Category 'Compositing'

How long I’ve wanted to shoot underwater! When girls in pretty dresses are combined with the weightlessness of water the results are elegant and ethereal. But shooting underwater is costly as it requires expensive purpose-built camera housing (around $2k) or an underwater point and shoot, which is cheaper (around $500) but offers less control. You can hire equipment but I’ve heard too many horror stories and the one rental company I spoke to said they couldn’t afford the insurance. It’s also a very physically demanding experience for both the model and photographer. All this AND I’m the only person on my street without a pool (which I sadly discovered while browsing Google Earth). So I’d love to do an underwater shoot some day but for now my options are limited to Photoshop. Please keep in mind this is an advanced tutorial.

How to photograph a fake underwater photo

First, find a blank background to photograph your model against so it’s easy to cut them out in Photoshop. I set up a black sheet because I knew this would roughly match the colour of the water I’d be compositing myself into. Light underwater is unpredictable but it definitely won’t have bright sun spots so shoot your model in diffuse light. I shot in my backyard in a shaded area as the sun was going down. [caption id="attachment_2242" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Testing the camera looking mighty impressed Testing the camera looking mighty impressed[/caption]   Set your aperture narrow enough to have all of your model in focus (you can blur them later if need be) and choose a shutter speed that gives the tiniest amount of motion blur, but not too much or your person will be hard to cut out. (My settings were 1/160 sec at f/9, ISO 800.) Resist any temptation to wet your model unless part of them will be out of the water and then only wet the exposed part. For my pose I first started out by leaning back on a chair in the same way I would pose for a levitation photo but it wasn’t until I tried jumping and posing mid-air that I started to like the shots because the movement was similar to floating. I also separately shot hair and dress flicks that I didn’t end up using but I wanted to have the option available for compositing. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2244,2243"]   For the water you have a few options including creating it in post or using stock, but I wanted to photograph my own elements. I again set up a black backdrop so it would be easy to separate the bubbles using a blend mode, half-filled a vase with water making sure the vase’s surface wasn’t reflecting too much light and photographed the water line and then the bubbles as I poured more water into the vase. [caption id="attachment_2245" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Bubbles for underwater Bubbles[/caption]    

