Character Development in LEGO Photography

Through character development in Lego photography, I’m able to explore new ideas by putting myself in the place of my mini figure counterparts.  I try to think how this character may think. I locate scenes and backgrounds that match their personality.  It really brings the toys to life for me.

I’ve found that having some characters with ongoing stories is a great way to help when a slump in creativity hits. I’m not sure what it’s called in photography… photo block maybe? Anyhow, I’ve found it useful to have several characters to lean on when the creative juices are running on fumes.

Orval Brickers

The first character that I developed in this way was the Lego Prospector from series 12.  I picked this character because he reminded me of experiences I had as a kid prospecting with my grandfather. His suspenders were spot on; my grandfather was the only person I’ve ever known to wear suspenders, and he was also a successful prospector.  I named my character: Orval Brickers.  I figure in order to develop a character you need a name.  A name tells a lot about someone without giving their entire history. Orval is an old style name which gives my character a sense of place and time; it also was conveniently the name of my great grandfather who was also a prospector. (As you can see it runs in the family.)

I’ve spent many years prospecting out in the hills of Utah and I know the story well.  It was easy to relate these experiences through a new set of eyes. I can share stories and beliefs that are my own. This gives the character an authentic voice and I believe makes him more ‘real’.

Orvil relaxes under a bonsai juniper
Orvil takes a breather from mining Crystal Peak. Trusty ol’Shep gives a lick and a whine…

The next character I came up with was using the Lego Zombie businessman from the Monsters series 14.  I named him Theodore, or Ted for short.  At the time I created this character,  Theodore was the least scary name I could think of for a scary zombie. Ted was always striving to eat braaains but he could never find any! This served me well during the election year; I was able to use some politically incorrect references when it came to braaains in politics (or lack thereof). While Ted is the wanderer type that usually keeps to himself, he enjoys classic cars. This has led me to visit car shows and car lots around my hometown in search of appropriate settings.

Because Ted is a zombie, I’ve also found interesting spots in undergrowth of bushes and lonely places in the desert to photograph him. I’m always on the look out for any good post-apocalyptic setting. The erie feeling often found in abandoned places are a perfect fit.

Ted searches moss for braaains
Ted searches in the undergrowth for elusive braaains
Jim Bricksters

Another character I want to develop is the Lego Hiker in series 16 which I named Jim Bricksters. While Jim began as an outdoorsy type, he underwent a transformation after meeting Vitruvius in the red rock sanctuary. By adding the grey grandma hair (cmf series 11) and the beard from Gandalf the grey he was transformed into a hermit / Edward Abby type, who enjoys exploring nature. Jim is the perfect character for Southern Utah, where I live. The deep red orange rocks and cliffs make for an excellent backdrop and the scenery fits Jim so well.

Trying to get shots of Jim have led me and my real hiking buddies – my three oldest kiddos – on many fun adventures exploring off trail.  I have always avoided trails… they seem too trodden and forced when it comes to me enjoying nature.  That trait is something I share with Jim.

Jim meets Vitruvius
Jim found the red rock sanctuary… and Vitruvius!
Jim preps wood for a campfire
Prepping camp in a redrock cave. Jim can’t stand tents – he likes to sleep under the stars most nights… but a storm is rolling in.

My most recent addition is Lenny the Raptor. I ordered the green and blue Lego raptor from Bricklink on a whim because I’d seen so many excellent shots and was inspired to photograph him myself.  I was off to get an epic shot with a Lego ET and a red bike but ET didn’t fit very well. While ET looked weird, the raptor fit easily and looked hilarious. And that is how the character of Lenny was born!

I picked Lenny as a name because it was very similar to Benny from the Lego movie. My goal is for Lenny to match the happiness and easy going personality of Benny. I don’t usually think of raptors as funny and happy-go-lucky; mostly I think of hiding in tall grass and blood running down waterfalls… thanks Jurassic Park. Lenny, the silly, fun loving raptor blows that vicious stereotype out of the water! Lenny is my current favorite character; he’s lead me to discover new techniques. I use camera angles to hide other elements that keep him steady.  His tail is the best kept secret!

a lego raptor on a bike surrounded by red
Ferocious peddling… heart pounding… blood surging… Lenny is not a mindless eating machine.

My goal is to have fun with toy photography.  I’ve found that developing specific characters has made my photography better.  The stories flow more naturally and easily plus I find my shots are more interesting and entertaining!

~ Joecow (Joseph Cowlishaw)

Now that you’ve met some of my character creations I’d love to meet some of yours in the comments below.  How did you come up with them? What is your inspiration? Are they based on real life experiences? How do you feel about creating characters?


  1. I don’t have character names per se, but I do use a lot of the same characters for similar reasons.

    I use Indiana Jones as my main “adventurer, go getter” type.

