Interview with Sydney Paulsen from @5HensandaCockatiel at American Girl {plus our Z Yang photo shoot}

Z Yang riding bikeSponsored postLast month, American Girl released their newest contemporary doll, a Korean American doll named Z Yang. "Z" {short for Suzie} hails from Seattle, which of course makes us very, very happy. To celebrate her release, we took Z around our city and took pictures of her in some of our favorite places, including the Fremont Sunday Market {our favorite farmer's and craft market}, a Seattle food truck event, the Woodland Park Zoo and even on a Seattle bike ride. Z Yang at Farmer's Market

And, as part of our celebration, we took Z to the Seattle American Girl store last Saturday where we had the pleasure of meeting Sydney from @5HensandaCockatiel along with her lovely family. Sydney is the amazing photographer behind Z's amazing Seattle photo shoot that you've been seeing on the American Girl social channels, and I was thrilled to find out she was local and we would get a chance to meet her in person. Sydney at American Girl StoreSince Z is a stop-motion vlogger, Sydney {seen above with my daughter} was at the store showing how to do a video storyboard and how she sets up shots to film her dolls. Her room set up at the event was so inspiring to my daughter, who dreams big dreams about being able to do exactly this with her dolls. Sydney was so encouraging with her and talked with her about the ins and outs of photographing dolls and bringing their personalities out. Z Yang and Kids at American GirlWhile Sydney gave us inspiration for our Z shoot, Sydney's mom was so sweet to share some tips with me about how she creates all those awesome little accessories you see in Sydney's room setups and on @5HensandaCockatiel IG account. I have dreams of being as crafty as her one day, hopefully working with miniatures as well. Z Yang in Sydney's RoomIn addition to meeting Sydney at the Seattle store, we were also super excited that she agreed to do a little Q&A for us to share with you. I came up with some of the interview questions and my daughter added in some questions of her own. If you love taking pictures of your dolls, you will definitely want to keep reading!

Interview with Sydney Paulsen from @5hensandacockatiel

R&R: What is your favorite prop to use?

Sydney: I have this little dog from American Girl that is so realistically a Basset Hound pup (Grace). She’s absolutely darling and comes out on almost every single shoot. If I’m stuck without an idea, Grace is the first thing I add to my camera bag. Aside from her, I often use American Girl Molly’s retired bike. It’s navy blue, has a basket, and is such a classy addition to whatever story I’m trying to tell.Z Yang shopping at Farmer's MarketR&R: Do you use natural light in your photos, or do you utilize artificial light sources?

Sydney: Up until about six months ago, I only used natural light. But recently I’ve discovered how fabulous flashes are, and I use them (in combination with natural light) for almost every shoot.

R&R: What program(s) do you use for editing your photo shoots?

Sydney: I usually do a rough pass in Lightroom, and then go over all my pictures in Photoshop after that. American Girl Z on headR&R: How long do you typically spend editing your images?

Sydney: That really depends on what vision I had before I started shooting, and how well I actually followed that vision while taking pictures. I’ll spend from 20 minutes up to an hour and a half on each photo. American Girl Z with StarbucksR&R: What is your main frustration when photographing dolls and miniatures?

Sydney: My main frustration is when I can’t make them look like they’re telling me a story. The reason why I take photos of dolls is because, when I was twelve, I discovered a doll blog that contained the most realistic photos of dolls I had ever seen. The photographer created such beautiful setups, and her dolls always looked as if they were completely alive. If I can’t capture even a little of that in any given shoot, I become incredibly discouraged. It always keeps me thinking outside of the box as sometimes it’s pretty difficult to make a plastic doll convey some sort of emotion. American Girl Z with umbrella 2
R&R: Are your shoots fully planned in advance, or do you shoot on the fly?

Sydney: A mix of both. I often don’t plan out every single shot before I go out and shoot (except for when American Girl flew out to my house for the Z photos. In that case I planned out every shot and tested it before they arrived to make sure everything would work). For the most part, I come up with a flexible shot list for myself, and then change if I need to. (Some of my favorite photos have been shot on the fly, though—it just usually stresses me out if I don’t have some sort of plan!).

R&R: Do you have a favorite spot to shoot?

