Entry 8: A Post-COVID Retrospective on Doll PhotographyEntry 8: A Post-COVID Retrospective on Doll PhotographyDiary

TheTravelingSeeTheTravelingSee1 year ago
(Disclaimer: This is not a tutorial. I am not an expert on doll photography nor would I ever claim to be. Feel free to ask questions if you have any, but don't assume that I actually know everything that I'm talking about. I'm learning as well. Also, this is a very boring article. I will most likely ramble about trivial or inconsequential things, so bear with me.)

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow..."

Hello. It's been quite a while since the last entry but I felt it necessary to get some of my thoughts down about my photography progress after the world events of the last two years. To start, if you don't know, I am a fledgling photographer who has been exploring the world of figure/nendoroid/doll photography over the course of the last few years now. If you have the time, I recommend you read through my previous article entries to get an idea of who I am and where I'm coming from. If you don't care about that, then I hope you enjoy listening to some of my thoughts.

To begin, I always thought dolls to be rather unsettling. I never quite saw the appeal of them. The way people dress them up, fiddle with the hair and the accessories... was a little strange and unnerving to me. But as is the way with all things in my life, a spur of inspiration in the form of a few photographs that I'd stumbled across online, completely shifted my perception of what I thought were possible for dolls. I realized that dolls could be used as a source of beauty and wonder. A showcase to the different ends of the world and, in their own way, explore it.

Doll photography is an extremely niche hobby. Beyond toy or figure photographers, you might find only a handful of people who even know what doll photography even is. Many people will probably possess some negative prejudice, as I did, towards a fully grown man who goes out to take pictures of a doll in public. I am, however, fortunate to live in a time in which so many masters have been able to showcase their work.

By nono nogisaka

By Suzuhico

By Zodake

By fsdlingr

By Manju

These are but a few of the wide assortment of wonderful artists out there. I was in the midst of my nendoroid photographic "journey" when I came upon these photos. And, as Kixkillradio had done for my figure photography, these individuals inspired me to try my hand at doll photography.

I realized then that I knew precious little about the hobby as a whole. I also didn't know anything about what type of dolls these even were and how to obtain them. Upon further research I came to realize that many of the pictured dolls above were from a line of dolls called Dollfies by the company Volks Inc.

I also came to realize that, although it was not too difficult to get your hands on a Dollfie, it was very, very expensive. Expensive as hell as a matter of fact. And time consuming. The faces or "face-ups" that these dolls possess are, more often than not, custom and handmade crafts done by particular artisans from around the world. In order to acquire a completed doll, you would first have to buy the base face mold, send it in to one of these specialized face-up artists, wait the duration of time it took to get the custom head back, and then buy the body for the doll.

One of the many base head molds for the Dollfie line of dolls at Volks Inc.

Example of doll face-up post customization and modification

This was all before you even decided to buy any sort of clothing, wigs or accessories for the doll. A decent face-up will run you anywhere between $200-$500+ depending on the artist and the body of the doll will be around $300. Rather expensive and time consuming for something that I wasn't guaranteed to enjoy. Now, I know that there were pre-made Dollfie options that the Volks company offered, but most of them were rather simplistic in design, and didn't appeal to me. However, there was a wonderful alternative that was also present at the time. A newer company by a man named Danny Choo who had started his own line of "fashion dolls" in the same 1/3rd scale and size of the Dollfies from Volks. He called them, Smart Dolls.

Smart Dolls, in contrast to Dollfies, came fully assembled upon arrival. Each Smart Doll had their own, decently high quality face-up, a pair of eyes, a body and a wig upon purchase. I wouldn't have to go through the trouble of buying the separate body parts and sending them out to different people from around the world. I wouldn't have to worry about shipping fees and extra taxes and, most of all, Smart Dolls were actually cheaper than the average well-made Dollfie custom.

And so, after some deliberation, I decided to purchase my first Smart Doll. Mirai.

Taken 01/06/2019 in Northern California

"My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year..."

These first few photos were done during a trip up to Northern California when my family was going to visit my brother who lived in the area. In my first attempts at doll photography, I tried to capture the beautiful expanse of the backgrounds that I often saw in many of the other photo inspirations I found online. I now see that I was entirely inexperienced with this style of photography however. Up until this point, all of my photographic experience had been isolated to that of my tiny nendoroids. I was very accustomed and comfortable with using a 55mm lens in order to capture the majority of my images. However with the dolls, I began utilizing my newly bought 16-35mm lens. A tool I was most unfamiliar with. The shift from a portrait lens being used to take photos of small toys, to an ultra-wide landscape lens being used to photograph a 2ft model, was jarring. It would take many years before I finally became comfortable at attempting more experimental photography with my new assets in hand.

My posing at that time was also extremely stiff and unnatural. The lack of movement especially. Over the next few months, I would experiment with angles and posing. I focused particularly on attaining a more natural look. Although, this did not always come to fruition. Another matter of contention was the landscape itself. Was I limited by the nature of the environment around the doll? Could my photography only be so beautiful due to the limits of what type of scenery I had? I would eventually come upon the answers to these questions with further experimentation and practice.

