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EB Star Wars Forum Blog Interview: smokebelch


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#1 Brickdoctor

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 05:17 AM

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We've interviewed a Staff member and an MOC Expert already, so, this time, we thought we'd interview one of the talented photographers on EB. He's the mind behind the Star Wars LEGO Photography thread, the Photographic Master of Glue, and the maker of Doc's desktop backgrounds since 2009. Please welcome, smokebelch!

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INTERVIEW: smokebelch
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How did you start with the LEGO hobby and why Star Wars?
Like a lot of people I loved Lego as a child, particularly the space sets. Also was a massive Star Wars fan- I was born in '74 so the original trilogy hit me at an impressional age :sweet: Can still remember the excitement waiting to see Return of the Jedi at the cinema on its original release when I was 9!
I'm very much an original trilogy fan, George Lucas has done much over the last 15 years to try and dent my love of Star Wars but so far hasn't managed to knock it out of me!
Came back out of my dark ages due to Lego getting the Star Wars license. Have to say I was never that impressed with the very early sets- but it was the original AT-AT that pulled me in. Can remember Lego advertising it in the monthly film magazines here in the UK, and it looked just so darn awesome I couldn't resist! Was a slippery slope from there on in.
Star Wars is still my primary Lego interest, though do enjoy a lot of the other licensed themes (Indy, Toy Story, Batman), I'm a massive film fan so they get to my love of the movies. Also like some of the other themes Lego has produced recently like the Alien Conquest line. And the collectable minifigs line has been great as well- who ever thought I'd be able to buy an official Lego Zombie minifig!

How much time do you spend on LEGO? What do people around you think of your being an AFOL?
Since the birth of my daughter nearly 2 years ago, not as much time as I used too :wink: My daughters now got a nice Duplo tub- trying to start her off early, so hopefully as she gets older she can help build with me.
Due to space most of my sets are currently dismantled and stored away. Not much of a builder anymore, though I often enjoy giving the official sets a tweak here and there. I really think the standard of the recent sets has been amazing, and I'm very much looking forward to the new Jabba's Palace set in the summer. Really enjoy spending time building the sets (when I do get spare time anyways), and will often dig out an old set and re-build it for fun.
My family all know I like Lego and are pretty supportive of it. They are used to my love of toys and Star Wars so came as no real surprise when I got back into Lego. Last Christmas I made custom figures up of them and placed them into the crackers, which went down well.

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How did you discover Eurobricks and what made you decide to join?
Been a lurker for a long while before I joined up, found it was just a great place to find out info on new sets and reviews etc...
Think it was sharing some of my pictures when I started photographing them that made me finally join up, and I'm glad I did as its a really wonderful community on here... and I'm not just saying that as everyone was so nice about my shots :wink:
Was great to be able to start up the photography thread to show off my work initially, and get some great feedback from you guys. Quite quickly turned it into just a general photography thread for anyone to post up their work, which was great. Think I'm proudest to think I've inspired others to have a go at photography, and hopefully been able to offer some advice. I really am just self taught, and a complete amateur so I like to think that I show that anyone can have a go and get some decent looking photos out of it.

How did you start with your passion with LEGO Star Wars photography?
Well I collect all sorts of toys, and started photographing them 5 or so years ago. Was inspired by Brain McCarty's toy photography at first, taking the toys out into the wild to shoot them in different environments. Just started out using the camera on my mobile phone at first, though the limitations quickly made me purchase a proper camera. Always like the challenge of trying to give them a sense of scale given that they are generally under a foot tall.
Then one day came across Balakov's Lego shots on flickr, and suddenly though why had I not thought to shoot any of my Star Wars Lego too. I guess the size of the minifigs was a bit of a drawback at first. Hard given their diminutive stature to get them to look good in the real world.
I've also always been a huge fan of cinema, and of cinematography, and wanted to try and capture some 'film' like stills of the minifigs out on 'Tatooine' etc... I live on the south coast in the UK, and I'm lucky enough to live near the beach and forest so had a good couple of locations to experiment.
The first few shots I did came out pretty well, and due to the crazy weather here managed to grab a Snowtrooper shot in the snow, and a Sandtrooper/Dewback shot on 'Tatooine' in the same week!