How to edit a fake underwater photo in Photoshop

Before getting started I studied many underwater photos so I could try and replicate the look in Photoshop. The elements I decided I needed were these:
  • Bubbles
  • A water line / top of the water
  • Light rays
  • A reflection of the girl
  • Shimmers of light on her clothes and skin
  • Blue toning and matted highlights
  • Textures to give depth to the water
The following process is an amalgamation of tips from this video, other underwater tutorials found online and my own experimentation in Photoshop.
  1. Create the background. To do this I found an underwater photo with colours that I liked and opened it into my main document. Hit g to activate the gradient tool and click on the gradient bar. In the Gradient Options select the first preset ‘Foregound to Background’ and then double click the left bottom tab (‘stop’) to bring up the colour picker. Alt/Opt click on a highlight colour in the sample photo to select it and press OK, then double click the right bottom tab and sample a shadow colour. Keep pressing OK until you exit the Gradient Editor then draw a vertical line downwards over your canvas so that the lighter colour is at the top. (Make sure the 'reverse' box isn't ticked if you find this isn't the case.)
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2249,2251,2247,2250"]  
  1. Next you’ll need to create the top of the water. You can do this using stock photos (for example, waves at a beach) by going to Edit>Transform>Distort and playing around with the perspective handles, but I’d found a tutorial on how to create water from scratch that I wanted to try.
To do this create a new layer and draw a rectangle with your marquee tool (m) about 2/3 the size of your main document. Press d so that your colour swatch is set to default colours and go to Filter>Render>Clouds. Press Ctrl/Cmd t to bring up your free transform handles and drag the edges of the box to the edges of your document. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2253,2254,2252"]   Now go to Filter>Filter Gallery>Artistic>Plastic Wrap (if the Filter Gallery is greyed out you may first need to change your image from 16 to 8 bit with Image>Mode and choose 8 Bits/Channel) and set your sliders to 14, 3 and 11. Click OK. Then go to Edit>Transform> Distort and pull your handles into place as shown. Change the blend mode to Linear Dodge. Add a mask to the layer and use a soft brush to remove the harsh edges. Add a curves adjustment layer above your water line layer and clip them together by pressing Alt/Opt and clicking between the two layers. Use curves to darken the layer to match your background. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2257,2258,2256,2255"]   Convert your water effect layer to a smart object (right click the layer in a blank area and choose 'Convert to Smart Object') and then go to Filter>Render>Lighting Effects and add a small spotlight to a section of the water. Play with the sliders to get an effect you like and the handles of your light to shape it. Press OK when you're finished. It's sometimes hard to get an idea of what the final effect will look like until it's applied which is why it's a good idea to apply lighting effects as a smart filter so you can keep changing the effect until you like it. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2259,2260"]  
  1. At this point I made sure my subject was perfectly cut out and placed her above these effects.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2262,2261"]  
  1. Create rays of light by making a new layer and using your marquee tool to select the top half of the image. Press d to set your colour swatch to default and then go to Filter>Render>Clouds once again. Next go to Image>Adjustments>Threshold and use the default setting, press OK. Press Ctrl/Cmd D to get rid of the selection. Now go to Filter>Blur>Radial Blur. Take your amount to 100. Choose Zoom and Best and drag the centre point to the top of the box. Click OK. Press Ctrl/Cmd F a few times to repeat the effect. Change the blend mode to soft light and the opacity to about 50%. Use Ctrl/Cmd T and move your rays so they look like they’re coming from the spot light you created earlier. Add a mask and use a soft brush to paint out the rays wherever you don’t want them.
[gallery ids="2268,2264,2269,2267,2265,2266"]    
  1. I had no clue how to create the girl’s reflection so I created some tricks of my own. First I duplicated my subject layer and converted it to a Smart Object with Filter>Convert for Smart Filters. I then went to Edit>Transform>Flip Vertical and used Edit>Transform to move the reflection where I wanted it and dragged the top middle handle to make it quite squat. After playing around with all Photoshop’s filters I found I got the best result with Filter>Distort>Wave and played around with the sliders until I got a result I liked. Because I applied this as a Smart Filter I was able to apply and change the results as much as I liked.
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2270,2272,2271"]  
  1. To create the shimmers of light I created a new layer and filled it with black. Then I went to Filter>Noise>Add Noise. I chose Gaussian and Monochromatic and set the amount to about 35%. Now I went to Filter>Pixelate>Crystallize and made the Cell Size 160. This is similar to how we created snow last tutorial. Now go to Filter>Stylize>Find Edges. Press Ctrl/Cmd i to invert the layer. Choose Filter>Distort>Ripple and make it about 300. Then Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and just apply a little to make the edges less severe. Change the blend mode to screen. Zoom right out of your document and pres Ctrl/Cmd T and make this layer larger. Clip this layer to the subject, change the opacity to 60% and mask it out where you don't want it.
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2273,2276,2278,2277,2280,2279,2274,2281,2283"]  
  1. The bubbles were added using a screen blending mode and then I clipped a levels layer to the bubbles to get rid of any lingering background. You could also use a bubble brush to create the bubbles.
[caption id="attachment_2284" align="aligncenter" width="296"]Bubbles added Bubbles added[/caption]  
  1. I used a few curves layers clipped to the girl layer to introduce some bluey green toning and then darkened the bottom of her body. I also desaturated her skin tones and dragged the highlights down to dull them slightly. A good trick I learnt recently from Glyn Dewis is to make the opacity of your subject layer 95% so the background shows through ever so slightly and tones your subject to match the scene.
[caption id="attachment_2285" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Colour toning Colour toning[/caption]  
  1. Adding textures is optional but I thought the scene looked too flat without them. I added various bokeh textures and overall colour toning to give depth to the water.
[caption id="attachment_2286" align="aligncenter" width="297"]Final toning and textures Final toning and textures[/caption]   And we're done! It's definitely a lot of work but the more effort you put into it the more realistic your final result. And not a single camera was harmed.  