Sydney: My neighbor has the loveliest little cement wall covered in ivy that is perfect size for doll photo shoots. I absolutely love shooting there whenever I get the chance. My mom also built a miniature tree swing for my dolls in our front yard, and it’s become one of my favorite places to take photos. The swing is just so whimsical! Z Yang on Bike 2R&R: What help should I offer my daughter when taking pictures of her dolls? She has watched me photograph miniatures and dolls for years as part of my blog, but she is very serious about doing her own photo shoots like yours and I want to support her however I can. Do you have any advice?

Sydney: My mom has been there for me to help with all of my photo shoots from the beginning. Her support has kept me passionate about photography, and without her, I think I would have given up years ago. I think the best thing I can suggest is to simply be there for her and encourage her and her creativity as much as you can. If she has an idea, hand her the camera and stand close by to offer little bits of advice if she seems receptive. Hold things for her during shoots, make props with her, and help her figure out how to make her pictures better if she gets discouraged. American Girl Z with cameraAnd then my daughter, age 8 {although she would like me to tell you that she is almost 9}, took over and asked some questions of her own for Sydney.

R&R jr: When did you start taking photos?

Sydney: I was first inspired to take photos when I was about twelve, but it didn’t really become my passion until I turned fourteen.

R&R jr: Do you have a favorite doll to take pictures of?

Sydney: Yes! I have two: the first is Maggie, who is a #21 on the American Girl website. The second is Jaikey, who is a custom doll. She has an Ivy face with Saige’s red hair. I post pictures of them most often on my Instagram! Z Yang in FremontR&R jr: What was your first doll?

Sydney: Kirsten was my first doll back when I was six in 2004. My grandma gave her to me for Christmas after I showed her the “pretty pioneer” in the American Girl catalog months before.

R&R jr: What would you tell someone who is just starting out and wants to take pictures like you?

Sydney: Have a vision of what story you want to tell before you start taking pictures. If you want your dolls to go on a picnic, plan out what other photos you want to take. Does their dog get into the picnic basket and eat their sandwiches? Do they climb trees and see a bird’s nest? Once you have an idea of what you want to shoot, it’s so much easier to make your dolls come alive in your scenes. Always keep your mind open to new ideas, and if you get discouraged, ask for help. I often ask my mom or my brother if they can help me make my photos better. American Girl Z SelfieR&R jr: Do you have any funny stories of any of your photo shoots?

Sydney: I cannot tell you how many times my chickens have “ruined” my photo shoots! I have two pet hens and one rooster, and whenever I’m shooting out in the yard, they ALWAYS run over are curious about everything I’ve set up—my dolls, props, camera equipment—everything. And even when I’ve tried to move them out of my shot, they always come back. They’re complete primadonnas! They love being in front of the camera. So in a few of my photos on Instagram, you’ll see a chicken as the main star alongside my doll. Z Yang in Fremont Food Truck EventSeriously, how sweet is Sydney? I cannot even tell you how much this whole experience meant to my daughter. She has been so inspired to take everything she learned from Sydney and start making progress towards her dreams. She has spent her week taking pictures of Z with me, helping me set everything up and even taking over my camera to have complete creative control. Z Yang at zooIt's so cool seeing my daughter have this kind of focus at age 8 {okay, okay… almost 9}, and she's honestly so much better than I was when I first started taking pictures all those years ago. We had such a great time taking Z around town together and I see many more doll shoots in my immediate future, as well as doll crafts. Speaking of which, you should check out our Z Yang craft and learn how to make a Seattle-inspired Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino for dolls. It's quick, easy, and SUGAR FREE.American Girl Z with umbrella Be sure and follow Sydney on Instagram at @5HensAndaCockatiel for some truly amazing pictures, great ideas and inspiration for your dolls, and so more. Don't you want to spend all day going through her Instagram and enjoying all these beautiful images she has captured?5hensandacockatiel

11 thoughts on “Interview with Sydney Paulsen from @5HensandaCockatiel at American Girl {plus our Z Yang photo shoot}”

  1. She (and you) did an amazing job, I love your photo shoot! I’ve never heard of Sydney before, but I’m checking her out now

  2. I love the photos Sydney’s work, I never imagined that someone could have that much creativity with a doll.


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