Posted in How to, Maskcat Ester, Photography, Photoshop, posing

Brute force doll posing: Photographing impossible poses

Sometimes I get a really clear picture in my head of what I want to capture, and then realize that there’s simply no way to achieve it. That’s when I resort to brute force posing.

I had that happen today with my little Maskcat Ester doll (named Faye in the Betwixt episodes). In trying to tell her backstory (she’s a “listener” who hears calls for help and sends in the rescuers), I settled on a shot. She’d be sitting on flower, with her hand cupped to her ear, scanning for trouble.

First problem: Faye, while tiny, is far too big to sit on a flower without bending the stem. I suppose if my peonies were still blooming, they’d be strong enough to hold her, but nothing else in my house or yard is. And, I’m really tired of photoshopping my dolls onto objects. So, I used brute force method #1 – holding the doll in a pose. Here’s my hand holding little Faye on top of the flowers, while my other hand takes the picture. Fortunately, it’s bright enough that she doesn’t blur while I’m holding her. (BTW, that’s Rosie from Among the Flowers in the background, waiting patiently for her first episode in the remade series).

OK, first problem solved. Now, second problem. Faye is a single jointed doll. That means that, while she can bend her arm at a 45 degree angle, she can’t bend it past that. So, she’s not actually flexible enough to cup her hand behind her ear. I *could* tie her hand in place, but that just felt like a task fraught with more problems. Instead, I moved the arm after I took the shot, using puppet wrap in Photoshop.

Here’s the picture of Faye with her arm bent up that I used as the basis of my final shot:

To fix the arm’s position, I brought the picture into Photoshop. I selected the arm and used puppet wrap to reposition it, then pasted the arm into its own layer. Then I made a layer with just her ear. That lets me put things in the right order (arm in front of her hair but behind her ear). Finally, I found a picture of flowers and pasted it in back, lightened everything up a bit and, in the end, I had little Faye sitting in the flowers and listening for trouble.

Posted in Dollmore Manuier, Granado Udell, How to, Photography

Backstage at Small Life Stories: How many photographs does it take to make a photographic novel?

In answer to the question in the title, a ton. I’m not a great photographer, but I’m a pretty good experimenter and I can (mostly) recognize a good photograph when I see it. What I can’t do is reliably create one. So, I take A LOT of pictures to come up with the shots I include in each episode. Sometimes, they’re versions of the final shot. Often times there are whole photo sessions that I throw out and start over when I can’t get the results I want.

To give a better sense of what it looks like backstage here at the Small Life Stories studio, here are all of the photographs I took (or used) to create the first 4 pages of the Betwixt episode I’m working on – roughly 300 in all. Out of these, I’ve ended up selecting 10 photos to fill those pages, plus a few public domain images for the crazy wall. 3% is lower then my usual “success” ratio, but I was trying out a bunch of new things (like the disco light shots), so I ended up throwing away most of my shots.

Posted in How to, lighting, Maskcat Ester, Photography

Unusual lighting with a disco ball light, finishing up

As a follow up to my previous post, I finished the shots I’d been taking with the disco ball, and they turned out pretty well.

I didn’t manage to get my camera settings right for capturing the disco ball lighting with a shorter shutter speed, meaning that my pictures didn’t capture the pinpoints of colored lights that the disco ball gave off. But, I manager to use an effect in Photoshop that gave me exactly what I needed.

First, I brought the disco ball colored shots into Photoshop. Then, I found a nice “pin point of colored light” image on Pexels and brought it into Photoshop. Here’s the image by itself:

Then, I used select and mask to isolate the parts of band scene that I wanted, and placed copy of the party lights image beneath.

Finally, I played with the transparency on the primary image until the party lights were incorporated into the shot.

Here’s the image of Ester (now named Faye) in my original:

And here it is with the party lights showing through.

Anyway, pretty cool effect, if you happen to have a disco ball light lying around 🙂

Posted in How to, Maskcat Ester, Photography

Unusual lighting for doll photographs: Using a disco ball to light a scene

One of the big advantages of photographing inanimate subjects is that you play around with all kinds of dim lighting. Light a scene by LED tea candle? Done that.

Camellia and Moana warm themselves by the side of a tea light candle and a few pieces of straw

Set a scene by using a dim mini flashlight to cast moonlight on a campout? Done that.

The sisters sleep for their first night in the treehouse

Create an intimate conversation by using a mini log fire? Done that.

Camellia tells stories around the fire.

What all of these methods share is that they use the stillness of the subject to let you open your shutter in very dim settings and just leave it open until the camera has gathered enough light to take a picture.

For this week’s project, I wanted the little pixie in the Betwixt episodes to play in a nightclub-like setting (although, because of their size, this nightclub is inside a trunk.) And I wanted lighting that would suggest this scene.

Fortunately, for reasons of my own, I happen to own a disco ball light. Not the mirror ball (although I’d love a mini one of those), but one of those little contraptions with refracted light in different colors and spins around casting pools of colored light as it goes, like this.

