How to do levitation photography: from camera to computer
The concept of levitation – the ability to break Newton’s law of gravity and float an object or person in thin air – has long been explored and exploited. Victorian mediums used a carefully concealed knee to ‘levitate’ the table during a séance, providing clients with ‘evidence’ of a supernatural event.
No stage magician worth his salt would finish his act without suspending his scantily clad assistant above the audience – or at least ‘floating’ a ball from behind his cape. Hollywood repeatedly showcases the levitating antics of superheroes, too, so the fascination still endures.
In this levitation photography tutorial we’ll show you how to create a convincing levitation effect using a combination of carefully composed source photos. As we’ll demonstrate, the key to producing successful levitation photography is to shoot all your source files at the same time and in the same location.
This endows all the components in your shot with consistent lighting, so that the separate elements in the composite shot look like they belong in the same scene.
By shooting a propped up ‘floating’ subject and then capturing a clean shot of the empty location, you can combine the images in Photoshop with a few brush strokes on a Layer Mask.
This shooting and photo editing technique saves you the hassle of carefully cutting your levitating subject out of one shot and pasting her into another. We’ll show you how to set up your camera to capture suitable start images and then take you through quick compositing techniques in Photoshop’s digital darkroom.
Step-by-step how to shoot levitation photography
Follow these five shooting tips to capture the images you need for a levitation effect
01 Use Manual Exposure Mode
To create a levitating figure, you need to capture the same scene both with and without the model and stool. Any project that requires seamless blending of similar frames is easier to piece together if you shoot in Manual Mode. This ensures the exposure stays consistent throughout the entire range of frames. Similarly, setting Manual Focus will stop the focus point jumping around.
02 Keep it steady
A tripod is essential for capturing the levitation technique. It will keep the camera perfectly steady while you capture the scene twice: first with the person perched on a stool or ladder, second with the person and stool taken out of the scene.
03 Keep lighting consistent
We’ve used a single flash head from an Elinchrom home studio kit to light our scene, bouncing it off the wall to give even illumination. However you choose to light your levitation photography, the important thing is to keep the lighting consistent throughout. So, for example, if you’re planning on shooting outdoors on a cloudy day, watch out for the sun peeping out from behind the clouds.
04 Check it’s working
On shoots like this it can be hard to visualise the finished effect, so it’s a good idea to bring your laptop along to check that it’s working. If you find it isn’t, then you can change things before it’s too late. Making a quick mock-up of the levitation effect during the shoot will put your mind at ease, and also give you an opportunity to scrutinise the lighting, pose and composition. You could also tether the camera and laptop together for instant access to the images.
05 Watch for flat clothes
Posing can make or break the levitation effect. So try out different positions and pay particular attention to the points where the subject’s body comes into contact with the stool. When we remove the stool in Photoshop we don’t want clothes or body parts pressed flat against it, because this is a dead giveaway. The more floaty these areas appear, the more successful the effect.
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