Saturday, March 23, 2013

Doll Photography with Beast'sbelle #1: An Introduction and Posing

I recently received a request to do a post about doll photography from one of my readers and thought it was a great idea. :)  As I started working on this post, though, I realized that it would be incredibly long if I tried to cover it all in one sitting.  You know me and my wordiness. ;)  So instead, this will be a series of posts, each one covering a different aspect of my doll photography.

Before I get started, I'd like to point out that I am in NO way a professional photographer.  Everything I've done I've learned myself through a series of trial and error.  I do not use special settings or even auto focus.  If I want a close-up picture of a doll, I move the camera closer.  I do everything on the auto setting because I get too overwhelmed trying to figure out specialty settings (and I lost my camera's owner's manual). ;)  My photo studio consists of a clothing rack, a piece of cardboard, and a sheet that I set up on top of my washing machine. :}

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm happy to share my tips I've learned with you, but take my advice with a grain of salt.  There are many others out there who could give you much more professional advice.  At the same time, I am a perfect reminder that you don't need fancy equipment or an extensive knowledge of photography to end up with good photos, so maybe some of you will find that encouraging. :)  Let's get started!

First off, allow me to welcome you to my studio, such as it is. ;)

I use this clothes-drying rack on top of my washing machine.  My washing machine happens to be in my kitchen (one of the things I hope to do differently if we ever get another house).  The overhead lighting is fluorescent, which can be a good or bad thing.  I use this part of the house because it has the brightest lighting, but as many of you have probably discovered on your own, fluorescent lighting can be very harsh and tend to make your pictures yellow.  Since I'm not familiar enough with my camera settings to adjust them, this is why many of my pictures don't have the right color tones.    

Some of you probably recognize my old standby backdrop, this lovely green chenille throw.  I liked using this because it was a nice neutral color.  Sometimes it presented a difficulty, though.  The green tended to make my doll's skin even more yellow-looking when the lighting wasn't working with me.  Also, there were many times when my camera would decide to focus on the large weave of the fabric instead of my doll's faces, especially when I did my fashion doll photography.

I also found that while the clothes drying rack got the backdrop nice and high, it wasn't very useful when I had to lean my dolls against something to get them to stand.  Thankfully, when my hubby was on a box run a few months ago (looking for boxes to use for eBay shipping), he brought home this great piece of flat cardboard.  I started resting it against the drying rack and then draping the backdrop over it.  Now my dolls have something solid to lean against if needed.  This is especially helpful for my fashion doll photo shoots.

The other change I made was my backdrop itself, as I'm sure many of you have noticed.  My new standby is this pretty blue bed sheet from my brother and sister-in-law (thanks, guys!).  Of course, they gave it to me so that I could use it for our bed...  ;)

Now that you've seen where I work, let's talk about the photos themselves.  :)  I thought it would be most helpful to break this topic into categories.  We'll cover posing, lighting and background, emotion, and editing over the course of the next few posts.  This time around, we'll focus on posing. :)  


I've had questions before about how I pose my dolls.  Almost everything I do is a result of taking an abundance of pictures and trying different things.  The pictures you see on my blogs are the few great ones in an ocean of "meh" photos. ;)  If you're struggling with trying to get the pose you want, keep at it!  Sometimes I picture a pose in my head and it works just like I want it to.  Other times, getting the picture in my head to work in front of the camera doesn't happen.  But I never know until I try. :)

For my formal photo shoots, I often draw inspiration from real photography studios.  Our family uses the JC Penney's Portrait Studio (I highly recommend them for high quality yet affordable pictures, by the way).  Many times, my pose ideas will start from something I've seen there.  If you're running low on ideas, try looking up photography studios online.  Often they'll have sample pictures that you can browse through to get some inspiration. :)

Here are some pics from my latest Belle's Bulletins photo shoot that will illustrate both the "try, try again" theme and photo studio influences.

 I've done a lot of pictures of just Belle and Robby, but this was the first time I'd added Emilie for one of my more "professional" shoots.

This was one of the poses that I thought would be just great.  In real life, it actually looked very nice.  When it came to capturing it on film, though, I couldn't get the result I wanted.  No matter what angle I tried, Robby always looked like he was somewhere in the background.  I wanted the photo to feature all three dolls this pose had to go.

Next I tried this pose, which is one I've seen them use for families of 3 at the JC Penney's portrait studio.  I put Belle and Robby together and had Emilie sitting in between them.  Aside from the obvious shadowy problems in the foreground, it looked unbalanced.

When I tried putting Emilie on Robby's lap, I was much happier with the pose. 

This was another photo idea from something I'd seen at JC Penney's.  I really liked it...until I realized that the combination of Belle's strapless dress and her hair hanging down made it look like she didn't have any clothes on. :{

During my photo story sessions, I discovered that Emilie's little curved hands looked really cute draped over a fashion doll's shoulder, so I decided to use that for this pose and the next one to capture some sweet one-on-one photos.

