Wouldn’t it be great to capture the idea of lightness or the subtlety of a an “uplifting”moment? Well that’s what popped into my head a few weeks when I totally got inspired to finally to do a photo shoot within those lines. I always had this idea in my “images to create” list by never got to it… until now! As I’m now working on an up-beat stop motion video that should be ready next month featuring “J Poppins” as the the main actress, I though of making a image to go along with the story (“J” as in Justine who is also the model in this shoot). But to the point, I thought of sharing some insight on how to create a trick “levitation” image as these are always a blast! Check out the lighting setup and step-by-step tips on how to make it happen in the full post. To warm up just kick back and play the video below (best in fullscreen with HD on):
As you may have guessed the video is mostly comprised of the stills from the session (which would explain the vertical orientation) but I thought it would be a quick way to show how this came to be. Here is my favorite image from the shoot, entitled “Fly-Away” – Click image to enlarge or resize to your screen size:
So if you’re reading this line then you’ll definitely want to see how the image was made, so…
THE BREAK DOWN:
Of course it’s fun to do these kinds of shoots but it’s always good to have a story or theme behind the image. But that aside, let’s get right into it. The final image is a composite – meaning that it is made by combining several images to give the illusion of levitation. In a nut-shell, you just need to:
1) Pre-visualize the final image or just draw it out on a piece of paper.
2) Choose a location & scene.
3) Find the perfect angle and lock it down on a tripod
- It’s always good to scout the area and experiment with various angles while trying avoid having any distracting objects behind the subject (yes, I know I could have done a little better but this has the only proper angle given than half of this small roof is in need of repair so we couldn’t go everywhere ; ) Generally speaking it might be good to have a low angle of approach so that the subject appears to be higher up. In my case, the camera was about 50cm from the ground.
4) Levitate!: position the model on the prop(s)
- Now this is the fun part. Get anything that will keep the subject comfortably and safely in the right position. Table, chair, stool, garbage can, ladder, what have you? The key thing is just to minimize the size of the object (to the extent possible) and to make sure that it does not block any part of the subject that would be hard to get back in post-production (e.g. somebodies face). In this case, we used a ladder as it was the only thing readily available that would give us the height needed, and then I just added some pillows for cushioning – which is always nice if you don’t want your model to give you looks when your adjusting your lights ; )
5) Setup the lighting with the model in place
Once more or less positioned on the prop, you can setup the lighting with the model in place. It doesn’t have to be perfect for now as you will still have time to tweak them later in Step 7, but just keep them as they are until then. For the lighting, this is of course a personal thing. Sometimes natural light is great and nothing else is needed besides maybe a reflector, and sometimes we’ll want to go with strobes. It all depends on personal taste and on the look you want to achieve. In this case, I was going for a claro-oscuro look with the following setup:
For the techies, I wireless triggered the lights with the Cybersync system and used a wireless shutter remote so I that can trigger the camera from anywhere. This is optinal but I tethered the images straight into Adobe Lightroom on my MacBook, which is great to quickly make sure I had enough details in each image to be used. As you can see on the image above for the:
- Key light, I used a 100cm Elinchrom Deep Octa on a the EL Quadra Head (~ 3/4 power) and filled on the other side slightlly with a Canon 580EXII speedlight shooting at a silver umbrella.
- Rim lights behind the subject, I placed a EL Quadra head with the factory “diffusion piece” on the left side, and on the right side I just pointed a bare LumoPro LP160 place on the flour and pointing directly at the hair. I just stuck to large pieces of flat black card board paper on each to prevent getting flare in the camera.
6) ESSENTIAL: Make a “master” background image
- This is an essential part to the whole thing; it would be very hard if not impossible to make this happen without properly doing this. Since the camera is already mounted and “the shot” is framed by now, just remove the subject and props from the frame to make your “master” backround image (see diagram below). You will ultimately use it to remove the prop(s) that held the model in place – in this case the ladder. The reason why the lighting setup is already setup for the “levitating” subject is so that the lighting stays consistent between the images you will combine to make the final image.
7) Make the images you need for the composite
- Now that we have a master, just get the model “levitating” again on the prop(s). Since the lighting is already in place, its all good from here. Since the framing and lighting is consistent, the beauty of having the camera mounted on the tripod is that you can combine any part of any image. Now the “trick” is just to figure out which “pieces of images” you need to make it look as the person is actually levitating. The challenge mostly lies in making it look as the prop is no actually there in the final image so that it has a natural feel to it. It’s OK is the prop blocks a part of the model, as long as it’s something that can be easily taken from another frame.
For example, the ladder was blocking the dress in our case, as it was a last minute shoot and there was no better prop/ladder at the time. But hey! that’s the beauty of compositing. So I then just shot another image of the model lying on a chair with the dress flowing down as it should have originally. Since the chair was lower, I lowered the camera accordingly on the tripod – which was pretty much as low as it went in “macro mode”. As I only needed the dress from that frame, the change in the background wasn’t an issue in this case as it is quite dark and thus it’s easy to select the dress in Photoshop when blending the images. For the sky, I pulled it from the timelapse sequence you saw at the beginning of the video (top of the page), that was captured almost at the same location. Once you have all the images needed for the composite, it’s time to hit the PC (just not literally though).
8 ) Blend images as layers in Photoshop
- There are numerous ways of doing this. There is obviously no true “right way” to do this but I’ll just give you a quick run-down of my workflow:
- Once images ingested to my iMac, I review the images in Photo Mechanic to pick the ones I actually need for the composite
- Import the (5) select images into Lightroom
- In Lightroom, develop the main image with the model to the desired look
- Sync the development settings for all the images so that they all have the same look and can be easily blended together
- Straight from the Gallery module in Lightroom, you can open them up as layers in Photoshop.
- Once all the images are stacked as layers in one Photoshop file, just apply a Mask on each of the layers (if your new to masking see this simple video or just search “using photoshop masks” on YouTube)
- Use the Brush tool to blend the different parts of the layers
- Make sure to include “levitating” person’s shadow, that should be on floor in the final image. In this case, I examined the shadows created in the “main image with subject” (above) and while keeping in mind how shadows should fall from the key light, I added the shadows in Photoshop. [Here's an elaboration on this at this Flickr forum]
- The rest of the work basically consists of refining the masks and making careful selections to blend the images until you get the desired outcome. (And of course sprinkling your own personal touch-ups)
9) That’s it!
Since you got this far thanks for visiting the site and hope this was helpful to you. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or if you would like clarifications on something I mentioned.
Much more to come; the guide on how to make proper timelapse videos is coming very soon!
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