Want to capture some magical levitation images? Levitation photography might seem difficult, but it’s actually pretty easy. As long as you know the simple, step-by-step process, you can create beautiful levitation photos of your very own, the kind that shock viewers and look consistently incredible.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit it: When I started out with levitation photography, I struggled. But over time, I made tweaks and improvements to my approach and capturing good levitation shots got easier and easier. Today, I’m ready to share that approach with you – so you can skip past my mistakes and start making great shots right away.
Below, I share everything you need to know to conduct successful levitation photoshoots, including:
- All the gear you do (and don’t) need
- How to choose the right angle and composition for a stunning effect
- How to process your levitation shots for the best results
- Much more!
Ready to become a levitation master? Then let’s dive right in.
What is levitation photography?
Levitation photography refers to images depicting subjects that appear to be floating, or levitating, in the air.
Levitation images are designed to look strange, spooky, or just generally surreal. The goal is not to display reality, but to instead create mindbending compositions that perplex the viewer.
While you can technically create a levitation shot by asking your subject to jump (or by throwing your subject into the air) and firing the shutter at the right time, most levitation photos are created with some post-production trickery, which I explain in depth later on.
What subjects work best for levitation photography?
Unless you want to spend dozens of hours in Photoshop carefully removing, compositing, and cloning different subjects, I’d recommend selecting levitation subjects that are capable of standing or lying on a stool.
Most levitation photographers work with portrait subjects; after all, you can instruct people to stand in the right place, to balance atop different objects, and so on.
Note that you can create interesting arrangements with multiple portrait subjects. For instance, you might do a group levitation shot, where an entire family or wedding party appears to be floating above the ground. Or you might give one subject the “non-magic” role and have them stand on the grass while other subjects float around the scene.
That said, if you don’t have any portrait subjects or you simply want to create more original photos, you can certainly have fun levitating inanimate objects. You might levitate:
- Soap bottles
In particular, levitation can be a potent technique for professional food or product photography. By levitating items (or pieces) of food, you can create a very modern, fresh look. And by levitating products, you can create a sense of energy and vitality that complements images of shoes, portable technology, and more.
How to do levitation photography: the basics
Levitation photoshoots aren’t especially complex, but they do take some gear and know-how. In this section, I share my step-by-step process for creating high-quality levitation images.
Step 1: Gather your equipment
To produce a successful levitation image, you need:
- A camera and lens (with manual focusing capabilities)
- A tripod
- A willing model (or inanimate object)
- Something to position your subject on, such as a stool, a chair, or a ladder
Step 2: Head to your location
Many photographers do levitation photoshoots in remote locations. But while isolated meadows and dark forests will certainly contribute to the spooky atmosphere, you can also take great levitation shots in your backyard, in a local park, or even indoors.
Just make sure you choose your location carefully. You need an area that will be relatively free of passersby (you don’t want to spend time cloning people out of the background). And the more room you have to shoot, the better.
If you’re working with a model, I’d recommend arriving on location a few minutes in advance. That way, you can mount your camera on a tripod, consider different shooting angles, and select your exposure settings before your subject arrives.
Step 3: Photograph the scene with your subject on a perch
Levitation photography relies on two fundamental images:
- A shot of your subject sitting, standing, or lying on a perch (e.g., a stool).
- A shot of the scene without the subject and without the perch.
The order in which you take the two shots technically doesn’t matter, but it’s much easier to compose the shot with the subject first, then capture the background shot later on.
So set up your first shot. Make sure your camera is carefully positioned on the tripod. If you’re working with a portrait subject, ask them to perch on the stool and carefully direct them in a levitation-esque pose. If you’re working with an inanimate object, position it as you prefer.
Switch your camera to manual focus, then adjust the focus until your main subject is tack-sharp. Set the exposure using Manual mode.
Take your first image. Check the result on the back of your camera, and make sure that you’ve nailed the focus and exposure.
Step 4: Photograph the scene without your subject
Next, remove everything from the scene: your stools, your subjects, and any additional props.
Without changing the exposure or the focus, take a second image. This should feature only the background (but the point of focus should remain on the foreground!).
Step 5: Blend the images
At this point, you have the raw components of your levitation shot. Now it’s time to combine the two images to create a realistic final composition.
Open your two files in a basic editing program such as Lightroom, and make sure the colors and exposures match perfectly. If you notice any differences between the images, spend some time making adjustments to the exposure and/or white balance. (You can also apply general edits to both files, though make sure you keep all edits consistent across the two shots!)
