Last weekend we submitted our dragons themed photographs for our latest LEGO project.

Wait, what? We? Dragons? Photographs? Latest LEGO project?

OK, hang on there! Let me explain.

Toy Photographers were invited by the LEGO Group to create photos with the 2HY NINJAGO dragons, with the photos to be used on LEGO’s SoMe channels. Each photographer was sent 4 sets (70657, 70652, 70653 and 70655) from the NINJAGO 2HY portfolio, with the idea to create around 10 images each, focusing on the dragons. How we wanted to do this was up to us – using one or all of the sets. Water, sand and fire were “no go’s” and of course the content had to be child friendly, but other than that, we were free to use our imaginations.

Shelly and I chose 3 photographers to join us in this dragon project. Each of us received our 4 Ninjago sets. Over 100 emails bounced back and forth with questions, answers, ideas, plans and previews of photos. And on the due date for delivery, 75 dragon themed photographs were submitted.

Hang on? 5 photographers. Around 10 images each. 75 submitted? You know I love numbers, and these numbers tell me one thing. We all loved photographing the Ninjago dragons!

But let’s see if the photographers’ words backup my mathematics theory. Here’s what we all thought…

Eva (@greaterbeast)

I’ve never in my life built sets like this before. As a kid I only had those big buckets of loose bricks so following an instruction booklet was completely new to me. And this is such a basic observation, but it was actually magical how all the pieces fit together. As you work through the pages you never really know what you’re building until the final few and it’s like, oh!

It was such a wonderful, childlike feeling even at thirty years old.

Eva: Ninjago Dragons

Eva: Ninjago Dragons

Photographing the dragons was difficult for me though. I’m usually a “macro” photographer; I enjoy filling (or not filling) the frame with small details. With the dragons, it was like trying to shoot pixels. Too close and you’d lose sight of what the subject was. Too far and the frame became emptier than I liked. I think if I had to do another LEGO shoot I’d definitely spend much more time building properly sized backdrops to encapsulate their world better.

Marco (@the_aphol)

Have you ever photographed a dragon?

I know, now you will tell me that dragons do not exist, but judging from the Ninjago summer wave sets, someone in LEGO must necessarily have seen them, because if I had to imagine a dragon made out of LEGO, it would have those shapes!

My favourite is undoubtedly Firebourne, it’s incredibly BIG! When I was asked to photograph it, I started thinking about a series of images that I had to discard as soon as I started to assemble it: I would have needed boundless spaces to make it into a photograph!

It’s beautiful, the wingspan is imperial and if I were a Minifigure I would ask myself in what crazy world I could ever think of capturing it.

Marco: Ninjago Dragons

Marco: Ninjago Dragons

It is also super-articulated, and it is possible to pose it (more or less) as you wish, the only flaw is given by the scarce mobility of the wings, but nothing insuperable for the creative mind.

Kudos to the LEGO Ninjago team that made this model, I want to see how you can overcome yourself in the future!

Shelly (@shellycorbettphotography)

“I do not care what comes after; I have seen the dragons on the wind of morning.”

― Ursula K. Le GuinThe Farthest Shore

I’m involved in a long love affair with dragons, especially LEGO dragons. I have at least four vintage Castle Theme dragons, Smaug from the Hobbit, one Hungarian Horntail from the older Harry Potter franchise and more than a few Ninjago dragons that I have collected over the years. I think it’s safe to say that of all the mythical beasts, dragons are my favorite.

When Brett told me that LEGO was offering us a chance to photograph the latest wave of Ninjago dragons I jumped at the chance. This is the first time that an opportunity to work with LEGO on a series of images, has truly connected with me on a personal and creative level.

I was not disappointed with this latest wave of Ninjago Dragons

Like previous sets, these latest iterations are colorful, whimsical creatures. I found this latest wave to be super articulated, very expressive and well scaled to match the mini figures. In fact, after photographing the blue dragon both with and without the rider, I realize the dragon looks better with his rider installed. These dragons are both fun to photograph and immensely playable. While I struggled to keep Voltron together on our many mountain adventures; I didn’t have the same problem with the dragons. If they can hold up to me dragging them up a mountain or off to the beach, they will certainly hold up to an afternoon of imaginative play.

Shelly: Ninjago Dragons

Shelly: Ninjago Dragons

For the toy photographer, the dragons offer an opportunity to break out of the mini figure scale and photograph something larger, a little more epic. Because these models are so much larger than the standard mini figure, I decided to use my 24mm lens. I’ve never photographed toys with it before and I didn’t know how it would work out. Luckily, I was pleased with the results.

The red dragon, Firstbourne 70653, has a large wingspan and beautiful translucent wings. His legs attach to the body using a technic 2 x 2 rotation ball joint. These joints are strong enough to support the weight of the dragon and still maintain flexibility.  The blue dragon, Stormbringer 70652, has a long sleek body that I couldn’t get enough of. Like the red dragon, he has a super flexible tail that made for some interesting curving lines. The last dragon we were asked to photograph was Slab from Dragon Pit 70655. At first, I felt this guy was rather chunky next to his streamlined and flashier friends, but I grew to love his solid build and his spiky tale. Of all the sets that LEGO sent, this may be my favorite. The building is super cool but time ran out before I had a chance to photograph it.

If you’re a fan of the LEGO dragons you will want to pick up at least one of these dragons from this latest wave for your collection. If you’re not used to photographing larger sets, you might consider giving one of these guys a try. I think they will comfortably ease you into larger scale toy photography. The Dragons are fun to play with, survive the rough and tumble life style of a toy photographer AND they inspire unique and original stories. I call that a perfect storm of photographic possibilities.

