A Little Help From My Friends

I know my life is made better with a little help from my friends. This was again made evident at the #ORToyPhotoSafari. I could go on and on about many hands light work, and that it takes a village to create a successful event, but this post is on a more person level.

Running late

It is no big surprise that with all the last minute errands I had to do to get ready for the big event, I didn’t have enough time to get my own toys sorted. Because I ran short on time, I packed too many random toys for those “just in case” moments and even included a couple of boxed sets that I hadn’t found time to put together.

(A note to the folks at LEGO: we may be toy photographers but we buy sets just like every body else!)

Like most lego fans I have my fair share of Lego Creators sets and even a few Star Wars UCS sets, but the majority of the sets I purchase are intend to be used as props in my photography. Unfortunately, I rarely have time to put them together. On top of that my son has graduated to an age where he’s not interested in helping out. Because of this situation, my studio is full of boxed sets waiting to be put together.

While packing my toys for the safari I grabbed a couple of sets that I’d been meaning to build in hopes that my car buddies would get bored and offer to put them together. I was hoping lighting would stick again. Just like last May when Cindy and I put together LEGO set #31709 in the back of Janelle’s car on the way to the Oregon Coast to scout locations

A little help from my friends

While I arrived in Oregon with my boxes untouched, I wasn’t really concerned. As I mentioned before I had plenty of other great LEGO sets and mini figures to photograph. Although I’m not immune to the joys of photographing a new set, I had plenty to keep me busy.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, we had some down time on Saturday evening. There was plenty of time to chill, edit photos, build a  Brickheadz or in my case head to the beach to watch the sunset and take advantage of the light. Earlier, one of my roommates, Cameron asked if he could build Ninjago set #70629. I said yes because I really wanted to photograph the rickshaw. I bought the set specifically for this piece giving little thought to the rest of the set.

Cameron had the rickshaw ready to go in time for me to grab it as I was heading to beach.

Never judge a book by its cover

Have you ever looked at a Lego at and dismissed it because whatever was in it looked ridiculous? I have. There are simply some sets that I can’t even image photographing. The Piranha Attack is just that kind of set. If it hadn’t contained the rickshaw I would never have purchased it.

When I came back from the beach Cameron showed me the rest of the set he had built. It was this crazy piranha mech from the Lego Ninjago movie. But as Cameron pointed out, there was something pretty cool about this set. He was right, it turned out to be the coolest set I had (accidentally) brought to the beach with me. I loved the lines, the clear plastic ‘eyes’ and the sheer weirdness of the build. I couldn’t wait to photograph it the next day.

It just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book (or a set) by the cover.

If any set captures the sheer silliness of a toy photography weekend for me, its this set and this photo. It just doesn’t get any weirder than this (for me).

Even more help

I want to give a big shout out to Melisa who joined Cameron for some building fun. She grabbed the other set I had brought and made quick work of the it. With the help of my friends I now had not one, but two new sets to play with! Han Solo and his speeder joined the Piranha Mech for an afternoon of beach toy photography fun!


I learned two valuable lessons from this experience:

  1. Don’t judge a set by its picture or worse yet, it’s origin story.
  2. If you have sets to be built and no time to build them, host a building party. Grab a few friends and a few sets and see what happens.

Everything is better with friends; not just toy photography but building LEGO sets too!

Again I want to thank Cameron and Melisa who built my sets for me. They showed me how cool these sets are and helped me to create a few images I’m proud of.

Yes, life is so much better with a little help from your friends!

~ Shelly

Have you ever purchased a LEGO set or action figure that photographed much better than you thought it would? What gems are lurking out there that we have over looked. If you have any tips, please share your stories in the comments! 

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  1. This post brought back such great memories of our recent safari and all the love and support it offered. And I like knowing who was doing what that I never even saw. Go Shelly, go Cameron, go Melisa, GO TEAM! Thanks for sharing this Shelly. Nice pics, too!

    • Thanks Doug for the comment! While it would be wonderful to spend every minute of the weekend together – that just isn’t realistic. It seems every house had their own vibe going on Saturday night. I’m grateful to my friends who help me get my sets built – I swear I need a village to make my life work! Next year I will bring more and put Tye to work. 🙂

  2. This is the same way I buy sets, to service my photographic needs. Except I never build them. I bought the rickshaw set (I don’t even know what it’s called) for the rickshaw too. Unbuilt.

    Even my Go Brick Me is just a plain white block with eyes 2 weeks after opening the box.

    And those are the sets *I* buy. My biggest mistake is always bringing my son with me to the LEGO Store and letting him choose what set to get. He’s 7, but just mines sets for minifigs and leaves everything for me to assemble.

    But I will build! I am inspired by some of the new sets and also need a change of scenery, literally.

    • Anna – I have many, many sets Ive bought for the minifigures, a boat or some accessory. I never get around to building them and then I see what I was looking for at the next brick convention. I buy it separately and then the box goes in the attic to forever remain unbuilt. Im hoping with the monthly drink and builds Im doing with Law I can get a few sets built. If not then, then I will bring more to next years toy meet-up.

      Happy building and photographing!!

    • Well ok – you have me there. I definitely picked up another ‘bad’ habit from the meet-up. But I have to say Law and I had a great time on Saturday night. I think we where at the bar for nearly five hours. It was great fun! Stay tuned for next months ‘drink and build’!

  3. Reiterlied

    I wish I could pretend to buy sets only for photographing them, but I have to admit there’s a bit of compulsivity in the buying act. On the other hand, it can indeed lead to good unexpected surprises. There’s nothing that replaces the experience of holding a 3-dimensional toy in hand. And from my recent experience, sometimes just holding a toy isn’t enough, you have to put a camera in front of it and look in a viewfinder to truly realize the photographic potential of a toy.

    Now that said, the opposite is true too. Sometimes a toy seems amazing, and once unboxed it just appears it doesn’t have the expected potential. One of my biggest regret from the past year is to have spent money on a Moana figure at the Disney store in San Francisco. It wasn’t what I expected in terms of posability and now feels like a big waste of money.

  4. Tony Tulloch

    I am a self confessed, born again AFOL. I love photographing Lego, but I also get immense satisfaction and relaxation (mostly) from building it as well. The sheer flexibility of the parts and absolute cleverness of the designers, both professional and amateur, never ceases to amaze me. One of the best Father’s Days ever was last year when my grown up kids and their partners joined me at the dining room table and we built Lego sets together.

  5. There are ugly duckling for sure, but LEGO is just so photogenic and gives you so much scope to play and adjust and tweak and set and pose and play… It’s just wonderful! I’m a reborn AFOL who’s rediscovered LEGO through my kids – I’d been tinkering but decided to go at it the way my heart had been telling me to.
    Your beach play day looks amazing! How’d you get Han’s Landspeeder to float? I love that set – and I have the piranha to build. Ugly but fun set! (and a great movie in my opinion!)

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