The moment LEGO announced the Ocean Exploration sets for the summer, I absolutely had to get my hands on a couple so I could shoot them underwater.
The Ocean Exploration Submarine 60264 set was so fun to shoot! It was easy to hold in one hand, a good size for my 30mm lens’s FOV, and the bricks clicked securely together. Check, check, and check for underwater photography!
Unfortunately, the Ocean Exploration Base 60265 had a fatal flaw: the roof of the docking submarine doesn’t click together very securely. There are two jumper plates that hold it together, so the clutch power is too weak for handling. So that meant zero chance of the set going into the water as-is where the roof could just easily float away.
The Ocean Exploration Base Set
The base is kind of like an underwater version of the Lunar Space Station 60227 in that it’s got 3 modules attached to a central hub.
The base itself looks really striking with colors and the prominent domes on the ends of each module.
The front module is a docked submarine, which is rather empty inside except for the two jumper plates I mentioned and a couple of black cheese slopes.
The other two modules are the crew quarters with a bed, desk, coffee maker and lantern and the control room with a small aquarium (sticker on transparent brick) on the desk.
It’s hard to miss the animals that come with this set because they are pretty big and very cool!
The hammerhead and stingray come in smaller sets, the Ocean Mini-Submarine 60263 and the Ocean Diver 30370 polybag.
On the last spread of the first instruction booklet, LEGO has included a little bit about how the National Geographic Explorers partnership influenced this set.
Maybe they should have included the link to the Explore the World campaign rather than the City product page.
I really like that there is a conservation theme: the divers and drones are equipped to pick up a bottle and a bike frame from the ocean floor.
The new red diving helmet is a welcome addition! I’ve never liked those helmets that are transparent dome types. They expose way too much of a minifig’s head and it really takes me out of it.
Why there are two different kinds of divers — red helmet and transparent dome — in this set is a mystery to me.
I thought those two red “eyes” were meant to be lights but looking at the animation, they’re not:
The Toy Photography Challenges
So I didn’t get to shoot this underwater but shooting in the studio isn’t without its difficulties.
As with many LEGO sets, the interior can be hard to shoot because they are often narrow. These modules are even narrower, and not really that interesting inside, so I didn’t think it was worthwhile to shoot artistically.
Instead, I focused on the exterior and the things that can happen around it.
The biggest challenge with shooting the Ocean Exploration Base is the three domes that are prominent on the exterior. Three glossy concave objects means reflection hell.
Any LEGO photographer knows the pain of shooting a toy made of highly reflective plastic. Add to that, a shape that reflects everything in the room.
There were a few ways I could have tackled the issue of shooting the exterior with these domes but since I wanted a low-key, pseudo-underwater look, the most practical solution was to shoot in the dark.
Then I’d only have to worry about the reflections caused by the lights that I placed around the set.
I wanted the base lit up internally and externally, so the first thing I did was grab a couple of flashes and a few tiny LED lights.
I’ve detailed my lighting setup in this video but will also briefly explain below:
I placed a tiny LED light in each module with its source pointing at the dome. LEGO isn’t opaque so I knew that the light would also show through the curved yellow walls, which in this case, was great.
Typically, I don’t like seeing light coming through brick walls or minifigure’s legs but I wanted the yellow to pop in my dark scene.
The tiny LEDs are weak light sources so I set my shutter speed to 5 seconds to allow enough time for the light to build up on the sensor.
On camera right, I placed a snooted and blue gelled flash to backlight the base for separation from the unlit background. It also edges the right dome with light.
On camera left, I bounced a flash with a softbox off the white wall to create an even larger, softer light source. I did that so that the reflection in the nearest dome wouldn’t be so distracting (see my Lighting 101 for Toy Photographers: Controlling Reflections video).
I’ve obviously also done quite a bit in post. You can see how I created the lighting effects and addressed color temperatures in that video as well.
I really like this set a lot. It’s challenging to shoot for sure but I think it looks nice enough to display in my office. I’ve been toying with the idea of a topside/underwater type display and this could really anchor that.
It would’ve been nice to have somewhere to dock the drone (no, it doesn’t fit into the hollow submarine) but that’s a minor gripe.
I’ll likely do some modifications to the docking submarine to make sure that the roof has a secur fit and try to take it underwater. What a challenge that will be since I will have to weigh it down and deal with shifting sands!
The Ocean Exploration Base 60265 is $79.99/64,99€ and has 497 pieces.