Doll Bearer

Honestly, coming up with titles that rhyme with doll is way too easy.

In working with the dolls I purchased, I am functioning in a new manner photographically. First of all, I now have some conceived idea before I start shooting, as opposed to the usual process of self-portraits where I get in front of the camera and see what happens. But I’ve mentioned in previous posts how that process had already begun to bore me; in fact, last night I pulled up an old hard drive and was looking over some of my earliest self-portraits, and was a bit amazed at how much more I was able to pull off back then, when the posing was still new. I was using sheets tacked to a wall, no lighting, and a $150 point-and-shoot camera, but I still managed to create some pretty cool images. But as with all things creative (for me anyway), a process does grow stale, and I have to explore some other avenue. I know I’ve said it a million times, but I just don’t have many unique faces left to make, or costumes to put on that aren’t derivative of something I’ve already done, or leaps to make that I haven’t already, well, lept. So yeah, anyway – dolls.

My point is, working from a plan or vision can be incredibly intimidating when one is not used to doing it. With the more spontaneous process, it was pretty rare for me to come away from a shoot disappointed in every single shot, because I hadn’t known what I was looking for to begin with. But it does happen when trying to re-create something photographically that I’ve envisioned in my head. It gets a little scary to even try, for fear that I will put a lot  of work into something that produces no decent, tangible results. But as I think I said in my last post, even if I flop with some of this stuff, I am at least learning what not to do, and can apply those lessons to the next session. And it’s not like I was never disappointed when shooting selfies. I remember one session that I was so excited about, only to find out when I loaded the photos onto my computer that the color balance went crazy (this was with my first, very old Canon Rebel, the original of that line) and I was horribly green in everything and could not repair it for the life of me. Or the time I got dressed up and posed for an hour only to have the CF card lock up and lose everything! So you know, it’s always something.

So here is a photo that I visualized so clearly, and which seemed so simple to pull off, that I spent 6 hours trying to force it to work, because I just could not accept that it had been a fail. It’s not horrible, but it is not at all as convincing as I thought it would be:


Let me explain.

I knew Madame Alexander made both angel and devil dolls, and after my first purchase of the Spain doll I photographed earlier in the month, I got the idea of having an angel doll on one shoulder and a devil on the other, while I looked confused, or amused, or..something cute. Anyway. First of all, I spent a pretty penny on that stupid devil doll, which came to me a hot mess; her outfit did not fit and was clearly not made for her, she was old and loose and difficult to pose (in fact, before the end of the shoot her arm fell off) and she looked really old. On the other hand, that angel doll was quite cheap, and it is exquisite – a really beautiful doll. Go figure. I think I pulled the poses off fine – and I must add that I did a hell of a good job contouring my nose with my makeup on this day, which I usually botch up terribly. And I was very meticulous about shooting each doll standing on the same fuzzy sweater (which I stretched over a stool) and to shoot them in the same light, and in basically the exact same position they would be in were they actually on my shoulders. But in spite of all that, they just would not work in the composite shot. I thought the fact that their feet would be on fuzz in each shot would make them easier to stick onto my shoulders, but the blues didn’t match and wouldn’t mask right and it just looked phony. I did the best I could, but this is so far away from what I envisioned, and I don’t think the end result is nearly as entertaining as it had looked in my head. Plus, six hours editing y’all. And in the end I still wasn’t happy. The devil in particular just looks awful. I couldn’t pose her very well to begin with, and she never did look like she was really standing on my shoulder, she just looked glued on. So I used a clone tool to add some more fuzz to her feet and called it a day. Sigh.

Then, I took a bunch of shots of the angel because she’s just sooo pretty, and although I still have some others of her to process, the one I chose to work with first was also a bit of a fail, in my opinion. Since the arm had already fallen off my devil doll, I got the idea to make the angel have four arms, and scrambled around in my box of doll parts to find one. When shooting these photos, everything looked so nice and colorful – all that pastel pink and blue – but when I went to edit one of them, it just didn’t make much sense. It’s a doll with extra arms, and that’s about it. It doesn’t communicate anything, and she’s just kind of lying there doing nothing. Bummer.


I edited the hell out of her to try and make this connect with me better, but it never did. I think my biggest issue with her was that her body was made in such a way that she is not facing the front entirely; her body is a bit twisted to one side, so try as I might I never could get her to look like she was really lying down in a peaceful manner – she just looks like she has either scoliosis or restless leg syndrome. I added a boatload of filters to try and turn this into something, but in the end I just stopped and considered it as good as it was going to get.

