When I asked if I could review the new 2022 version of the Lego Galaxy Explorer, Tomek asked if I had any particular plans…
To which I responded, I’d like to take it to Mars.
Now I may have told a little fib, because you see my budget wouldn’t stretch to get me to Mars. I had to use an alternative. location, so I took a toy photography holiday to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. So not only am I going to give something of a unique review, but here I am with yet another post about a location.
A slightly different type of review
To set some expectations, I’m going to be able to talk about the building experience a lot. Though through rebuilds and repairs there have been a lot of on the move construction when it comes to this set. As it stands I have built this model four times now in the month or so I have had it.
Something I’ve noticed writing this post is that all the photos I’ve take are very conscious in taking in the whole ship. This is something I don’t normally do. I’m very aware that I take pictures of figures or minifigures. And this time something I wanted to make sure I did was get the whole ship being represented in these photos. As a result there won’t be much in regards to the finer details of the set from me just yet, which is a shame because there are so many cool elements. From secret rocket cycles, to fold out landing gear, to a drop down ramp to deploy the dune buggy, to the robot who seems to serve tea.
And combined with the set was the location I was taking photos in. For those who haven’t seen anything of Lanzarote, it is a volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean. Found off the coast of Africa it is a Spanish territory and part of the Canary Islands. Now because it is a volcanic island it truly other worldly. Ideal for a spaceship, right?
Before I get into the depths of this post here’s an example of what’s to come, it’s like being on another planet!
Out of this world locations
I’ve thought about writing lots of different things when it comes to the landscape of Lanzarote and how I would explain it. But you know what? There’s nothing I’ve got to say that these photos cant tell you in more articulate and beautiful ways. It’s an incredible place and all I will say is when you are there it’s like you are on Mars, or the Moon.
Hopefully I took enough snaps and behind the scenes images for you all to get a sense of what it was truly like.
As I mentioned there were many.
When I received the set I thought it wise to build it at home before I left for Lanzarote. Firstly I thought it would be a good idea to have a dry run on the build itself in the luxury of my own home. And secondly, and more stupidly I had a foolish hope that it might be able to travel partially built. This was all before I put it bag in the hold of a plane, which you can see the result of in the image below.
I know, I know. What an idiot.
On my first evening, after getting my bearings and grabbing some dinner I set down on my hotel bed and I built the explorer for a second time.
When it comes to the build it’s very technic heavy when it comes to the structural part of the spaceship. And that is just the bottom half (the grey part). The blue section on top reminds me of how I would make models as a kid, simply by building walls straight up with bricks. It is not structural in any way and in hindsight, I am unsurprised it continued to collapse every time I moved it.
A special mention must be made for the angles on the grey “wing” sections though. The building techniques to give the edges of the wings are quite clever. Using various ways of locking an outside frame to the main part of the wing, with hinges and pegs fitting in the 1×1 bricks with holes in the front. It makes for a very aesthetically pleasing finish when all the grey plating is added.
I also really enjoyed the fact that the side engines pop off to be used as rocket speeders that the astronauts simply sit on the top of. I haven’t gotten a photo of one these yet. But they are coming, I promise.
And this is a little thing. But there is something quite satisfying about the fact that the retractable landing gear has reversed plates so that the smooth side is on the bottom. Obviously mine are quite heavily scratched now. I guess that comes from positioning it in lots of rocky locations.
Time to head out
With a (re)build complete, the next question was how to carry said spaceship to the beach? I’d had a plan all along to take my holdall with me to carry the ship in while I was on the move. I thought this was better than holding it up in the air and making swooshing noises while it “flew through the air” for all of a 10km hike.
But how do you think the bag idea went?
The answer is unsurprisingly not well.
So with a bag full of lego pieces and no instructions, I started to worry if I was going to get any photos at all. I was not a happy boy at this point.
Luckily I found this abandoned/derelict house or building, I’m not sure really. But the great thing was that while walls had collapsed and the roof was missing, someone has thoughtfully kept a barbecue area outside in tip top condition. Including this wonderfully convenient table.
With a steady table to build on now I just needed some instructions. And with this I was so very grateful that Lego now have their instruction books as PDFs available online. And that you can download it at a deserted beach thanks to 5G data. The day was saved, even if it did mean I had to spend another hour or so rebuilding for the 3rd time following instructions on my phone screen.