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Snowtrooper by smokebelch, on Flickr

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Sandtrooper by smokebelch, on Flickr

Key thing I've always found with shooting toys is you've gotta get down low to give them a sense of scale, and with Lego you gotta get down REAL low, which is not all that easy given I'm 6'4" :laugh:

Where do you get inspiration/ideas for your photography subjects?
With my outdoor Star Wars photography will often just try and either recreate a classic moment from the films, or generally just try and show off the minifig in an interesting setting. As I mentioned I live in the UK so quite quickly the weather became a factor in my photography... i.e. it rains a LOT here!
Most of my inspiration comes from the movies, always loved a well composed cinematic shot and that's what I aim for with my photography.

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What kind of camera and lighting do you use? Are you happy with your equipment?
Again I really am just an amateur photographer, and all my cameras have only ever cost me around £150. I just look for ones that will let me tweak the settings a bit, and also most importantly have a good macro function (A huge must for Lego photography). I currently have a cannon PowerShot which replaced my old Fujifilm as surprise surprise it died due to the amount of sand in the lens motor! :oh3:
I'm pretty happy with the results I can get from essentially a point and shoot camera, and I'm always flattered when people think I must use a really expensive DSLR to get my shots.
I'd always shot outdoors as you can't beat natural sunlight to light with, over the winter when there wasn't much sunlight about I started experimenting with lighting for indoor photography. I'd previously never been able to get any good looking shots taken indoors, I didn't have the room or money for expensive lighting kits.
One day was experimenting with lighting with a torch app on my iPod touch, and was amazed by the results that I got! And I still use the same set-up to this day for any indoor photography. Just a plain white piece of A-4 paper as a backdrop, lit with the torch app, and I play round with the exposure times on the camera. Would ultimately love to have both the space and time for a nice proper studio but thats not happening anytime soon, so for the moment I'm happy with my low-tech 'studio'
For the outdoor shots, you can't get better than the sun so as long as its shining I'm happy!

Amongst all of the photos you've captured, which one is your most favorite and why?
Wow that's a tough one... Be so hard to pick. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, and I'm very rarely 100% happy with any shot. Probably one of the shots that I was happiest with was one that I never thought would turn out well due to the conditions when I was shooting it.

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Sandstorm! by smokebelch, on Flickr

This one while not featuring any Star Wars Lego was shot at my favorite location- the beach aka 'tatooine'. Features a toy called a Squadt by Ferg & Brandt Peters. Was really blowing a gale that day, and I literally got sand everywhere including inside my camera (which gave up the ghost very shortly after). Was so frustrated with the sand blowing everywhere, but when I looked at the shots back at home the 'sandstorm' effect gave the photos a fantastic feel. Would never been able in a million years to have caught that if id tried to go for that look, so was kinda a happy accident. In half the frames the toy had blown over, and I had bought along some Sandtroopers for a Lego shot too, but no chance of that with the conditions unfortunately.

Looking back over my Star Wars Lego shots now, tough call out of these two as to which would be my favorite, both from very early on when I started photographing my Lego.

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Tatooine Sunset by smokebelch, on Flickr

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Stormtroopers by smokebelch, on Flickr

The sunset one was another happy accident really, was just trying for a shot at sunset and only had one Sandtrooper with me. Was taken across a bay with a ferry going back and forth. The little posts that look a bit like moisture vaporators in the distance are actually the ariels on the ferry! Managed to get the shot at just the right angle to hide the ferry and the water. Was think about trying to Photoshop another Sun in, but in the end left it as was. I like to think the other sun had already set :laugh:
The Stormtroopers one was just a simple set up with my trusty bit of A-4 paper and the iPod touch, was just really happy with the effect I could get quickly with a very simple set-up. Always loved the design of the classic Stormie, and hope I'd managed to capture a nice looking image giving the diminutive minifigs a bit more stature. Was made up when Balakov commented that they look 'most intimidating' :grin:

Sorry have managed to pick three in the end, was too hard to narrow down to just one!