    I use Stormtroopers from the original trilogy era as my generic figure. I love using them since they are faceless, I can use them for anything, and use the scene to imply personalities onto the minifigure

    • I think the original storm troopers are the best! I did have a series I created with one that was a big food aficionado.

      I don’t think you necessarily need names for characters – but it makes it easy for me to connect them, and use unique hashtags.

  2. Dear Joseph,
    Your Photography World is one of my favorite worlds because you are able to inspire every figure with the real life. There are the special relations between your characters and the Nature. I really enjoy the way you show the beauty of the world , this is some kind of a silent poetry.
    Thank you very much for your talent, ideas and this wonderful post.
    Kind Regards,

  3. priovit70

    What am interesting post! It’s so great to know the story behind Jim Bricksters. Being a hiker myself, I really love that minifig and the photos you take of it!
    And what can I say about Lenny? Brilliant! Just brilliant! You make me want one of those raptors! It could be Benny’s pet… 😀
    And I think you know everything about my Benny! 😉

    • Luigi,
      Thank you for your comment and feedback. It is always great to hear what people think about my fun hobby.
      I think Lenny would be an awesome pet and ride for your Benny! I have actually done a shot of that myself when I first created the Lenny character. It was a bit out of place with a spaceman but I figured he could have accidentally traveled back in time to the dinosaur era somehow… I guess I am heavily influenced by the movie Interstellar. 🙂

  4. Leila @brickandmordor

    I love learning about these characters you developed, Joe! It’s been a while since I’ve posted him, but I was documenting the adventures of #GermieTheLEGODog. Named “Germie” for “German Shepherd”, he symbolizes a pet I wish I could have in real life.

    I also started using the head of Mr. Krabs from the Sponge Bob Squarepants series (which I pretty much know nothing about), and have been trying to give him a new identity. I guess if I named him that might help!

    Thanks for sharing this post! It’s inspiring.

    • Leila,
      Thank you for sharing your characters! I had a German Shepard mix when I was young. We would attach him to our wagon and he would pull us all over the place. We used a fishing line with a tennis ball on it…😄 Got the idea from cartoons with a carrot and rabbit.

      I may have to contribute to your tag! I know just the shot.😊

  5. The stories from my minifigs are what drive my photos. I generally shy away from the licensed products because they already have stories set by other people.

    I find that I have an idea, grab the characters and then usually in taking the photo the story changes, it’s like the little buggers don’t like the story I’ve thought up, and want to tell me their own.

    • Yes, the preconceived characters are a bit more tricky for me as well. I think all the different batman suits from the Lego Batman Movie are perfect though because batman has never really been seen in much of anything except black. I’ve had loads of fun with the caveman batman!😂

      My favorite ones are the non-storied cmf though.

  6. Carlos @legophotographica

    Hi guys,

    First of all I find the article pretty interesting 🙂

    I think that having one minifigure as a “storyteller” makes this hobbie/drug much more interesting. In my case I have a bunch of ninjas and two Mariachis among other stuff. In my opinion I think it`s a good way to think out of the box.

  7. You just put my feelings into words 🙂 I really like when I can follow a story of someone particular, when I get familiar with him/her/it, it feels like I know them and I’m curious where will they go, what will happen, what they will do… That’s from a viewers perspective 🙂 And from a photographer perspective – if I know what kind of person I’m photographing, I can better create the story. The story and the minifig are connected and it has to fit… I didn’t realize that naming the minifig can help so much, but it’s true! It’s like the minifig is suddenly a real person with real problems and real life and you just capture a moment from them to share.
    Thanks for inspirational post!

  8. Sabe,
    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my post! I’m glad it has inspired you! I have found that when I’m taking pics of my characters that the setting is very important – if it isn’t he right setting for the figure it just doesn’t feel right. I know when I’ve taken the perfect shot because the setting seems to fit the character perfectly!

  9. I really enjoy when people name minifigs. I usually don’t because most of those I have taken more than a few photos are licensed characters. The exception being my two pirate minifigs. It’s been a while I’ve been thinking about naming them but at the same time I’m a bit reluctant doing it. Once they’ll be named there will be no possibility rename them. Maybe next time I take a photo it will be time to take the plunge…

  10. My characters are stormtroopers, sometimes R2D2 and C3PO. Lego Star Wars. They discover our world, visit others… They help each other or observe and sign. The soldiers show their discoveries. They are neutral, they can so be easily identified with them. I like to show them in peace, or meditating, being nice or cooperative.

    Sometimes they are in trouble or something scares them, in a humorous scene.
    I like to imagine them experiencing mini-adventures, as if they were present here and were walking beside us.
    Sobriety of the adventures generally, simplicity, to let sail the imagination of each one. In the spirit Zen wabi-sabi and seasons.

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