Lego Stormtrooper patrol on Hoth

I first thought of the idea for this photo over two years ago but you know how it goes. Other images take precedence (especially ones that don’t require as much time to set up!), you temporarily forget about it, life in general etc.  However, I found myself at a loose end one evening last week & I thought “Hey! Let’s give it a go!”

I began by taping 6 sheets of white, A4 paper together & placing them on a table. This was to create a basic white base (if you had a larger piece of paper or white foam board then obviously this would work just as well). At the back I stood two pieces of black, A4 card on their end to help create a dark backdrop (the cereal boxes were just a handy aid seeing as I was in the kitchen!) I arranged the stormtroopers on the base & stuck each of them down with a tiny piece of blu tack to prevent them from falling over mid shot. A quick scout on the internet had brought up baking powder as the most popular material to use as snow in this type of scaled down imaged. As you can see from below, you don’t need to cover the entire base. Keep checking the live view on your camera to see any bare sections that require attention. For future reference, this was two 170g packets of baking powder. A useful tip when applying the baking powder is to roughly sprinkle it into hills & shapes first, then sieve some additional powder over the top to create a fine top layer which looks more realistic.

Stormtrooopers on Hoth set up.
Set up for Stormtrooper patrol on Hoth image.

For the planet/moon (“That’s no moon!”) I took a piece of kitchen foil & loosely crumpled it into a ball before carefully unfolding it & wrapping it around a small, plastic, side plate. As I knew the top of the planet wasn’t going to be in shot I merely held it with one hand while shining a small, LED pocket torch at it with the other. This was the only light source used (the room being completely dark) although I also had a white reflector just below the camera to bounce some of the light back onto the front of the mini figures. As for camera settings, the camera was in Aperture Priority mode in order for me to choose the depth of field I wanted & the resulting exposure was 1.3 seconds. It goes without saying the camera was on a tripod. I also set the shutter release to a 10 second delay seeing as both hands were occupied operating the torch & holding the moon.

Post production was fairly brief. A slight white balance adjustment to create a cooler look. A hue/saturation tweak to the blue channel and a brightness & contrast adjustment. Finally a little sharpening to finish it all off.

Faking snow in Photoshop Elements

To superimpose falling snow on a scene in Photoshop Elements is fairly straight forward. However, I don’t think the effect works equally well on all images. Ones that include highlight & shadow areas appear to be the best but a little trial & error is probably recommended.

First, we need to resize the image (this is important for the snowflake size later). Image>Resize>Image Size & set the resolution to 72ppi. Make sure the “Constrain Proportions” & “Resample Image” boxes are ticked.

Create a new layer (Layer>New>Layer or the “New layer” button) then Edit>Fill Layer & set the “Contents” to black with 100% opacity.

Filter>Noise>Add Noise tick “Gaussian” at 100% & make sure “Monochromatic” is ticked also.

Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur & set the radius to 1.0 pixels.

Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Levels set the slider input levels to 140 low & 142 high.

Change the blend mode to “Screen” & adjust the opacity to make the effect look convincing.

Now copy that layer (Ctrl + J) & put the blend mode back to “Normal”. Image>Transform>Free Transform, grab the bottom circle & rotate the whole image 180 degrees. Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur & set the radius to 0.5 pixels. Change the blending mode back to “Screen” & reduce the opacity. Make sure the opacity of this layer is lower than the previous one. This will add some depth to the snow effect. You could repeat this previous step again (reducing the pixel radius further & lowering the opacity) as many times as you wish. It all depends upon the look you’re trying to replicate (blizzard white out or casual snow fall).

Depending on the original image you may need to alter the opacity of the two snow layers accordingly to make the effect realistic. The end result may also benefit from adjusting the “Hue/Saturation” of the original image after you’ve resized it to give it more of a winter feel (eg. lowering the hue & saturation, slightly increasing the lightness etc.) but this will vary from one project to the next.

Original image.
Photoshop snow effect