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Creating a Levitation Image

Lesson 26 from: Fine Art Compositing

Brooke Shaden

Creating a Levitation Image

Lesson 26 from: Fine Art Compositing

Brooke Shaden

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Lesson Info

26. Creating a Levitation Image


Class Trailer

Day 1


Class Introduction


Why Composite ?


Logic Checklist


What Not To Do When Compositing


Shooting for Composite


Changing Backgrounds and Light


Shoot: Simple Swaps Part 1


Lesson Info

Creating a Levitation Image

what I want to show is some work that I've done with levitation and a little bit of how they were put together on dh how we can apply this elsewhere because I don't expect everybody to start taking pictures of people flying in the air that's not the goal although if it is your goal that's cool too because the soldier will definitely help with that but if it's not then this could be applied to a lot of different ideas and it's the principals behind this that is what really taught me the discipline of the craft of photography it was through doing stuff like this that made me realize the importance of shooting at the right way and when I would try to do a levitation shot and I shot at the wrong way it was the worst feeling because there was no fixing it so I started learning things like that I started paying attention to light a lot more figuring out how to create shadows in an image really figuring out the basis of how does light and shadow work and how important is that and other things...

too for example when shooting a levitation image there is something really really basic and yet so easy to mess up about taking this picture which is the simple fact that if you were above the subject trying to do a levitation shot then they're not going to look like they're off the ground at all because their body will essentially intersect with the ground from the view of the camera not something they will demonstrate in just a little bit too so you need to be level with the subject or lower and that really demonstrates the importance of angle of how how much your cameras tilting up how high or low your camera is based on the height of your tripod there a couple things that go into this that must happen in order to create a new easy to put together levitation shot one of them is that you really need to stay in place so if you're trying to take a picture of somebody floating or flying or you're trying to composite them in some sort of strange way even if it's just you're putting a different leg on or something like that then what you need to pay attention teo is how far away you are from the subject and making sure you lock that focus when I say lock focus I am not talking about like making sure that that well I was going to say something else but actually I do mean that so nevermind I mean everything when you think about focused that's what I mean what I mean is that you need to make sure that your subject isn't moving toward or away from the camera you need to make sure that you're not moving toward or away from your subject and that's really important because let's see who wants to jump up here real quick thank you oh good we have to do all right you're gonna be the subject you were gonna be the camera so you stand here and you stand there okay so if you just act like you're taking this picture okay so you're taking his picture no this's what's goingto happen if you decide that you don't like the angle that you're at and you're going to move and let's take two steps back okay so what happens here we have to refocus and re compos when we start to refocus and re compose our subject then we can't use any of the shots that we took previously because we've just reset the situation so when we're resetting then we have to start everything over again so if you've done all your shots and you've got all this levitation going on you're like oh this is going to be great then you think oh but actually I really want to get like a little bit of a wider shot of everything the second you move that camera you're toast you've got to start over again so that is the most important thing here is that we are shooting from one spot we're not moving toward or away the stuff from the subject and once we have our focus on the subject that's where our focus needs to stay we can't move that focal point within our camera so if we're shooting right here we've got our picture and we're all were focused on our subject and that's all well and good then when we step back either we refocus on our subject which then makes the outside edges of our frame whatever's on the floor of the background that changes that focus just based on how close you are to the subject but also if we do this correctly so you're you're standing there you're taking that picture you are shooting him that's right with your hands and so we've got the shot and once you've got the shot of your subject then you want to flip your lens to manual focus and the moment you do that or you come back focus so whichever you prefer but flipping your lens to manual focus in a levitation situation that's going to make sure that you're not going to accidentally focus on something else in the picture as you're going on and thank you guys and it's going to also make sure that you are not going to accidentally focus on the background so if you're taking a levitation picture let's say that you're in location you're in a field let's just say that this is a field and on the subject ok and so I'm like doing this pose and we're doing levitation you focused on me love the shot then what you can't do then is have me step aside because we talked about the importance of a blank shot or a plate and then shoot that without walking your focus because then your focus shifts to whatever's in the background so