Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Doll Photography with Beast'sbelle #2: Lighting and Background

So we've talked a bit about posing dolls for pictures (click HERE if you missed it). ;)  Two other important aspects of doll photography are lighting and background.

Before I get started, I thought I should share the type of camera I use, as that question will probably come up.  I have a Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS:

I apologize for the rather crummy picture, but the only other camera I have is on my phone, which is NOT a smartphone. ;)

I've been very pleased with this camera and the pictures it takes.  This thing is the real star of the show. ;)

Now on to the topics at hand! 

Lighting is probably the thing I struggle with the most on my indoor photos.  As I mentioned in my last post, I haven't figured out how to adjust the lighting on my camera and sometimes, for whatever reason, my camera decides to give my dolls a yellow pallor or fade the colors of the picture.  Nothing is more frustrating.

I did find this very helpful post on lighting for indoor photos from someone who knows a lot more about what they're doing than I do.  Now I just have to figure out how to adjust the things she talks about. :}

I do not use flash for my pictures unless it's absolutely necessary.  Using flash tends to wash out the doll's faces and cast exaggerated shadows behind them.  It's also next to impossible to get the type of soft, gentle photos I prefer when using flash, at least in my experience.  I love taking pictures in natural lighting for this very reason.

Backgrounds are extremely important as well.  Your background can either enhance your photo or distract from it, so you want to choose your backgrounds carefully.  My favorite backgrounds are either plain pieces of material that help the viewer focus on the doll in the photo or beautiful outdoor scenes that add life and color to the photo.

For this post, I chose some of my favorite pictures that illustrate lighting or background.  I hope you enjoy them! :)

This first photo was one I took when Hayden participated in AGPlaythings' "Little Miss Playthings" photo contest last summer.  I took this in my kitchen with fluorescent lighting, but you'd never guess it from the picture.  I'm still amazed at how crisp and "professional" it turned out.  Black is a great background color when you want to illustrate contrast, especially if your doll is wearing white.  I love how the white of Hayden's gown (which is actually just a piece of see-through material that I wrapped around her) and the red of her rose just pop out at you from the deep black background.  The main problem you can run into with a black background is having a doll's hair disappear into the background, especially if they have dark hair like Hayden's.  Because of the angle I chose for this photo, Hayden's dark hair stands out against her white gown, and the light captures its shine.  If I had taken the shot with her hair against the backdrop, the result wouldn't have been nearly as pleasing.

Many of my photo stories take place in my bedroom, where most of my doll rooms and displays are.  Unfortunately, I have terrible lighting back there.  When I first started blogging, I had a hard time getting the pictures I wanted for my stories.  I didn't like using flash, but when I didn't, my pictures were grainy, yellow, or dark, like these ones:

One day, I remembered hearing about photographers using a light with nylon over it, so I thought I'd give it a try.  Meet my trusty piece of equipment for all photos taken in my room:  

This lamp swivels back and forth, so I can move the light closer or farther away, depending on what I need.  Sometimes, I hold my camera in one hand and the lamp in the other while taking my photos.  Yes, it is a floor lamp.  I know, I know...the things I do for my blog. ;)  Oh, and as an added bonus, in this pic you get a sneak peak of my new shelf in the background!  More on that in a later post, though. ;)  

As you can see, I've put a knee high over the globe at the top of the lamp.  I think it "diffuses" the light or something.  I'm sure there's a big scientific explanation for it somewhere, but that's not really my department. :}  All I know is that my pictures are clearer and more natural looking now, like this one:

That light in the background is not flash, by the way...it's the light from the lamp. ;)

The lamp doesn't solve everything.  Some of my pictures still turn out discolored:

The picture is still a lot clearer than it was before, though.  I'm still figuring out the best way to apply the things I'm learning. ;)

When I need to take photos that are not for product reviews, my very favorite place is outside.  The sunlight and plant life all around gives pictures a natural beauty that is impossible to capture indoors.