I really love how cuddly she looks in this one. :)

And here's a pose that's quite typical of something you'd see in a photo studio.  I love how it turned out. :)

Robby and Belle are extremely fun to photograph, and I hadn't done a good photo shoot of them in a long time, so I decided to do some couple pictures too.  For many of these pictures, I drew inspiration from wedding photos or other romantic pictures I've seen in the past.  It was a lot of fun coming up with creative ideas. :)

I had an extremely see-through piece of white material that I used for many of the photos.  On a whim, I decided to drape it over them and take a photo.  I think it gives the picture a dream-like quality.

By angling Robby's face just right, it looks like he's leaning over Belle with his eyes closed.

This is something I've seen in the past before too...the girl in focus in the foreground with the boy out of focus in the background.  The filmy material added a nice touch.

Here's another example of trial and error.  This pose looked nice...

...but I found I liked this one better as the two dolls were more centered.  I tend to like symmetrical things, though, so a lot of this is just personal preference. ;)

I love profile shots (as you can probably tell). ;)

I thought this pose was okay, but Robby's nose was practically in Belle's eye, and it almost looked like he was going to nibble on her nose.

By pulling Robby back a bit, I made the pose a little more natural.

And now for the fashion doll kissing picture.  If you're not into kissing pictures, you can skip the next few photos. :)  Robby and Belle are married, so kissing is usually a norm for them. ;)  

Here's an example of a kissing picture that doesn't quite work.  Most people tend to close their eyes when they kiss.  In this photo I didn't quite get the angle right, because you can see Robby's eye.  It kind of looks like he's distracted by something just over Belle's shoulder. ;)

This one is better, aside from the fact that Belle's head looks huge!

I've found that I prefer kissing pictures from the back of Robby's head.  They just tend to look more realistic from that angle.  Getting them positioned just right is the result of a lot of trial and error, too.  Sometimes for a pose like this, their lips aren't even touching, but because of the camera angle it works.

I like having Belle cradle Robby's head when I do these adds a bit of realism to the shot.  Unfortunately, Robby's arms aren't made in such a way that he can hold Belle's waist or shoulders.  That would make the photo even more believable.  It still works, though. :)

Without a doubt, one of the hardest photo shoots I've ever done was Belle and Robby's wedding.  Scheduling an outdoor wedding for them was not my smartest idea. :}  None of the Disney dolls stand up by themselves very well, especially on uneven, grassy ground.

One of the most difficult shots was having Belle come up the non-existent "aisle".  She and Rapunzel would not stand up by themselves no matter what I tried!  As you can see, in this one I caught a picture of my hand holding them up.  I thought I'd remembered having Oldest Gal hold them up for me, but I guess I was mistaken. ;)

Next I tried standing them up and putting my hand behind them so they had something to lean against.  It technically worked, but I didn't like how Belle looked like she was walking in a different direction than Rapunzel.

So I finally settled for a closer shot of the two of them.  That way, I could hold them up but still give the appearance of them walking by themselves.  Belle still looks like she might head in the wrong direction, but it's not quite as noticeable close up.  Maybe they're just looking in different places. ;)

For most of the wedding photos, I did the same thing, holding the dolls by their ankles and taking a shot that didn't show my hands:

This was one of the times I was thankful for Robby's mandatory walking stick.  I attached it to his wrist with a clear rubber hair band and poked the end into the dirt.  The stick helped him balance.  I also found that if I took off Belle's shoes, spread her legs apart, and flounced out her dress, she would stay standing for brief periods of time (before the wind knocked her over). :}  So thankfully, I was able to capture the above photo during one of those moments.

For this photo and the next one, I found that if I leaned Robby and Belle against each other just right, they could stand up on their own. 

And everyone has wedding photos, right?  So of course I had to take a few "professional" shots of the wedding party:

For their honeymoon, I took them with me to our favorite coastal vacation spot.  It was really fun doing beach photos because I could bury their feet in the sand to make them stay up. :)  This is one of my favorite pics of them from their trip.

For those of you who prefer the 18 inch set, here are some posing tips from my AG and other 18 inch dolls.

Once again, we're back to the "trial and error" theme.  When I was working on my entries for the Doll Wardrobe's 2013 photo contest, I took A TON of photos while searching for the elusive "perfect shots". ;)  I really liked this pose at first...

...but I found that I liked it even better when I took it with Jenna facing the camera.  You'll probably notice that the lighting is much duller in this photo than it was in the final version.  For more on that, stay tuned for the post on Editing. ;)

As any of you who read the blog know already, I love taking dolls with me on my trips.  It's a great way to share my travels with all of you while remaining anonymous.  And it's more fun to include a doll in the picture than to just show you a bunch of shots of stores and things. :)  For most of these types of shots, I hold the doll up at arm's length in front of the scenic spot I want to remember.

By the way, this is also a great way to bookmark all of the places you go on a trip. :) 

My goal with my doll photography is to make the photos as believable as possible.  I want my readers to feel as though I slipped into my room and documented the actual happenings of my dolls' lives.  To me, story blogging and photography go hand in hand.  A good story is much more enjoyable with pictures to back it up.  By the same token, doll photography comes alive when it is accompanied by a fun story. 

