I love well done levitation photography! The funny thing about levitation photography is that it is relatively easy to create. In this post, I will describe two common methods to achieve levitation and walk you through an example of exactly how I go about doing it. For those of you out there that suffer from ‘stop wasting my time and just get to it’ syndrome, please feel free to scroll down to the bottom and watch the instructional video on how I create levitation images. For those of you wanting a little more detailed information, read on!
Obviously levitation is impossible. There is no getting around the laws of gravity. So when someone sees a well done levitation image, it makes them stop and wonder how it was done. With a little research, it’s fairly easy to learn how to make someone, or something, look like it is levitating. The more complicated part is finding a composition that makes the entire image more interesting that just a person in mid-air. A good levitation image should attempt to tell a story.
Equipment for basic levitation photography consists of just a camera, that’s it. Sometimes a tripod can be useful but not necessary. Equipment for more advanced levitation consists of a camera, a tripod, and some type of photo editing software that will allow you to combine images. You do not have to have the latest and greatest software to get stunning results. I use Photoshop CS4 but any decent image editing software will work just as well.
The first method in creating a levitation image is to simply get a picture of someone in mid-air. Taking a picture of them as they jump is a good example. You can also attempt to get a picture of them falling forward or backward. This can sometimes be a little challenging as you may need to repeat the process until you get the perfect image. Timing is everything when using this method. You will most likely get some images that were taken just a tad too late and others taken just a tad too soon. You also want to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the action. The floating object should be as sharp as possible for a convincing levitation image. Blurred edges on the floating object will make it look like you simply took a picture of the object or person falling which is not that convincing. Poses can be hard to get perfect as well. Benefits of this method are that it is simple and straight forward, does not require any additional equipment, and requires little to no post processing. One of the drawbacks is that the images may not be as convincing as some of the images that you can create with the second method.
The second method in creating a levitation image requires more equipment and time but can sometimes yield more convincing results. For this method, you will need at least two images. One image will be of your subject resting on some object and the second image will be the same scene with no subject or object in the picture. You then combine certain parts of both images to create a new single image. The best way to do this is to have your camera set on a tripod focused on a certain area. Make sure your camera is set in manual mode and DO NOT move the camera once it is set up and ready to go. If your camera is in automatic mode, the focus may shift, the aperture may change, the ISO may change, or your shutter speed may fluctuate between images as well. You do not want this to happen as one image may be lighter or darker than the other image making the process of blending multiple images together more difficult, but not impossible. The benefit of this method is more realistic and creative images. Drawbacks of this method include the additional required equipment and the time required to edit the images in post.
I typically take a picture of the subject resting on an object first followed by the second photo with nothing in the scene. There is no real reason for doing this other than it reminds me to take that second shot before moving my camera. If you are doing this outside, make sure the images are taken relatively close in time as the changing angle of the sun can change the lighting of the scene. Although not absolutely necessary, I like to have my model wear clothing that drapes quite a bit. This helps to both cover up the object they are resting on and the draping fabric adds to the illusion that they are actually defying gravity. Other ways to increase the effect include dangling jewelry, hair down, etc. Once you have at least those two images, it is time to combine them in an editing program.
Again, I use Photoshop CS4 but any editing program that will allow you to stack images together and create different layers will work. Open both of your images. In Photoshop, I place the image with the person resting on the object in a layer above the empty image and erase parts of the top image (levitating person) revealing the empty image below. If your camera was on a tripod, the images should match up perfectly. If you kept the camera in manual mode, the brightness, contrast, and color should be identical between the images as well. After removing the object used to rest on, touch up the photo as normal and combine (flatten or merge) the images together into one image. If you are working with an image where the levitating person or object casts a shadow on the ground, you can add that shadow back into the image making the image look very realistic. There are several ways to do this and I plan on having a tutorial on this topic in the future. The video for this post does go into a little detail on how to create a very simple shadow underneath an object.
If you are more of a visual learner like myself, the following video will walk you through the process described above in creating a levitation image. If you have never tried it before and want to give it a shot, I would love to see your results. If you have done several levitation photos before, I would love to see your best picture. Either way, get your camera out and try something new and different – something outside of your comfort zone. And don’t be afraid to mess up. It’s just a reusable memory card!