Taken 01/13/2019 in Big Bear, California

Once again, I couldn't help but notice how stiffly the doll was posed. Even for a photo as simple as the doll literally laying in the snow, it seemed unnatural. I was still struggling to master the nuances of my new equipment, and I still had very little understanding of body positioning. It was only with my next few attempts that I felt as though I was making some noticeable improvements.

Taken 01/19/2019 in Seal Beach, California

Taken 01/22/2019 in Fullerton, California

It was some time around this point that I came to understand that I wouldn't be able to edit my doll photos in the same way that I would be able to edit my nendoroid photos. Nendoroid photography was inherently limited by the size of the nendos themselves. Taking an expansive landscape photo with a tiny figure in the bottom of the screen was hardly nendoroid photography at all. But with these dolls it was different. The lighting had to be different. The editing had to be different. The angles that I used and the way I positioned myself around the subject were different. I rationalized that I was essentially moving from product photography, to landscape photography. Two things that couldn't be further apart from each other.

These realizations became rather daunting to me at the time. My goal of reaching the heights of doll photography seemed so infinitely far away. But one can only improve with more and more practice.

Taken 06/26/2019 in Inyo National Park

This was the last outdoor doll photo I was able to capture prior to the global shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was able to make some small strides in regards to the posing of the doll, but now I acknowledge that the editing more than likely could have been improved to better accentuate the doll from the background (I had yet to discover the importance of the 'Clarity' slider on Lightroom and Photoshop).

Once the world finally did shutdown, I focused primarily on my indoor, nendoroid photography for a while. I was also undergoing somewhat of an existential crisis as to the nature of my photographic hobby (I talk a little bit about this in my last article entry). Was I actually improving? Why was I taking photos? Did I still enjoy it? Did I want to continue it as a hobby or was I doing it out of necessity?

I went on a long hiatus for a while at this point. I contemplated, as many did during this time, what I deemed to be important to me. I came to realize that the time we have to do the things that we want to do is so much more precious than I had ever given it credit for in the past. Was I improving? Yes. Slowly. But nothing worth having ever comes quickly. Why was I taking photos? Did I still enjoy it? Yes. I love it. Did I want to continue the hobby? Absolutely.

Ironically, I feel as though the most I've improved as a photographer was when I had stopped taking photos during the pandemic. I think it was due to the reinvigoration and desire to improve my craft that allowed me to place more effort and passion into the hobby once more. And, for the first time in many, many months, I breathed life into my work once again. I was beginning to get somewhere.

Taken 07/16/2020 in Yosemite National Park

"He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake..."

Being in Yosemite National Park during the first few days of its reopening was nothing short of a magical experience for me. One that I was lucky enough to share with two close friends, my dolls and a few nendoroids. I felt that, for the first time, my doll photos finally began to scratch the surface of the level of doll photography that I was hoping to reach. I realized during this trip that the only person that I ever wanted to prove my abilities to, was myself. And I was well on my way.

As cliché as it is, doll photography and the pandemic taught me the importance in finding the value and passion in the things that I do. If every moment can be so wonderful, why not capture it? I realized during the pandemic that, yes, it is helpful to have wonderful, expansive landscapes and backgrounds like those of the photos I found online. But those photos belong to those artists. I had to make due with what I had myself and capture the beauty I saw around me. And so I did. As best I could.

Taken 08/16/2020 in San Jose, California

Taken 02/08/2021 in Fullerton, California

Taken 05/30/2021 in Universal Studios Hollywood

Taken 06/10/2021 in Fullerton, California

Taken 10/06/2021 in Estes Park, Colorado

Taken 12/15/2021 in Fullerton, California

At some point during this time, I picked up two new dolls of whom I've affectionately named Chirashi and Jiji. Jiji is the second to last girl pictured above. They are MDDs or 'Mini Dollfie Dreams' which are a subcategory of the Dollfie line by Volks Inc. Over the last year I have had the pleasure of exploring my environment and photographing my dolls in a wide assortment of locations and areas. I have long since refined my editing style and my posing has shown remarkable improvement. As I have matured over the last four years, I have realized that my improvements and growth in photography has very much mirrored my own personal growth in real life. My shifting world view has become intrinsically intertwined with that of my hobby. And if every photo is a reflection and capture of a certain period of time, it stands to reason that every photo I take is somewhat representative of who I am at that current point in time. One particular example that I would like to detail below were both photos taken at the same location, but with nearly three years of skill and experience interspersed in-between.

Taken 01/13/2019 in Big Bear, California


Taken 12/17/2021 in Big Bear, California

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

-Robert Frost

I'm often told by my friends, girlfriend and loved ones that I am rather introspective and preachy. I'm sure that you've noticed that by now if you've actually read this far. But I'm also somewhat of a Robert Frost fan myself. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is a very simple poem that tells the story about a traveler who takes the time to admire the beauty of the woods before them. A moment of respite from the harsh winter cold. But instead of being complacent and sitting upon their laurels, the traveler understands that there is much more to see, and much more work to be done before they will be able to sit down and rest.

