Setting up the shot

portrait of a red headed doll with her eyes closed.

Hi friends and welcome to the first post in my digital photo editing series. In today’s post, I list the equipment, set up the shot and capture images.

The first image is the art journal page reference page that inspired this project. My plan for this new canvas is to combine the best image of my subject with a composite forest scene from my 2022 day hikes shots taken at Golden Gardens and Discovery Park.

mixed media portrait of a red haired girl with her eyes closed and hair blowing in the breeze.
“Lost in the Word” art journal page by L. Anne Thompson

In the studio

My studio is on the top floor of our townhouse, with a large, single window facing south. The room is about 8 feet wide and 10 feet long with a spiral staircase down to the main level. At the top of the staircase is a ceiling fan with a light covered by a white frosted glass dome. Today is a very cold, rainy day with a flat, grey sky. Very diffuse light reached my camera with limited light for my subject. To maximize light, the overhead fan light was on, the window shade was open all the way.

Set up and equipment

  • Canon Rebel T1i
  • Sunpak 5858D tripod
  • Canon 50 mm lens
  • Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens
  • Mactrem LED ring light
  • small electric fan
  • Canon remote trigger
  • 6′ tall 3 panel screen covered with a white sheet to bounce light toward the subject
  • 3′ high 4 panel screen with a warm cherry blossom design served as the backdrop

The short screen stood at the far side of the room, opposite the window. The purpose of the screen was to mask the stairwell railing and provide a woodsy background for the final image, should I choose to keep it.

The subject: Lucy, 58 cm tall ball jointed doll on a metal stand (Elfdoll Rem head, with Volks SD body). Lucy stands 3 feet in front of the screen, closer to the window. The tripod stands about 5′ away from Lucy, leaving me 2 feet to sit on the floor with my back to the window.

Photo shoot

I had 1 session yesterday as a warm up and 2 sessions today. The first two sessions used natural light using the 50 mm and Velvet 56 lenses. The small button style pin used to hold Lucy’s shawl closed has a holographic design and created a distracting hot spot.

Yesterday was a partly cloudy day. Shooting in AV mode with the Velvet 56, with Lucy sat on a box in front of my monitor with a white sheet place over the monitor for a backdrop. The first image was the best of yesterday’s shots. This image is straight out of the camera. It’s a dreamy image, framed similar to the art journal page. The button on her shawl has a hotspot that draws your eye right to it, which is not where I want the viewers to look.

Test shot of a doll with her eyes closed, looking down, holding a small bouquet of flowers, set against a white background.

For the third session, I used the Canon 50 mm lens, added the ring light and shot in manual mode. It’s 2 pm and the available natural light is very quickly fading. I worked fast, reading the histogram and playing with settings.

Lightroom edit

Reviewing the images in Lightroom, I found the first session images were unusable. The second session had more promising results. Removing the pin helped. To replicate the wind-swept hair of the art journal page, the fan is to Lucy’s left.

To be honest, any of these could be my favorite. They were the best 3 shots of all 3 sessions. The full body images will work best with the forest images I have in mind for the background.

3rd favorite shot

Setting up the shoot test image 1: red headed doll holding a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a crocheted purse in the other.

2nd favorite shot

Setting up the shoot test image 2: Photo shoot of red headed doll holding a small bouquet of flowers.

Favorite shot

Setting up the shoot test image 3: Photo shoot image of red headed doll with closed eyes.

Final thoughts on the shoot

I set up the shot as envisioned and captured over 50 images, with at least 3 workable images. Due to the time of year and weekend plans for the next few weeks, I’m going to work with the images I have. The final image is clear in my imagination but I’m not sure how it will turn out. It could be great or the next stage that gives me ideas to improve the work. I also learned I need to focus on manual shooting in order to make the most of the Lensbaby Velvet 56. My next photography goal: improve working with manual settings.

In the next post

I’ll decide which of the images to use and work through my standard process in Photoshop.

Link to the series

To follow along at home and set up your own shoot, click the link for all the posts in the Creative Photography Basics series.

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Chris Parker’s YouTube course for beginners

This weekend, I found Chris Parker’s YouTube course Learn Photography for Beginners, where he clearly explains the technical aspects of shooting DSLR. As a self-taught photographer, I thought I could get by with my “experimental” shooting but my results have been sporadic. Watching the first half of this 4 hour course, I finally understand the Exposure Triangle. Armed with a full understanding, I can experiment with purpose.