Here's an example of a picture that almost has too much sunlight.  The light behind Robby and Belle is so bright that it nearly makes their faces out of focus.  I still used this pic for one of Belle's photo stories, basically because at that point I'd already put everything away and didn't feel like trudging outside again, but it could have been better.  Still, I think this sort of photo is nice for every once in a while.  It looks almost dreamlike. The sunlight shining through the blades of grass behind them and the dry grass at their feet add to the feel of the photo.

I'm incredibly pleased with the way this picture turned out.  This was not taken in direct sunlight.  It was in the evening, when the sun was lower in the sky and off to one side.  The sun is outlining Robby and Belle, giving them a little glow, but you can still clearly see their facial features.  If I had tried to take a picture like this with the sun overhead, their faces would have been shadowy, especially around their eyes and noses.

Here's another photo from the same day.  I used these photos for Belle and Robby's engagement post.

And just a little side note here.  I did not have this specifically in mind when I went out to take these photos.  Basically, this was the earliest I could get outside for the photo shoot that day.  The lighting was pretty much a happy accident. ;)

Here is another of my very favorite pictures I've ever taken of Belle.  On sunny days, I usually try to take pictures either in the evening when the sun is just starting to go down, or in the shade.  These give you the best results for natural light.  This picture was taken just as the sun was disappearing behind our house and the neighbor's house.  It was perfect timing, because there was just enough sunlight to lightly illuminate Belle's hair from behind, but it was subtle enough to give her a soft look.

Some of my favorite days to take pictures are overcast days.  The grey, cloudy sky gives my photos the most beautiful lighting...I'm always so pleased with the way they turn out. :)  Here, Robby and Belle enjoy the beach while on their honeymoon. 

Another example of how great a picture taken on an overcast day can turn out. ;)

Of course, taking photos on an overcast day without flash can have its problems, too.  As you can see in this picture, Tess's face is very shadowy and her eyes look like two black holes instead of eyes.

To solve this problem, take a piece of white paper and hold it in front of your doll at a slight angle. (For more clarification: hold the piece of paper flat at the doll's waistline, then lift the end farthest away from the doll up.  Hope that makes sense.)  The paper will catch light from the sky and bounce it onto your doll's face.  This is the technique I used for the above photo.  You can see that Tess's facial features are much clearer now and her face has lost its shadowy look.  It doesn't have to be a fancy kind of paper, either.  I think I used a church bulletin that was lying around in the car. ;)

Taking pictures in direct sunlight can work too...

...but more often than not, I've ended up with a result like this in the above picture.

That's why more and more, I go back to taking pictures in the shade of a tree or something else.  I just love how the dappled sunlight gives this picture an extra warmth.

You do have to be careful, though.  Sometimes a picture in the shade ends up too dark...

...or too dapply. ;)  As I've said before, the best way to figure these things out is to try them for yourselves and learn what works best.  Don't give up when you have a picture that turns out less than pleasing...

...because a few minutes later you can end up with a really great one. :)

A lot of times, finding the right background and the right lighting can just be a matter of changing your position or changing your perspective.  When Hayden accompanied us on one of our family vacations last summer, I really wanted to get a picture of her with her feet in the water.

At first, I couldn't get a shot I liked.  In this one, her face was completely in shadow.

When I tried angling her more toward the sun, it was too bright and she still had shadows on her face, albeit different ones.

Next I tried going to another part of the creek that was shadier.  This worked better, but her face was still more shadowy than I wanted.

And then, I happened to take this picture from behind...and ended up with one of my favorite photos I've ever taken.  The lighting was just right, much brighter and warmer than the previous photo.  I loved the way her pink shoes stood out on the rocks, and I loved the "artsy" feel of the photo. ;)

Seasons and weather change throughout the year, and I always enjoy taking the opportunity to capture these changes on camera.  Not only do the seasonal outdoors make a great background, but it's a fun way to remember that freak snowfall or those beautiful blossoms...it will never be exactly the same again. ;)

We don't get snow very often in our area, so when we do, it's always something to celebrate.  I had a blast doing a photo shoot with Hayden while visiting my sister-in-law and her family.