And to think, some people choose to work on their tan at the beach.
If I have a biggest tip from this “review”, it is this model does not travel well. And by travel I mean close to 1700 miles in my bag, with most of that with being a 4 hour flight. All before a stupidly long walk. So consider yourself warned if you were thinking of a purchase with crazy travel plans in mind, it’s not going to last.
I’d like to point out, it’s the really useful insights that I alway try to provide when reviewing.
There were two specific landscapes that I wanted to photograph in when I started planning to take the Explorer to Lanzarote with me. And the first of those is its black beaches.
Because Lanzarote like all the Canary Islands is volcanic some of its beaches are black in colour. After a quick geography lesson online this is because of the ground down basalt making up the grains of sand. Basalt is formed from cooling lava. And its impact on this particular landscape make for something very otherworldly, perfect for astronauts and spaceships.
I had very changeable weather for the days I was in Lanzarote. But I was grateful for the dramatic clouds that did come and go to liven up the skies in my photos. Obviously I wasn’t grateful for the various rain showers I was caught in while carrying my photography gear.
With these cloudy and dramatic skies I leant into a monochromatic style for the landscape settings of the photos, but this was a great choice as it let the classic Lego colours of the set to pop out of the images. There’s a really interesting point in the instruction manual that says this model uses the same coloured bricks that the original did back in 1979.
I loved the retractable landing gear and was conscious to have space and a visual difference under the model to see it sitting in the landscape. Having it raised up also helps define the dynamic wedge shape without it getting lost into the floor.
With this setup I found a fairly undisturbed bit of beach and framed everything with the mountains behind. Putting the highest mountain on the right of the image I tried to balance that with the ship on the left. I then left the crew to trail back across to the right to invoke them exploring the new world the found themselves on.
Behind the beach was a lagoon, so the ground was actually lower in the immediate background. However it rose again soon after and in the resulting photo it comes across as layers of the landscape rising up to the mountains behind. I was really happy with the result and will talk about this a little more with some of the other shots.
This photo is one of my favourites due to the drama and contrast in the location itself. The location is the same as the photo before, I just setup the camera on the back side of the ship.
You can see just creeping into the photo on the right the edge of the ocean. And all of the spray coming of of the very strong gusts and waves were flying across the beach making this stark, yet hazy setting.
I simply had to setup the two minifigures to complete the setup. There are two things I want to point out about the figures in this shot, but they do cross over into others. You can hopefully see that the two of them are slightly turned towards each other with slightly turned heads. I wanted to give the feeling that they’d been caught mid conversation. And if you look through these photos you’ll hopefully see these “story” elements to how all of the astronauts are posed.
I was also keen to make sure that the Lego elements felt balanced in these dramatic landscapes. And again if you look through these photos you’ll see the spacings and positions in the frames with the astronauts and the ship tend to share some symmetry. For example I’ve tried to keep equal spacing on the left and right of all of the Lego, so it still sits in the “centre” of the images.
My biggest take away from this location is how the minifigures both fit in and stand out in the images.
From a scaling perspective the grains of sand and small rocks fit perfectly into the world of our little plastic friends. But also against the colour of the black sand the reds and whites of the astronauts just pop out of the image. The greys of the ship suffer a little bit in comparison. And if I was picky about this image I think I’d like the horizon to be a bit lower and cut trough the canopy of the Explorer rather than the rear wing. I think that would give for a more striking silhouette, like it does in the photo at the beginning of the post.
My trip to the beach was not only set in the dark sands. In the last km or so as I walked the ground became very rugged and rocky. Like the beach everything was dark and black in colour. And in truth I thought I was walking through a miniature version of Mordor. When I go back the next time I visit Frodo and Sam will definitely in my bag, that is for sure.
Where the rocks met the beach I was able to find a few great spots that felt like some nicely scaled cliffs for the Explorer to set down on.
One of the signature elements of the classic space theme was the yellow canopies and windows that contrasted so boldly with the blue of the bricks. Obviously this remake was going to use the same coloured pieces. And on the Explorer you’ll find two huge canopies on the top of the ship.
With the slightly higher vantage point on the rocks, the angle to catch the sunlight coming through the canopies was too much of an opportunity to not try to capture.