when your focus shifts you have to start over as well I've done a lot of shoots where I have to start over and over and over again it's I keep making one of these mistakes the other biggest mistake that people make is not taking their camera out of manual focus so once you've shot that and then nearly okay I'm locking it down don't then go do another shoot forgetting that you're not an auto focus it seems like a fairly obvious thing to say but it is not because I have shot pictures of way out of focus many times because of this now I have this manual focus lens which I don't really know how to use at all but at least I don't have that problem anymore okay so let's talk a little bit about applying these principles to these images this is one of the first really levitation shots that I did it was done for a dance company in los angeles and they had said we really want underwater photos something that looks really weightless but we don't really want to do it underwater because of several different reasons one being that they had seen pictures of another dance company where they're dancers were underwater so they said well we don't want to do the same thing but you want that weightless feeling so I said let's do levitation let's just try it out see how it goes so it's what we did we started teo shoot the dancers just like this in a very strange situation this was how this picture started this was shot in a warehouse and within this warehouse was this beautiful beam of light just coming in from above all natural light I didn't even really know what a reflector was at this point so that didn't occur to me to fill anything in I just loved how it was such a spotlight and it really created a nice dark background something that you probably can't see very well on the screen is the fact that in this background there's actually like a dark red sheet being held up in the background where there are lots of little hands holding onto it in fact they're on dh that's because I had the whole dance team with me so they were each helping each other shots so the background here was actually sort of like one of those metal garage doors and it was ten so you could kind of see it a lot more in this picture when I didn't cover it up so I thought I know that I want a dark background I know that I don't know a lot in photo shop yet at this point and so I thought well I might as well just put something dark in the backgrounds and this editing goes really smoothly and so I don't have to worry about what's in the background I could just transform the limbs the leg or the dress or whatever to fit and I have to worry about the background so it was a really good way to start I took this picture and I said I only got I love the way this is moving the skirt is so pretty and I love the legs but what I don't like are the shadows on the face I felt like that was just a little bit too much and it didn't really work for me so that's when I took this picture and this picture I didn't like the skirt as much but I loved the upper body so much so I said okay I'm going to combine those two images and I showed her those images as we were shooting and I said the's air the two pictures that will go together for the final product which I don't know if she really got it like what was going to happen but but she did like the final product so those were the two shots that I knew I was going to use and then I took this image and you can see that the backgrounds kind of gone at this point because everybody just moved when I said clear the area but that wasn't such a big deal because e I mean I don't even know if you guys can see that background in this image I've been kind to see it so I had a blank shot so what happened was at this point once I had the image of my subject I would flip my lens to manual focus then when she moves I have nothing to worry about I'm still focused right there on the floor where I need to be focused so that's kind of how all of these chutes go but this is the most basic example of somebody is on a stool or in this case a very painful box that we happen to find in that warehouse I'm telling you such a good sport but we put a burlap sack over it so it was a little bit more comfortable and that's how all of the shoots are done generally so then we have some other things that are a little bit more complicated in the pose but still the same process where here she is balancing on a stool she had her little butt cheek on a stool and we just edited the stool out and so that's how this was shot just sort of propped up a cz much as she could be balancing on her head she's a real good sport and so this was done just like that pretty simply and then we had a blank shot just like that and you can see some slight shifts happening you know like the wee gee board moved you can see like different footprints appearing because she got up and moved or or it's the weedy board who knows but but that's ok little shifts aren't going to make a huge difference what is going to make a difference is when your focus shifts or when your camera moves or if you're one of those people that I talked about that puts your camera on a tripod and then he just forgets that it's on the tripod and you pick it up and then start to take pictures like that that's very bad so I don't recommend doing that but just keep it a still it's possible okay now this is the image that I was actually talking about earlier in terms of creating shadows where this was a really good opportunity to study light and shadow and how light was affecting this image I knew that my subject would be pressed right up against the picture and I could see just based on what I was shooting that there was a very harsh shadow happening you know right where it was she was totally covering the wall but then as her dress moved out as her leg moved out we didn't