Photographing Lego with an iPhone: How Andrew Whyte took these stunning pictures
Andrew Whyte is a photographer who specialises in taking long exposure photos, but when he found that he was spending most of his time shooting for work at night, he looked for an interesting passion project to counteract the professional ones. That's when he hit upon the idea of taking pictures of a Lego minifigure, itself taking photos. And all using his iPhone.
"I found that I wasn't really picking up the camera as often as I liked because it gets so tiring shooting night after night after night," explained Whyte to Pocket-lint. "So I was on the look-out to tie-in all the snaps I would take on a daily basis as I wandered around."
Then Whyte found himself visiting a Lego store and finding a little camera accessory for Lego minifigures.
"It seemed a logical thing to do, to build this minifigure as a photographer and start carrying him around and start placing him into pictures. The type of pictures I was taking anyway. Stuff from fairly ordinary everyday scenes to sunsets to cityscapes."
Now with him at all times, Whyte says he carries the Lego man in that jeans pocket that no-one normally knows what to do with. He takes him out when he sees the perfect shot and even gives him a new wardrobe at times.
"He varies. He normally has the same head and same hat, but in the same way that I get changed everyday and put on fresh clothes, he does too," said Whyte. "Over the last 18 months, I have built a collection of minifigures that have been chosen based on the clothes they wear, so particular trousers or jackets. I've styled him in that way. I chosen a couple of bits for the sake of a single photograph, like when it was particularly cold I bought him a big flying jacket with a sheepskin collar, but most of the time the images I take are of him over the shoulder."
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So is the minifig a smaller representation of Whyte? He doesn't believe so, although he does admit that his own experiences have influenced shots.
"I've dropped equipment, and so has he. It is not me though. It's just a fun way of getting a record of different places I've been," he laughed.
That fun, has caught the imagination of not only Whyte, but of the thousands that now follow him via social networks and his website.
"Throughout the whole of 2013 I took at least one image every day, wherever I was. Whatever the weather conditions, I took a fresh image."
Never really struggling for inspiration, the Legographer, as he is known, agrees that some photos are better that others.
"Some images are more successful than others of course, but you can't create a masterpiece every single day. My favourite at the moment is one I took recently. It was one of the first shots I took with my iPhone 5S, because I had used a [iPhone] 4S previously," Whyte explained. "This particular shot has the character stood by the roadside, photographing traffic trails going past, with a nice twilight blue sky in the background, and it just highlights how far technology has come."
The shot in question perfectly highlights Whyte's two different styles of shooting, both in Lego perspective and with a long exposure for nightime capture. But the photographer believes that it also highlights the difference of strengths over the 4S and the 5S and just how far technology has come.
"I have been a big advocate of mobile imaging for a long time. The phone I had before the 4S was a small Sony Ericsson, which wasn't very good. So two years ago when I was buying a new phone my decision was solely based around the camera. Now I've just upgraded to the iPhone 5S. Yes, I could have gone around to other devices, but I saw nothing at all that compelled me to move away from the iOS platform," he said.
That might immediately raise the heckles of Lumia 1020 users around the world, but Whyte says he did consider the Nokia phone.
"I looked very seriously at the 1020, but I wasn't particularly impressed. I liked the control elements built into the native apps, but I got all of that with the apps that I used on the 4S."
Whyte believes that although the native camera app for the iPhone isn't really up to scratch for what he needs, the multitude of third party apps makes it perfect.
5 tips for shooting with your iPhone
1 Look for a story
Choose a character you can relate to and capture what's in front of them. As a photographer myself, creating a series around a Lego photographer was an obvious choice but I've seen tales featuring Lego pilots, policemen, Star Wars characters and more.
2 Keep it simple
Take the same approach to props and the scene as you would if you were taking images of people.
3 Find the right apps for you.
For imaging, you'll want something that lets you separate focus and exposure. For processing, make sure you can export at full-res - it always amazes and disappoints me that some apps let you create great looking images but restrict you to 1024 file sizes.
4 Switch the flash off
Flash will really flatten the scene and make the figure look pasted in. If you need to add some light, use a small torch.
5 Have fun!
Combining toys and photography should bring a smile to your face.
Currently he uses an app called 645 Pro Mk II, followed by Snapseed for editing before sharing on Twitter, Facebook and his website.
"I don't use the default camera app. There are a few complexities that I have to overcome. So I use 645 Pro, which has the added benefit of shooting in tiff format, and that then gives me a really high quality starting point for my editing workflow. I do that in Snapseed on the phone and from there I can then share the images to Facebook, Twitter and my own website, using nothing but my iPhone," said Whyte.
This process means that the first time Whyte sees his shots on a bigger screen is after they've been posted and shared publicly.
It's a process that he has honed so much that he claims photos take no more than 15 minutes. But does he never edit the shots on a desktop?
"No. To do it on desktop would be messy. I use professional retouching tools as part of my commercial work, but for this I've had no issues with quality or detail, to do it on the device," he explained. "Sometimes it can be a little bit finicky, but you are talking something that takes you five minutes rather than two minutes. If you start including the computer, it becomes too time consuming. I can take a picture and share it with the audience and have it online within 5 to 10 minutes of taking it, and sometimes that matters."
So what about a professional-grade DSLR?
"I genuinely think that with what I am doing with the images they are as good as they need to be. If they are that good why do you need to change it? It's a connected camera, rather than a phone that can take pictures. It certainly has deficiencies in terms of focal length. But it terms of image quality in this format it is everything that it needs to be."
As for lens he has used the Olliclip macro lens for the 4S but says they don't really favour the type of photography he does, certainly not for the Lego series.
The iPhone is not perfect though. Whyte admits that he has a wishlist of features that are not fulfilled by the phone. For example, a better range of focal lengths, more manual control and access to more settings are all answered by the Nokia Lumia 1020, making us again wonder why he chose the iPhone 5S over the 41-megapixel camera savvy phone.
"My wife has a Lumia 925 so it's not that I'm unfamiliar with the Lumia range," he said. "But I've looked in detail at the images she takes and I don't feel they are at the same starting point. I also don't feel there are the same level of apps available. And although it can do long exposures, they are limited to 4 seconds where an app on the iPhone will let me do an 8 minute exposure."
So where next? Whyte wants to carry on taking photos of his minifig and possibly publish a book of the best ones. He will also continue to encourage others to pick up their phone or camera and start taking pictures.