As in all of these exercises, I turned off most of the lights near the doll dining room (where I’m taking my shots) and set my camera up on a tripod. You can’t focus in the dark, so you need to leave on a regular light near to you so that you can turn it on to focus and turn it back off once the scene is in focus but before you take your shot. Then just press the shutter and wait while the camera gathers enough light. Here’s what the scene looks like to me while the camera is taking its photo – first with the lights on, and then with just the light from the disco ball:


I have a great camera, but I don’t mostly use the controls for these shots, I just leave it on auto with the flash turned off.

Because it takes so long to gather light, this method doesn’t capture the spotlight effect of the lights. Instead, it contains all of the places that were lit up while it was capturing.

I love the effect of this light on the little Maskcat Ester doll, although she looks far more spooky than festive. I’m going to try another round tonight and see if I can use a shorter exposure to capture a single instant, but, for now, these pictures give me much of what I was going after.

Posted in Fashion dolls, Granado Udell, How to, Marcelo, Photoshop, Set construction

When dolls go mad: Building a crazy wall for Marcelo

Has a real person ever created a crazy wall? Or does that only happen in films? In any case, if ever I saw a doll who might create a crazy wall, it’s Marcelo (Granado Udell). And, after the last episode, where he suddenly found himself and his daughter in mortal danger in another world, it’s really to be expected.

So, he needs a crazy wall – a nice big crazy wall, with lots of pictures and string going every which way. But, how *exactly* do you build one? Those are the questions I had to answer this week.

First, what to include in the crazy. I went a couple of different directions – one involved fairies, one involved parallel universes, and one involved just straight up crazy. In the most miraculous of miraculous discoveries, I found an honest-to-God article about fairies and the multiverse, here. I didn’t actually read it, because what could it say that would be better than the fact that there actually is an article about fairies and the multiverse. Let me know, though, if it says something interesting. The non-article items came out of google searches on public domain images, and I ended up with a bunch of really fantastic pictures. Here are a few of them:

To print them out, I resized them to 1/3 scale (about 2″ across for the photos and 3.5 inches long for the articles) and printed and cut them out.

Next, to layout and connect the images. I’d already decided that I was going to photoshop the wall onto another image, so I did my layout on a dark green foamboard that would be easy to replace in the final image. Then, I got the images roughly where i wanted them, and attached and connected them using map pins and embroidery thread. I’m not sure there are any official rules about how to organize a crazy wall, but mine was grouped into a few themes: fairies, parallel universes, and crazy. Lots and lots of crazy. I used different color thread to connect the images in each grouping. Here’s the entire wall on the green foamboard. That’s fairies in the upper left, parallel universes down the right side, and crazy all through the middle.

Finally, the image behind the crazy wall. I decided Marcelo wouldn’t work straight on the wall, mainly because I don’t have a wall that I want to put a bunch of tiny pins in. I’d gone pretty far in the bulletin board direction but, really, if you’re going crazy, do you actually put up a bulletin board first to contain all that crazy? I finally decided that I wanted a big image in the background, preferably a map. And, since it was parallel universes, I used a NASA picture of deep space, like this:

For the final, I shot the wall over Marcelo’s shoulder and brought the image into Photoshop. I removed all of the green by using the magic wand tool and selecting the foamboard, then deleting it. Finally, I copied the NASA deep space image behind it all.

I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I think the real images attached to the wall with push pins and strings look much better than what I could have photoshopped together.


I’m moving very slowly on this episode because I’ve decided to actually try to realize my initial plans for an episode, instead of giving up and just throwing stuff together. That goes so much against my grain, apparently, that it’s taking me weeks to prepare each shot. Fortunately, my plans for the rest of epsiode aren’t so grand, so I should be able to get through it more quickly.

Posted in Dollmore Manuier, Photoshop, Set construction

Faking a painted wall for a roombox: Using Photoshop to paint a wall

I realize I could have added a little more detail in my last post about how to create a painted wall for a roombox, but I’d gotten pretty far through the post before I realized I should write about it, so I saved it for later.

Anyway, here are the details.

First, start with any wall behind the doll. In this case, I have one white and one black piece of foamboard, but I could also have used the red painted wall that’s behind the foamboard. The reason I had to back out of using this method the first time I tried is that I didn’t realize I’d be using the foamboard in the image, so I had them set up in a way that would never work, like this:

So, this is never going to work. You have to do so much photoshop just to make the foamboard wall look OK that you’ll end up getting rid of all of the detail that you need, like the shadows and the corner of the wall.

Instead, set it up correctly and take a shot (forgive the terrible lighting. I’m using the room lights at night for this example, and they just cast a horrible light in these photos.)