have that much of a shadow and that was something that I did end up recreating in photo shop I had a hard time maintaining the shadow that was actually there because of how I had to erase the stool so instead I recreated that shadow which is a nice simple shadow to recreate there's no real shape happening it's just sort of ah a standard sort of I don't know l shaped blob so that made it quite easy if I didn't have to do hands flying out or limbs moving or anything like that it was just static so I shot her like this and I had a pressed up against the wall and I had her arms and everything in the pose but everything wasn't exactly as I wanted it for example her hair was too perfect and wonderful there so there's her hair look so great being love fiction and I moved her hair and that was just done you know right there flicking the hair as I'm sure you can tell and then I took these images here as my blank shots so let me go back there this is the left hand side of the frame and this is the right what I did by accident was I did not just take a blank shot when I had the opportunity so instead of keeping my frame where it was on her having her move in a stool move and taking that shot I just sort of moving the camera I did it intentionally I didn't just pick my camera up but I sort of pen to the left took a picture pan to the right and took a picture that I could expand in doing that it was fine because I could create the entire picture from thes to blank images here but that's not ideal I would much much rather start with this image erase the stool have that all done and then expand my frame rather than worrying about creating a blank shot from two different images now in this case since we've been talking about lighting so much the light was coming from about right there in the frame so it was sort of like right up at the top of the frame on the back wall and it was a light that was just stuck to the wall and I decided that I wanted to change the light and make it a little bit more interesting not so modern and so I had this lantern with me so I decided to add that in as the motivated light source which was very close to where the actual white was I ended up like cloning that light out of there just getting rid of it and then adding a new light in which I did shoot on location as well okay this is a funny picture here and this picture was done in a very old book store in los angeles and I found it one day and I walked in and I said can I take a picture in your bookstore and the guy that owns this place it was so awesome and andi he said do whatever you want and then I said well can I buy a couple books and then rip the pages that would you no no book owner wants to hear that so he let me them and I took some book pages and I threw them all around and we had a really tight space to work in my friend was here helping me with this because I was having trouble moving my dress and doing all this stuff by myself and so I ended up creating this image and this was before shot so this was the shot of where I was on the floor my friend's moving my dress we have a couple book pages stuck inside the bookshelves but I did that separately I figured that with just two of us would be nearly impossible to hold myself in this position and move the dress in throw the book pages so that was a separate shot that I ended up adding in later and so she just threw those book pages and I love the motion of it normally I would be inclined to hold each book page separately and photograph it so it's still but I found that the chaos of this picture really warranted that kind of motion blur so this was created with no real levitation effect this was just you know some acrobatics I guess although anybody can do it I'm pretty sure so I just laid down and pushed my hip up with my backhand put myself at an angle to the camera where you couldn't see my backhand and then tried to give that effect like I was falling off of the ladder okay now this is an example of an image where I didn't need a stool to help me I didn't need any sort of assistance this was just done really really simply in my apartment by myself nothing to prop me up and so it was done I'll pretend like this tripod is the window so so this is the window sill and I'm leaning like this then all I had to do with lean ok and then lift one leg like that and then I photograph that and then I put it down and then I lifted this leg and then a photograph that leg and I did a little dress foot and so I ended up doing it kind of as much as possible all at once so I would hold the position here with this leg and then my dress at the same time which got the majority of this shot so that then all I had to do was add in that foot in the background and then it became very simple because it wasn't a matter of oh my gosh or the legs matching up at the hip and you know our all the joint's going in the right places but just can I see the foot in the background to make it more believable so there we go that was the first shot fleeing the dress with the leg in the air caught at the same time and then we have some hair movement and that hair was really important to do at this moment because of the reflection in the glass so I wanted to make sure that I wasn't moving the hair to a different background thing like that and I did have to shift it a little bit it didn't quite match up exactly but at least it was enough that you know the reflection was motivated they're so here I've just tilted the camera down just to catch more those were my kiddies food bowls over there and then that was the progression of shots that was used now I didn't show you the other leg because it was very inappropriate shot of my underwear so I decided to keep that private but you can imagine what it looks like and brooke winters here has is asking how many times do you actually