Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

On behalf of everyone here, Fashion Doll Stylist wishes each and every one of you in the dollysphere, a Very Merry, Jolly Dolly Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Photo Finish

Photo Finish

With the holidays upon us, we know that there are lots of dolls on their way to our homes to bring us joy. After we dress and pose them, quite naturally, we'll want to take pictures.  From time to time, I have been asked for tips on how I photograph dolls. Like everyone else here in the dolly blogosphere, I started out simply pointing my camera at my dolls with little thought. But as my snapshots evolved into something more serious, I made the effort to create photos that come the closest to “real” fashion photography. Instead of looking at examples of good doll photography, I study the work of masters whose work graces the top glossy magazines. So rather than photographing my dolls as pretty plastic objects, I shoot them breathing fashion models!

At its best, fashion photography is all about clothes, beauty and the fantasy it embodies. With my photos, I try to draw you into the drama of picture with beautifully dressed, gorgeous dolls wearing the kind of fashions you, yourself imagine wearing!

Of course, the better the camera, the better the output. That said, I don’t use anything out of the ordinary…an older model Nikon Coolpix. Today, the camera function of our smartphones is quite good and, if it’s the only camera you have, you can still take some pretty decent photos. Ideally however, I find that a dedicated camera is best because it usually has more functions that allow you to tweak the brightness and color balance before you press the shutter. You needn’t spend a lot of money on it, but you should buy at least a good quality “point and shoot.” You can't go wrong if it's a Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Panasonic Linux, or Sony.

Prep School
One of the advantages of having a good diversity of dolls is that I can choose the right model” for the “right” outfit. My photo shoot begins with a “casting call.” Even though I may earmark a particular doll for the dress I’m making, often, I will try it on a few others to see who wears it best for the given situation.  Playline Barbies do well in “junior” (teenage) fashions; my Model Muses and FR families are the high fashion queens of the flock. Each doll has her own personality and attitude, so depending on how exotic or casual the look, will determine who actually gets to wear the outfit. I have different body types, hair lengths and styles and faces with more or less makeup that I sometimes enhance.

Who wears it best? They all bring something different and special to the dress. So it really comes down to the impact I am looking to create.
Stand Tall
If the dolls have to pass for real fashion models, they have to stand on their own two feet....or at least give such an impression. So naturally, you don’t want the doll stand to show. I tend to lean my dolls against the background wall or an object if the legs are showing. I've seen where others wrap a wire around the waist underneath the clothes leaving a long stem which is stuck in the ground and hidden by foliage while photographing outdoors. When using the photo box (pictured below), I arch the doll's back a bit and sometimes will place a small object under their back to lift the doll away from the background a bit. If the doll is wearing a long garment, you can always hide the stand underneath. But should the bottom of the stand show, simply crop it out later in your imaging software.

Background Check
There are two ways to go here: “studio,” against a seamless backdrop or “on location” where the doll is places somewhere within an existing environment. For whatever reason, if you only need a clean simple photo, you will need to shoot the doll in front of a background—white, black or grey, for the most part. The color of the backdrop should help show off color of the garment. White works for most needs, however, a grey or black is good for shooting white garments. If you plan to photoshop this image onto another photo, consider a backdrop that comes close to the image in which it will be dropped. For example…if my model is wearing white and you plan to drop it into a snowy image, then you should choose white or light grey as your initial backdrop.

The choice of backdrop is also impacted by the overall look and mood of the photo you want to create. For the photos I created for our “Fashion Doll Art” page, I use a high contrast (often black) background to “pop” the image of the doll. Or…I will keep everything light and airy for an ethereal soft photo.

I continue to use my "photo box", the "portable studio" I recommended in a tipster post, awhile ago! This is a plastic, translucent storage box I can pose my doll then walk around the house trying out different light sources. For the 12” doll, a 16 quart (15 liter) box is just the right size. Inside, I put in a piece of 14x22” poster board (horizontally). Or, you can make a vertical seamless with poster board cut to 9x18.”
A tree part makes for a very interesting backdrop!

There are many amazing hobbyists who create some of the most incredible doll dioramas on the internet. Having neither the time nor the space to do this, I simply place my dolls into my own environment. The texture of a wall, bush, tree bark or carpeting; placed next to  a piece of furniture, a tattered curtain, a toolbox or even a cluttered basement…the clashing scales of each element add to the drama of each photo.

Styled to Perfection
First, make sure you dust off the doll’s face before you start. Unless you are keeping everything under glass (that’s no fun), you’d be surprised how must dust your dolls’ faces can attract. The camera shows up all of these details as well as stray hairs. Make sure too, your camera lens is free from dust to get the sharpest photos possible.

In my house, I have dolls of several different body types. And though I often make an outfit with a specific doll in mind, sometimes a doll with a different body type might show it off better. That means I have to pin the dress in the back so that it fits the way it would have (on the doll it was originally destined for), or I will pin the slit of the dress so that it shows a bigger flash of leg. This is what is involved with styling. Even if you are only working with a single type of doll, chances are the doll's individual coloring and hairstyle or even facial expression may make the difference in which of your divas best pulls off the look.