Thank you, Brett and The LEGO Group, for the opportunity to photograph these lovely sets. I had a ton of fun!

Leila (@brickandmordor)

When Brett first approached me to be part of the Ninjago dragon photo team, I was ecstatic (free LEGO sets!) and assumed they would be easy to photograph since: (1) I love dragons, (2) I love the Ninjago minifigures and theme, and (3) at the time, I thought I’d have a good four weeks to work on it during a lull in my usually busy schedule. But as it turned out, I didn’t even receive the sets from Billund until almost four weeks later, at which point I only had one free day available to go out and try to capture all my shots before the new deadline.

The dragon builds themselves are really cool. All the articulation (ball joints, wings, and segmented tails!) made me want to produce a stop-motion animation, but that would be its own epic project for another time. In addition to the Stormbringer and Firstbourne dragon sets, LEGO also sent the Dragon Pit and large Ninjago City Docks sets which I thought was extremely generous since our instruction was just to “focus on the dragons.”

But once I had everything built and I had formed some rough ideas for my dragon shots, the weirdest thing happened: I suddenly lost all inspiration for the project. I’m not sure if it’s because “playtime” had now turned into “work assignment”, or if I was intimidated by the fact that one of my colleagues had already completed their photo list. Perhaps it was stress from my self-imposed “one-day-only” photo shoot deadline, or maybe the 100°F weather had shut my brain down and melted all creativity. Despite my love for dragons and the coolness factor of these LEGO ones, I honestly just wanted to photograph the new Ninjago minifigures and all the cute little details of the City Docks set! But that’s not what LEGO wanted.

I snapped a few test shots at home and was a bit discouraged because although they look awesome in-person, the dragons in-camera looked weird to me unless I included their entire bodies in the frame. I realized then that I was going to need an expansive background, and that including minifigures into the shots would be tricky, making sure both minifig face and dragon face were in focus.

I drove an hour out to the mountains and got a couple shots of Firstbourne, the red dragon, perched on a boulder with majestic Mount Hood in the background. Thankfully, my wife was able to come along to assist. I couldn’t have done this project without her! Not only was it too bright and too hot, it was annoyingly windy, and Firstbourne’s wings kept catching air and toppling over onto the sharp dusty rocks. After reassembling and wiping down the scuffed pieces, Cindy would have to keep one hand on the dragon at all times until I was ready to press the shutter.

Leila: Ninjago Dragons

Leila: Ninjago Dragons

Still not very inspired, we decided to drive two more hours out into the high desert of central Oregon to our favorite Smith Rock State Park, whose orange cliffs I knew would make a great backdrop, especially as the sun started setting. We even brought the Dragon Pit and City Docks too, but I gave up on the idea of including them after the hassle it took just to wrangle one dragon for a shot and make sure it didn’t blow over the cliff. After a while, I couldn’t think of any more cool dragon poses and the daylight was disappearing, so I had Cindy hold up Firstbourne in the air as I attempted to shoot some flying shots.

This project definitely put me outside my comfort zone by having to focus on larger, angular creatures instead of just the simple minifigure. At least I got to practice a bit of focus-stacking! It also validated that no matter how much I’ve planned an idea for a shot, the actual uncontrollable outdoor environment (sun, wind, surfaces, and safety) will have a huge impact on if that idea can even be executed. Luckily, I was able to create enough images to submit and I’m happy with how they turned out. It was a good reminder for me to just keep shooting and trying different angles even if I wasn’t confident in the moment, because I captured some cool shots I didn’t plan for, and wasn’t in the mood to appreciate until later.

Thank you, Brett and Shelly, for inviting me to be a part of this! It was an honor and a creative challenge!

Brett (@brett_wilson)

I knew this project was going to be big when I got a message from Jo in the mailroom at work. “Brett, there’s another box here for you from LEGO, and this one is too big to fit in the lockers!”

Luckily, we’d just finished photographing Voltron for LEGO Ideas, so I was prepared for the challenges these dragons threw my way, photographing larger subjects than I was used to, and transporting larger builds!

Quite a few evenings were spent building the dragons and the accompanying sets. This was time spent marvelling at the builds of the three dragons, twisting and contorting their poses, getting to know them, and exploring their photographic potential. With the completion of every dragon, they “swooshed” through the air to show my wife and kids. As they flew from my LEGO room to them, each dragon’s majesty, beauty and elegance was revealed.

As I spent one day photographing the dragons, I found myself drawn to the dragons of the armour and the sword hilts. Maybe photographing Voltron and these wonderfully immense dragons had me longing to get up close? Maybe it was me thinking outside the box and hoping to send something a little different to LEGO than the other photographers? Or maybe it was just me being cheeky and pushing the boundaries of the brief. Whatever the reasoning behind this attraction, I loved focusing on the detailed dragons carved into the hilts and the armour.

Brett: Ninjago Dragons

Brett: Ninjago Dragons

Building these dragons was a joy. Playing with them was a hoot. And photographing them was a blast. Before this project, the largest LEGO creature that regularly came out with me to be photographed was my Rancor. Since this project, he’ll have to “squoosh” up to make some room for these wonderful dragons. They’ll definitely be finding their way in front of my lens again!

Thank you

A massive thank you to Maria and Kristina from the LEGO Group for offering Toy Photographers the opportunity to participate in this amazing project. Cheers!

Another massive thank you to Eva, Marco, Leila and Shelly for all their incredible photographs and for making coordinating this project a pleasure. You guys rock!

– Brett

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