Doll Duels Highlight: A Journey into Doll Photography with Kathleen in NKY

We are beginning a new feature on the Tonner blog that sets to celebrate the great doll photography shared by Tonner collectors and fans on our Doll Duels site. Selected Doll Duels members with photos in the top 100 on the Leaderboard have been asked to write about their photo, the doll, how they achieved it. The first of these is a divine Antoinette uploaded by Kathleen in NKY in August of this year. It turns out that Kathleen wrote a spectacular post for us, ideal for the first post in this series, not only about the doll and photo but her entire path to doll photography, more than we could have even hoped. This is exactly what our new feature wants to share: let’s celebrate doll photography and help others in their art.

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Kathleen’s Antoinette has won 68% of her duels.You find and comment on the doll profile here: Antoinette.


Guest Post

I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not surrounded by dolls. As a child, I played with dolls of all sorts, from paper dolls, to Barbie dolls, to the precious Effanbee and Madame Alexander dolls my grandmothers would give me on special occasions. Even then, I would occasionally photograph my dolls as they performed Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, re-enacted Disney fairy tales, or re-imagined Greek myths for a modern age. So when I returned to doll collecting as an adult, I should not have been surprised that photography became a part of how I interacted with and enjoyed my dolls.

Kitty Colliers at Christmas
Basic Sass Raven (Tonner, 2005) and Girl Next Door Redhead (Tonner, 2006) wear Kitty Collier ensembles “Twilight Magic” (Tonner, 2006) and Enchanté (Tonner, 2001).

I am a fan of historic and vintage clothing designs, and my adult doll collection was, for ten years, centered around the world of Gene Marshall, with friends for Gene selected from other doll lines (e.g., Kitty Collier, Tyler Wentworth, Brenda Starr) with ensembles I could reasonably see as having been influenced by these classic designs. The fashions from that glamorous Hollywood era entranced me, and I sought to amass a collection of dolls with period-specific hairstyles and fashions that would allow me to set up miniature movie scenes. My imagination is usually far more productive than my design and crafting abilities, however, and I was often frustrated by my inability to recreate in doll-scale the visions of Hollywood glamour that were in my head.

Tiny Kitty
Basic brunette Tiny Kitty (Tonner , 2004) wears DAE Originals Vivette fashion “Roses Red, Roses White.”

Nevertheless, I was inspired by the increasing number of doll portraits I would see on the online message boards devoted to fashion dolls. I began to photograph my dolls with an old film camera in front of some pretty awful wallpaper in the house we lived in at the time; the results of those experiences were frustrating as I could not immediately see if the shoot had been a success. I eventually succumbed to the lure of the digital camera, especially as sharing one’s doll photos became a regular part of interactions on doll boards like Prego. Still, I struggled with getting the vision in my head to agree with what would appear on my camera’s screen. There were always annoying shadows from the flash that gave my dolls ridiculous black halos. Colors were washed out one day and too overbearing the next. The sheer panels in front of my windows didn’t look like real backgrounds for my dolls. I graduated to a better digital camera, and I brought some props for my dolls. I purchased a few cabinets that I could dress up like a doll house. But still something wasn’t right.

Mrs. Coulter
“Magisterium” Mrs. Coulter (Tonner, 2007) wearing a OOAK sweater and capri set.

My friend Jackie (JinCincy) takes some exquisite portraits of her dolls, and I asked her what she did to make her photographs turn out so well. I knew she didn’t have a traditional photographer’s light box with the expensive lights, screens, and filters. I knew I didn’t want to purchase one either since space was already an issue with my dolls, and I would rather spend my money on the dolls themselves. I also knew that the more complicated the set-up, the less likely I would be to actually find the time in my busy schedule to take the photographs. So it had to be simple. Jackie shared her secrets with me: she used a white piece of poster board as the background for many of her shots, and she relied on the natural light that came through her French doors of her living room. A-ha, I thought! I can do this. I also have a pair of French doors with lots of great morning and afternoon light. Perhaps this was the answer to my problem!

Photography Assistant
Sometimes I have an assistant who inspects my photographic work. He’s often not too pleased. LOL. Here the assistant checks out “Andromeda” from The Clash of the Titans collection (Tonner, 2010).

So I found an old poster that had been mounted on foam board (ca. 30 x 23 inches), got some heavy bookends from my bookshelf to rest the foam board against, opened my dining room curtains as wide as they could go, rolled the tablecloth back on my dining room table to expose the “wood grain” pads beneath as a nice floor, set up the bookends and leaned the foam board up against them, posed my dolls in front of the back side of the poster (so it was white foam board showing), and I clicked away. I immediately noticed an improvement. Gone were the dark halos that had made my dolls’ heads look misshapen or extra-large. Gone were the odd shadows created by the filtered light coming in from behind the dolls through my window sheers. Instead, all of the light was coming over my shoulder from the windows, into the dining room, illuminating the whole space with a natural glow. My dolls were coming to life!

