Levitation photography is a way to make amazing images that appear to have the subject floating unsupported in midair. It’s not just jumping up in the air and taking a photo at the top of the rise, right before the subject starts coming down. Levitation photography is a carefully crafted special effects image.
There are two basic styles or types of levitation photography. One is a form of portraiture, making an image of a person. The other is a style of product photography. Creating a photograph where the object appears to float unsupported.
Both types of levitation photography require careful planning and an image manipulation program with the ability to mask, clone, layer, or move. Photoshop is the program of choice for this special effect but other programs or brands of program could be used, provided it has the right features. Stacking multiple exposures or compositing is also useful for people levitation photography.
Making People Float
First off, we’ll take a look at some of the steps taken to make a finished photograph with a person appearing to float in midair. Of the two types of imagery, this one is more involved to make happen.
Plan It Out
When making movies, whether live action or animation, there is a step in planning scenes called storyboarding. When planning the levitation of people photography, a storyboard of sorts is a good first step.
You can draw it on real paper, use a tablet app, or a computer program. The important thing is to put it on paper or screen somehow so you can start taking stock of what equipment and props may be needed and to figure out subject posing and camera angles.
Scout the Ideal Location for Levitation Photos
With your rough plan or shooting story board in hand, visit the spot you are considering using. Make note of what is in the foreground and background. It’s especially important to see whether there are aspects of the scene that are prone to movement.
Motion can destroy the illusion of levitation by making it obvious that multiple exposures are involved. It could be a tree that has branches prone to swaying in the wind, a busy street in the background, or moving water like a small stream or breaking waves at a beach. The more static the surroundings, the easier it will be to stack or composite images.
Green Screen Technique
This is a good time to mention the advanced photo and video technique of green screen or chroma key compositing. Green screen lets you put a subject into virtually any setting. Simply take the subject photos in a studio in front of a green screen and then use Photoshop or a similar program to place the subject in front of a different scene.
The advantage of green screen for levitation photography is that you can be in complete control of lighting and props in your studio or improvised studio.
Choose the Right Equipment and Props for Levitating Effects
One of the most important pieces of equipment is a good sturdy tripod. Since you are taking multiple images of the subject for use in the masking and compositing, you need the camera to stay in the same spot for each exposure. Any small variation in registration of the images due to camera movement will make the computer work harder on you.
A camera that can be used in manual mode for both exposure and focus is another plus for levitation photography. Using the camera in manual mode means the settings won’t change between exposures.
Lighting is also a vital component of the gear choice. Separation from the background will help out in the final compositing of the multiple images. Color correct lights are better, as are using a diffuser of some type, such as a soft box.
Choose what is holding the subject carefully. If any part of the subject’s clothes or body is obscured by that prop, it could negatively impact the final image. Basically, low profile hard platforms are a better choice than large or soft platforms.
The clothing of the subject is also an important factor. Solid color clothing will be easier to keep straight in the image processing stages of the project. Loose, flowing clothing can also add a layer of believability to the final image. Have a fan blow the clothing back or use fishing line to make it appear that way. If the clothing is solid color, it will be easier to compensate for in Photoshop.
Light It Properly
If you are in a studio, even a makeshift home studio, you have complete control over the lighting. Lower contrast lighting is the preferred option for the lighting techniques. This makes any compositing adjustments an easier task.
If you are taking the pictures outside, an overcast day will have the lower contrast lighting you are seeking. Direct sunlight can be very contrasty, causing issues with the composition step. Looking for an overcast day applies if you are green screening, too. An evenly lit subject superimposed on a high contrast background will not look natural.
Take All the Levitation Photos At the Same Time
If you think you can come back to the scene later and recreate exact camera and subject placement as well as lighting conditions, well, for this type of image, close isn’t going to be workable. Therefore, shoot every component of the final image during the same session.
At least two images are necessary, three or more would be better. When shooting two images, take a pic of the subject all posed and lit. Then, without moving the camera or adjusting zoom or focus, remove the subject and whatever is holding them from the field of view.
Three or more images will work well, too. Shoot the subject on the support, the support without subject, being careful not to move the support, then remove the support and take a scene only shot. If you’re green screening a background, try to match up focal length of the lens, lighting conditions, and color balance.
Now the Fun Part!
After you have all your images, it’s time to combine them. First, tweak the adjustments of color and exposure equally for all the image files. Many programs will have a batch function that lets you do this all at once, more or less.
The next step requires layers. Choose the empty background image as the bottom layer. Then place your subject on the support image file as the top layer. For this layer, select a mask similar to what Photoshop calls reveal all. Using a black paintbrush on the mask layer, remove the platform propping up your subject. Then flatten the layers and save.
That’s how simple it can be with only two images. If you are combining multiple image files, add them as layers and use the black paintbrush tool on each mask until you all finished. Then, flatten the layers and save the image. Or however your favorite program works with layers.
It might be a good idea to practice your levitation shooting and processing a few times before attempting any complex ideas. Get comfortable with the steps and have some fun doing it.
Making Objects Float
This is a much more simplified process. All it really takes is some planning, some minor processing, and fishing line.
Assemble the Floating Props and Supports
A background stand can work well as a place to suspend objects from with fishing line. Other helpful props or tools could include a shower rod in a doorway, cup hooks, screws, or thumbtacks.
Hang the items you’re photographing from the support with the fishing line. FIshing line is a top choice because of it being virtually invisible already, depending on the lighting. Black sewing thread could work well, too.
Carefully Control the Lights
As you look through your viewfinder or viewscreen, you can see if your lighting is making the line or thread more obvious or less. Adjust light positions as needed. Another tip is to expose for either high key or low key. This can help hide the line also.
Process With Clone or Heal Tools
As you process the image, zoom in on where you know the line to be and clone out any places you actually still see it. A simple background when shooting will make this step much easier to accomplish.
And that’s it! You could make it more complex, but this system gets you started in knowing how to do the steps. Add in layers if you like, combine with other images, add floating objects to your floating people pics, the sky’s the limit. And your processing time, of course.
Develop a Workflow
Whichever type of levitation photography you are attempting, or exactly what methods and tools you use, develop your own personal workflow by expanding on these tips and techniques. Keep a journal, on paper or digitally and see where you can make any part of the project go smoother.
Once you get going with this special effect style, you will notice opportunities exist everywhere for you to make these extremely fun images.
3 Awesome Levitation Photography Tutorial Videos:
YouTube is absolutely packed with a ton of levitation photography videos, each offering their own twists and tricks to get the perfect levitation photography. We have chosen our 3 favorite levitation tutorials for you to check out:
1. Levitation Photography Tutorial: Tips on how to shoot and edit
Using Photoshop and Lightroom, Gerard Regot shows us a few cool tips on how to get the perfect levitation photography:
2. LEVITATION Photography – EASY and FUN! From Shooting to Editing
Levitation expert Nemanja Sekulic shows how easy levitation photography can be with just a few simple editing tips:
3. Float Yourself
Instagram star Peter McKinnon shows us how to use Lightroom to create an awesome floating picture effect:
Featured Levitation Image: https://unsplash.com/photos/7C9BEyp4gkI