Hey there ♥ Welcome to my basic tutorial about the 10 most important tips for jointed doll photography that I can give you. They are really important for me as I try to follow all of them when I take my camera ^_^ I hope you find them useful! 🙂
Keep in mind that it is not necessary to follow all these tips to get a good picture. Actually, sometimes you’ll need to break some rules to achieve the idea you had in mind before taking the photo, but hey, it’s not bad to know them: it’s good to know why you’re breaking the rules.
1. The glance
I think we agree when I say that not aligned eyes can spoil a perfect picture. The eyes are the first thing you look at, so don’t forget paying enough attention to them.
Align the eyes, forward, upward or sideways: spend the time you need for that.
When taking pictures, try to:
- Focus the eyes, unless your intention is to give importance to another aspect.
I give special importance to this and it’s the first thing I check in my camera after taking a picture.
- Make the doll look directly at your lens, or at some distant point from the camera. If the doll is looking between those two areas, it may give the impression that she’s looking to infinity, or she’s not alive.
- The eyes are correctly exposed: if that area looks dark, you can always use the Dodge tool in Photoshop (editing subtly), or vice versa, if there is too much light, you can always darken the area with the Burn tool.
2. The hair
Having a comb is essential when photographing dolls. In my pictures, there’re often loose hair all around (and it’s more noticeable in backlit portraits), and keeping every hair at bay is almost an impossible mission. Some people use hair sprays, but in my opinion it’s easy to get the wig flattened if misuse of this product is made.
Another important thing are the eyebrows: even if the wig has a fringe, I always try to show the eyebrows because this is what enhances the expression in the doll’s look.
3. The pose
For me this is a very important point. It seems not, but the pose of the doll brings dynamism and life to your photo. Try experimenting with this: let the camera aside and take only the doll, if possible dressed simply. Then try to pose her in new ways, know the limits of your doll body and use her strengths. While testing you’ll find an interesting pose to photograph.
If you get stuck, I recommend finding inspiration in other photographers’ work, for example in fashion photography. If you try to imitate the models, you’re going to get more interesting and natural positions, after all, you are trying to imitate a human pose.
4. The shot angle
In photography, the angle is the tilt and position in which you place the camera regarding the subject. That is, if you stand below the subject’s eyes, we could say that you took the photo from a low angle.
There are several well known types of angles, as the chopped or bird’s eye view (from above), the low angle shot (from below), aerial (completely above the subject), or centered at eye level, among others.
When photographing dolls, try to choose the best angle depending on what you want to show. Usually, I don’t use high angles with my dolls, because it makes them look like simple dolls. To make them look alive, I put myself to their eye level or even, sometimes, below it.
5. The story
One of the best features of dolls is that they are jointed, and that allows you to create thousands of scenes. Photography, in most cases, is used as a means to convey emotions by telling a story. The pictures which achieve that purpose, in my opinion, are the best that can be found in this hobby.
One tip for this is to write a story about the dolls you want to shoot: the deeper you get into their personalities, their tastes, their hobbies and their way of acting, the easier it will be to give life to it in a picture.
6. The background
Here are my tips for the backgrounds, both for indoor and outdoor shoots:
- Indoor: If you take pictures inside your house, try to find an area where the background is irrelevant, where the furniture goes unnoticed or at least it doesn’t downplay the subject. To support this feature, I recommend shooting with a wide aperture, if possible at f/3.5 or below, as this will make the depth of field is minimal, only the doll will be focused and the background will be diffuse and won’t disturb.
Another option is to build your own “studio” at home, using cloth or papers of your choice as a background, or build a scale diorama. Take in mind that the most important thing is to make the doll look properly proportioned regarding the background, in an environment where it clearly looks small, so this is why taking pictures at home is always harder.
- Outdoor: the options are endless here. In addition, outdoor photos are always very grateful to the eye. A park, a walk on the beach, a path in the forest, a mountainous area …
Again, we’ll try to avoid elements out of our doll’s scale in our framing, such as benches, litter bins, people walking… unless, of course, your intention is to show just that. Oh, and do not forget to carry your doll stand when you go outdoors!
