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).

You won’t find the various Friends characters fighting fires, going on jungle adventures, or traveling to space. Those are reserved for the “boy” sets in blue boxes on the other side of the aisle (insert massive eye roll here). It’s hard to look at the Friends line and not see the stereotyping. I’m ashamed to admit it, but this distinction has largely kept me away from them. I’ve always been more interested in the Star Wars, superhero, or Creator themes, and assumed that the Friends sets had nothing to offer me.

I was glad to find that that’s not necessarily the case…

Emma’s Photo Studio

For my first trip into the world of Heartlake City (the fictional place in which the LEGO Friends line exists) I chose to review set 41305 Emma’s Photo Studio for two reasons. Firstly, at just $9.99 USD it’s one of the more affordable kits, meaning that my experiment, if failed, wouldn’t have been that big of a loss. I was also drawn to the promise of a photo studio with a handful of camera accessories to add to my collection.

lego friends 41305

The 96 piece set comes complete with a photography backdrop adorned with yellow flowers and a brown pot on which to place Chico, Emma’s adorable bluish gray cat. Atop the backdrop are two cleverly constructed studio lights.

lego friends 41305
These lights show that Emma’s serious about photography

 

I had the most fun and success when playing with this backdrop, the accompanying umbrella light, and Emma’s camera on a monopod. While I found the purple, flowery backdrop itself highly limiting for photography, I discovered that with a bit of modification, it provides an excellent base for a photo studio.

lego friends 41305
Alternate setup #1: Now THAT is a professional setup!
lego friends 41305
Alternate setup #2: Simply replace the purple backdrop with a different piece that rocks.

The umbrella piece was my favorite of the entire set. While dark blue instead of the traditional white or black, it takes the photo studio aesthetic to the next level, and is useful as a plain ol’ umbrella as well!

lego c-3po r2-d2
R2 really does have a gadget for every occasion

I was less successful with the other two builds in this kit, Emma’s photo printer and beauty/grooming station. At first glance, I thought the printer would be more versatile, but the colorful buttons and cat photo on the front sticker are pretty limiting.

lego friends 41305

For the purposes of this set, the printer is a great touch. I love its basic construction, so I think I’ll try modifying it for future shots.

lego friends 41305

The grooming station fits the set well, and while I didn’t get any great test shots with it, I am looking forward to playing around with its accessories, the blue hair brush in particular. I’ve found that the accessories will be the largest allure for the Friends line for me in the future. You simply don’t see accessories like this in the Star Wars, Creator, or even LEGO City themes.

The Minidoll

lego friends 41305
Emma

The most off-putting aspect of the LEGO Friends line for me is the use of “minidolls” instead of minifigures. I simply don’t like their design, and find it frustrating that the LEGO Group thinks it necessary to create a different version of the classic minifigure that’s specifically “for girls.”

For starters, the legs don’t move independently, they both move as one and only in one direction: forward. I guess minidolls don’t walk, they simply sit or stand. Second, the arms are thinner and angled differently than a minifigure’s, and look a bit awkward when extended. Gone too are the round heads, replaced instead with humanoid faces with noses and large eyes. I’ve always liked skin-toned LEGO pieces, and actually like the detail in the facial features. But… these minidolls just don’t look like true LEGO to me.

lego friends vs lego minifigure
Minidoll vs. Minifigure

I found Emma to be difficult to photograph, and doubt I’ll find an occasion to do so beyond the confines of this review. I do adore her hair piece though, which will fit traditional minifigs, so keep a look out for that in the future!

lego friends 41305
Emma’s got a nice camera too!

Chico

Chico the cat is the true star of this set (he is, after all, the subject of Emma’s photos!) and I found him far less frustrating than Emma herself. His design is much different than the cats in other LEGO themes, which I notice to be true of all the animals in the LEGO Friends line. He’s not only posed differently, but has a small hole on top of his head allowing for accessory placement. Emma has a few of them on her hair piece as well.

lego friends 41305
Say “Chico!” I mean, “cheese!”

