Local Guide Julien Ballester has been fond of photography for as long as he can remember. It was a passion he shared with his father. Together, they’d capture and share photos. “We even had a dark room at home to develop our own pictures on film,” Julien told me.
Another thing Julien has always loved are LEGOs—so it’s no surprise he eventually became a “legographer.” The 30-year-old currently lives in Paris, France where he is an aeronautical engineer, but specializes in toy photography during his spare time. He especially loves to use LEGO minifigures in his photos.
Julien always takes his DSLR camera and box of minifigures with him whenever he travels just in case inspiration strikes. Lucky for us, he often shares his amazing photos on Google Maps.
We recently caught up with Julien to learn more about his passion for photography and why he loves using minifigures as his subjects.
What inspired you to start using LEGO in your photos?
I have always been fond of LEGO. Since my childhood, I always loved playing with them. There was a time (a Dark Age) when I stopped. But I fell back into it during my engineering studies with some money in my pocket. And now I am still collecting them.
For years, I have been following other very talented toy photographers from around the globe online. And someday it clicked. Why not take some pictures myself? I was doing photography, I had LEGO minifigures. So, I took some pictures inside my apartment first. I received very positive feedback from it online, so I continued. After some time, I decided to go outside to play with my toys. And now, most of my pictures are taken outside. I like the challenge of the weather, having the light change, the natural landscape in the background.
How do you select the places you’ll put them?
I travel a lot for work, so I don’t really select the locations I go to and I don’t always have all the time I want for my pictures. But when I know where I will travel, I try to bring with me a set of minifigures that would fit in the environment as well as my box of my “usual suspects.”
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration can come from different things. The landmarks I encounter can make for a great background to support a story, so I use a wide angle lens to capture the scene. Or, sometimes, really small details can be much more interesting and the location becomes not as important.
Sometimes I visualize my photos in advance, so I can prepare the props and test the composition beforehand. Other times, I’m inspired by the place itself, finding interesting details or textures, eye-catching lines or shapes, playing with water reflection or light.
What’s the process like?
To give life to your toys, it is important to be at eye level when you take the picture. So you have to not be afraid to get down on the floor. I spend a lot of time sitting or lying on the ground, in crazy yoga-type positions to get the perfect shot.
Because of that, people may look at me strangely, or even think I had a stroke (it happens to me on occasion to have someone rushing at me thinking I am dead on the floor). But in the end it helps with the composition of the picture and makes for very natural, lifelike results.
What has your experience as a Local Guide been like so far?
I like to share pictures with the community, but I did not look for anything in return. However, I know that as a user of Google Maps, I look at pictures and reviews about a lot of places I go to. So, it is helpful for me and I appreciate the community for all this continuous work.
Why did you decide to share your LEGO photos on Google Maps?
Initially, I never thought I would share them on Google Maps and only keep them on my social media. But, since the app kept offering me to upload my pictures for some location, I published some of them. I am glad people can find them on Google Maps :-)
What do you hope people will learn when they see them?
It will show them places but with another point of view. Of course, when you look for the Eiffel Tower on Google Maps, you expect to see pictures of it. But nowadays, everyone is taking the same pictures from the same place. So, why not share an original picture of the Eiffel Tower in the background with a panda love story in the front?
What advice do you have for people who hope to improve their photography skills?
I am a self-taught photographer. Before doing toy photography, I only took pictures in automatic mode which does not give you a lot of creative liberty. Because I envision some of my photos in advance, I realized I needed to better understand my camera’s modes.
So, give yourself a project. Find inspiration somewhere (in other people’s pictures, for example). Envision your pictures in your head. Try to find and understand how to compose it and set your camera modes to reach your goal. You’ll improve your skills and you’ll see how rewarding it is. And practice, practice, practice. I often take dozens or hundreds of pictures to get a good one. I always try changing positions, modes, or just wait for a better lighting.
What do you wish other people knew about photography?
A lot of people still think that you need a big expensive camera to make good pictures. But I totally disagree. There is a saying that goes “the best camera is the one you have with you.” So, go out and practice with what you have at hand. “Practice makes perfect.”
We hope you enjoyed getting to know Julien! You can check out more of his amazing photos on his Instagram and Google Maps profile.
What are some ways you like to get creative with your photography? Tell us in the comments below.