About ‘Rosewater’ and ‘I Tried to Drown my Sorrows’

The poses for both photos were photographed in my backyard wearing a $10 dress I found through a Facebook “garage sale”. Little known fact, I studied six different types of dance as a child and I finally got to use some of this training in my photos. Unfortunately my body is no longer primed for this kind of activity and my legs hurt for days. In Photoshop I was hoping to recreate the particular look used in this Adam Attoun photo. 'I Tried to Drown my Sorrows' started out with this in mind but by a happy accident when I opened a vase photo to use the bubbles I noticed how great the girl looked inside the glass, so this image took on a life of its own and was very quick to complete. To create 'Rosewater', I began by following along with the video tutorial posted earlier to see if I’d like the result which I did, so she ended up being in a bluey/green scene rather than black because the colours grew on me. I always planned to have flowers floating in the water so I shot some miniature roses in a vase and was most annoyed to discover that roses float so I had to poke them into the water with a gardening fork. Despite being miniature the roses still look way too big for the scene, ruining all my convincing underwater scene building but I like how they look and am happy with the final photo regardless. I Tried to Drown my Sorrows

Compositing gives photographers the magical power to change the weather. Most people crave a sunny sky but for conceptual and landscape photographers the more colour and cloud in the sky the better. We go to so much effort to make a scene beautiful and interesting and are often let down by those bright, washed out skies. This is why photographers like to be up at the crack of dawn capturing sunrises. It’s also why photographers who don’t use Photoshop buy expensive filters, why photographers who do use Photoshop take two exposures—one exposing for the land and one exposing for the sky—and blends them together. And then there’s the third camp who are perfectly comfortable messing with reality and swap their skies for entirely different ones. This is the sleeper-inners method so stick with me to learn how to replace a sky if you’re not a morning person. [gallery size="medium" link="none" ids="1925,1926,1927"]   If all horizons were straight and not covered by mountains and trees then replacing a sky would be a breeze but things just aren’t that simple. Because of this there’s more than one way to replace a sky in Photoshop and it can take some experimenting to find the one that works best for your image.

Choosing your new sky

In last week’s lesson I talked about collecting photos of clouds and skies for the purpose of swapping them into new scenes. So when looking for a sky image there’s a few things to keep in mind:
  • You’ll want to find a sky lit the same way as your foreground. If your subject is side lit from the left you should look for skies where the sun is also on the left. You can always flip your sky image to get the lighting in the right spot.
  • To save on colour work it also helps if your sky is a similar colour to the foreground. A dark overcast sky probably won’t work with a sunrise lit landscape.
  • If you want your image to look realistic try and line up the horizon lines in both images or the sky may look unnatural. Skies look different near the horizon than they do in the middle of the sky. If you’re a conceptual photographer you have some leeway with this because you’re building an ‘otherworldy’ scene anyway.
  • To save on work make sure your sky image is free from distractions like light poles or power lines, though you can always clone these out if there’s a sky you particularly like. Or you can hide them by dragging your sky layer lower behind your subject image.
  • Keep in mind that skies are pretty flexible and can usually be stretched and resized a fair bit before they start to look weird.
[caption id="attachment_1928" align="aligncenter" width="300"]In desperate need of a new sky In desperate need of a new sky[/caption]

How to replace a sky in Photoshop

[caption id="attachment_1933" align="alignright" width="300"]Reduce opacity of sky layer to see where to move it to Reduce opacity of sky layer to see where to move it to[/caption] I personally like to experiment with a few sky options rather than limiting myself to one. So in Lightroom highlight all your chosen skies and go to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop and then one by one, use the move tool (V) to drag each sky up to the document tab of the foreground image and then down onto the canvas. Lower the opacity of your sky image using the Opacity setting in your layers palette and move your sky into place. Edit->Transform->Flip Horizontal if you think the sky will work better flipped. If you want to scale or stretch your sky image press Ctrl/Cmd T and drag the corners of the bounding box to resize. Hold down shift if you want to resize with the same proportions. In no particular order here’s all the different methods I know of for adding a new sky.