In this photo I put a ND filter on the lens to reduce the brightness of the sun. It was sunny and clear for a brief period at this point. It still didn’t stop the glare off of the golden plating of the lens in the bottom left, But I quite like it in an odd way. Combined with some Atmosphere Aerosol the yellow sections really create some striking and layered lighting through the photo.
The minifigures are setup as the instructions dictated. With the red astronauts on the right and the white astronauts on the left. I’d never be much of a master builder. Like my comment before I wanted to make a little bit of a story element here and at the last minute turned all their heads a little bit towards the camera, making it look like something has caught their attention.
This was a photo that was very much an opportunistic, in the moment choice. The ship is in exactly the same place as the previous shot. I just changed the head positions on the minifigures.
I thought the ship stood out really well in contrast to the darker background of the rock. Especially when it came to the light grey elements, which were a challenge with other shots before. This is simply because the sun was behind the camera and shining directly on the scene.
The other thing I really liked about this photo is the very peculiar lens flare. Which is visible to the right of the ship’s wing. In the behind the scenes image below you can see the filters on the front of my anamorphic lens are bolted on because it doesn’t have any type of thread on the front. As a result there was a bit of sunlight creeping in and reflecting onto the back of the filter glass. Very strange, but kind of cool.
This photo takes the first on the cliff image and pushes to the extreme with the sun directly behind the yellow canopy.
I wanted to try and capture both the flare of the sun but also the arrowhead silhouette of the ship itself. It was a challenge to get the right angle to achieve both things and also not have the set fall off the rock it was balanced on. If I set the ship too far back the rock obscured the ship, but if I came to far forward I was going to be rebuilding again.
A pleasant accident was also the glow on the bottom side of the ship. This was actually from the sun shining on a puddle on the rock from the recent rain downpour.
Into the desert…
The second landscape I wanted to explore in these photos was the deserts of Lanzarote. Being volcanic in origin they are quite rocky, rather than sandy. But I had a hop that they would be a good substitute for a Martian type landscape. One thingI didn’t count on was that by going in the winter months they were actually quite green though. Luckily Photoshop can adjust hues very easily.
Being honest, the photo above is probably my least favourite of the post. The lines of darker rocks cutting across the floor really break up any chance of the Lego holding interest in the foreground. Also the colour of the desert her didn’t quite give the contrast against the minifigures that the black sands before did.
It does however have one of the better transitions from foreground, to middle ground, to background. This is something I always find a challenge with toy photography, where the middle ground is always the thing that is sacrificed due to the scale we work at.
Also while the light is a bit flat in this photo, the mountains are some of the most dramatic I was able to capture.
This type of photo is something I like about blogging. Where it gives a chance to share some of the “almost” photos that I take. The ones where they are ok, with some interesting features and lessons. But not necessarily something I’d be looking to post elsewhere.
This photo however, I love.
I think it’s the contrasting elements throughout. With the oranges of the
earth ground contrasting the blue on the ship. Or the difference of the clean lines and features of the Lego with the broken and cracked floor below.
I spotted the angle while setting up for another photo and when finished had to reset the camera to capture this one too. And with the top down view looking into the ship, it was great to set up a few astronauts with different story elements due to their positions.
As I progressed with my photos in the desert things started to improve when it came to composition. This one is an improvement to the first one with the ship standing out more clearly with a better defined ship against the backdrop. The lighting creates further contrast with a brightness shining on the foreground. Especially with the dramatic background of the clouds and mountains behind.
This was too rocky (pebbly) a location for the minifigures though, in the end I had to stand them on rocks just so they were visible. All in all on ok image but the background is the best part and the Lego just kind of sits in front of it.
Now I have no idea why this set comes with what I can only describe as a robot butler. But I guess after a long day’s exploring on strange new worlds you need a tasty beverage. It’s a good thing those helmets don’t have visors I suppose. Cheers to finding more space rocks team.
This was taken in a similar spot to the top down image above. And unlike the previous photo this one really works with the lego taking the centre stage. But also sitting in the landscape and location really well.
There’s a foreground moving into the middle ground and a mountain to cap it off in the distance. The ground on which the figures are stood is also clearer and easier to make the figures stand out and not get obscured.
And in comparison to the photo below the back of this ship also cuts a striking impression. All the blue bricks really help with this by contrasting so well against the earthy tones of the rest of the image.
