All Dolled Up

When searching eBay for more dolls to shoot, I came across a few that I had when I was a child. My mother used to buy me a Madame Alexander doll every Christmas and birthday, and my favorites were the ones created to represent different countries. As an adult, they often seem ridiculous, having the same European baby-face with little more than an eye and hair color change, but for nostalgia’s sake I picked up a few. They were pretty cheap, and in mint condition – which is a bit of a dilemma now, since my idea was to abuse them a bit for photos (dunk them in water, disassemble them and put them back together in weird ways, etc). I ended up buying a small lot of really trashed ones so I don’t have to be conflicted about destroying the pristine ones I picked up.

I don’t have the trashed dolls in yet, though, so Saturday I decided to take one of the nicer dolls and keep things simple, photographing her against a basic black background and just trying to make her levitate a bit without getting fancy. I wasn’t expecting much out of these shots aside from getting a feel for how to photograph them in a manner I would like. One of the biggest difficulties I had was getting the lighting right; I only managed it on some of the shots as I experimented, while in others things were too bright and flat. But I’m learning. Also, I had her perched on a clear plastic stool, and while it was a decent height and had a nice shiny surface for her to stand on, it required me to squat and crawl around a lot which isn’t good for my already bad knees, so I may have to work on getting something to put the dolls on that is higher and allows me to stand upright.

But first, let’s just check out the doll:

This is Spain, looking a little constipated for some reason

The Spain doll was always a favorite of mine; as the girliest girl who ever girled, I was gaga over all the ruffles and lace, especially the mantilla on her head. I never did much with these dolls except admire them, since that’s really all one was supposed to do. Their bodies aren’t very bendy and the fussy costumes limit movement even more – not too much of a problem when sitting them on a shelf to add to a collection, but much more so when trying to pose them in odd ways for photos. I guess that’s not what Madame Alexander had in mind for them when she designed them.


So here’s attempt number one; Miss Spain here is sitting atop a crystal honeypot because I thought it would provide good balance without scrunching up her clothes too much. The only reason I have a crystal honeypot is because when Doug and I got married apparently someone thought I might have use for such a thing (I’m sure this was someone in Doug’s family, as my non-crystal-owning relatives wouldn’t dream of purchasing something like this). Anyway, after much editing here’s the final result:


Obviously I flipped the picture, since it seemed to work better this way. I’d used an on-camera softbox for some of the shots to hit light directly to her face, since I felt the Speedlite bounced off the ceiling was creating too many shadows there, but in the end I don’t care for the result. The image is too flat, especially in the face, so in the future I’ll stick with just the Speedlite and worry less about shadows. On the plus side, I’m getting better with layer masking, and didn’t have too difficult a time cutting out the image from the original shot and layering it into a shot of the black background. I futzed around a lot in RadLab and Topaz to get the right textures and tones, and in the end added a bit of motion blur to her skirt to give a better effect of movement. Not a great shot, by any means, but since these were just practice shots anyway, it went  better than expected, at least.

I like the next shot better – but let’s start with the original:


I’d aimed a lot of light behind her here, to help provide an outline against all that black when I had to crop her image out of the picture later, and as you can see without the softbox she has much more dimension and appears softer overall. Again I futzed and edited with RadLab and Topaz, and added texture to the background to disguise some of my sloppier cropping spots (although I really didn’t have too many glaring errors anyway), and well, here you go:


The goal was to make Miss Spain look like she was floating, obviously, but I don’t think it worked for a couple of reasons. First of all, the subject is a bit too large and takes up too much of the frame, and secondly, she’s already an inanimate object so it’s much less unusual-looking to see her hanging out this way. I hope that makes sense – even though there’s clearly nothing holding her in this position, it appears to be nothing more than a photo of a doll standing that’s been flipped on its side. Again, I think if I’d had more negative space around her body that would have helped, but still, a doll floating against a black background really isn’t that interesting, and I think for these doll shots I may need more setting or context to make them work. Something she’s floating above or in front of, for example, might have made this more effective. In the end, I punted and flipped the shot, and I think it helped a bit:


For some reason, when flipping it vertically it’s more apparent that the doll isn’t standing on anything, and it looks more like she’s floating or leaping. It bugs me a bit because I filled in all the shadows with the assumption that she’d be laying (lying?) on her back and they aren’t placed properly for this orientation,  but I added enough texture to the background that I think it isn’t too noticeable. And again, much nicer without the fill flash/softbox; the doll looks much more three-dimensional here than in the previous photo.

