Levitation Photography

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I recently discovered the genre of levitation photography. I was fascinated by the work of photographers such as Brooke Shaden, Miss Aniela, and Rebekah W, and I was intrigued to find out how they did it and to try it myself. It’s actually not too complicated, but you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to the details to get excellent results. The most difficult part may be for the model, and that’s compounded when it’s a self portrait. I’d like to try it again with friends modeling for me. There’s no shortage of tutorials to be found online, and they debunk the mystery behind the art, so if you want to just appreciate the dreamlike quality of the photos, stop reading now.

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Here’s how I did it:

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  1. Set the camera on a tripod, frame the space, style it to perfection, and photograph it. I had to move some furniture out of the way which made the room a little cramped, but I had just enough room to work.
  2. Without moving the camera, photograph the model supported by a stool, ladder, or anything else that works. Since this was a self portrait, I set my Canon TC-80N3 remote control timer to snap a series of five frames five seconds apart. That gave me enough time to get on the stool and move to a few different positions hoping to get a good composition. I did this five or six times until I was satisfied. It turned out to be a great abdominal workout! It’s important to have some clothing or a body part overhanging the supporting furniture to hide its digging into your soft body parts. So I’m supporting myself on my back, slightly overhanging the edge of the stool. It was pretty uncomfortable.
  3. Layer the two images in a photo editing application like Photoshop and mask out the stool. The online tutorials make it seem that easy, but it’s not, or at least it wasn’t in my case. I found that the lighting was different enough in both photos that I had to carefully silhouette my entire body to let all of the background of the base photo to show through. This could have been from shadows I cast from a lot of light bouncing around the confined space, and because I was working primarily with natural light through the windows, which could have changed between the base photo and the self portrait taken minutes later. (Since I’d be backlit by the window light, I mounted a Speedlite 600RT on my camera’s hotshoe and pointed it backwards to bounce off the back wall for some fill light.)
  4. Add in any shadows cast by the model, crop as desired, and apply any retouching or tonal effects. I put a subtle shadow on the floor as suggested by the shadow in the original photo with the stool. Next I whited out the window panes; I felt the trees outside were distracting, and the overexposed look of the windows looks natural against the correct exposure of the interior. Finally, I applied tonal adjustments for a desaturated look.

I really enjoyed this project, and I hope to try more photos in different locations and with other models. The lead photo above is my favorite. I’ve put some of my other less successful attempts below.

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I like the idea of making contact with the walls, but something looks unnatural about the connection between my left hand and the wall.

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The room was small, so I had to use my 16-35 mm lens at 16 mm. The wide angle lens makes my head look huge and my feet look tiny as well as distorting my head toward the edge of the frame. In addition, I was supported on my belly by a bench with my lower ribs overhanging the edge. This looks odd when the bench is painted out.

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3 thoughts on “Levitation Photography

  1. I used to enjoy magic as a hobby when I was a boy (OK, before turning 43) and you’ve created some magical photos here. Thanks for telling us the digital secret or I’d still be searching for the mirrors, hidden panels and invisible thread. Awesome levitation tricks Alan!

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