Next, open the files as layers in Adobe Photoshop. Make sure the empty background image is on the bottom of the layer stack.
Click on the upper layer (with your subject) and create a mask. Initially, the mask will be white, so your image will remain unaltered. But select a Brush, make sure the color is black, and then paint over the subject’s supporting elements (i.e., the stool). Watch as the stool disappears, leaving behind the untouched background…
…and your subject starts to levitate!
Finally, merge the layers, and export the final image as a JPEG for sharing.
Levitation photography tips
Want to level up your levitation photos? In this section, I share a few quick tips to enhance your results.
1. Shoot on a cloudy day
Yes, it’s possible to create beautiful levitation photos in bright sunlight. But it’s a major pain.
You see, if you work with lots of sun, then your subject and your subject’s perch will create shadows. When you go to merge the two images in Photoshop, you’ll need to spend time correcting the subject’s shadow and removing the perch’s shadow, which isn’t fun and can take an annoying amount of time.
So unless you’re a Photoshop expert, I’d really recommend doing your levitation photoshoots on cloudy days or in the shade. That way, you can avoid difficult shadows and get realistic results straight out of the camera.
2. Tell your model what to wear
In my experience, clothing can make or break a levitation image. Therefore, it’s essential that you guide your model in their wardrobe choices. Here are a few handy items of advice:
- Solid-color clothing is best. Prints and patterns can make it difficult to clone out certain parts of clothing or liquify fabric.
- Avoid jackets and sweaters. Anytime the model lies upside down or sideways, the garment should technically be hanging down – but if the model is actually lying on a stool, the jacket won’t hang naturally, and the result will be less realistic.
- If you’re going for a feminine levitation shot, long dresses, skirts, and other flowy fabrics can give you a very cool look.
3. Shoot from a low angle
If you use a wide-angle lens and get down low, your subject will appear to float higher in the air. (Conversely, if you shoot down on your subject from above, they’ll appear closer to the ground.)
In general, it’s better to get low, but be mindful of your angle. If you get lower than the perch your model is standing or lying on, the perch’s material will start to block the model’s body, and you’ll be unable to realistically remove the perch in Photoshop.
It’s safest to shoot in line with the top of the perch (and you can also make sure your model is sitting at the very front of the perch to lessen the risk of issues).
How to take floating photos: an additional resource
If you’re looking for a more visual tutorial, I highly recommend the video below! Not everyone captures levitation shots the same way, and the video is geared toward product and still-life photographers, but it’s definitely worth a watch.
Here’s the process detailed in the video:
What you need
- A camera
- A tripod
- Photo-editing software
The levitation photography approach
- Choose an object that you want to make float.
- Expose for your subject (this will vary depending on the lighting!).
- The trick is to take one photo holding your subject with your left hand, and then a second photo holding your subject with your right hand.
- Make sure you choose Grids ON in your camera menu.
- Line up the subject in the same spot for each shot (that’s where the grid comes in handy!).
- Use manual focus for each shot; you want the focus to be the same for each photo.
- Hold your subject with one hand, focus, and take the first photo.
- While still holding your subject, grab the opposite side with your other hand (keeping it in the same position). Let go with the first hand, and without moving, take the second photo. Try this as many times as necessary to get a good result.
- Edit your best photos in Lightroom (or the editing program of your choice).
- Once you determine the two shots you want to combine, send the image over to Photoshop.
- Select the image with your subject held in your left hand. Double-click the layer in the Layer Palette to make it editable.
- Press Ctrl/Cmd+A to select the layer contents, then Ctrl/Cmd+C to copy.
- Switch to the other image. Double-click the layer in the Layers Palette to make the layer editable.
- Press Ctrl/Cmd+V to paste the image you copied into the second file.
- Lower the opacity of the top layer to about 36% so you can see to line up the contents of the shots.
- Move the top layer until it is lined up.
- Next, we want to take the top layer and delete parts we don’t want.
- Add a layer mask to the top layer and select your Brush Tool (make sure the brush is soft!).
- Change the foreground color in your toolbar to black; that way, you can paint out areas of the layer mask.
- Paint out the areas you don’t want. Start with a larger brush, then make the brush smaller and continue to paint out areas you don’t need.
- Check all your lines around your image to ensure they line up.
- Apply any additional edits, and you are done!
Levitation photography: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know how to create high-quality levitation photos.
So plan a levitation photoshoot. Have fun. See what you can capture.
Now over to you:
What type of levitation photos do you plan to create? Share your thoughts in the comments!