Do you have other favorite SW photographs/photography experts?
Well for overall toy photography Brain McCarty is a hero. For the Lego/ SW stuff aside from Balakov I really love Powerpig's photos, and he builds some great stuff too. And also Avanaut is a complete genius. The photographs he creates are amazing, particularly his 'Hoth' shots, I'm in awe at the way he creates these often with 'snow' flying through the air. Really puts my 'piece of white paper' method to shame! The time and effort he puts in to creating these scenes in a studio really is jaw-dropping. The most I've ever managed is dumping half a bag of icing sugar out to create my Hoth! :laugh: (and I should point out my wife was less than impressed with the mess I made!)
And of course Eurobricks own Fenris' shots are wonderful, I know he's been lacking in time and inspiration recently but hope he returns with some new stuff soon.
And a shout out to all the photographs who contribute to the Star Wars Photography thread, as I've said some fantastic work being done there.

Do you photograph any subjects other than LEGO?
Well as I mentioned I started out photographing some of my other toys, and still very much enjoy that. Its nice to mix it up a bit, as will often struggle for any inspiration for a Lego shot so can grab something else to shoot.
Also now I have my daughter so she has become my main subject for photography... Though I do have to say now she's walking around its a whole lot easier shooting toys as they don't move every 2 seconds :head_back:

Who's your favorite SW character?
Ooohhhh that's another tough one. As a child was a tie with Boba Fett, Chewie and Yoda. Now I've still got a lot of love for Boba (seriously what Star Wars fan hasn't?!), but I don't know if I'd necessarily choose him as my favourite. One of my favourite figures as a kid was always the Gamorrean Guard, and recently with the new Hasbro action figure they made of him (check it out if you haven't seen it, its truly amazing) its kinda reignited him to my favourites. Also the new minifig version in the Jabba set looks awesome too.
So lets say the Gamorrean Guard for the moment... Though ask me again on another day and it'll probably be someone else.

... Actually I've already changed my mind, Its now the Biker Scout!... No maybe the Snow Trooper... Or perhaps IG-88... Oh darn and I also really like Sandtroopers. This is too hard. Its just not possible to pick- there's just too many cool characters and designs to pick just one favourite.

Aside from LEGO, what other hobbies do you have?
Well aside from the general toy collecting, I'm a massive movie fan. Really do love all sorts of films. Just some of my favourite directors are The Coen Brothers, Terry Gilliam, Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, Sergio Leone, Akira Kurasawa... Favourite fims Brazil, Blade Runner, Repo Man, Empire Strikes Back (of course!), Rashomon, Rushmore... And I adore pretty much most of Pixar's film, and its great now my daughter enjoys watching these now as well. I could go on, but I've probably waffled on enough already!
Also a big music fan, any and all sorts though currently very obsessed with the Ghost Box label here in the UK which specialises in 'British Cosmic Music'
Also love comics and art, a couple of favourites being Mike Mignola's Hellboy, and Ashley Wood's World War Robots.

What's the reason behind your online monicker 'smokebelch'?
Well it comes from a track by a band called 'Sabres of Paradise', from the early 90's. I first used it many years ago online as no-one else had used it so was good for e-mails etc.. Just kinda stuck I suppose. My wife continually points out its kinda revolting to have 'belch in my username everywhere, but its grown on me, and besides its too late to change it now!

Any tips for all the aspiring and up-and-coming SW photography buffs out there?
I would just say that you really don't need expensive camera equipment to achieve a good looking shot- and I hope my photography shows that. The main thing you would need is a decent macro function on whatever camera you are using.
The key thing is just to experiment and have fun with it. The best way of learning is by doing, just take loads of shots using different angles etc and see what looks good. With digital cameras now you can just shoot away and delete the ones that you don't want. Sometimes with my shots there will only be one shot out of hundreds that works!
Also contribute to the photography thread, some great work being posted up on there, and a great place to get feedback on your shots.