Bring it into Photoshop and select all of the wall. I always use Select and Mask, because I like the added controls, but any selection method will work. When you’re done, cut and paste the selection into a new layer (or use New Layer with Layer Mask if you’re using Select and Mask). Then, duplicate the new layer with the selected wall. You’ll use that a bit later. For now, hide that and just work on the first copy. Before you start painting, it looks like this:

Choose a wall color, and use the fill bucket to fill. When I paint, I always select the piece I’m painting. That way, you can never go outside the lines, since Photoshop will keep your work constrained to the selected area. Here’s how it looks once I do the first fill.

Now, choose a different color and a different tool and go lightly over the first painting. I often use one of the spray-paint tools and a lighter shade to give a little interest.

You can stop here, if you want, or keep adding colors and detail. Let’s do a spot check now and see if we want to do more.

Make all of your layers visible (you should have three – the original layer, with everything but the wall on it; the painted wall, and a copy of the unpainted wall. You want them in the following order: top: unpainted wall, middle: painted wall, bottom: everything but the wall. Fiddle with the opacity in the top layer until you get the details you want from the original wall, mixed with the painted version. For me, it now looks like this:

Now, it’s really up to you. For me, the wall is too present – I’d play around with adjusting the brightness and doing a bit of a blur (but just on this layer – leave the rest as they are.) You can also experiment with one of the filter effects to make it more painterly, or you can use a blending brush to make it less splattered.

Here’s what I did – just a little darkening and some Gaussian blur, and then I did a light white spray paint over the top like this:

It doesn’t look all that different from the real wall I painted, and it would look even better if it had objects on it, like windows and posters, to sort of break up the color. It would also benefit from better lighting, so that the shadows from objects in the room made it look more realistic.

Anyway, if you ever want to change a doll’s room, that’s how you’d do it without ever lifting a paintbrush. It probably takes 15 minutes or less, start to finish. I use the professional version of Photoshop, but you should be able to do something similar with Photoshop elements or other lightweight tool.

Posted in Camellia, Daisy, Fashion dolls, Photography, Photoshop, Writing

Photo Stories then and now: Comparing Among the Flowers episodes over the years

At almost two years into learning to create photo stories, and reshooting the Among the Flowers storyline, I can start to see what I’ve learned over these years.

It started with Camellia’s episode, which launched the series. Although I left the first two shots largely unchanged, I fixed the very odd “exit stage right” shot at the end of the episode to instead pan out and show her dwarfed by the ocean.

Here’s how it looked, back in August, 2016

Camellia’s first episode, then

and here’s how it looked when I redid it at the start of this year

Camellia’s first episode, now


I also did some Photoshop filters (I think this one is oil painting) to give it a dreamier look.

Daisy’s first episodes have gone through much more drastic changes – the story, the setting, even the dog are all different.

Here’s the sum total of Daisy’s original first episode (when I found this, I had to go back to my files to be certain I hadn’t missed anything. Nope, two shots and zero story. No idea why I thought that constituted an episode. Anyway, here are those two shots:

Daisy sits in her window seat
Daisy and Annie get ready to go for a ride

I have to say, the pink wainscoting behind Daisy looks just fantastic. I spent hours creating it – I hope I can find a use for it some day. And the shots altogether are OK – a little thin in storyline, but perfectly acceptable.

Now, comes the embarassing part – Daisy on the bike ride in her next episode. I recall being very proud of myself at the time that I’d managed to get the bike even roughly photoshopped into the landscape but, dear lord, what a bad job I did.

Yep, totally believable 🙂

Anyway, fast forward to the present. Here’s Daisy’s new first episode (now covering the activities of her first two). I started her outdoors and put her in a setting where her bike doesn’t look so ridiculous:

What this shot misses in a sense of motion for the positioning of the bike in the previous photo, it completely makes up for in believeablility. Not sure why I couldn’t bother to get the dog in focus, though.

Once I get Daisy taking pictures of her dog, we can do a couple of shot-by-shot comparisons:

Photographing the dog:


Daisy takes a picture of Annie

And now

Original shot is actually pretty cute (I especially like her crossed legs) although very poorly photoshopped, but the second communicates much better. Plus, the new camera is kick ass.

Lying down with the dog


and now

No contest at all. Why was I blurring the entire background? It’s not a dream sequence. Plus, I just love the upsidedown perspective, and the relationship between Daisy and Prince (or Argo, as I think I’m calling him now).

But the biggest growth is in an area that never even entered the original episode – the push and pull between Daisy’s fundamentally happy and sound personality, and flashbacks to her as a child in an unsettling and dark time. Here are the pre/post flashback shots in the new episode:

In addition to reflecting more depth of her character, these two are clearly influenced by my much better ability to manage Photoshop. I was just learning the tool back in 2016 (in fact, I think I was using Photoshop elements and not the full-powered verison). I could never have managed the reflection in the toy story window two years ago (although, even when I created it recently, it took me a shockingly long time to figure out if it was Daisy or the window that should be partly transparent). In the Post flashback shot, I used Liquify to remove her smile and widen her eyes.

I have a few more episodes to get through for the comparison, but that’s enough for one post. For the next few weeks, I’ll be working on the new Betwixt episode where father and daughter try to understand the scope of their new powers.