Chico sits atop a flower pot piece that I will definitely be swiping from this set to use in future photos. He also comes with a box of cat treats, which I had fun photographing.

lego friends 41305

I’m excited to add Chico to the menagerie of LEGO cats already in my collection. You can bet that I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for other interesting animals in the Friends kits. While mainly adorable, I found that his pose lends itself to more dramatic shots as well, specifically his tail.

lego friends 41305
Rain, rain, go away…

The Verdict

So, has 41305 Emma’s Photo Studio changed my mind about LEGO Friends? Not really. However, it has placed the entire line more firmly in my radar. I’ll try to be less dismissive of it in the future, mostly for its animals and accessories. I also now have my eyes on several larger sets, in hopes of tweaking them to fit my particular style.

Have you found success photographing the LEGO Friends line? What do you and don’t you like about this controversial theme? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

-James

For more reviews and interesting articles related to toy photography, sign up for our weekly email round up where you’ll get a recap of the week’s offerings. 

And while you’re doing things, you should definitely join our G+ Community where we hold monthly contests with prizes and lots of other cool stuff too!

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
“Oops.”

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! 

James

If you enjoy posts like this, we invite you to join our G+ community.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get notified when we have a new post ready for you.

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!

lego-calendar-man
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.

    lego-joker
    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.

    lego-star-wars-last-jedi-kylo-ren
    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!

    lego-aquaman-justice-league
    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.

    lego-hotdog
    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!
lego-podcast
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! 

-James

If you enjoy posts like this, we invite you to join our G+ communityDon’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get notified when we have a new post ready for you.

Review: Funko Rick and Morty 5-inch Figures

For this week’s review we’re stepping away from LEGO, and into the Multiverse for a closer look at Funko’s 5-inch Rick and Morty figures!

These figures have been out for several months now, but with the third season finale airing tonight, I thought this would be the perfect time to highlight them. Can these figures offer photographers their interdimensional adventure fix until season 4 eventually airs? Let’s find out!

Funko Rick and Morty
Image Credit: Funko

There are 5 figures available in this first wave: Rick Sanchez, Morty Smith, Mr. Meeseeks, Birdperson, and Mr. Poopy Butthole. They each come with an extra piece, allowing you to construct Snowball and his mech suit if you purchase them all. The store near me was out of both Birdperson and Mr. Poopy Butthole, so I’ll just be reviewing the other 3 here.

Rick C-137

The most obvious purchase for fans of the show will be Rick Sanchez himself. He is (of course) the Rick from Earth dimension C-137, and comes with two accessories: his trusty flask and iconic portal gun.

Funko Rick and Morty

Quality-wise, these Funko figures are a bit on the cheap side, and feel like it. They’re only $11.99 a piece, and in this instance you get what you pay for. There are only a few points of articulation, and both the Rick and Morty figures have a vacant, blank stare that I found problematic for photos.

Their big, bulging white eyes might look great on the show, but make it so that their posing for photography is limited, unless you want them looking bewildered all the time. My favorite test photo with Rick was one where I turned him around, and put him in his iconic cheering pose.

Funko Rick and Morty
“I’m Tiny Rick!”

This allowed me to capture a different feeling with the figure than I would have been able to achieve if he’d been facing the camera.

Funko Rick and Morty

The Portal gun is a nice accessory, and has just enough detail to be immediately recognizable. I was, however, disappointed that it doesn’t have its little red screen on top. There’s a space for it, but it was left gray instead of painted red. It’s not a huge deal, but does make the gun feel unfinished.

Funko Rick and Morty

As for the flask, there’s nothing notable about it, which is fine. It doesn’t really demand much detail, and I found it a nice addition to the figure, since Rick carries it with him at all times.

Funko Rick and Morty

Morty

Funko Rick and Morty
“Aw jeez, Rick, we’re in the Toy Photographers dimension!”

The Morty figure is even more limited. Without a neck, his head loses a point of articulation and only turns from side to side. I found him to be the most top-heavy of the three, and therefore, the hardest to pose. By himself, he doesn’t offer many photo opportunities; I found more success when I paired him with Rick. On the bright side, Morty is always stunned and bewildered, so the expression is spot on. I’d have preferred Rick to look confident or unhinged rather than petrified.