Method one for replacing a sky – selection tools: Color Range

[caption id="attachment_1929" align="alignright" width="300"]Color range selection Color range selection[/caption] This method works best if your original sky is primarily one flat colour. Drag your sky layer below your subject layer. With the subject layer highlighted go to Select->Color Range. I prefer to use ‘Sampled Colors’ and then use the eyedropper to sample the original sky’s colour but you can also try choosing ‘Blues’ in the dropdown menu. In your preview box you can see what will be selected (areas of white) and what won’t be selected (areas of black). Play around with your fuzziness slider to refine the selection and use the + and – eyedropper tools to add and remove from your selection. Click OK when you’re happy. If the selection has missed any bits you can choose the lasso tool and holding down Shift draw around any bits of the sky you want to get rid of. Press the add layer mask button which might apply the new sky to your foreground. Obviously this is not what you want! So press Ctrl/Cmd i to swap your mask’s colours. And there you have it—a new sky! [gallery link="none" size="medium" ids="1931,1932,1930"]  

Method two for replacing a sky – selection tools: Magic Wand

I find the magic wand tool a little more flexible than Color Range as you can use it on skies that vary in colour. Grab your magic wand tool (W) and click on your original sky. Play around with the tolerance settings in your options bar if it’s not selecting enough or too much. Shift click any others areas you wish to add to the selection and Alt/Opt click any you wish to remove. Your aim here is to make sure the horizon line is properly selected. If the magic wand tool has also selected some of your foreground you can activate the lasso tool (l), hold down Alt/Opt and just draw around an areas you don’t want included in the selection to remove them. Then, as above, hit your add layer mask button and invert the selection if necessary. [gallery size="medium" ids="1935,1937,1934"]   If you find the magic wand tool has given you jagged edges you can click on your mask and go to Select->Refine Edge. Play around with the sliders, particularly ‘Smooth’ and ‘Feather’ until the edges look better. With these first two methods if you find you’re getting haloing around leaves on trees I recommend watching Glyn Dewis’s video for advanced tips on how to fix this.

Method three for replacing a sky – Blend If

'Blend If' is a cool little feature that's useful for many things. It doesn’t really matter what order your layers are in but for this example I’ve placed the sky layer below the subject layer. Now with your subject layer selected, double click it to open the ‘Layer Style’ dialogue box. Make sure Blending Options: Default is selected on the left hand side and down the bottom you will see two sliders. Your aim here is to 'Blend if the underlying layer is darker'—so the washed out sky of your subject layer will disappear in the areas where your replacement sky layer is darker (this works best if your original sky is very pale and your new sky is darker). It’s trickier than it sounds. Alt click the left hand triangle on the ‘Underlying Layer’ slider and drag it to the right until your new sky begins to show up. Refine this by dragging the second half of your black slider to the right. Play around until you like how it looks. If this method messes with your foreground, place a layer mask on the new sky layer and brush it away from where it's not wanted. * This method left horrible white fringing around my subject layer that I couldn’t get rid of so if you’re finding this too I’d try another method. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1939,1938"]

Method four for replacing a sky – blend modes

[caption id="attachment_1773" align="alignright" width="234"]Blending-modes-with-arrow Blend modes[/caption] For this method I’d drag your sky layer above your subject layer. With the move tool selected (V) press Shift and + or – to cycle through your blend modes which can be found in the layer’s palette under the drop down menu that says ‘Normal’. If your sky is close to pure white you might find ‘Multiply’ works best. When you find one you like, add a white layer mask to your top layer and with this mask selected choose a big soft brush set to around 50% opacity and brush the new sky away from your subject and foreground. You may have to switch between black and white brushes to refine the mask until you’re happy. Be sure to erase the seam of the new sky image at 100% to get rid of any harsh lines. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1941,1942"]  