Oh, and get used to weird looks from passers by when they see a grown man lying down on the beach for hours on end taking photos of LEGO *huh*

Can we expect more breathtaking SW photography from you in the near future?
Wow I dunno about breathtaking! Thanks for the compliment :sweet:
Still try and find time for new photos when I can, though having a daughter now means I don't have as much time as I used to for my photography.
Really looking forward to trying to get a nice new shot of the 2012 weathered Sandtroopers on location at Tatooine... Haha watch this space :wink:

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#2 Legocrazy81

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 06:08 AM

Great interview, guys! Definitely deserves a little spotlight smoke, your photography is top notch, and breath taking. :wink: I look forward to your future pics. Great 'studio' guys, very funny. Nice to see the some of the crew there. Who's under the Scout and ARF helmets?
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#3 WampaStomper

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 06:15 AM

View PostLegocrazy81, on 03 March 2012 - 06:08 AM, said:

Who's under the Scout and ARF helmets?
I think Brickdoctor under the Scout helmet, and Masked Builder under the ARF.
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#4 Brickdoctor

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 06:48 AM

View PostWampaStomper, on 03 March 2012 - 06:15 AM, said:

I think Brickdoctor under the Scout helmet, and Masked Builder under the ARF.
That's correct.

#5 smokebelch

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 07:36 AM

Who let that wild animal loose in the studio?!?!  :grin:

Thanks for the interview guys, was honoured to have been asked  :blush:
And great studio shots Oky  :laugh: They are perfect  :thumbup:

#6 Danthebrick

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 10:19 AM

Great feature article - enjoyed the read, the fun pics and revisiting some classic shots.

#7 KielDaMan

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 11:51 AM

View Postsmokebelch, on 03 March 2012 - 07:36 AM, said:

Thanks for the interview guys, was honoured to have been asked :blush:
And thank you for accepting our invitation smoke! :sweet: It was also an honor on our part to have you grace our interview studio fully clad in your gorilla suit no less! :laugh:

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#8 Mr Man

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 11:59 AM

I love these interviews, they're so informative and amusing :laugh:. Which reviewer has the interview studio, and all the figs?

You definitely deserved this smokebelch :thumbup:.
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#9 KielDaMan

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 12:13 PM

View PostMr Man, on 03 March 2012 - 11:59 AM, said:

Which reviewer has the interview studio, and all the figs?
The signature humor alone has 'classic Oky' written all over the images. :grin:

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#10 smokebelch

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 12:44 PM

Thanks for the kind words guys  :sweet:
Nice to let you all know a bit more about me- the internet can be quite 'faceless' sometimes- haha so you get to see behind the mask (quite literally  :wink: ) Really do appriciate all the feedback I get from you guys on my shots.

View PostKielDaMan, on 03 March 2012 - 11:51 AM, said:

And thank you for accepting our invitation smoke! :sweet: It was also an honor on our part to have you grace our interview studio fully clad in your gorilla suit no less! :laugh:

Haha, my pleasure! Been meaning to do a 'sigfig' for a while. Bought the skater minifig as the head is a dead ringer for me- and who doesn't love a big Gorilla  :laugh:

#11 Praiter Yed

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 03:18 PM

Great interview guys  :thumbup:

I've been a fan of Smokebelch's photographs since before I joined EB, in fact before I'd even heard of Smokebelch (I had some downloaded from Google images and didn't even know who'd taken them). I find it incredibly inspiring that Smokebelch uses pretty much a point-and-shoot camera and still such a basic 'home-studio' - gives hope to the rest of us.

Keep up the good work Smokebelch  :thumbup:
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#12 Oky

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 10:15 PM

Thanks, everyone. Glad you like the studio shots, especially you, smoke. :blush: And yes, thanks for doing this with us.
No offense, but your wife is right. Your username is indeed quite disgusting, not only because of the belch part, but the smoke part as well. :tongue: As long as you keep up the great photography, you can call yourself whatever you like, though. :thumbup:

#13 smokebelch

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 02:39 PM

View PostPraiter Yed, on 03 March 2012 - 03:18 PM, said:

Great interview guys  :thumbup:

I've been a fan of Smokebelch's photographs since before I joined EB, in fact before I'd even heard of Smokebelch (I had some downloaded from Google images and didn't even know who'd taken them). I find it incredibly inspiring that Smokebelch uses pretty much a point-and-shoot camera and still such a basic 'home-studio' - gives hope to the rest of us.