Well Lit
I place a piece of translucent material to diffuse the sunlight evenly over the doll. On the left the doll has been photographed as is. On the right we diffused the light. Notice how the shadows in her face have disappeared. 
Lighting is the most important element in a photograph. No matter what else is going on, if the lighting is wrong, the photograph is failed. The easiest and best lighting for me is daylight. This is the easiest, best way to go, in my opinion. With my photo box, I walk from room to room in search of just the right light. For the more “editorial” or “art” shots, I embrace the shadows which helps the doll come alive. And for pictures where I need more even lighting, I use materials to reflect or diffuse an overabundance of sunlight.  For the overall diffuser, I use a lightweight material, in this case the non-woven packing material from a TV or computer screen. You can also use a lightweight or sheer woven material or even a sheet of paper taped over the lamp. Note, be very careful to leave a space in front of the bulb and do use cool bulbs so as not to start a fire!
On the left, I used some soft packing material that came with my TV screen; on the right-a sheet of paper taped to the sides of the light.
Without the diffuser, the sun casts shadows or bleaches out details of the face and garment in the highlights. With a translucent material over the box or lamp, the light spreads out more evenly, thus eliminating or softening the shadows.
DIY Reflectors: Mirror, foil covered board, white bristol paper or the flashlight of a smartphone

If you are happy with the way the clothing appears, but want to lighten the shadows in the face, or let’s say, you want to bring out the details in a dark colored dress—here’s where reflectors come in. It’s called a “filler light” and you can use one of four items: a sheet of white paper or board, a foil covered board, a mirror or the flashlight function of your smartphone.
Use a white board for soft highlights. Use foil board for brighter effects. And use a flash light for targeted areas you want to lighten without disturbing the lighting of the rest of the body.
You pose the doll then reflect the light onto the area you’d like to highlight. White paper or board gives you a soft light. The foil or mirror gives you a brighter light and the flashlight gives you the brightest spotlight. Everything else in the photo remains the same except where you bounce back or shine the light!
I used the flashlight of a smartphone, pointed from above the doll's head to bring up the details of the face. You can use this technique to brighten the rhinestones on the dress.
 One of my favorite dolls is Nichelle. But photographing her is not simple due to her dark skin tone. I used the flashlight function of my smartphone to place a spotlight on her face. The light is above her head shining down a bit. To bring out the sparkle of the rhinestones on her dress, you can shine either a foil covered board or another spotlight on her dress. You want to play with this until you can see the features of her face, the sparkle of her dress but without bleaching out the details of her dress.
This is an especially useful tip for when you are photographing a dark toned doll near a lighter toned one.
If you try to photograph them as is, either one girl will be too light or the other too dark. Focus on the light girl, then use a spot to bring out the features of the darker girl's face. The reflectors help you do this without bleaching out the garments.

The Inside Track
There are a few times when I need to take photos indoors under low light conditions. The first rule here is: DON’T USE YOUR CAMERA FLASH!!! This is a sure fire way to kill your photo. The doll turns back into a shiny plastic object. The colors and scenery are depleted of life! If you are shooting “on location,” it is better to take a lamp, loosely covered with a soft material and point it upwards.
On the left, I used my camera flash and look what happens. The models are both bleached out by the light. On the right, I covered my lamp which produced a better photo more true to the actual tones.
1. Simply pointing the light at my subject is not enough. The type of bulb I'm using will throw the colors off and we don't see the features of the doll's face.
2. I covered my lamp and pointed it upwards, not directly at the doll. This will give you a nice lighting but it will cast shadows.
3. I added a second lamp which I pointed down and away from the doll.
4. The result is that I have an evenly lit model with no shadows. There still is a hint of pink which I will show you how to eliminate later in this post.

Ready, Aim, Shoot!
The first rule of thumb…get up close to the doll. Don’t feel you must always photograph her from top to toe. Take lots of photos, trying out different lighting, angles, poses...including close-ups. After all, you are using a digital camera! No need to pay for film or processing like back in the olden days! LOL!
One trick I use is to place a piece a poster board down on a flat surface and lie the doll on her back to take the photo. You can pose her in interesting positions, flare out the dress to make it look as if the wind is blowing or that she is flying through the air.
And just as we used a reflector to bounce light into a part of the body, you can also introduce shadows by blocking out part of the light with a piece of opaque board. Playing with shadows is a great way to bring the doll alive in your photo and convey mood.
The play of light and shadow brings out the texture of the fabrics in the photo and it imparts a dramatic mood.
What's Your Angle

Camera angle is important. If you photograph the doll from above, her legs will appear very short. If you shoot her from below, she will appear taller, however you will not be able to see the details of the dress between just above the bust to the neck. In the real world of modeling, photographers tend to shoot from an upwards angle. It tends to yield the most dramatic, “high fashion” results. I like this angle as well. However, if there is interest around the bust up to the neck, my photos tend to be straight on. Pictured above--on the left, I shot the model from below. She looks statuesque with a lot of high fashion drama. But, it's difficult to see the neck and shoulder details of the dress. In the middle, I shot her from above. We see perfectly how the dress fits, however, the model appears a bit short in that we cannot see the length of her legs. For a dress with interest at the bust and shoulders, back away from the model and find that perfect angle where you see can see what's going on with top, yet show some semblance of length.

