Sunday, March 16, 2008

Photographing Dolls

Recently I've had a few people ask about photographing dolls, which can be challenging because a doll's skin reflects light differently than a human's. I've been taking digital photos of my dolls for several years, but before that used my 35mm SLR. I love the instant gratification of digital photography, because it has enabled me to take step-by-step photos to include in my patterns or post on the web.

I use one of two digital cameras. The most expensive is a Nikon 5700 (about $750). It's fairly big, bulky and currently isn't working. So I'm using my little Fuji Finepix (under $200). It's small and takes great photos. It's the one I take on my bike trips, vacations, and keep in my purse at all times.

On weekends, I have a friend who stays with us and sleeps in my photo room during the day - so I can't take a photo of my setup right now. Having a "photo room" may sound excessive, but I got tired of repeatedly setting up and taking down photo lights and background in my sewing room (they just take too much room). Now that my kids have moved out, I have two spare bedrooms - one for my main studio, and one for taking photos.*

There are three issues on which I focus when photographing dolls:
Shadow avoidance

1. Never use a flash. It just washes out the doll.
2. Don't direct your lights directly toward the doll - this will wash out the doll, too. Aim the lights away from the doll and reflect the light off the ceiling or walls.
3. I used to take my dolls outside on overcast days in order to photograph them. Sunny days were just too bright, and washed out the dolls. If you do this, remember to keep the background plain.
4. Now I use 2-3 photo lights (very bright, hot, short lifespan), with one fluorescent light above and behind the doll for a backlight.

1. Shining your lights directly toward your doll will increase shadows. Use reflected light.
2. Position your doll away from the back wall. Placing it close to the background increases shadows.
3. Move your lights around until shadows are minimized.

1. I invested in a "seamless paper" photo background several years ago. I found the photo store on the Web and called the number to order it. I bought a "vinyl varitone graduated background." It was $45 in 2001. They come in a variety of colors and sizes. My taupe background is 42 X 62 inches. Using a seamless background eliminates the line where the back wall and surface on which your doll stands meet.
2. If you use a sheet or similar for your background, IRON it. You can see every little wrinkle in the photo, and it looks less than professional and is distracting.
3. Avoid clutter and unnecessary props. These just take the focus away from the doll.

Also, take LOTS of photos at different angles. Then you can weed out the bad ones. Use your macro setting if getting close to the doll.

Hope this helps. I'm sure real photographers out there have many more pearls of wisdom for you.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Too Many New Projects

I've had a bit of a rough spell, jumping from one project to another. I just can't seem to settle on one and finish it. I think it's because I've got all these ideas in my head, and want them ALL done NOW. So I work a little on one, then move to the next. You know, sometimes you just need a little break from a particular project.

One of my latest projects is a "Helen Pringle-Izannah Walker-Anne Adams" inspired doll. I'm really interested in the old-school dolls right now. She's a big girl, much bigger than my usual - about 26 inches tall. She still needs her arms.

In this photo, I've painted her head and upper chest in "Messy Mix," one-half modeling paste & one-half acrylic gel medium. This was followed by a couple coats of gesso, and then acrylic paint. Then (for the first time ever), I applied a crackle product. That was one of the hardest things for me to do. What if it doesn't work? What if it ruins the doll? Oh well, it's just fabric. When this coat is dry, I need to figure out what type of wash to apply - dilute acrylic paint (dark brown), or walnut ink, perhaps.

My first mistake was making her from Osnaburg fabric. This stuff was just too loosely woven, and tended to fray. It was also too nubbly for the smoother look that I wanted. The crackle stuff went on a little bubbly, too.

On the positive side, I found some Victorian/Edwardian button-up boots on eBay, and I'm building this doll to fit into them. I still need to finish her arms (and paint & crackle them) and design her bloomers and old-fashioned dress. I have an old worn-out Victorian blouse that I'll use for parts of her dress. It's not really good for anything else, as so much of the fabric is damaged or stained.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


Lydia's vintage style dress and pantaloons are finished (no pattern yet for them, but the doll is made from Aletha "Ike" Putney's pattern in the January issue of Soft Dolls & Animals).
The skirt-overlay is an old hankie, cut in half and gathered. While Lydia's clothing is not removable, if I make another, I will make all the clothes removable.

I'm pleased with her face. This was a direct sculpt over cloth, and I'm still very much a novice. The first three or four layers of paperclay were applied with a paintbrush, thinned down to the consistence of baby food. Then I built up the nose, cheeks, lips and chin.

One of these days (soon, I hope), I will develop a pattern for an all-cloth Izannah Walker inspired doll. I've always loved the IW dolls. I recently got a videotape on eBay, documenting some of the early American dollmakers. Very inspiring, and I can't wait to get started!