Method five for replacing a sky - gradient

[caption id="attachment_1943" align="alignright" width="150"]Gradient bar Gradient bar[/caption] This method is my favourite for replacing skies although if you’re looking for a very exact horizon line you won’t find it here. I like this method because it brings some of the sky over your image which adds atmosphere. It was particularly great for my image this week to mask out the distracting trees in the background (see my final image for the result!) Place your sky layer above your foreground layer. Add a mask to the sky layer and grab the gradient tool (G). In your options bar at the top, click on the drop down arrow next to the gradient bar and select the third Gradient optionsoption along the top which is black->white. Also make sure that the linear gradient is selected (the first box to the right of the gradient bar). With the sky’s mask selected drag your gradient tool from the bottom of your image towards the top. This creates a smooth gradient mask that makes your new sky fully visible at the top, tapering off to reveal the foreground underneath. If you didn’t get the gradient quite right keep redrawing it until you're happy. Vary the position where you start drawing the gradient and the length of the gradient you draw. With your mask still selected you may then have to use a soft brush tool loaded with black to erase the effect fully from your subject. Time Flies wm If you’re experimenting with different skies and you're working with one of the above methods that uses a mask you can Alt-click and drag your mask from one layer to another without having to create it again each time. When your new sky is in place I’d suggest playing around with the colours of the overall image (a selective colour adjustment layer is my go-to method) to make your sky and your foreground look like they belong together. A texture or noise layer may also help.

About 'Time Flies'

I chose a location to shoot this image which put the girl on a hill so I could shoot from below and see the sky behind. But I just wasn’t able to get back to the location to photograph it. Instead I cheated and shot myself in my backyard against a white sheet with the camera on the ground pointing up. So I’ve actually already replaced the background in this image once by painting a white mask around her. I then flattened her layer with a white solid colour layer and the lavender image for the purpose of this week’s example, however sometimes cutting out your person and sticking them on a new background might be the best (although not the easiest) solution to replace a sky. The lavender was photographed at Maleny Botanic Gardens, while the clouds were shot from my front yard. Three textures were used. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1945,1946"]   Let me know which method works best for you and if you know of any others please add them to the comments!  

Telekenesis seems to me to be the lazy person’s superpower of choice—which is probably why it’s my favourite. Inspired by Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’ I spent many hours as a child trying to make things move by the force of my mind alone but sadly gravity always won the battle. Now, with the power of Photoshop and some trick photography I’ve become a master sorcerer, able to make objects fly at will, which is almost as good, right? Although it’s a tonne more work so it’s not exactly fitting for the lazy person’s lifestyle.

How to photograph floating objects

As you’ve probably guessed, making objects float is not so different from making a person levitate as covered in last week’s lesson. Again, there’s two methods—the first being to throw your object around, which is great for your non breakables like paper, but you have to get your throwing, your shutter speed and your camera click right to really capture the object at its best. Still, this way is pretty fun. The second is to hold your object in the air and try not to obscure it too much with your fingers. When layered in Photoshop with an empty shot of your scene you can simply erase yourself out of the image and your object becomes suspended in mid air. For easy editing it’s important not to stand between your object and your background, but more to the side of it. Though if you do, you can just use your selection tools to accurately cut the object out and place it on your blank scene wherever you want it. I’ve used a combination of all of these methods in this week’s image. [gallery columns="4" size="medium" link="file" ids="1725,1727,1726,1333"]   What’s really great about this technique is that it combines both levitation AND multiplicity. You just photograph the same object several times, moving it all over your scene, so you can layer them together in Photoshop and make one object look like a hundred. Here’s how to set up your camera. It’s almost exactly the same as previous weeks but it’s worth repeating because it’s so crucial for conceptual photographers to master this:
  1. Place your camera on a tripod and compose your scene. For minimal effort in Photoshop you want to make sure that your camera doesn’t move between your object shot and your background shot.
  1. Switch your camera to manual and set your exposure. Do not change this between shots.
  1. Focus on your subject. If you’re including a person in the scene you’ll probably want to focus on them and not the floating object. Lock your focus by either switching your lens to manual focus or use back button focusing. Changing your focus at any time during this process could ruin the entire shoot.
  1. You’ll need a remote or to use the 10 sec timer. Even if you’re shooting a model you’ll probably be the one holding the object within the scene which takes you away from behind the camera.
  1. Photograph your subject and object. Move your object around the scene between shots and photograph it as many times as needed. Be careful that your hands don’t wrap around the front of the object too much. If this is unavoidable take 2 shots of yourself holding the object but hold it by the top in one photo and by the bottom in the other so that you have one intact top and one intact bottom which you can blend together in Photoshop.
  1. Make sure you’re not standing between the object and the background because when you try erasing the scene around your object to reveal the background behind you’re going to have a you-shaped problem. But it’s not the end of the world if you’re willing to spend time on accurate masking which you're going to have to do anyway to fully remove your hands. Also try not to stand between the object and your light source because, where possible, you want to capture natural light and shadow.
  1. Remove your object from the scene and photograph the blank scene behind. I’d suggest doing this with and without your model just so you have both options.

