LEGO® Star Wars™: Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy Interview with Vesa Lehtimaki

LEGO® Star Wars™: Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy Interview with Vesa Lehtimaki



How did you get your start in photography?

I used to shoot color slides with my Minolta X-700 camera back in the 1980s and 1990s, but I rarely pointed that to toys, never to LEGO® bricks. I bought my first DSLR (Canon 450D, now I have a Canon 5DMK2) for an illustration assignment in 2008 or 2009. Once the assignment was done I pointed the camera to toys in the spring of 2009. My plan was to simply document my kid’s toys, to save them in photographs before they break, are given away or just vanish. The thought was to bind a photobook of the childhood toys for my child later on.

In July 2009, I uploaded some Star Wars® Clone Troopers action figure photographs to Flickr to try out the online photo-sharing platform and I found it very interesting. A little later I photographed some LEGO snowtroopers in snow and I just got stuck with that.


Do you remember the first LEGO set that you ever built?

I had LEGO bricks but I don’t recall the first ever set I built. One of the earliest memories is of an ambulance set (#373-2 year 1971), I still have most of the bricks for that, doors with the red cross and everything. There was also an older delivery truck set (#333-2 year 1967), which still have those white clear bottomed wheel holder bricks. A while ago I stumbled on the red LEGO bricks with logos from these sets in an old storage box in our basement, I took the old treasures from the box and put them in a safe place.

(c) 2015 LEGO  (c) and TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd 

How do you make your action effects (water splashing, snow falling, etc.)?

I have a long history reading movie magazines and books, there are a lot of things I draw from that database. I try different things and materials and then I take a lot of frames to find out what works. Sometimes I cannot reprise an effect I’ve done earlier and that can be quite frustrating.


How do you get your LEGO minifigures and models to hold just the right pose?

I use lots of Blu Tac. In some cases I’ve glued the minifigure down with hot glue. It holds well but comes off easily when done.

(c) 2015 LEGO  (c) and TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd 

What are your tricks for lighting a LEGO photo scene?

Experimentation and a lot of variation to experiment with. I don’t have a softbox but I have various lighting sources from old Maglite pocket flashlights to LED flashlights, light tables and a flash. There are some reflective pieces of white gatorboard to guide the light as well. I use whatever comes in handy.


What are the hardest and most fun things about LEGO photography?

The hardest part is trying to be original, to come up with ideas that haven’t been around yet. I have managed to do that a few times but with so many people doing this these days, it’s getting harder and harder. I’ve had a couple of photographs up in Flickr thinking I nailed it, only to find out that the idea had been done before. If this happens, I add a link to the one that beat me.

Generally, I’m pretty serious with linking to sources of inspiration if I’m aware of it. Anyone can fire a camera but coming up with ideas is an entirely different ballgame and I truly respect those who can do it. I don’t want to be the guy who pretends to coming up with ideas that he hasn’t so I try to pay respect to the originals whenever I can.

The most fun part is when you try out an idea and find out it actually works. Those moments are the best.


Do you use a computer to enhance your photos or add special effects?

Only up until the very latest images I tried to do everything in-camera. If there’s a blizzard in the photo, it was really there when I shot it. Or a moon in the sky, it’s there, not photoshopped in later. I have, however, photoshopped dust off from shiny surfaces and removed suspending threads or rods.

Lately, I’ve been interested in more complicated lighting schemes and that unfortunately has required me to go easier on the in-camera principle. I still don’t want to do anything I think wasn’t really possible without Photoshopping, I like to keep the photos ”real” in that sense. Having everything in my photographs really there when I photographed it sort of still applies, I don’t swap backgrounds, enhance perspective by enlarging objects or add/remove figures, but I do mess with the lighting more than before, that’s different to what it was.


(c) 2015 LEGO  (c) and TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd

Do you build your own photo environments, or do you use the world around you?

I’ve used both. Earlier I went outside to shoot in the garden more, it was because of the smoke, I used burning paper. Outdoors can be more organic and perhaps the element of surprise might give out an occasional gem, but I like it better in the studio, I like to control things. I’ve been thinking of going back out, though, we’ll see.


Do you ever work together with anybody else?

Nope, never have, it’s too much of a distraction. I sometimes simplify my ideas just because I only have two hands, an extra pair would be a great help but I prefer to being able to shoot when I want, abort a shoot when I want or clock in ridiculous hours if I want without thinking about it too much.


How has your photography improved as you’ve had more practice and experience?

There are definitive changes. I think I was braver before, more open to explore new ideas and face failure. This was probably because of not knowing what I was doing and therefore jumping in head first was always an option. Over the years my skills with processing the image from the moment of exposure to the final piece has improved immensely and some planning helps to catch technically better original exposed frame. I like the editing part a lot and a good original file is much more enjoyable to work with than something that can only be salvaged to a degree.

One more favorite is the Last Ship to Rendezvous. It doesn’t look like a spectacularly extraordinary item on my Flickr page, but I recently saw it printed on metallic paper mounted on a huge acrylic plate (45” x 30” / 115 x 76 centimeters) and the atmosphere in that was just dreamy. I loved seeing it in that size.

(c) 2015 LEGO  (c) and TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd

Questions from LEGO Online Member Community


Wickley ‏@wickley 

@LEGO_Group@TheAvanaut What's your favorite lens for shooting mini scale?

I have two lenses, first a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens for closeups. It’s an incredibly sharp lens and produces a nice and even image all the way to the corners; I like it a lot. Sometimes I want a wider angle, though, and for that I use a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 USM II lens. That one is also a very nice lens and it works really well with interiors.


Joehelldeloxley ‏@Joehelldeloxley 

@LEGO_Group@TheAvanaut how much time do you spend on each [of the] pics ?

It varies a lot. I would have to say it’s from one hour to four years. Sometimes a simple idea is shot and posted within an hour, it’s not all that common, though. I’d say a photograph usually takes one evening, about six - eight hours from setup to upload. But I don’t upload everything I shoot, it’s difficult to define whether the test shoots that lead to a shoot that ends up being uploaded should be counted to the total time it takes to shoot an image.


OgleMyLego ‏@oglemylego 

@LEGO_Group@TheAvanaut How long is your setup, shoot and edit approximately?

The simplest ones, portraits and such, have no set up, they take about 30 minutes to rig and shoot, another 30 mins to edit. But that’s the fastest it can be, if there are any issues during the process, I’ll reshoot and edit more, so that can take hours.

A big snow photograph takes about an hour to set up, but the shoot itself can take several hours. The protection of gear and cleaning up between exposures is very slow. And cleaning up afterwards, oh boy, that has taken a lot of time sometimes when the powder has flown all over from the set up.

Editing the big photos can take anything from 30 minutes to years. I have had some images I have edited, but never really gotten them right, I put them away and return to them later and edit again, sometimes this has worked really well. Usually it’s an hour or two, though, maybe three, tops.


PeterSteel ‏@exfrozensteel 

@LEGO_Group@TheAvanaut If you're using both hands to hold the lights, how do you take the photo?

The secret is wireless remote, I can have that in my hand with a light and still operate it. I couldn’t do anything without it.

(c) 2015 LEGO  (c) and TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd 


LEGO, the LEGO logo, the Brick and Knob configuration and the Minifigure are trademarks of the LEGO Group. ©2015 The LEGO Group. Produced by DK under license from the LEGO Group.

© & ™ 2015 Lucasfilm LTD.

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