One thing about that first shot, the angel and devil one, was how easy I thought it would be to pull off, and how wrong I was about that. I’ve done other simple composite shots quite successfully, and they did not take much time to execute, and I really thought I planned out how to put that one together well to get an excellent end result. But I was wrong. On the other hand, this idea for what I have titled “Doll Soup” I thought would be a real bitch – and it was the easiest thing I’ve done yet.

doll soup

This past Saturday afternoon, about two hours before I needed to go into the school and work for a bit, I got an urge to try out this shot I’d visualized some time before. Even when talking to Doug about what I wanted to do after I first thought of it, he agreed that it would probably be quite difficult to get the doll placed in the soup just right, and then keep all her doll-parts posed while I took the shots; he even thought I might need to put something like styrofoam under the soup to keep it all “floating” properly around the doll parts. Nope. On a total whim, I took the can of soup, dumped it in this small pot, then placed first her head, then her arms, then her legs into it (she is disassembled, BTW). First time trying, everything fell right into place, and proceeded to stay there while I not only took about 40 or 50 shots in the kitchen with two different lenses, but also while I moved the pot into my studio to take shots of her in there. And there was no great planning to any of it: stick doll parts in soup, take photos, done. But in the end, these are the best shots I’ve taken of the dolls so far. At least as far as realizing a vision is concerned. And, I took them in a rush without much prep at all, right before needing to rush out the door to take care of errands. Certainly not my usual routine for creating quality work.

This next one, which I took in my office, didn’t come off quite as I pictured it, but it’s certainly close enough to satisfy me:

doll soup 2a

It did take some time to get myself positioned right in front of the camera for my mouth to show properly, but again, that little doll head posed like a trouper throughout the whole ordeal. Tons of shots of me picking up that spoon and posing, then dipping it into the soup to get more noodles or whatever, over and over, and still – she didn’t budge. Good doll.

doll soup 3

I really don’t think I needed to edit this last shot; the first two are the real winners. But after the disappointment of my angel and devil shots I was excited to play around with some that were at least close to what I wanted to see, so I kept going with them.

Who knows what’s next with these little gals – they are unpredictable for sure, but always up for a shoot. As for me, I start back to work tomorrow, so wish me luck. Another semester is up and running!





I just checked my blog, and I haven’t shared any photos here since December 21st – but I certainly have a taken a lot of them! The first day of the break, I pulled all the furniture out of my office and just left it set up for photos the entire two weeks, so I could be basically ready to go whenever I wanted to do a shoot. It was a good plan, and I took a load of photos, many of which I’ve yet to process. But I’ll share what I can for now.

As you know from my recent posts, I bought a slew of dolls, in varying conditions, from eBay with the intent of taking pictures of them. I shared the first few in my last post, so going back to that, here are some photos I took of one of the headless dolls I received:


This a favorite of mine; I simply stood the doll up on the old brown chair that’s in my office and played around with her a bit. I love the yellow, black and white of the dress, especially against the brown, and of course there’s the whole headless thing. I edited the doll’s feet (and the base of stand she was on) so it would look like she’s floating. It was pretty successful even SOOC, but of course I messed with it in Photoshop quote a bit. I would talk more about exactly what I did, but I’m tired quite honestly, and can’t formulate my thoughts all that well. So I’ll keep my comments brief.


I do also love this shot. Also taken just sitting on my chair. I desaturated most of the shot for a vintage feel, and added a little texture to age it also.


Not really interested in this one and probably won’t share it anywhere else but here. I thought I could composite a floating head shot into the set, but I popped off these shots quickly and didn’t take the time to get a floating head I could really use. I settled for this one, but I don’t really think it works. The head is at an odd angle, and I hadn’t yet discovered the transform tool in Photoshop that I now know how to use, and that helps to change the angles of a layer if you don’t like how it’s aligned in the photo.


I really tried to get a photo of either Sprocket or Penny with the doll head in their mouths, but they weren’t having it. This is as close as I got. Also the color balance was wonky in these shots, so I just gave this one a monochrome treatment and called it a day. Then of course, there’s my new baby doll Sherbet:sherbet2

This was from a different shoot, utilizing my backdrop and better lighting. I thought this shot had nice lighting but was rather boring; in the end it’s just a doll. So I messed with it – a lot. And the end result was a little disturbing.


Creepy enough for you? What I did was warp just his face, and added a light leak to conceal a little the transition line on his face between where I used the warp tool and where I didn’t. Not sure I like it, but I bought Sherbet to be creepy, so in that regard at least he did his job.