On the other hand, if you are going to use this angle, go all the way and really shoot from high above for a dramatic effect.

Getting back to the red dress. Even though I shot this with lots of space above and below, notice how I cropped the picture so that the model fills the entire frame. You can do this with your imaging software. (There are also imagine apps that have this function.)

Post op: The Digital Tweak
Even after we brightened the original photo, there was still a pink overcast to our photo. Correct this with "Levels" (open with the CTRL-L command). Click on the white eye dropper then click on the image where the background should be pure white. 
Most of the time, the photos you take rarely come out of the camera picture perfect. Depending on the time of day, your photos may have a blue cast. Taken indoors, you'll notice a reddish cast caused by using incandescent bulbs to light the subject. To correct this, you need imaging software. Personally I like working with Photoshop Elements which does everything I need and then some. But there other great imaging software out there. At the very minimum you want to correct the colors, crop, lighten or darken and also resize your photos to either post on the internet or print out. If you are posting online, most of the time you don’t want your photo to be too big or it will take forever to load onto the screen. An 8.5x11 inch photo saved at 72 dpi (dots per inch) will yield a 960x720 image.  It can be a proportionally smaller (but not too small so that it becomes pixelated) or too large (so that it takes forever to send through regular email or load onto a blog page. On the other hand, if you are planning to use your images for printed pictures, books or greeting cards, you will need high quality images. Whatever the size you intend to print (3x5" 4x6", 8x10", for example), you will need to save them at 300 dpi. Finally, if you plan to digitally place your doll in other scenes (the way I superimpose my girls on catwalks and red carpets) plan to use imaging software like Photoshop Elements which has a few more advanced features including selection tools, layers, effects, adding text, just to name a few.
To get the true colors back, use Levels. Since there is no pure white in our image, you will need to play with the sliders to correct the balance. There are four channel: RGB (an overall control over brightness), Red, Green and Blue. When you select either of the last three, sliding to the right, decreases that color. Sliding to the less, removes that color range. After you've played with these three sliders, return to RGB to then adjust the over all brightness. There are three buttons: the left darkens the shadows, the right one increases the highlights and the middle controls the half tones.

Be Inspired
One final note….just as we are inspired by the catwalk, an exhibition or a red carpet somewhere in the world, let the professionals help guide you to better picture taking. While the girls were in Paris, they stopped to admire the work of the great, late iconic fashion photographer, Irving Penn at the Grand Palais through the end of January 2018.

But this is just the start. On the Fashion Doll Stylist Pinterest page, I've just put up a board called, "Photo Finish" where I've added more fabulous photos from the masters of this profession.

All photos and text property of Fashion Doll Stylist. 2017. Please do not reproduce without prior permission. Thank you.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Paris Christmas Windows '17

Avenue Montaigne, Paris' high fashion neighborhood
It's that time of year again. A time when the stores of Paris show off their creative best with whimsical Christmas windows and streets lined with twinkling lights. This year's editions took us back to simpler times when Santa Claus and his elves were busy delivering gifts for good little girls and boys. And though dolls were not the focus this December, we still thought we'd share a bit of Christmastime in the City of Lights.

Galeries Lafayette
The center of the universe at this department store is, of course, a gigantic Christmas tree. This year chocked with colorful balloons and inflatable toys!!!
This year's theme is "Spectacular, Spectacular."

Printemps Department Store
This year's windows takes its visitors on an enchanting journey through the animated figures' magical voyages via air, road.

For this year's windows, the department store teamed up with the Danish consulate for a "Danish Christmas."

Georges Larnicol
And though it has little to do with Christmas specifically, we couldn't help but share these tasty window displays!
 Eiffel Tower entirely in chocolate!!!

 The Arc de Triomphe. Note the detail!

 And of course, the cathedral, Notre Dame, again, entirely made of chocolate. Spectacular!!! The amount of detail is incredible!!! Above is the front and below is the side view.

Note: We are late in posting and replying to your comments because I took some time off from my vinyl family to enjoy my (human) friends, food and the sights of Paris. There are 2 other exhibitions which include that of the late, iconic fashion photographer, Irving Penn. I'll post those photos soon along with my own tips for photographing dolls. Nonetheless, I'm back on doll detail and preparing the next few posts. The next will be posted in a few days!
Place Vendome with the Ritz hotel in the background

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