7. The clothes
This point is a bit less relevant and more subjective than others, but still needs a bit of attention. Whatever clothes you use, try to put it on the doll the best way possible, and if it is large, adjust it: use small clothespins or clips in the back of your doll until it fits perfectly. Keep in mind that this is a photo so basically you’re going to show just what you want to show.
If your doll is a Dollfie Dream, perhaps you’re already familiar with that flesh-colored tights used to prevent staining their skin with the clothes’ pigments. I advise you to use it as much as possible, but in the pictures it’s really ugly to see the sleeves and neck part, so you can either hide it under the upper clothes, or not use it during a photo shoot: there’s no problem in using dark clothes for a little time.
Oh, and do not be afraid to experiment by combining pieces: take a skirt from a set, a T-shirt from another… maybe you discover a much better outfit than the previous ones 😛
8. The camera lens
This is important if you have a camera with interchangeable lens. It’s essential to know your camera thoroughly, but it’s equally necessary to know your lenses. Using one lens or another depends on the photo shoot you’re going to do.
Low-medium range cameras typically come with at least one lens, and it’s usually a 18-55mm. It’s pretty versatile and widely used for portraits. Personally, I use this one a lot when I go outdoors because it’s all-purpose.
If we want to shoot outdoors, it’s a good option to use a wide angle, since it offers a spectacular view of the location, and we could easily frame the entire doll. I do not recommend using it in portraits, especially in doll’s portraits, because this lens distorts the image and it’s hard to correct it later on the computer (it looks artificial and unnatural).
If we want to create more gimmicky photographs, such as creating bokeh or blurred backgrounds, I recommend a ultra-bright lens or prime lens, in my case I use a 50mm f/1.4. With this lens, portraits look very interesting because using a wide aperture reduces the focused area and then everything looks blurred in the background.
Besides, if there is a back light, it’s very easy to get the bokeh effect.
There are many more types of lenses, such as the zoom or telephoto lens, which also come in initiation packs often. They usually are 75-300mm, and have a very powerful zoom. They can be used to take pictures over long distances, and therefore I do not recommend them for a doll photoshoot, because you’ll need to place the doll far away from the camera.
As an anecdote, a hobby fellow told me once that this was one of her favorite lens to photograph her dolls (the telephoto lens) and I was surprised because I always related those lens to nature or sports. So you know, experiment with what you have because you might take advantage of something that others do not, and behold, your talent 🙂
9. The wind (and other external factors)
Sometimes we want to control so many things in a photo that we forget that there are things that can not be controlled. One is the wind, the one that has thrown our dolls to the ground so many times. Another one could be the cloudy days, when everything looks flat. Buuuut, here are my tips to know how to tame these phenomena and if possible, use them for good:
- Wind: the wind can be exhausting. Use a stand with a pretty heavy base to stabilize your doll. On these occasions it looks great to put thin gauzy fabric clothing on your doll, as they move with the wind. Also, you could use a wig with little or no hairspray: it will wave if there’s enough wind.
- Cloudy days: Is there a meetup but it’s cloudy? No excuses to stop taking pictures. The shadows those days are soft and blur everything. No hard shadows or stark contrasts, use this to your advantage. Of course, if your pictures turn out dull, you can always increase the colors intensity and saturation a bit, in moderation, of course.
There’s a rule which says “do not crop off at the joints”, talking about picture composition. Well, I think we have to pay extra attention to this rule if we photograph dolls, as it’s an inflection point where two pieces join, and if we only see the end of one of them it’s quite odd.
But apart from this, there’s a very personal and subjective choice that is to show or not show the joints of our dolls. For some, especially people from the PVC figure’s world, prefer to hide the joints under clothing or using camera angles in which they go unnoticed. Others, however, see beauty in them: after all is what makes them articulated: every body has their own joints and are seen as small engineering works. And if not, check out those popular BJD tights, with which we could have BJD joints in our legs.
And you, what do you prefer?