How to do a levitation photo

After posting the final images of our creative fashion photography shoot at Peckforton Castle I received a number of questions about how the final levitation images were taken so I thought it would be a good idea to post a tutorial on how to do a levitation photo.

To start with here are the two images that we did on the fashion shoot that sparked the “how did you do that” questions.

These two images were actually not planned as part of the shoot, we had got all the shots that had been planned (and a few more) and we decided that as we had some time left in the location, we’d experiment a little. Levitation images are not a particularly new idea and have been made very popular over the years by photographers such as Miss Aniela, Rosie Hardy and Brook Shaden but I fancied having a go at doing one myself in a fashion shoot environment.

Although the final images are impressive, the actual technique is fairly simple and could be done on any basic camera (or even camera phone if you really had to!). The basic concept of these kinds of shots is to take a number of images and composite them together using certain parts of the different shots to bring together the illusion of someone levitating.

Equipment:

  • Camera
  • Tripod (or other means to keep your camera in exactly the same place over a number of shots)
  • Computer with appropriate editing software (e.g. photoshop, photoshop elements, GIMP etc)
  • Remote – wired or wireless (this is optional but will ensure your camera is not accidentally moved by pressing the shutter button).

Setup

Once you have decided on the location and position of your subject set up the camera and have your subject stand where they will be ‘levitating’ and focus the camera and then switch it to manual focus so that it does not shift focus during the different shots you will be taking (this is not 100% essential, if your camera doesn’t have a manual focus you can still do this technique, it might just make it more difficult to composite the final image).

As I was shooting indoors at night for these particular images I also had to position my lights and get them set but I would recommend trying something with adequate natural light on your first attempt at this as lighting (and related shadows) adds further complexity.

Once the camera is all in place and set up correctly, you need to take your base image (this is the image that generally contributes most of the background to your final image. It is absolutely essential that the camera does not move after this image is taken. If it does it is easier to start again here (and reset etc) than strive on and try and ‘make do’ and fix it all in post (this can be done but it will take you three times as long!).

Once your base image has been taken you move your subject into place, in these particular images we asked the models to lean back (supported by the MUA) and I took a number of images with the models holding alternate legs up in the air. It is important to try and get your subject to keep as much of their upper body as still as possible while alternating legs for these shots so that the images match up better (which is easier to edit). As such I ended up with 3 final images for each model; one base image, one with the left foot in the air and one with the right foot in the air.

If you have a stool or other suitable platform you can get your subject to lie or sit and lean holding both feet in the air which will probably allow you to take less shots and make for easier compositing (just make sure that there is some clothing hanging over where their body is touching the stool or it will look unnatural when you remove it is post).

Editing

Once you have the images it’s time to load them onto your computer and into your editing software. As I use Photoshop for this kind of work I’ll be using that as a reference to describe the process but most editing software packages will allow you to do this in a similar way.

I loaded all 3 images (for one model) into a single workspace as separate layers with the base image at the bottom of the stack. I then decided which of the 2 model images I preferred for the body and face (in this example I chose the image with the model’s left leg in the air) and worked with a layer mask to hide the MUA from the image and the right leg (that was supporting the model).

Once this was completed I moved to the final layer and masked the bulk of the image except for the right leg in the air. If the subject has kept their upper body very still across the images you may be lucky enough that the resulting image matches up and looks natural.

As you can see in this example we were not so lucky (mainly due to the very high heels making it very difficult for the Maz to balance!) so I had to do some further tweaks using the move tool and a bit of the warp tool to line things up.

After I was happy with the parts of the image all looked in line and as realistic as possible I added some shadows and some overall styling to finish the image off. The other levitation image from this shoot was done in exactly the same way.

I hope this helps explain the process and gives you an idea of how to do a levitation photo. If you have any questions or want anything clarifying, please contact us.

Organising your own Fashion Shoot

In addition to providing commercial photography throughout Cheshire and the UK, I also like to keep my proverbial creative axe sharp by shooting personal projects when my schedule allows me to. Towards the end of last year I felt like I had been doing way too much work for other people and needed a creative photography boost. I had a good think about what I wanted to do and where I could do it and came up with an idea to do a unique fashion shoot, with some unique models, with unique styling in a unique location.

To start the project off I worked on securing the location and then took it from there. After some initial online research I settled on the fantastic Peckforton Castle Hotel (which I had visited a number of years ago when myself and my now wife were looking for possible wedding venues). After securing a deal with the hotel I went to work on assembling a team for the fashion shoot.

The concept that emerged from my planning was one of juxtaposition. The obvious thing to do once securing a medieval style castle would have been to go for some kind of historical or romantic theme so I purposely went against that and went for building some unique looks that you wouldn’t normally associate with such a location but with styling and images that wouldn’t clash too much as to not build a balanced look to the finished photography.

Using social networking I secured some from Emi Jewellery and KhuKhuz Fashion.  This helped me form the concept a little more in my mind and so I went through my contacts book looking for suitable models and MUAs that would be a good fit for this personal photography project.

Originally I put together a team of five (2 x MUA and 3 x Models) but as is often the case (unfortunately) with unpaid projects (all taking part were doing so in return for images) one of the MUAs and one model didn’t make it on the day. As a side note, if you are working on a TF (Time For) project I highly recommend you either book more people than you need or make sure you have a plan B (and sometimes plan C just to be sure).

Other than the no shows, the day of the shoot went really well, we got loads of looks and made the most of all of the individual locations throughout the hotel. We set out a plan whereby we would have 3 sets of shots with each model, starting with fairly simple looks and building it up to a more stylised look through the shoot. I worked with each model in turn so that while I was shooting one, the other was in make up and this worked really well and made the most of our time. As we were moving around the location fairly fluidly I wanted to keep things lightweight so I used a couple of speedlights with various simple modifiers and gels. This allowed me to be creative and change the look and feel of the shots but not spend too much time setting up each shot or carting stuff around.

The team worked great together and we ended up with loads of great images that everyone was able to put to use in their portfolios, look books and websites. A big thanks to all involved!

Team:
Photographer – Johnathan Clover
Make Up Artist – Samantha Gardner
Models – Jess Wilcock & Marianna Szomolay
Accessories – Emi Jewellery
Fashion Designer – Beryl Phala (Khu Khuz)