As mentioned above the back of this ship can strike a dramatic silhouette. Can being the key word of that sentence. because that is certainly not the case when you open the back of the ship. From a play perspective there are some interesting elements as the ship opens up and the ramp rolls out for the little moon buggy to roll out on to the surface below.
Unfortunately the very clunky hinged sections don’t make any kind shape or silhouette that provide something photogenic. There might be an interesting photo to take with the sliding brick built airlock in the middle of the ship, but I am not enamoured in any way with the model in this configuration.
Again not the ideal middle ground where I would have preferred the lighter strip not being present so the landscape could roll back into the mountains in the distance. I do like the colours though with the red and the blue popping against the terrain.
With my feelings of how the photo above turned out, I was keen to come up with an alternative. The simple solution was for a close up on this silly little setup of the two astronauts speeding around.
I must point out, I forgot to fix the light on the front of the buggy after the many rebuilds that I had to complete getting to this point. But I really love this little buggy. I think it might be the bright red wheels. Even if you’re in space there’s always room to throw a little hot rod red at your ride.
For the photo it was simply a case of propping up the buggy with a rock underneath. And the second astronaut who came along for a zippy ride provides a good counterweight to keep it at the angle you see here. The only downside is the static wheels which don’t quite give the speedy nature of the pose.
Bringing the beach back home
I’m now back home in the UK, and missing the warmer climates of the Canary Islands. And I’m certainly missing the photo opportunities of that amazing locations. So the only solution was to try and replicate some of the environment in my dining room. What else is a toy photographer to, I ask?
When I look back on the photos I’ve taken for this post I would say that the dark sand ones are definitely my favourites. There is something very striking about the red and white minifigures against the darker background. So I just had to find a way of replicating this.
If you are still with me, thank you for still reading and apologies for this final addendum to the post. Because it seemed like a great idea to buy 5 kilos of black aquarium sand to take more space photos.
When I was out and about in Lanzarote it was mostly during the day with not much chance for night shoots. I’ll be honest, I was too tired most nights after all the walking in the day. As a result I was very keen to also get some night/space shots.
It was also a great opportunity to stick the missing light back on the buggy. Which was lucky for the minifigure to see where they were going. I used a practical light with one of my Chinese LED studs as the headlight. But I also went for a plain black backdrop rather than trying to replicate stars in contrast to that.
I wanted the light to shine brightly on it’s own. The only addition was a low light spot light from above to bring the light levels up to see more details. Including the little space rock that smuggled it’s way home in my bag.
Here’s a similar setup to the last photo but with a more prominent lens flare. As most of you know I do like a lens flare with my anamorphic lens. And yes I was stupid and carried my stupidly heavy lens across the desert.
So perhaps buying some black sand and making my own beach isn’t the worst idea. I’ve only taken a few photos with the sand so far but I. really like it’s semi glossy finish and how it catches the light.
It was the same lighting as before with a low level light from above. But I’m very please with the roll off into the dark as it progresses to the bottom of the photo.
So should anyone buy themselves a Galaxy Explorer?
Well it is meant to be a review after all. So I should ask the question, right?
Simply put I would say yes. It’s a great set steeped in nostalgia and classic feels. And I haven’t even got fed up of building it, even now after the fourth time around.
When it comes to travelling with Lego it’s not an ideal set, although I’m not sure many are with the miles I did. The wider frame of the ship is easily knocked, and surprisingly fragile for the amount of technic inside. And the cabin on top is not the sturdiest. I’m not sure many of these features come in consideration for most people when purchasing their Lego though.
On the photography side of things, I’ve loved capturing the dynamic shape of the ship and really enjoyed taking pictures of it out in the big wide world. As I mentioned at the beginning I was really keen to take photographs of the full set and I’m happy with what I achieved. I’ll definitely be doing more of this type of photography in the future. But it certainly takes a lot of planning and preparation. It’s not quite the same as sticking a few minfigs or action figures in your bag, that is for sure.
I think the bold and classic colours of the set really work with the photos I’ve ended up with. And the classic space theme is a real positive when it comes to that. Providing striking subjects against the landscapes of Lanzarote. It’s like astronauts on another planet, but they are definitely Lego astronauts.
And I’m also really happy to get some new astronauts. As mine, while not in terrible shape are ageing a touch from their original purchase date back in the 80’s.