Tres Jolie Syndey
“Tres Jolie” Sydney (Tonner, 2005) was one of my first attempts at the new set-up. Note the poster board and the dining room table “floor.”

Jackie also uses her computer to enhance and great atmospheres for her doll portraits, so I decided to make better use of the photography program on my Mac. I had not really been a huge fan of iPhoto (and there are still better programs), but for the enjoyment of my dolls, I have found that I am happy with it (or occasionally Adobe Lightroom, which is similar but with a bit more functionality). It allows me to eliminate shadows, adjust the contrast, add highlights, play with sepia tones (if I really want an historical image), make some true Hollywood black and white glamour shots, etc. I still have to take fifteen or more pictures of each doll, sometimes moving myself to get different angles and try interesting views, sometimes moving the doll into different poses. I still struggle with posing my gals, especially some of the older dolls who are not as articulated.

Special Effects
“Lingering Doubt” Ellowyne (Wilde, 2007) using the new photo set-up and some photographic effects.

The articulation is one of the reasons I really enjoy my Antoinette dolls. And I was so excited to see that one of the photographs of my Antoinette has been on the Doll Duels leaderboard for a number of months. I find that I can strike better poses with the articulated ladies, and Antoinette has articulation in spades! Truth be told, sometimes Antoinette just poses nude on top of the entertainment center because the body lines are just so wonderful!

Antoinette in Red
“Sensual” Antoinette (Tonner, 2009) wears “Jungle Red” (Tonner, Hollywood Legends, 2008).

For the photograph featured on Doll Duels, I used my “normal” photography set up. I chose a wonderfully sunny day, opened up the curtains, rolled the tablecloth out of the way, and set up my foam board and bookends. I also added one of the Raihing “Art of Fun” backdrops which I had found out about from the doll boards. Jurrie de Vries, a regular poster on Prego and The Studio Commissary, takes exquisite photographs of his dolls in front of these backdrops, and I was inspired to try them. The positive of the backdrop is that I do not have to spend lots of time setting up a scene with miniature items, and yet it provides a more realistic setting for my dolls than the white foam board by itself. I purchased a number of the backdrops, some with indoor scenes and some with outdoor scenes. As always, I tried to find ones that had a historic or vintage vibe to them so that my dolls, outfitted as they are in period designs, wouldn’t look out of place. Since the poster I am using is old and I don’t worry about it, I just use invisible tape to affix the backdrop to the top edge of the foam board, and viola! I have transformed my dining room table top into a world for my dolls that is perfect for photography.

Sydney and Breathless
“Classic Elegance” Sydney Chase (Tonner, 2007) and “Waiting with Baited Breath” Breathless Mahoney (Tonner, 2008) in Tonner fashion “Venus Rising” (2010).

I decided to use my “Glowing Music Basic” Antoinette (Tonner, 2010) with the cameo skin tone for this particular shoot. This Antoinette has multiple wigs, and I selected the red wig because I liked the fact that it was an up-do and had sort of a Gibson Girl vibe to it which is in keeping with my interest in the historical. I also thought that the red hair would pick out some of the stained glass pieces in my backdrop which was golden yellow overall.

Antoinette is wearing “Rave Reviews” (Tonner, 2009), one of the ensembles in the Hollywood Glamour collection. This is one of my favorite lines within Tonner’s vast offerings because of the rich colors and vintage styles offered for my ladies to “ooh” and “aah” over! The promotional pictures don’t show this, but beneath the wonderfully embroidered overcoat with faux fur collar, there is a slinky satin dress in creamy ivory. I took several photographs of Antoinette with the coat and several without, but I liked how the red of Antoinette’s hair caught the gold threads in the coat so I preferred those photographs in the end. For the photo I ended up submitting to Doll Duels, I most liked the way the faux fur surrounded Antoinette, almost overwhelming her with its warmth as it created a circle of protection around this delicate, red-haired blossom.

My Antoinette, as featured on Doll Duels: “Glowing Muse Cameo” Antoinette (Tonner, 2010) wearing Hollywood Glamour fashion “Rave Reviews” (Tonner, 2009).

When I look at this photograph today, I imagine a Hollywood starlet who has just swept confidently into the grand hall of a majestic house, whose rooms are still a little too chill for her to remove the luxurious coat she put on when she first stepped out into the snowy evening. Her lips are pursed together, full and rich and dark. She will warm up soon enough, I think. Because her host has just appeared….

Guest post by Kathleen in NKY. Feel free to visit me on Flickr where I have photographs that document my journey into doll photography. I do not claim to be a professional but merely a doll fan who hopes to capture the lives of her dolls on film. Most of the photographs that I am ultimately happy with tend to be portraits, but I think that this is in keeping with the Hollywood head shots circulated by movie studios and agents. I still struggle with the full-length shots, but that’s a goal for 2013, I guess!


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4 responses to “Doll Duels Highlight: A Journey into Doll Photography with Kathleen in NKY

  1. I love reading this blog, especially about taking photograph of the dolls. Thank you for sharing and what beautiful dolls (& a four legged assistant) you have.

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