We have a lot of beautiful blossoms around our yard every spring.  I love using them as a bright, cheerful background.

And speaking of spring, it's always great to take a picture of your doll surrounded by tiny flowers just her size.  :)

Fall is another of my favorite seasons to capture on film.  I love the crisp, autumn colors and the beautiful texture of the the tree trunks.

My dolls always love an excuse to climb the trees, too. ;)

And speaking of textures and colors, be on the lookout for unique ones as you take your photos.  This beautiful rock wall is on the side of my sister-in-law's house and is one of my favorite places to take pictures of the dolls.

I also love using the tree in our front yard.  It has a rough, textured bark that always looks lovely in the background and adds a richness and realism to the photos.

Do you and your family travel somewhere fun for vacation each year?  Take your dolls along and look for unique places to take some memorable photos!

I love doing beach pictures, especially since the beach is one of my very favorite places in the world. :)

You do have to watch your camera angle on the beach, though...you can end up making your viewers seasick with a slight camera tilt. ;)

Rocks make fun backgrounds, too.  Don't they look like they're on a hike somewhere?

And here's another beach picture (obviously I need to take my own advice and work on not tilting my camera too much...that horizon is a bit lopsided!).  This is one instance where I think the direct sunlight works.  I wouldn't enter this photo in a contest, but it gives a realistic picture of what you see on the beach...kids playing in the sand. :)

I could go on and on, but this post can't last forever.  My children would probably appreciate it if I was on time to pick them up from school, too. ;)  I hope this gives you at least a few tricks to think about with your own photos.  If I've missed anything, feel free to leave a comment below.  Questions and comments are always welcome. :)

Click HERE for the next post on expressing emotion through your doll photography. :)


Cindybin said...

Such beautiful pictures! Thanks for the great tips!

beastsbelle said...

Thanks and you're welcome. ;) I'm glad you found them helpful.

Sunny_Harper2013 said...

Love, love, love all your photos! I like how simple it really is. Where did you get your tiny Aladdins? So cute, one of my favorite movies :)

beastsbelle said...

Thanks, Sunny! :) Most of my Aladdins come from eBay or thrift stores. The Aladdin sitting next to Hayden on the bed was part of Mattel's Musical Princess line of dolls that were about 6 inches tall. There are several on eBay right now. You can find them by searching "mattel musical princess aladdin" including title and descriptions.

The Aladdin poster on the wall is a Disney postcard. :)

Deliah said...

Hey everyone,
this is kind of a moderation to the white paper idea. You can use an aluminum foil sheet instead to reflect more light. I read this on this link:


Vivienne Rose said...

I REALLY love that you are doing this. It will help me a lot with my photography. @beastsbelle, would you go see my blog, please? It is www.justagirlandherdolls.blogspot.com. Thanks!

beastsbelle said...

Thanks for commenting, gals. :)

Deliah, I'd never heard of using aluminum foil...I'll have to try that out! ;)

Vivienne Rose, congrats on starting your own blog. It looks like you've got a great beginning. Keep up the good work. :)

Jasmine said...

This question doesn't have anything to do with this post. I was just wondering if you named your pullip doll yet.

beastsbelle said...

Oh dear, you're going to think I'm completely flaky, but no, I haven't decided on a name yet. I keep forgetting to devote the time to it, and honestly, I look at her and think "Pullip". Nothing else is really hitting me yet. I'll try to work on that. ;)

AdeleCupcake said...

I did a shoot with my dolls today. First, I did it in the sunlight. One pic was too bright, one was okay, and the last one was 'meh'. I tried again in the shade, and it was AMAZING! I loved the pictures I took. :)

beastsbelle said...

So glad to hear it, Adele. :) Keep up the good work! :)