How to edit floating objects

With your images open as layers in Photoshop (and you may have many if you’ve been duplicating your object around the scene), make sure your background image is at the base of the stack. If you’re concerned about having that many images open in Photoshop at once you can open the images separately and just lasso the portion of the image you need (making sure you include something for reference that will help you match it up to the background) and then copy and paste that onto your document. I like to turn off the visibility of all my layers (click their eyeballs) except the background layer and work up my layers one by one. I add a white-filled mask to each layer and using a black brush I erase around my object, switching between a white and black brush if I erase too much (use x to toggle brushes). If you don’t like the position of a particular object, you can either select it accurately with a selection tool, then choose Select -> Inverse and delete everything else from that layer OR paint a very accurate mask around it and then, for both methods, use the move tool to drag it somewhere else in your scene. If you choose to do this, be sure to assess the direction of light and shadows in your image and make sure you place the image where the light and shadows are still convincing. Also make sure the perspective still looks correct. Even though you’re creating an image that wouldn’t be possible in reality you still want it to look realistic. This is the foundation of magic after all. [caption id="attachment_1733" align="alignright" width="252"]Clone stamp tool Clone stamp tool[/caption] To get rid of areas where your body is obscuring the object, try using the clone tool. Choose the clone tool (or press 's') then create a new layer making sure 'Sample: Current & Below' is selected in the tool's options. Alt-click an area that you want to clone from and then start painting over the area you want to clone to. The clone tool is tricky at first so I'd suggest hitting YouTube for further information. Once you’ve fine-tuned all your layers it’s important to think about shadows. While erasing yourself from the image you may've also erased the object’s natural shadow so if you can see that shadows are being cast in your image you will need to recreate these for believability.  I hope to talk about this more in future but for now the best thing to do is select a portion of the background that resembles the shape and location of your potential shadow and use a curves or levels adjustment layer to darken it. I tend to make it quite dark at first but then on the adjustment layer’s mask I erase the edges with a soft brush at a low opacity. Study the shadows in the room around you right now for inspiration as to how shadows look. They’re darkest closest to the object and then they fade and spread at the edges.

About my image '793.8'