Keep up the good work Smokebelch  :thumbup:

Thanks Praiter  :sweet:
People often ask if im gonna get a proper DSLR as I've been into photography for 5 years now. But you know Im still really happy with the results I can get with my point and shoot, so I cant see anything changing for the forseeable future. And yeah I really hope I show that anyone can get some nice looking shots out of pretty much any camera  :thumbup:

View PostOky, on 03 March 2012 - 10:15 PM, said:

Thanks, everyone. Glad you like the studio shots, especially you, smoke. :blush: And yes, thanks for doing this with us.
No offense, but your wife is right. Your username is indeed quite disgusting, not only because of the belch part, but the smoke part as well. :tongue: As long as you keep up the great photography, you can call yourself whatever you like, though. :thumbup:

Haha cheers Oky, I know its disgusting- but I should point out I neither Smoke nor Belch... Actually I have been known to omit the odd belch  :tongue:  But I definatly don't smoke  :laugh: really is too late to change it now so im kinda stuck with it.
A little addition to my user name is the music track that I took it from features factories with smoke coming out of the chimneys on the sleeve- ie smoke belching from the chimney stack...
But im aware that that is NOT the image that most will think of when visualising my username  :grin:
Also quite like the fact that when you google 'smokebelch' it comes up with my flickr homepage first now, before the links to the 'sabres of paradise' track!  :laugh:

Edited by smokebelch, 05 March 2012 - 02:44 PM.


#14 M<0><0<DSWIM

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 05:55 PM

Very cool to learn more about one of my favorite "photo guys".  Plus, we have some of the same favorite directors/movies. :wink:

#15 Dapper-D2

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 08:19 PM

Great interview guys! Smokebelch you have inspired me to try and take better pictures with my Fujifilm FinePix Z10fd and maybe I’ll even post one in your photography thread. I just hope it has a macro.
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#16 lego envy

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 11:47 PM

Nice interview..I always liked photograph and never had the eye for good shots. After seeing yours makes me want to try a bit harder.. :classic: :thumbup:
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#17 JackJonespaw

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 03:34 AM

Nice interview! Smokebelch: is there any phototouching or photoshopping you do to your pics?

#18 mortesv

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 09:52 AM

Super interview! Very informative and very entertaining - a great read  :thumbup:

Oh and Smoke's pics are crazy cool - I'm a fan  :wub:

Keep these interviews coming  :sweet:
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#19 smokebelch

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 10:32 AM

Thanks again guys, Was flattered to have been asked  :sweet: 

View PostJackJonespaw, on 06 March 2012 - 03:34 AM, said:

Smokebelch: is there any phototouching or photoshopping you do to your pics?

For all my early shots, really only ever used to adjust the contrast and brightness ever so slightly- and maybe a small crop. So really nothing much done to it at all.
Over the last year or so have been editing my shots on my iPad with a couple of editing programs. Most I still just edit with basic Contrast/brightness tweaks, though some now I have a bit more of a play round with. Only so much as in tweaking colours etc of what is already there though, like to try and capture what is actually there in camera- dont really 'add' any scenery etc to the shots. 
The one exception would be the stars to the latest shot recreating the old Star Wars Lego logo- but other than the stars everything else caught in camera, and didn't really do any adjustments to this one apart from that.

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#20 Brickmamba

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 01:33 PM

The storm-trooper pictures are so well thought out and executed, great interview and great work!
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#21 smokebelch

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 10:16 PM

View PostBrickmamba, on 06 March 2012 - 01:33 PM, said:

The storm-trooper pictures are so well thought out and executed, great interview and great work!

Thanks Brickmamba  :classic:

#22 Big Cam

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 10:28 PM

Very cool review, I always loved your work, it's great too hear more about you as a person.



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