Another one where I liked the light a lot, but it’s just…doll. So I added some tilt-shift and motion blur in the hopes of making it more interesting. Not sure I succeeded, so let’s move on. Speaking of creepy:


More warping! Not really sure how successful Sherbet’s first photoshoot was, but at least I got some good experience out of it. I also don’t know if he’s going to work for my project taking a doll around with me on errands and things and putting him into an otherwise mundane photo. He’s really BIG, and I think to pull off taking pictures of dolls at random places in public the doll in question should be a lot smaller. So, I’m going to keep looking for that. Not sure what to do with Sherbet in the meantime, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something.

I’m going to stop here because it’s late and I’m sleepy, but I’ll have more doll photos to share soon. And another bag I spruced up.

Happy Sunday everyone! I’m back to the grind on money, but I’m OK with it. All good vacations must come to an end.



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!

Doll Shots

I’d planned to do a more elaborate shoot this weekend, but when I woke up Saturday morning and sat down at my computer with my wake-up cup of tea I noticed something: I couldn’t see. Well I could see, really, but the text on the screen was a bit blurry, and with a little experimentation I realized it was only in my right eye. And things weren’t blurry so much as shadowed – I had a touch of double vision, with the second faded image sitting below the real one. I decided to try and get in to see an eye doctor that day, since I had the time, to get an update on my prescription and see what was going on. I called around and found an open appointment at 2:15 at the LensCrafters in  our local mall. Of course,a mall on a Saturday two weekends before Christmas isn’t my favorite place to be, but I wasn’t sure when I’d have time again to get to an optician and I was a little concerned about what might be going on with my eyes, so I braved the crowds and headed out.

Turns out my astigmatism in my right eye has gotten a little worse – not enough to cause alarm, but just enough to create the double vision I was noticing that morning. Who knows how long it’s actually been going on; I guess my eyes were too tired to compensate first thing in the morning and that’s why I finally noticed it. So by 3:30 I was out of the mall with a new prescription – wouldn’t you know this happens just two weeks after I buy two pair of glasses from Zenni? Ah well. They weren’t expensive in the first place, so I bought two more pair with the new prescription and they should be in soon.

All that to say that I ended up taking photos that required less setup. I got out my macro lens and decided to take pictures of this old Madame Alexander doll I have sitting around. Of course, I had to edit the hell out of them afterwards:


Of all the types of photography I’ve tried, macro has to be the most difficult. Lighting is a real challenge when getting so close to a subject, and the new ring light I bought from Amazon on Black Friday turned out to be a total bust – it wouldn’t even turn on. So, I had to try and use my Speedlight to aim light at the doll, and I was crouching into all sorts of uncomfortable positions, and the lens was terribly heavy, and I had two very warm lights beaming down on me while I crawled all over trying to get decent shots – not to mention that focusing is a bitch too. I only took about 45 shots, and couldn’t tell if any of them were going to be worth anything until I got them loaded onto my computer. Fortunately, there were some keepers:


I had a hell of a time getting the lens to focus on that little cameo pin; I probably took more shots of it than I did anything else. But I think I got good detail out of that one – Topaz Clarity and InFocus helped with that.


The doll, of course, doesn’t have skin nearly as pale as my edited pictures, and the lips are a much brighter red, but I liked the ghostly effect of the desaturated tones. I use RadLab’s Dirty Pictures to add texture, since most of the shots seemed to call for a bit of weathering.


I really wanted a good shot of the doll’s hand reaching out, but in the end I couldn’t get the focus quite right. To disguise that I used Topaz’s Lens Effect to create the split screen you see here.


I don’t know what to say about this, except that I like it – especially how the texture in the lower left corner looks like it’s smoke or something coming out of the doll’s mouth. I really did get some very nice closeups out of this, considering the doll itself is pretty small. In fact, these shots inspired me to go to eBay and buy a cheap lot of fairly worn-down Madame Alexander dolls, just to see what else I can come up with for  them photographically.


I’m thinking about trying to make them levitate, and other bits of weirdness like taking them apart and putting them back together wrong, or creating some sort of doll/me photo hybrid. Oh, and drowning them. But we’ll see how much of that I ever actually pull off. It’s a weird experiment and one I’ve never tried before, so I have to prepare for a lot of frustration and disappointment. But sometimes, that’s easier to deal with when you’re not also in a wig and ten pounds of makeup. I think this is it for doll shots and the macro lens, though. Until I get a functional ring light that sucker is too difficult for me to deal with.

Mid-term exams are the next three days, so it may be crazy, but the holidays are almost here! Happy Monday everyone.