I work in a library and I wanted to create an image to illustrate the expectation that is placed on library workers to find the perfect book for a customer. If only I could go into the stacks and use magic to pluck precisely what they want. I stayed back one day after work to photograph 793.8 (lying to my colleagues about what I was up to). I used two Speedlites (one with a shoot through umbrella) that were placed in front of me and to the right hand side behind the shelves. The shooting process took about two hours and I was terrified the entire time that the cleaner would come in and bust me. The outfit is made entirely of paper and was photographed separately at a different location (Barwon Park Mansion during Brooke Shaden’s workshop) and knowing I wanted to use it in this photo I had to pose in a very particular way so that I knew I could cut out the dress and hat and make it fit my body. This is called compositing and it’s where Photoshop fun truly begins. To complicate matters I had to try and obscure the mannequin’s hands that originally covered parts of the dress. Sadly I think the dynamism of the pose suffers a little for these reasons. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1714,1713"]   In case none of this worked I also shot myself a second time in a completely different outfit that never ended up getting used. [caption id="attachment_1715" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Back up pose Back up pose[/caption]   After photographing my pose (twice) I then photographed some books scattered on the floor. Next I held up books to make them look like they’re flying. Then I tore up a book from an op shop and threw the same set of 5 pages around a number of times before photographing books moving and falling from the shelves. I expanded the frame by moving my camera right and left and finally I moved my camera to another section of the library and shot a different set of shelves to composite as a background behind my character. The edit was particularly hard because trying to stitch panorama shots of converging lines that have to line up EXACTLY was an almost impossible task. But thankfully I could use my flying books and paper to obscure the dodgy seams. Because I decided to use a different background in the final image I had to mask my objects exactly rather than using the cheat’s method described above, which was frustratingly time consuming. [gallery link="file" size="medium" ids="1719,1716,1717,1718,1720,1721"]   But it’s not every day you get to play the sorcerer’s apprentice while throwing stuff around at your workplace, wondering the whole time if those security cameras in the roof are actually being monitored by someone. Good times. 793.8 library jump

I was up in the air about how to start this blog post but then I realised that’s a terrible joke and decided to get on with it. The easiest and most effective trick you can do with photography and a touch of Photoshop magic is to make someone levitate, float or fly. Photos that defy gravity are both graceful and clever and look much harder to create than they actually are. My favourite levitation photograper is Natsumi Hayashi whose work is so simple, yet so unique and inspired. [caption id="attachment_1684" align="alignright" width="200"]Jumping example Jumping example[/caption]

How to take a levitation photograph

There’s two ways to try levitation photography - one requires Photoshop and the other does not. To make the kind of levitation image popularised by Natsumi Hayashi you simply need to photograph someone jumping. Selecting a high shutter speed of 1/500 or faster to freeze motion is preferable for that hovering appearance. This method gives built-in hair movement but all that jumping in awkward poses can be fairly exhausting on the body while trying to get it right. The second method involves taking two photos and combining them in Photoshop. The first photo should be of your model perched on something, while the second photo should be the blank scene with the model and stand removed. Then all you need do is layer them together in Photoshop and mask (erase) the chair/table out of the scene so the blank background shows through. To recap on lessons in previous weeks, here’s how to set up your camera:
  1. Place your camera on a tripod or resting on something stable and compose your scene. This is important because your shots need to match up exactly for this to work seamlessly.
  1. Switch your camera to manual and set your exposure. You don’t want ANY of your camera settings changing while you do this process or your photos won’t match up afterwards. You can also choose a white balance preset if you’re outdoors and worried about the light changing quickly but it’s not necessary.
  1. Focus on your subject and then lock your focus by either switching your lens to manual focus or use back button focusing and don’t touch your focus button again.
  1. You will need a remote if you’re shooting yourself (remember to change your camera to the timer). Although a remote is great even if you are shooting a model because it also allows you to assist the model with their posing without being stuck behind the camera.
  1. Photograph your subject standing / lying / leaning on some kind of stand ie. stool (one that doesn’t swivel for god’s sake!) or table.
  1. Not strictly necessary but if you want to make your levitation more interesting and believable you can photograph hair flicks, fabric flicks and limb movements separately and composite them together in Photoshop later. If you’re going to attempt this I really suggest sketching your image and writing down all the shots you’ll need to take so you don’t forget anything. It’s best for your subject to continue to hold their position while this is happening so the background is still the same.
  1. Remove the subject and stand and photograph your blank scene.

