I’ve recently been trying to learn photography and, consequently, Adobe Photoshop for post-processing and image manipulation. My university department very kindly has lent me an SLR (a Nikon D70 which would be lovely if it wasn’t for the fact it’s survived years of abuse by students on archaeological digs in hot and dusty places!) and I’ve was nosing around Photoshop tutorial sites for inspiration when I came across levitation photography.
Now, I’d already been aware of this through the stunning images done by Natsumi Hayashi but she creates her work by jumping and I could never get the poses or the timing quite right. However, these tutorials provided an alternative that I enlisted my sister to help me attempt.
I’m not going to go through the tutorial here, as it’s already been covered far better than I could by Tyson Robichaud, so if you want a go yourself I really recommend his blog. But what I do want to highlight is some of the issues that I, as a complete beginner, had with it. Big thanks go to my sister who was ‘happy’ to stand outside in January wearing her little red dress! Brrr.
The [very basic] summary of levitation photography is you set up a camera and take a photo of the background you will be using. You then put yourself (or a friend!) into the shot standing on whatever you can find and get them to pull a suitable pose. In Photoshop you then put both images into one file and use a layer mask to get rid of what they’re standing on and hey presto! levitation! At least, that’s the theory.
I lack a tripod, so setting up the shot became a balancing act, using various bits of paper and tiles to support and angle the camera how I wanted it. Because the most important thing is keeping the shots exactly the same. The two images have to line up pretty darn closely otherwise it just looks bad (especially if you have bricks/tiling/paving etc. in the background!).
Related to this, the lighting and exposure of each shot also has to be pretty identical. Which is fine if you’re shooting in a controlled environment but not so good for shooting outside on a day that can’t decide if it wants to be sunny or overcast. This can lead to huge differences between shots and can cause real issues later in Photoshop if the exposure between your background image and your ‘person’ image is different.
When you have your two images (like mine below!), you open the background image in Photoshop and then create a new layer for whatever you want to levitate (‘Lev Layer’). If you’ve done everything right, they should line up nicely. If not, a good way to check is to make the Lev Layer 50% opaque and then manually line them up if you need to.
Once you’re happy with the alignment, create a layer mask on the Lev Layer and paint out whatever your person/object is standing on in black (which looks like you’re erasing it!). This is surprisingly easy to do, even for complete beginners as the button can be found at the bottom of the layer tab. But, if you’re anything like me and need things spelling out then this tutorial is very good and very extensive.
If you do things [fairly] right then you end up with a floating person!
Now I am relatively happy with how this (as my first attempt) turned out. But it isn’t quite right. And I think it really highlights the importance of composition and considering how your finished photo will look. For example, she isn’t up high enough to get the full floating effect. Her boots blend into the floor and even with the bricks removed it isn’t instantly clear that she is levitating. The flagstones on the floor (under her left foot) do not match perfectly – neither in alignment nor colour; a result of dodgy lighting and a slight movement of the camera that I did not manage to correct in Photoshop.
The below image is another attempt at levitation but while I loved the sunbeams I made a big mistake by forgetting to take a background image when the light changed. As a result I could not just use the layer mask as the background layer was much much darker than the above layer. So what I did was mask out the bricks and then use the sneaky clone tool to fill in the area with matching colour from the Lev Layer. Again, it’s not perfect but it’s a nice start.
Hopefully this and the appropriate links will allow you to create your own levitation images. If are inspired, let me know! I’d love to see them 🙂