A simple request changed my photographic style, permanently. A dear friend of mine, Alecia Earle, asked me to take photos at her wedding several years ago. I declined. I had never really aimed my lens at anything other than the night sky prior to her request. For months it bothered me that I was too afraid to delve into the world of ‘people pics’. It bothered me so much, I simply had to at least try. Years later, I am almost addicted to portraiture, albeit unusual portraiture. Don’t get me wrong, there is no model quite as beautiful as the moon in a star filled sky, but aiming my lens a tad lower at earthbound stars has become quite rewarding.
In all honesty, some of the fear of photographing her wedding came from the fact that she was, and still is, an accomplished photographer herself. It’s like having a world renowned chef taste your cooking. I wasn’t sure I would meet her expectations. Alecia is the photographer behind A.E. Photography. I guess I should be flattered that another photographer saw something in my images that made her confident I could create great pictures of her wedding. To this day she is still a photographer I admire and try to emulate. Her experience dates back to her high school days where she worked in a portrait studio learning the trade first hand. Her experience is clearly evident in her work. A master at ‘people pics’ and posing, I find myself attracted most to her flowers, wildlife, and landscape images. She is also one of the reasons I started to experiment with macro photography.
I met Alecia through our work. Although a great co-worker, my relationship with her changed drastically one mundane afternoon. As mentioned before, my first love and passion is astrophotography. I love all things in the night sky. Sitting at my desk one day, Alecia entered my office and handed me a hardbound book. I opened the cover and realized she had taken several of my astrophotography images I had posted online and had created a beautiful bound book of them. I can’t remember the day before that event or the day after, but I can remember that moment as if it just happened. Should I fall prey to losing my memory in old age, I am convinced that will be one of the few memories I will hold onto forever.
She also did a themed project using the alphabet. She took each letter of the alphabet and created a daily photographic series based on the day’s letter. I found myself eagerly waiting for the next letter/day. I hope she finds the time to start another creative series.
Not only is she a good friend and an excellent photographer, she has also offered herself as a model for some of my crazy ideas. There is nothing more exciting and fun than to work with someone that is equally excited about working on a project together. Yes, it is a little nerve-racking having an experienced photographer as a model, but she has been nothing but supportive. I am excited to continue to work with her on my crazy ideas as well as continuing to learn from her as a fellow photographer. She is the first person I would recommend for family, couple, or wedding photography (as long as it’s not on the same day she is modeling for me). I simply love her work and get excited every time I see her post new images on her page. Hopefully, someday, I will be as good at ‘people pics’ as A.E. Photography.
I recently had lunch with a good friend and fellow photographer Greg Worthen who, for a lack of a better term, specializes in black and white (b&w) portraiture. It was a great opportunity for me to pick his brain on how he gets such amazing images so routinely. It was also a great opportunity to get his perspective on photography in general.
One of the few followers of my work, Greg was quick to point out my blog posts discussing Photoshop and mirrorless cameras. Not only does he own and master a mirrorless camera, he also does very little editing on his images. His camera is simply amazing. It is incredibly lightweight and sharp with a fixed focal length non-interchangeable lens. In addition, it gives him the ability to view his composition in b&w before taking the shot. He also explained that if he can’t get the shot in camera, he is reluctant to crop the image in post just to try and save the image. All this being said, always take advice from anyone, myself included, with a grain of salt. He is a perfect example of how my previous opinions on Photoshop and mirrorless cameras are just that, opinions.
If you are anything like me, your b&w photography consists of desaturating an image you like to see how it looks in b&w with maybe some minor adjustments or filters. I am convinced this is the wrong way to achieve amazing b&w images. You should be composing your scenes specifically with b&w in mind before you even pick up your camera. B&w images typically have much higher levels of contrast than most color images. Getting it right, in camera, goes a long way in creating great b&w picture. It is a skill and talent that takes a fair amount of practice to perfect. My friend has been a photographer for years and that experience shows in his work.
With the ability to snap a quick picture on a cell phone and immediately share it on social media, we are inundated with random images, but there is something very powerful about a properly presented b&w portrait. It draws you in. You are forced to notice the image and truly consider it. Greg's images beg you to try and figure out the story behind the picture. This is exactly what his photography does for me. He is also an expert at making his images look very candid. It’s as if the model has no idea there is a camera in the vicinity. Aside from the great images, Greg has created a website and Facebook page devoted to his continuing work called Project Other. “Project-other is about capturing the humanity we share by exploring the subcultures where we define ourselves when we don’t otherwise fit into what society considers ‘normal.’” His images and message taken together, make his work phenomenal. A comment on one of his pictures says it best. “I love these photos...there is so much emotion… and they have a story to be told. They are awesome.” Couldn't agree more!
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.