One of the things I really enjoy doing is photographing my dolls, especially the fashion dolls who are often more poseable. I think I first started to do do it soon after I became a collector although as I was still using film at the time I didn’t take very many. I didn’t really do anything with them either. I don’t know why I took them really I just liked to do it. Then the internet and digital photography came along. It not only became much cheaper and easier to take the photos but I found out that there were doll collectors online and groups where I could share photos with others. I started with Yahoo Groups and later Flickr before arriving at the idea of having a doll blog.
There are some amazing doll photographers out there. Their pictures look like real fashion photography and I really admire their attention to detail. My photography has improved but I’m not that good. I could probably be better if I tried harder so most of the tips in this post are going to be a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.”
So why photograph dolls?
- Record purposes- To keep a record of the dolls in your collection as discussed in a previous post, for identification, insurance or comparison.
- Before and After – Showing the results of restoration or repairs. I like to do this when I’m fixing Op Shop dolls.
- Story Telling – Creating dioramas and using dolls to tell a story is a lot of fun.
- Fashion – To show off outfits you have made or collected
- Art – Creating beautiful photographs
- Camera – You don’t need a special kind of camera. Some people like to use phones and most modern ones take a good enough photo. A small compact point and shoot camera can do a good job too. I have a DSLR but sometimes I will still use my point and shoot camera, it depends what is convenient at the time.
- Tripod – If you are using a phone or small camera the lightweight tabletop tripods can be quite handy. I don’t have one that I’d be happy to put my DSLR on so as I do find it hard to hold the camera steady I will sometimes sit on a chair and rest my elbows on the benchtop or table to steady it and to be at eye level with the doll.
- Batteries & Memory cards – It goes without saying that if you plan to take a lot of pictures it is a good idea to make sure you have spare batteries and possibly a spare memory card. Nothing is more annoying than having your photo session come to an abrupt end because your batteries went flat in the middle of it.
- Doll Stands: I find doll stands very helpful when I’m taking fashion doll photos but other props can work well too. Doll furniture or even boxes and household items depending on how realistic you want the photo to be.
- Lights: Sometimes some extra lighting can be useful as flash lighting can be uneven. I have a pair of small photo lights I bought last year. They are tabletop models and have quite short cords so they are not ideal but they do help to eliminate deep shadows. You could probably improvise with other kinds of lighting. When we were trying to photograph the interiors of the Triang dolls houses one of us would shine a torch into the interior.
- Natural light: I prefer to photograph the dolls in natural light because I can be a bit more flexible about where and how I pose them. I don’t have to worry about where the nearest power point is or is that lamp going to fall off the table? My kitchen is the brightest room in the house with three windows and gets afternoon light. The kitchen benchtop is quite a good spot to set up the dolls. If you have a room or space in your home that has good natural light use it or if the weather is fine you could go outside. I occasionally do that but if you do, take a box to put small dolls and their accessories in. You don’t want to lose your Barbie shoes in the garden. Make sure that they are on a stable surface and that they can’t fall or blow over. Apart from being annoying to have dolls plunging off walls or tables as soon as there is a breeze it doesn’t do them a lot of good. Beware of pets and don’t get grass stains on your doll fashions. (I am looking at you Jan.)
- Props: I have a couple of white nylon photo cubes which I can use either with or without a coloured backdrop. They are handy for obscuring pesky out of scale background elements and reflect the light. Before I had them I used a plain cream coloured wall to pose dolls in front of or sometimes a board with a piece of scrapbooking paper tacked on worked quite well. I’ve also got a couple of printed backdrops I’ve used a few times. Blu Tac is your friend when positioning these on a wall. I haven’t yet got into making diorama’s as I know some of you do but I love them and would like to do some so I’m always on the lookout for doll-sized props. Of course, Mattel and others make doll furniture but it’s too pink for my taste so Naomi and I have discussed furniture makeovers. This might have to be the subject of another post.
I’m not going to write about technique as I am far from qualified to do that. I’ll include some links at the end that you may find interesting. When I am doing the Barbie fashion shoots I basically treat them as if they were real people posing for a photo. Naomi pointed out that one way to make them look more natural was not to have them always look directly at the camera. We really only do that for passport or license photos, or in case of dolls, when you are taking a photo for record purposes. I like to photograph them at their level rather than looking down. Dolls are good models, they don’t complain you are taking too long to set things up.
Having a helper is definitely a plus, someone to help set the dolls up, hold the lights and so on makes things go a bit more smoothly but we’re not all lucky enough to have someone willing to do that. One thing I should do better is making sure there are no stray hairs across faces when I’m doing a shoot. I often find a nice portrait spoiled by those. I do edit a lot of these out but it would be better not to have them in the first place, wouldn’t it? A comb has become one of my photo session accessories.
In the end, it’s all about having fun though. Share the good photos, delete the really bad ones, and use the so so ones for experimenting with photo editing. When David and I used to use film cameras we would sit down when we got them back from the processor and sort them into three piles. Good ones we were going to keep, mediocre ones that we were not sure about and bad ones which we just chucked out. The mediocre ones got a second look and we decided to keep them based on whether we would have the chance to take a better one, whether it was clear what the photo was meant to be about and if we had similar ones already. Digital photography means it is easier to fix photos by cropping, changing to black and white or editing out distracting bits so you don’t ever have to show anyone else a really horrible photo unless you are writing about how not to take them.
Tourmaline is a miniature diorama photographer.
The Doll Project has some good information about technical stuff including an indoor setup.
Fig and Me, a doll making site is a bit less techy.
Doll photography tips from The Spruce.
This YouTuber has some good tips about beach photography and perspective. Sorry about the annoying millennial music.