The only accessory he comes with is his good ol’ laser gun, which has appeared in a few episodes of the series. The gun itself has a few nice touches, though the overall paint quality is a tad sloppy. I recommend shooting it from afar so that those small mistakes are more hidden.

Funko Rick and Morty

Hi I’m Mr. Meeseeks, Look at Me!

Funko Rick and Morty Mr. Meeseeks
“Hi I’m Mr. Meeseeks look at me!”

The crown jewel of the collection is the fan-favorite character, Mr. Meeseeks. He’s the best suited for Funko’s trademark simple features thanks to his more basic character design. He comes with two accessories, a pistol and golf club, which will be immediately recognizable for those who’ve seen his debut season 1 episode, “Meeseeks and Destroy.”

My biggest problem with Mr. Meeseeks is that he only comes with one face, a big happy smile. He’s an immensely expressive character on the show who gets more and more unhinged as the episode goes on, and it would have been great to have the chance to showcase that in my photographs. This could have been achieved with a swappable head, or even a few extra Meeseeks versions to purchase. Perhaps we’ll get more variations of Mr. Meeseeks in future waves if this line is successful.

He’s also incredibly reflective, so keep that in mind when photographing him. I had to continually adjust my lighting and check to make sure my own reflection wasn’t making its way into my photos.

The Verdict

Overall, I’m a bit torn by these figures, as you can probably tell from my review. As a fan of the show, I’m glad that I picked these up, and will be purchasing both Birdperson and Mr. Poopy Butthole when they come back in stock. It’s fun to own a small piece of the series, and these figures look great on a shelf.

For photography, however, they were tremendously frustrating to shoot. Each figure is top heavy and falls over easily. There are no holes on the bottom of the feet for me to click them into any kind of support, and their articulation is extremely limited. Up close, the figures look very cheap, thanks to the sloppiness in their paint jobs.

On top of all of that, their expressions are so specific that it limits the scenarios you can photograph. I found myself trying to creatively shoot around them and left feeling frustrated.

Perhaps in another dimension across the Multiverse, there’s an Earth that got highly detailed, articulate and photogenic versions of these iconic characters. Alas, Earth dimension C-137 wasn’t one of them. But, as Rick himself would say – That’s just the waaaaaay the news goes.

-James

Have you picked up these Rick and Morty figures from Funko? What did you think of them? Did you have better luck photographing them than I did? Let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoy posts like this, we invite you to join our G+ communityDon’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get notified when we have a new post ready for you.

Season of Change

Autumn is here for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, and I must admit that I’ve been hit with a strong case of Seasonal Infectious Disorder! Fall is my favorite time of year, and I’ve already begun to see the change of season reflected in my photography.

Fall signifies change – the shift in color and shedding of leaves, cooler temperatures, and the beginning of the rainy season here in the Pacific Northwest. The air itself feels crisp, the daylight hours become shorter, and the countdown to Halloween begins.

Most people feel energized when the sun is shining or when the weather heats up, but I’m the opposite. I thrive off of cooler temperatures and the Autumn rain. Continue reading Season of Change

Review: LEGO 40260 Halloween Haunt

It’s officially Fall, which of course means that it’s that time of year where we’re inundated with Halloween goodies. Decorations, costumes, pumpkin flavored drinks and treats, scary movies, and as it turns out, LEGO sets!

I considered saving my review of LEGO’s new seasonal kit, 20460 Halloween Haunt, for later in October. As I set it up and took some test shots, however, I realized that that it could service photographers well all month long. Like the other seasonal sets that come out throughout a year, it serves as an excellent starter kit for someone trying to get into the holiday spirit. Continue reading Review: LEGO 40260 Halloween Haunt

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. Continue reading Review: The LEGO Ninjago Movie 70606 Spinjitzu Training

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

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! Continue reading Review: LEGO Star Wars 75176 Resistance Transport Pod

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!