One of my favorite scenes in any Star Wars movie and one that stuck in my head after I saw the movie in the theater when it opened, was the meeting of Luke and Yoda on Dagobah. The mysteriously beautiful scenery, ominous trees, swamp monsters and, of course, finding out that the wizened little creature Luke meets is actually a Jedi master (this was before the internet and leaks and spoilers so it was actually a surprise!)
Those tones and environment was something I wanted to recreate in a photo as soon as obtained the Hot Toys Yoda figure. Recently, I revisited Dagobah to create a scene of that fateful (and funny) first meeting of the Jedi, so I thought I’d take you behind the scenes of the making of this shot.
The first elements you need to sell a Dagobah shot are the trees. I’ve seen some great custom trees, but for me, these fish tank decorations fill the bill perfectly. I have three of these, two tall and one short version that I picked up at a local pet store. But three trees won’t exactly sell a forest, so I had to fill in. For many backgrounds; clouds, buildings, etc. I use a large screen (55″) TV with selected images that are sometimes images I’ve taken myself or royalty-free stock photos. This one is a stock shot of some misty trees – it worked without any Photoshop work on my part (changing colors, tones, saturation). I pull this shot into Photoshop on my laptop and connect it to an old Apple TV I have to project it on the TV (you could also do this with a USB stick or connecting with an HDMI cord).
Having done a Dagobah shot before I have an idea of the type of lighting I’ll need. First, I need ambient light – the atmospheric light filtering through the trees. For this, I used a medium softbox with a color-correcting blue gel to get things matching the image in the background. This is placed above the background screen at about a 45º angle. Next, a rim light (another blue-gelled softbox) off to the left to keep the left side of Luke’s head and the tree behind from getting too dark. And finally the main or key light, which I knew I wanted to be the light from the lantern as it was in the film scene.
The prop lantern does actually light up, but not anywhere near enough to light the scene, so it needed to be augmented. For this, I used a Lumecube on a flexible stand. I placed a warm filter and a diffuser (Lumecube products) on it to create a warm tone and placed it so it would approximate the light coming from the lantern.
Along with setting up lighting, I start roughly placing figures and props. I knew I wanted to have Luke’s reaction be the focus of the shot, I knew I wanted Artoo in there and Yoda, of course, but I didn’t want him to be the feature or even very prominent. After getting him in place sitting on the short tree (with the help of some wire around his waist and tack on his feet) I put him in place and began looking around the scene for a dramatic angle. I usually do this first without the camera to get the rough angle and then with it, to see how much adjusting I have to do to get everything I want in-shot. once i have something I place the camera in position on my tripod.
I really liked this angle as it was enough to identify Yoda (for the four people who wouldn’t know who it was!) and between him, the tree he’s sitting on, and the foreground tree branches (from the stand/dio the figure comes with), it began to create a frame around the center of the shot. Placing Artoo off to the left and the tree behind, coupled with the key light, helps direct the eye right to the focus of the image, in this case, Luke.
In post, I adjusted some of the basics, brought the white point to the cool side a bit to increase the overall blueish color a bit, increased the clarity slightly (gotta be careful, this can be overdone easily), added more dirt to Artoo (I put some watered down acrylic paint on him just prior to shooting so it wouldn’t dry before I could clean it off), dodged and burned some areas (I usually dodge the eyes of the figure lightly), added a very slight vignette, and my logo.
And that’s it! Feel free to ask me any questions here or on IG and, as always, may the Force be with you!
Trevor is a New York-based Creative Director and owner of The Brand Counselors. He has a growing collection of 150ish 1:6th scale stock and custom figures (and more and more Lego sets). Toy photography melds his childhood dreams of comic book illustration and film directing with his design talents and – in his mind – justifies the ridiculous money he spends on these things. When he’s not shooting, he enjoys kayaking, catching up on good TV and building seemingly endless custom figures.
Last modified: February 13, 2019