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Five Photo Tips From Our Professional Doll Photographer

We are delighted to feature our doll photographer, Sung Lee, who has been working with us and helping our team capture beautiful photos of our dolls. He's been working as a photographer for the last 10 years and he's here to share some tips guaranteed to turn your doll into works of art. 

The lights are arranged. A model sits waiting in anticipation. That perfect lens is chosen, attached to a state of the art camera. Now the moment comes down to you. A split second can make or break the perfect shot. How do you capture that exquisite moment in the blink of an eye? One way is to snap a thousand photos and hope one turns out. A smarter method is to read on while I share a few of photography’s lesser known secrets.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and even the most humble model can transform into a stunning masterpiece. The world of photography draws from the often conflicting schools of science and art. If you can successfully marry the two together, magic happens! This basic foundation applies to all genres: portrait, food, wedding, real estate, and product photography. Let me first state this one fact clearly-photographers don’t need fancy or expensive gear. The following advice is suitable for folks shooting with a cell phone camera, a simple point and shoot camera, or a dedicated DSLR. The true secret to any great shot is the time and creativity invested in preparation before ever picking up that camera.

The 5 Best Tips for Better Doll Photos

1. Tell a story

An article with a bunch of facts strung together would be incredibly boring for the reader, and so would setting your product against a white wall and firing away. Think about setting. 

For dolls, each one is lovingly created with unique expressions and features. They may hold props like bottles, stuffed animals, or blankets. This is the chance to give context to the subject in the photo. What world do these dolls inhabit?

Once you’ve created the background story, craft the perfect environment to encompass your doll in his or her world. The setting can be as simple or involved as you want. You want your audience to visualize a day in the doll’s life, form a connection, and most importantly, imagine the doll sitting on their shelf or bed at home. When I’m working with my talented stylists at Paradise Galleries and Adora Dolls, they spend endless hours preparing and creating such illusions to help stoke the special emotion associated with each doll. The process takes more time, creativity, and setup, but the result is worth the effort!

2. Mind your lighting  

The word photography is derived from Greek and literally means to draw with light.

Photographers need to think about both the light’s quantity and quality and notice the direction of the light source. My favorite light source is natural light streaming in from a large window. Try placing your doll seated in a chair about three to four feet facing the window and snap a photo. Reposition the doll and vary the angle with the window to experiment and capture different looks.

Avoid harsh, direct sunlight! If you want to further soften the light, drape a white bed sheet over the window to create more even lighting on the doll’s face. If you’re using artificial lighting, choose soft, warm light that contains more yellow than blue tones.

Avoid fluorescent lighting at all costs! Do not light from the bottom or directly from the top of the doll’s face, unless you’re going for that Halloween “scare the neighborhood kids” look. Instead, set the light at a 45 degree angle and slightly above the doll’s face for perfect lighting. You’ll be absolutely amazed what this simple setup can do for your photos!

Sung while video filming

3. Shoot closeups

A closeup shot of needlework on the doll’s shoes, the pattern on the bow in her hair, or her sparkly necklace will enhance the background you’ve created. Is this doll proud of her new teddy bear? Does this doll adore his favorite polka dot shirt? These elements all build the story your audience has formed in their minds, adding emotion and realism to the doll. At this stage, your audience has already pictured the doll in their home, given them a name, and is now imagining how the doll will present this treasured prop to their new friends already waiting at the house.

4. Shoot in portrait mode

If you’re using a cell phone capable of shooting in a portrait mode that provides a shallow depth of field (i.e. the background is blurred while the subject stays in focus), do so! If you look at any well taken portrait photography, the background just melts away allowing the person to be the focus (literally and figuratively) of the photo. If you want to show the doll in the context of her surroundings, you’ll need a portion of the background in focus, but not necessarily all of it. By experimenting with the camera phone’s settings, you can control the blurring of the background. If you own a point and shoot or a DSLR camera, turn off Auto mode and practice instead with Aperture control or Manual mode. Set the aperture to any setting between 1.4 to 2.8. This expands the lens “iris” wide open and allows for the shallow depth of field which blurs the background. I don’t want to get too technical here, but trust me on this. Snap a photo of anything mundane in your house with this secret setting: potato, toothbrush, can opener, and you’ve created instant modern art!

5. Put a twinkle in the eyes

Photographers call this sparkle a catchlight, defined as the lightsource reflected in the eye. Without it, the doll looks lifeless and flat. I find this quality so important, I reject any shots we take in the studio without catchlights in the photos. Full stop!

There are many catchlights, depending on the light source used. The above mentioned photo by the window is absolutely stunning and provides a doorway into the soul of the doll. When using an artificial light source such as a lamp, bring it close to the doll’s face. The bigger the light source and the closer it is to the subject’s face, the softer the shadow and bigger the catchlight.

Visit Sung's website to check his gallery and learn more about him.  

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