Spooky Photos for Halloween: Make Someone Levitate

by Kristen Duke

Halloween is right around the corner, which means that it’s time to infuse some magic in your photos. I thought it would be fun to share some tips on how to create a levitation photo, so your subject looks lighter than air. It’s just a matter of some clever posing, a bit of Photoshop magic, and you are good to go.

Convincing levitation photos are just a composite of multiple photos taken of the same subject and then pulled together in Photoshop. The results can be magical:

Before shooting:

1. Plan before you shoot. Think about the kind of levitation you are trying to achieve. How will you create the illusion? Will your model be lying on a table? Standing on a stool? Lying on some milk crates? Collect your props and materials.

2. Choose your model, clothing and location. Free flowing fabric, such as a dress or skirt can enhance the flotation illusion, but you have to see how it drapes while you are shooting. Will the model’s hair be blowing in the air as she floats? If so, you may need to bring in a fan. If you’re shooting outdoors, pick a spot with minimal background distractions.

Shooting:

1. Take a series of photos. To create the illusion of a person levitating, you need to take at least three pictures and maybe more. Each picture is a piece that you use in your composite image. For example, each floating foot will need to be a separate shot.

2. Start with the background. Take a picture of the exact scene in which you place the subject, but without your model or the platform in it. This empty image is key to successful post-processing.

3. Shoot with a tripod. All of your pictures need to line up exactly. If you shoot without a tripod, each of your images will be slightly different, making the Photoshop work afterward very difficult, or even impossible.

4. You may want to use a trigger release cord or a remote. This tool prevents any camera shake or movement that occurs when you press the shutter button.

5. Set your exposure and focus using manual settings. Once you have set your exposure and focus, do not change it for any of the pictures. Focus and exposure need to remain exactly the same for all images. This is especially important for the “empty scene” image. If you use auto focus, the camera will select a different focus point when the scene is empty than it would when you have a person in the frame. This doesn’t have to be hard, by the way; you can see what shutter and aperture settings the camera would use on Automatic, and then dial those in in Manual mode.

6. Pay close attention to the areas where you will be removing the props in Photoshop, such as the stool or table that your model is standing on. Avoid situations that will make the post-processing difficult. Is the model’s sweater hanging over the table properly? Are the model’s toes blocked by the edge of the stool?

7. Check your angle. If you shoot from a low angle, it will make the person appear to be floating higher in the air.

Post-processing:

1. Open your photos in Photoshop. (Or another photo editor of your choice.) Put each image in a separate layer. Put the scene with no person in it on the bottom. Then, using layer masks, use a black and a white brush to erase the parts of each shot that you do not need, combining them into one magical image.

2. Pay attention to shadows and reflections. You don’t want to leave the shadow of the stool in your final image, for example.

3. When you are finished masking, flatten the image and save. The concept behind levitation photography is simple, but it is not always easy to execute. Take time to practice and shoot several scenes to capture the image you want.

I hope these tips help you figure out how to do something fun and different for Halloween! Happy Haunting!

image credit: Kristen Duke and Liz Hansen