In the end, both of these were pretty silly shots, really, and were nothing more than some experimentation to get started working with the dolls and seeing what I can do with them. I’m not sure how interesting any of these pics are going to be to anyone else, and it’s possible just a few of my followers will be willing to to go down this road with me, but it’s a subject that interests me right now, so I’m moving forward anyway. I do plan to use myself in some doll shots, too – I’m particularly excited about the Madame Alexander angel and devil dolls I got off Amazon earlier in the week – but as I’ve said many times here, taking self-portraits has gotten a bit boring, and I need something else to occupy my photography-time. Not sure I’ll stick with this long, or even at all, but if it ends up being a bust I still think it’ll lead me somewhere better in the long run. Which is how it always goes with creativity.

Now, allow me to close this out by leaving you with a more horrifying image in relation to my current doll obsession. In searching for MA dolls on eBay, I came across a lot of the company’s baby dolls as well. I have always found baby dolls particularly creepy (and a lot of people apparently find the regular MA ones creepy as well) and at some point got the idea to find THE CREEPIEST BABY DOLL POSSIBLE and splurge on that one, too, just to tap into everyone’s doll fears with some disturbing baby shots at some point in the future. Turns out the person who listed the auction on the doll I purchased had decided to do some of that work for me, as one of the photos of the doll in the auction was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever seen:


Everything about that shot is horrifying: the shadows, the weird angle, the chipped paint on the door hinge – everything. And if you look closely, you can also see that SOMEONE IS CHOKING IT. Honestly, I’m not sure I can ever re-create the horror of this shot, but be prepared to see this little guy haunting you (and me) soon. The auction says it’s a girl, but I think it’s a dude, and for some reason I’ve already named him Sherbet. But that might be sharing too much of the inner workings of my weird mind, so I’ll stop talking now.

Happy Sherbet Sunday!

6 thoughts on “All Dolled Up

  1. I agree about the crystal! We registered, even though we didn’t want to do that as we were both over 30 and didn’t feel the need for gifts; people insisted that we register anyway so they knew what to get us though. Anyway, in spite of the fact that we registered for practical things, we ended up with a bunch of stuff like this from the more well-to-do members of Doug’s circle of family friends (there’s no one well-to-do in my family). We got a humongous crystal serving bowl that I’m sure cost a good load of money, and all it’s done is collect dust on a shelf!

    LOL at the Baby Huggums doll. That’s what Sherbet is all right! My only concern is that I realized once it was purchased that it’s rather big, and for what I am thinking about doing that might be an issue (I’m picturing taking it everywhere with me and sticking it into mundane environments, sort of like a creepy ‘where’s Waldo’, but that might be difficult to do on the sly if it’s really big. Oh well.)

    • LOL that reminds me I had a friend who gave us matching straw hats…but they ended up being really useful actually. Oh, and another friend who gave us water guns. I had a lot of friends at the time who were so unconventional they never would have dreamed of getting married (and they still haven’t) so they were a bit baffled by the formality of the whole thing, even though our wedding was very small and low-key. But water guns are a great way to keep cats and dogs in line in a gentle manner 😉 Didn’t work so well for spouses.

      Oh and – my husband’s sister bought us a registration to this super-conservative religious “marriage weekend” where, had we gone, I would have learned how to be a good, submissive wife while Doug was learning how to be a responsible Man of the House. We did not go. LOL.

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