A friend and patron from Etsy, Mustangridergirl, asked a great question:
First of all, I’m only a professional upholsterer. I am definitely not a professional photographer and do not have professional photographic equipment, nor studied theater in school or learn about set design. This all got started because I had to photograph my furniture for the Etsy shop. Check out “sales” at my shop and you can see my progression, not only in my furniture, but in my photography. (click on any photo to enlarge)
So, this post is a behind the scenes look at my current photographic technique. Should I study lighting? Of course. Do I currently have the time or inclination….not really. Am I interested in spending tons of money on professional lighting and then having to find a place to store it when not in use?…..yeah, right. Sound familiar? Does this describe you? I think I’m very much like any doll owner/enthusiast, making the most of what I have or can create. I’m a DIY kind of girl and can’t even remember the name brand of the camera I’m using.
I don’t think it’s about the camera. Most people now acknowledge that camera phones are on par with many available cameras. I don’t use my phone for the dolls and furniture, but you get the idea…. just trying to make the most of what you have. Thankfully, my camera has a rechargeable battery. I never never ever ever use a flash. Holding my finger on the flash as I start the camera keeps it from popping up, and I ignore all prompts and flashing messages telling me I need more light. The lights in my shop are fluorescent….yes!….fluorescent lights! It’s been a workshop long before it became a posh environment for dolls. ;o)
My shop is a 10 ft x 18 ft space. The cutting table sits next to one of two west facing windows, although the huge Burr Oak tree just outside, shades most of the direct light. My fully lit photos, like this fun take on the board game Clue (below), are photographed using only those two overhead lights, and I almost never adjust it later in Photoshop. The only extra work done on this shot was to crop it. In hindsight, I would have liked a little more atmosphere in this shot, but hey!, “me and the girls was just havin’ a little fun, ya know”, and crime should be exposed. I amuse myself.
Lately, I’ve started using a large white piece of foam board to deflect the light up to the ceiling and get a more subtle atmosphere, and have been known to drape fabric over the fluorescent closest to the table in order to affect the quality of the light. Shifting the whole scene to angle it towards the window, gives me a little less angled more direct natural light. And if it’s atmosphere you’re looking for, I can’t say enough about making your own lamps. It’s fun, easy and does double duty as a light source and a decorative prop.
This photo (above) was taken with the overhead lights turned off, only the two windows letting in a little bit of indirect natural light, and my doll lamp creating added effect. Strong late afternoon light gave it the feeling of dusk. I left the scene lined up with the table (instead of angling toward the window) which gives the illusion that my dolls house indeed has a large grand window on the wall not shown in the photo.
The next one has only the light from the window. I love that moment when the day is getting to dusk and you know if you don’t turn on a light now….if you wait any longer…. it will be very harsh when you finally do. I always use “Auto Focus” on my camera, letting it do what it does best. It’s a Canon Power Shot 5×210 IS.
Realize that the bulb color of artificial light, will affect the color of your sets, dolls and clothing. That’s probably why my fluorescent lights work OK, because they’re white light…..not yellow or bluish. I am using a yellow light in the lamp, which has a warming effect in the “night” shots.
The angle of the shot is also important. I like to get low enough with my camera to be on the dolls eye level. There are plenty of artistic exceptions to this, but for my purposes, shooting from the dolls point of view will look most natural.
Speaking of cropping, I’m still learning not to judge too quickly the merits of a photo before I crop it. Cropping is a very creative process. I occasionally find myself dragging photo’s out of the trash and finding interesting compositions within a shot I previously thought was trash worthy. This paragraph is more important than some might think at first. Trying to take a completely finished shot with the camera is not as much fun or effective as cropping. Play with cropping! Most photo processing software (whether on your computer or the free ones on line) will let you “duplicate” your photo, which allows you to play to your hearts content. It’s one of the most creative and fun parts of photography.
I work hard at the photos. Sometimes I’ll take a dozen shots only to realize I’ve failed to notice a blunder. Here’s an example: The table skirt just didn’t look real enough until I stopped and forced it into a shape that seemed right. I must have taken a dozen shots of it crumpled, but once I saw the photos on the computer, I ran back to the shop, adjusted the table skirt and it only took one more shot to get it.
My next goal is to develop mid-tone lighting. Perhaps bring in a table lamp from the house, setting it up across the room, turn out the fluorescence, and shooting late in the day when the sun is lower and coming strongly in the widow….but not creating shadows. Atmosphere is good! Have fun!!
I’ll try to post Part 2 tomorrow. It’s about scene construction and should be fun. Thanks for reading, and Thank YOU again Mustangridergirl! You’re a doll!