How to do Levitation Photography

Levitations are one of many trends that have become quite popular these days. There are so many possibilities with this technique that really allow you to create an image that defies the laws of the physical world.

Taking the Pictures
Some people have asked me, “how did you manage to photograph yourself falling backwards just at that moment in mid air¿?”

…now you know….

The first thing you’ll want to do is get yourself a couple of silly (but snazzy) vintage suits and take a few pictures of yourself wildly and ridiculously swinging a guitar around.

You could just do it with the bottom two images, but I wanted the extra flexibility of having one frame of just the environment just in case during the processing at home.

I brought a suitcase with my costume changes and used the suitcase to lean on in the third picture. People will probably stop to take pictures of you while you’re between costumes in your dainties, but just ignore them for now and stay focused on your final image!

It’s important to use a tripod (or something sturdy to put the camera on if you’re improvising) and, if possible, a remote shutter release to keep the camera absolutely still in exactly the same position! (You can get them here starting at just under $5, or check with the online sellers on ebay – it’s a worthwhile investment and good to keep in the bag)

Keep your camera in manual mode for this so that there is no variation between your exposures. To let your camera calculate your settings for you, set your camera to “aperture priority” mode at your desired aperture/ISO setting and see what your camera sets the shutter speed at. Now go to manual mode and enter those values in. This is very important because you can needlessly spend time later in post for something so simple you can do at the time of shooting.

Now load your handywork on to your computer!

Processing (Putting it all together)
I use photoshop, but you can use other editing programs as long as you have the possibility of working in layers.

You might find, like I did, that the remote shutter release wasn’t actually especially useful in this case. So why did I just recommend it? Assuming you’re not using your tripod in the water directly on Lake Ontario, you should really notice the difference!

But what happens if your pictures don’t align themselves perfectly? No problem – let photoshop do it for you. Put the pictures your going to use on separate layers in the same canvass and make sure they’re all selected as in the screen-capture below. Then go to ‘Edit’ –> ‘Auto-align layers’. A dialogue box will pop up – choose ‘Auto’ then go get yourself something to drink for a couple of minutes while it fits your images together for you.

Auto-align layers
A little tip: when you’re dragging a layer of one image into another canvass to stack images in photoshop like this, hold down the shift key while you drag it over and your image will automatically be centred in the new frame – that way, you’ll be able to tell right away if you even need to auto-align or not.

Now you’re going to add a layer mask (or vector mask) to mask out the parts you don’t want to show in your image. The order of your layers doesn’t even really matter here. You’re just masking one layer to show through to the information you want to show from the layer below:

Click the layer to make it active. Then hit the “vector mask” icon where the arrow’s pointing toward the bottomand mask through to the next layer
Making sure that your layer mask is selected (and NOT the actual image – it’s an easy mistake to make!), simply paint black to completely hide parts of that layer you don’t want showing to expose the information from the layer below. If you make a mistake, this is a much better method than using the eraser tool because it’s all completely undoable and non-destructive. If you make a mistake, simply paint that part in white again to re-expose the layer you’re working on. And of course various shades of gray will blend the two. Try it and you’ll see what I mean….

It also helps to lower the opacity of your working layer so that you can also see the one that you’re exposing from underneath:

Lower the opacity to help you see what the heck you’re doing
Now grab a black paint brush…and start painting!

Paint black over areas you want to mask revealing the layer directly below it (the dude in the cream and blue fun-fur disco suit) leaving areas white that will remain hidden (like the vintage suitcase)
Don’t forget to think about and look for things like shadows!

And that’s really the basic effect! The rest of the processing is up to your creative imagination.

Here’s an earlier attempt using the same idea:

Levitating Cristy
Same lovely assistant who was behind the scenes for the Matrix project above
Here’s the setup:

Convince your girlfriend to put on a boa and try and balance precariously on a wobbly coffee table like this:

Actually she makes it look quite easy, but really it was fairly unstable, so…careful!

Don’t forget about shadows. If there isn’t one, you might have to create one so that the subject somehow interacts optically with the environment making the scene believable. Otherwise you end up with this:

Without shadow = less convincing
Doesn’t look quite as good – let’s try that again:

With shadow = much better ¿no?
Aaahhhh…that’s better!