A Frame Full of Detail - A Portrait of Broken Dolls

Where's Sammy?

Before you read further, see if you can spot which doll yours truly, the artist, chose to hide her facial features in.

(Spoiler alert: the answer is shown further down the page)

The Devil is in the Details

Never has an idiom rung so true.  When I read that this week's 52frames Challenge was the subject of "details" never did I imagine how long it would take me to create this shot. Years ago I acquired a collection of sad broken dolls and doll body parts. I had the idea to pile them all into one frame and create a "Where's Wally/Waldo?" style shot where I could hide myself as one of the dolls. (I committed myself to making all of my 52 Frames shots as self portraits.) How hard can it be to create a pile of dolls and snap a photograph, I thought? As I learned, the devil really is in the details: Something might seem simple at a first glance but will take more time and effort to complete than expected. This shot took me a couple of attempts and literally hours!

Where's Sammy?

Attempt #1

For my first attempt I made some mistakes:

1) I set it up on a black background meaning there were dark shadows between the dolls.This resulted in some of the potential details being lost. I preferred the idea of seeing other dolls underneath the top layer of dolls. 

2) The color palette wasn't feeling very aligned with the "Where's Wally/Waldo?" that had inspired me. A couple of the dolls were unclothed even though I had outfits for them. I liked the idea of changing clothing color to align more with the "Where's Wally/Waldo?" theme.

3) I have a bunch of half-doll heads, a few of which I'd thrown into the top layer of my first attempt. To me they appeared a bit disjointed,  felt that they would serve image better as elements below the main dolls instead of on top.

4) I didn't like that so many of the dolls had their eyes closed. (Dolls are actually quite smart, they close their eyes automagically when you lay them on their backs. Dolls want to sleep too, duh!)

Timelapse of Set Up for Attempt #2 (75 x faster than real life) (Yes it took a long time.)

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Eye Openers

For the second attempt, using a pointy object to gently force the mechanics, I remembered to create "open eye" versions for several of the larger dolls - which I later painted in  using photoshop. Some of the dolls were so broken that their eyes were stuck shut or their eyeballs were missing, but just by paying attention to this small detail for a few key dolls the overall result felt more alive and engaging. 

It's paying attention to small details like this in photography that can help elevate the end result.

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Color Details

If you are familiar with "Where's Wally/Waldo?" you'll know that the illustration style is cartoonish with vivid use of color, particularly reds, yellows and blues. In photoshop I selected various items of clothing and other components and re-colored them to this more graphical palette. Like redecorating a dated room, by brightening the overall image and revitalizing the clothing in more cheery hues,  this tired collection of dolls was given more pep and vitality. It also gave them the chance to be seen in a new way, a fresh look, something that hasn't been seen before.


The hiding spot (it's subtle)...

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Self Portrait

I mentioned earlier in this post that there was an element of the self portrait to be found in the image. It's fairly subtle – did you spot me? I made sure to capture the head shot with the same lighting as the doll collection. I pulled as doll-like a face as possible, emphasizing a silly grin to make my cheeks bulge as much as possible. The proportions of a doll's face are so far removed from a human one, if you want to line up your own eyes, nose and mouth with those of a doll, you'll need to treat each as a separate element that can be placed independently. The end result doesn't really look like me, nor does it look a doll but I hope you had a bit of fun looking for it and that you managed to find me!

Attention to Detail is Everything

When it comes to creating imagery, I am a strong believer in paying attention to the smallest of details. Caring about these little things can also be somewhat of a burden because it has hints of perfectionism: There is always something more you could do, another thing you could change, and it will always be so. 

But as long as you are able to draw a line at some point and give it your best, being intentional and paying mind to all the little elements that go into making a compelling image will always serve you so better than being lazy or sloppy or not caring. 

This isn't the first time I've spent hours creating an image only to be disappointed by my first attempt and it won't be the last. I'm no stranger to taking a deep breath and starting over again from scratch. But I nearly always feel better about subsequent versions, so I rarely  regret giving it another shot!     

How about you – how far will you go in trying to achieve your vision?

Other Blog Posts which took me more than one attempt to get the final shot...

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