Most of my 18 inch doll photography is inspired by "The Lonely Doll" books by Dare Wright.  There were two of them in one of my school's classrooms when I was young, and I remember being fascinated by the pictures of Edith and the bears.  I want to capture that same sense of wonder with my photos. :)  

Here's a tip that most of you probably know already.  When you want a doll to hold something, you can put a clear rubber hair band around her wrists to keep her hands close together.  Then you can slip whatever it is you want her to hold between her hands. 

Here, Tess is drying off after a day of playing in the snow.  I tried to position the towel in such a way to suggest movement, as if Tess is really drying herself.

Some of my favorite posts are those that show my dolls getting into things when humans aren't around.  Here Emma, Janie, and Kailani try to get to the TV remote during my girls trip last October.  It took me FOREVER to get Janie balanced just right on Emma's shoulders. ;)

They also enjoyed jumping on the bed. ;)  For this picture, I carefully stood Emma up and then positioned the other dolls to give the appearance of cartwheeling or falling.

Conversation also plays a huge part of my story blogs.  A trick I learned from other doll bloggers and AG YouTube stopmotioners is to have the doll who is "speaking" hold out one arm.  It draws attention to her as the speaker and makes it look like she's an expressive talker (like me). ;)  Turning the other doll's heads toward the speaker adds to the illusion.

In this photo, Emma was talking to Hayden during Jane Austen and Unicorn's 2 year Blogoversary Party.  I wanted to give the impression that she had just lightly touched Hayden's elbow to get her attention.  

When you're posing your dolls for a photo story, think of the things we naturally do during a conversation and try to get a sense of that with your dolls.  What gestures do we make?  Where do we look?  How do we stand?  Start from there and keep trying new things.  You never know what you'll end up with! :)

I hope you've found this post helpful.  Click HERE Part 2, a post about Lighting and Background. :)


beachbabydoll1 said...

I love your tutorial so far! Very helpful. Your photos look so realistic! Thanks for taking the time to post on this valuable topic. Happy Easter too! Sylvia

beastsbelle said...

Thanks, Sylvia. :) I'm glad you found it helpful. I'll be publishing the other posts in the series this coming week.

Happy Easter to you too! :)

Char (DollDiaries) said...

Great post!!! If you want even more variety, pick up a few tri-fold science display boards next time you are at the dollar store - they make great backgrounds too. I have also used scarves, tote bags, and my daughter's fold up gymnastics mat for backdrops.

I can't wait for part two.

Kath said...

this was such a good topic and I sure needed it.. thanks so much for sharing your info.
Hugs. Kath

Anonymous said...

Wow! You're a very nice photographer! Love the pics, espicially the Robby and Belle ones! :) I ♥ those everything, really. :}

Jenny said...

This was such a great post! Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks. I really enjoy your pictures!

beastsbelle said...

You're welcome, everyone. :) Thanks for all of the comments. I'm glad you found the post helpful. :)

Char, thanks for the ideas for more backgrounds. I've heard of using the tri-fold display boards before but have never gotten around to trying it. ;) Great ideas!

Amber Spaulding said...

This is soo cool! I always thought your fashion dolls stood on their own and I was always trying to figure out how! You were able to do that. When I could never get mine to stand haha! I love this tutorial so far, I can't wait to see what other tips you have for us.

Anderson's All-Purpose said...

It's amazing how difficult it can be to translate an idea into a 1/6 doll photo. Sometimes it looks good, sometimes it's just hopeless, and you never know why. Always interesting to see how other people handle these things!

Abigail said...

Thanks for getting to my request so quickly! I think i might have to have a photoshoot.

Anonymous said...

I went to Target, and there were no Dells in stock! Only Lilian. I'm going to either have to wait 2 weeks and go to Toy R Us, or order Dell online. D:

beastsbelle said...

Thanks, everyone! :) I'm glad you're enjoying this series so much.

Abigail, I can't promise I'll always be this quick to respond to a request, but I'm glad it was able to work out that way this time. ;)

Sorry that Target was out of Dell, Anonymous. I hope you're able to make your decision soon.

AdeleCupcake said...

Your pictures made me want to take my dolls to the beach this summer!
I'd better go to a private beach thingamabobber,because I think I would look a little strange just going and taking pictures of dolls on the beach. ;)

beastsbelle said...

That would be really fun, Adele. :) If it makes you feel any better, I felt a little self-conscious taking my dolls to the public beach. :} However, the quest for awesome photos was stronger than my fear. It also helps that I have 3 daughters, so people often assume I'm taking the pictures for them. ;)

jazza said...

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beastsbelle said...

Hi jazza, thanks for stopping by. I'm normally hesitant to post links from people I don't know, but I saw you were Magalie's husband, and I'm a huge fan of her beautiful work. :)

Your photography is stunning, and I'll definitely consider looking into getting your book sometime in the future. :)

leah said...

beastsbelle don't feel to bad with a washing machine in the kitchen in the house i live in we have a washing machine in the doorway right when you walk in

beastsbelle said...

I don't mind it so much, although it does get pretty noisy when the washer and dryer are going. ;) Nice to know I'm not the only one, though. :)