most of photographing these builds, I inevitably paired them with minifigures. Mostly, I chose to stick to generic, smiling yellow faces, to really tap into the LEGO City’s more simplistic style. I don’t photograph these minifigures often enough! Hopefully I’ll do more of that now that I’ve played with these setups.

lego 40170

Bus Stop

Another sign depicts a bus stop, built next to a green trash can and a clear wine bottle. Bus stops like this are extremely common in and around cities, so I like that it was included. I didn’t find much use photographing it out in the real world (I don’t own any LEGO buses to include in shots) so I used it in conjunction with my modular buildings instead.

lego 40170

Bike Rack

My favorite of the mini-builds is the red bike rack, with a map tile and blue bike. I thought the use of the bluish gray lattice plate for the actual bike rack was clever, and fits two bikes nicely. I took it to a bike path on one of my photo walks, and got a nice photo by including another bike piece of my own.

lego 40170

Plants and Fountain

Next up are a small fountain (complete with a water leak and green frog) and a batch of plants. The plants are a skinny tree and group of red flowers, which are pretty common. The instructions also place a gray jackhammer piece in the group, though I think it should have been with the streetlight construction zone. Perhaps it’s what caused the water fountain to spring a leak?

lego 40170
“Oh I hope she kisses me.”

Again, I found these most photographic when paired with minifigures. I actually found them to be nice scene-setters, as simplistic as they are.

lego 40170
“He’s not Prince Charming, but he did bring me flowers!”

The jackhammer piece came in handy for one of my favorite test photos:

lego 40170

Parking Attendant Booth

Last but certainly not least is the largest of the nine mini-builds, a parking attendant’s booth. The hazard stripes on the barrier are a perfect touch. By omitting the small blue parking sticker this could easily be a toll booth, and I could see it going well with just about any vehicle, LEGO City or otherwise. I actually got a great shot by using it with a few Star Wars figures!

lego star wars 40170
“Luke, do you have any spare change? Jedi mind tricks don’t work on parking attendants!”

The Verdict

All in all, this ended up being a fantastic set to photograph. At first I worried that I would be limited by its simpler, more generic nature. To my surprise, that actually made it more versatile. I began by thinking, “How am I going to shoot that?” By using the pieces as accents instead of the focus of my shots, the ideas came naturally and freely. Looking back, I’m surprised by the wide range of photos I managed to get!

At just $9.99 USD, this kit has tremendous value. I suspect it’ll be a popular set for the MOC crowd and LEGO City collectors, but I think it’s a must-buy for photographers as well!

Have you gotten your hands on this accessory kit? If so, what did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below! 


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Posting with Purpose

How do you decide which photos to post? When do, or should you post them? Is there a specific time of day, or a specific reason why you publish a photo online?

I’m constantly asking myself these questions. It stems partly from working in social media marketing, where it’s important to optimize your posting in order to reach the widest audience. I also feel a need to “curate” my output.

I want there to be a method to my madness.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t

-Polonius, Hamlet

Perhaps it’s an insecurity, but I tend to overthink when it’s appropriate or “best” to post a particular photo. As a result, I tend to post more often on special occasions, which I’ve found isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

While the amount of reach or attention a particular photo gets isn’t the most important thing about my art, it’s still the nature of the social media world we live in. Of course I want my work to reach the widest audience possible, or strike a nerve at just the right time!

Calendar Man may be a dastardly Batman villain, but he sure knows how to plan ahead!

Posting with Purpose

This may all have started from some underlying fear of rejection, but I can’t deny that it’s there and ultimately part of my process. So, I use it to my advantage, and do something I like to call “posting with purpose.” I’ve found that utilizing this “special occasion” mentality can actually help my creative output and bring me out of creative ruts.

Here are a few ways you can post with purpose:

  1. Holidays present the perfect reason to post a photo. As a bonus, they’re predictable, giving you a clear deadline on when an image needs to be taken, edited, and posted.

    Your holiday photos can be as literal or broad as you want. I found the Joker to be a great subject for April Fool’s Day!
  2. “Newsjacking” is a term used for marketing, defined as “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.” Is there something particularly news-worthy that’s sparked your creativity? Seize that opportunity and make sure to use the coinciding hashtag if appropriate! You can pick big, important events like the Women’s March, or pop culture events like the release of a new movie or movie trailer.

    This shot was a recreation from the recent Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer
  3. Contests and challenges. We’ve talked a lot on this blog about using contests to fuel your creative fire. I also like to pay close attention to communities on social media that hold weekly or monthly challenges. There are even themed hashtag events (like Raptor Pack Day on Instagram) you can use to generate new photo ideas!

    Brickcentral’s #bc_gloriousfood challenge for October gave me the idea to finally photograph the new Justice League Aquaman figure
  4. Days of the Year. Just about every single day of the year has some kind of special and (more often than not) bizarre holiday attached to it. Today, October 14th, for instance, is National Dessert Day. Luckily, plenty of websites provide calendars for such days so that you can plan ahead. Scroll through the list and see what kind of ideas you can come up with!Months and weeks have designated themes too. October is, among other things, Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Pizza Month.

    July 19th was National Hot Dog Day!
  5. Life Events. Is it your birthday? Your nephew’s high school graduation? Your marriage anniversary? Turn these life events into opportunities to take personal and memorable photos!
A photo to commemorate the first time I guest starred on a podcast

Hopefully, over time, I’ll get more comfortable with sharing shots on a random day, unprompted. In the meantime, I’ve found that posting with purpose has helped me stay consistent, and keeps my creative juices flowing!

Do you find yourself curating your feed, or post for specific reasons? Share your methods in the comments below! 


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Is the photographer invisable?

I read Jennifer’s lovely post about portraits and that made me think. And to be honest I haven’t been able to stop thinking about photography and the definitions in that post. Let me start by saying this isn’t me saying I know better – I just have to share my thoughts about how I look at photography all together.

A starting point

It all started when I read the definition of portraits:

a pictorial representation of a person usually showing the face” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 

There is two things I object to. The first is that portraits most be of “people” – and I think I share that objection with Jennifer. But second I also object to the part that portraits is a representation of a person. Because I always think that a portrait is  more than just that. From my point of view I think that we as photographer are a part of the picture. I don’t think that portrait’s only are a representation of the subject but also a representation of the photographer.

Is the photographer invisable?

In any photographic image the result is a representation of the photographer and his or her knowledge about the subject. But also of the photographers values, perspective and objectives (which can be both personal or business) etc. Reading the definition of portraits make me wonder where is the photographer? We do interpret our motives: toys or persons. And that affects the portrait and in the end the image. We as photographers always give the viewer our representation of the motive. And every definition of photography ought to include that. As I see it 🙂

The image is representaion of the photographer

For me photography of toys or people is about the photographer as well as the motive. In my photography I don’t think that I even can do a portrait of who a person is or who or what a toy are. My strongest believe is that I only can do a picture of what I see and ”think” that person/toy is. So even though I love Jennifer’s post about portrait, I don’t agree with the idea that I as a photographer can be invisible and only portray or make a representation a person or a toy. We -as photographers -are, as I see it, very much part of the image.


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! Continue reading My Better Half

My take on traveling with toys

To travel with toys

I travel a lot for work. And during this summer my family and I were on a three week journey in California. So with that experience I thought that I too, like Jennifer, Reiterlied, James and many more before them… ought to give you my thoughts about traveling with toys. Or being a toy photographer while traveling. Continue reading My take on traveling with toys

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. Continue reading When in Doubt, Accessorize!

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