23 August 2011

Levitation Photography – Mid Air Magic

You might say that levitation is impossible: you might also say, on occasion that the camera never lies. You might well be wrong on both counts if these amazing photographs are anything to go by.

If you are a casual photographer (which might well make you a living breathing oxymoron) then you may well have taken a snap which, with some sheer blind luck, has given your subject the appearance of hovering in mid air. Yet there is a whole sub school of photography in which the aim is to give the appearance of levitation as seamlessly as possible.

It may not have started with Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman but since that particular photograph was taken in 1948 things have certainly moved on with the advent of digital photography and applications such as Photoshop. Yes, you may still need wires for objects but computer programs now allow for layering of multiple exposures with the stuff that you don’t want (step ladders in many cases) air brushed out.

As long as the photographer is careful not to move the camera during the multiple exposures, it shouldn't be too hard to separate out the background (the walls, the floor, the appliances and so on) from the various levitated objects (do a subtraction), which makes it as good as, if not better than using chroma key (green screen techniques).

When it comes to floating objects, however, the secret is the same – multiple exposures layered on top of each other. Objects are held, usually from the ceiling by wires or from handy trees – occasionally they are wired from the ground. Then, the offending wires are removed using a computer application and hey presto.

It does all sound rather time consuming, but look at the superb pictures here and you may realize that the effort is all worthwhile when the photograph is complete. Let's face it too - planking is so last year - anyone can do it. So you see, with a little help, sometimes the camera (with the aid of a computer) does lie.

Why not try it? You may want to just get someone to jump in the air and hope for the best. However, if you reall want to see how it's done then in this video tutorial, Danylo Bobyk shares some insight on how to make someone levitate in an image along with the lighting setup and Photoshop workflow that's at his blog post.