How to make levitation look convincing

  • Try and shoot from the subject’s height or below. This will exaggerate the height of the levitation. Shooting from above compresses the distance between the subject and the ground and the levitation is less effective.
[gallery size="medium" columns="2" link="file" ids="1686,1685"]  
  • Don’t shoot from too low though or the stand that your subject is resting on will obscure part of their body and look unnatural when you Photoshop it out. Always get your subject to position themselves right at the edge of their stand, closest to camera.
  • Assess your light. If shooting in harsh light that is creating shadows you’re likely going to have to recreate these shadows in Photoshop under your subject once the stand is removed. To avoid this, aim for soft natural light such as an overcast day.
  • Where your subject is touching their stand will end up being flat which looks unnatural. You can avoid this by getting the subject to, for example, arch their back or by lying on a stool rather than a table so they can curve their body around the edges. This is why subjects wearing dresses are great so that you can drape some of their dress in front of the stand to disguise this problem. Just make sure the fabric of the dress is not too translucent or you will see the stand behind it which could be difficult to remove later. If all else fails, you can try selecting and liquefying this part of their body in Photoshop.
[gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="1687,1688,1689"]  
  • If using hair flicks to signify motion you should be including clothes flicks too to keep the idea of weightlessness consistent. If not, then you should ideally continue to follow the rules of gravity with the clothes / hair falling downwards. But of course, all this is dependent on your final story and intention.
My image, The Rise, was taken on an overcast day down the end of my street where there’s a stone circle. Stone circles are steeped in mythology so I thought it would be a great place to make someone levitate. I’d also recently watched Picnic at Hanging Rock and having tracked down a wedding dress reminiscent of that fashion (thanks eBay) I thought it would be a great outfit for the location. I photographed myself posing on a tall stool then I shot some hair flicks. Next I shot my pointed feet separately to fix the problem of ‘flatness’ I mentioned earlier, then I took off the dress and held it up from the same height as I was standing. I did this because, since the back of the dress is so long, I knew parts of it were being obscured by the stool I was standing on, which would cause problems later when I went to Photoshop out the stool. I then took my blank shot and expanded my frame by taking shots all around. Making an initial sketch of all this was vital so I could see the areas I’d need to problem solve. [gallery size="large" link="file" ids="1691,1690,1692"]

How to edit a levitation photo

Open your chosen images as layers into a Photoshop document making sure your blank layer is your bottom layer. Add a white-filled layer mask to your subject layer and, making sure the mask is selected, use a soft black brush to erase the stand from the photo, revealing the blank layer below. If you mess up and erase too much, switch to a white brush (x) to paint areas back in. You’ll find yourself toggling between adding and erasing a lot. Click here for more information about masking. If you can view some of your stand through areas of translucent fabric try using a lower opacity brush to paint on these areas, or the clone stamp tool to remove the section entirely. If you’ve shot extra photos of hair, fabric and limbs for compositing you’ll need to either have some knowledge of selection tools to cut them out precisely (hair is it’s own particular beast) but if you’ve shot them on the same background you should be easily able to mask them in and have them line up without trouble. Make sure that when you are painting along edges that you switch to a brush with a hardness that matches the natural lines in the photo and be extra careful with your masking. To add realism to your levitation you can add a shadow under your subject. I'll talk about shadows more in future but just briefly you do this by first assessing the direction of light in your photo. Then create a new layer and using a soft black-filled brush paint a shadow under your subject roughly matching your subject's shape in the area where their shadow would naturally fall. Shadows are darkest and sharpest where they are closest to the subject so you may need to create different layers of shadowing of varying darkness and hardness or change the opacity and hardness of your brush as you paint. My image was a little tricky. The feet had to be cut out exactly and the back of the dress made to fit the main dress image. The hardest part was my hair. I got it to flick nicely on the left hand side but for some reason, not the left. I also shot some of the hair flicks while I was wearing a different dress so the background was different. To fix this I had to use areas of hair from the left and flip them to the right so they fit. I then had to erase bits of the background using a mix of cloning and lower opacity. It’s still not perfect but you can sometimes get away without being exact. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1695,1693,1696,1694"]   And that's it! Abracadabra. Up and away!  

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