I suppose I can sympathize with the traveler in a way. Not too long ago, a friend of mine told me that I am much too hard on myself when it came to improving my photography. Why not just be satisfied with how far I've come already? Why not take a moment to appreciate rather than criticize my own work? I could look upon my achievements as a photographer. I am now a proud member of the Figubo Exhibition. I have had my work displayed in galleries and photobooks in the U.S., Czech Republic, Spain and Taiwan. And I have achieved recognition from the very photographers who have inspired me from the very beginning. And I have even been hired on to be the event photographer at multiple large scale events and weddings. I am literally getting paid to do what I love to do. So why not just enjoy the woods?

It is for the very reason that I love it so much, that I cannot become complacent with my level of skill. Like the traveler, I have far to go before I can be satisfied with where I am. I do not claim to be a professional. I am far from it. If anything, I still see myself as a fledging photographer in the wide, snowy expanse of the photographic world. There are so many wonderful artists out there. It would be my dream to deem myself worthy to be among them one day.

I am a rather strange individual, with niche interests. A grown man who spends too much time and money on dolls and toys. But I am not ashamed of my passions. Robert Frost did indeed say it best. I have miles to go before I sleep. Yes. Miles to go before I sleep...

(Thank you for reading if you've gotten this far. Please comment your thoughts below and share your own photographic journey if you'd like. Or, if you'd simply like to chat about your experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, I'd be more than happy to listen. Check out my other entries if you're interested, and please do follow me for more photography)

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2,876 hits • 24 likes15 comments


Demigod_Dan1 year ago#104883576This is quite possibly the highest quality article I've read / seen so far in my MFC history (4 years). Kudos! The pictures are amazing :D

That's high praise considering the content that comes from this site. I try my best to produce quality content. I appreciate the compliments. Thank you for reading!
1 year ago
lesser-robot-cat1 year ago#104879336I doubt anyone would tease you for your hobby on this website, since we all have the same hobby. ;3

I appreciate the thoughts. We're definitely all in the same boat here. Thank you for reading!
1 year ago
Solarstormflare1 year ago#104879192Awesome pics! I wanted the lelouch smart doll but it sold out way too fast

The male Smart Dolls sell out too quickly in general. Thank you for reading!
1 year ago
ConnieBunny1 year ago#104879146These are such lovely doll photography! You did such a great job the photos look so lively! I’ve been meaning to get back into the bjd hobby for some time but I just never get around to it. Hopefully once my figure collecting slows I can start focusing on dolls more.

It really is a juggle between figures, nendos and dolls these days. So much to buy and photograph, so little time. Thank you for reading!
1 year ago
Wonderful article! I went through something very similar during shutdown. I had been so focused on school and my future career goals that I lost sight of my hobbies and outside interests. When everything shut down I found time to really explore what makes me happy and for me, that is creating video content of my collection. Thank you for sharing your journey, your photography started off at a high level already but you made massive improvements over the course of the last two years, well done! I hope you continue to create more content, I know many are eager to see more from you!
1 year ago
setokaibaswife ♡ Seto Kaiba's Wife ♡
Wow, your early photographs were wonderful already but you made such a huge improvement! Not only with the posing of the dolls but also with the creativity. It's really inspiring to see.
1 year ago
Stunning photographs.
1 year ago
jumpluff Pegasus Knight
All I can say is - wow. I wish I had more time to comment thoughtfully on this wonderful article, but I used that time to read this entry and look at your beautiful photos and those of others, and I'm glad I did. I've always loved doll photos because of the different proportions/clothing possibilities/customisability/articulation, they blend in better with more and better scales like your Yosemite pictures.

Congratulations on your accomplishments and your advancement in photography skills. I think an amazing thing about life is that there are some depths and masteries you can only ever hope to comprehend by reaching depth and mastery in the first place. An advanced artist has mysteries to discover and unravel that they didn't know existed. There's no reason you can't reach your goals. Just celebrate your progress and know that each step is great in itself and necessary to bring you to the point you can even perceive the summit. Complacency and pride aren't the same thing. And I do sense that pride and self-awareness of progress in your comparison pictures and I'm happy for you!

I do like Robert Frost myself. I can definitely see that influence in your choice of subject matter and the mood of a lot of your photos. Lots of softly emotive vignettes of pastoral life at enchanted hours.

Thank you for sharing so much great content!
1 year ago
Rajke Ca Fanatic
Your photo’s are really beautiful. I like your style where (mostly) Mirai is shown at gorgeous locations. With details of the location also visible. I love to take photos of my BJD’s too. I always did that with a phone and recently switched to a SLR camera. Basically I am a starter at this.
For me the most important thing in doll photography is to bring out the character and not showing a doll. When looking at your photo’s I definitely see the character. :D
Thank you for posting your story and beautiful photo’s.
1 year ago
It would seem that you are about 1,205 times better at photography than me, so nice pictures! They are beautiful.
1 year ago

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