shoot a limb or a dress or a hair flip before you feel like you have the a picture is it really just a matter of chipping ex shot looking do it again look do it again figured out yeah pretty much I mean I really like running back and forth to my camera for some reason it's like the excitement actually we were all shooting in the hotel last night and I was doing a self portrait up on a table and then who said that yeah so case he's just like you know you could just have somebody pushed the camera before you you know and you won't have to get off the table and run dear cameron was like no I like it but yeah I do that so it doesn't take that long as long as you're being very mindful of your body and that's why I haven't much easier time doing this a self portrait because I can feel the body position that I was in so in the top photo I know what it feels like to have my leg pointed in just that way so that when I need to do the other leg the problem is that a model won't carefully get down necessarily and then put the other leg up and try to keep the body study you know you have a tendency to roll your hips that makes a huge problem in photo shop because if I go like this and my hip is oh my hips really curled like that then it doesn't make sense to do this with the other leg and have it coming this way there's no any real wayto fix that photo shop so you have to be really careful of being straight to the camera and then straight again with this leg and not creating sort of like wiggly wobbly legs that was a really strange thing to teach again but so it goes an example of what not to dio don't try toe hurt your models by throwing them in the water I learned my lesson here I really did so there's a little rock in this initial picture here and that she was standing on and I just said could you please jump off of that rock onto your side and point your toes and not show your arms at the same time so she was kind of like this and on the rock and then she would go bowling like that and jump off the rock and fall this way and then try to point your toes so at some point I had to say ok your toe isn't pointed but I guess we can fix that leader so at this point I didn't even really know how to swap limbs very well or anything like that so in creating this image it was I just liquefied her foot and tried to make it look more bench when it wass whereas now I would absolutely just have her sort of like get on her side and point your toe and then add that in later instead of doing it like that so you know the things you learn are numerous and exciting so this is an image again using a rock and water to support my model but again not needing anything to hold her up so I didn't need to support her by like having her on a bicycle or something I'm trying to think of what would get her in that position roughly but you know riding a bike never mind so uh I don't need to do that so what I did was I had her standing on the rock and she did the main pose of her foot going in the water she was holding up the dress and I used most of this picture to create the final thing I also had her fling her dress back I photographed her foot separately for the back foot and so there's the dress being flung behind and then we have the other foot and so I kind of thought if I could get rid of the rock that she's standing on then hopefully the rest will come together and that will become a more believable in it and so I ended up just getting rid of that rock by having more of the fabric come down into the water in that segment there and and this was a really good lesson for me in terms of if you just can't do something a certain way there's almost always another way to do it and at this point I didn't know that I didn't know that I could just peace limbs together like this and we ended up in this water which was actually strangely turbulent and I was trying to keep my my camera on a tripod while submerged water and it was this whole thing and so finally I said I'm just going to do it hand held I'm going to try to stay in the same spot I need you to stay on that rock and we'll see what happens and so this was a really fun experiment for that this is how I would say it's a little bit easier to do levitation if you do have assistance and people to help you in this case now again this is one of those dancers so I would love to see somebody try this position so if you're watching this and you want to try to get in that pose even with help more power to you I can not do it at all I have tried and it is so painful so dancers are just incredible individuals on really fun to work with for stuff like this so he was balancing on his shoulders and he had his leg propped up by his other dancer friend there and we created this process of it was actually very simple to just remove him from the image and to remove the stool but there are certain things that happened here that had to happen to make this work one example is that when he first lifted this other man's leg he was holding on to the ankle like you would imagine holding him up like this but if he's covering the ankle where it's showing to the camera then I would need to reconstruct that ankle so it's something to think about in the final product is what in terms of the stool the help or whatever you have going on what is blocking your subject to the camera so maybe it's not him maybe it's a matter of this stool he's like pushed too far back on the stool and because of that maybe the stools covering up his shoulder a little bit or covering up the fabric of his shirt if that's the case then there's really not a lot to do to fix that photo shop unless you want to clone and reconstruct and stuff like that I don't personally want to do that I don't enjoy that so whenever I do have somebody balancing on a stool or doing whatever it is that you know the pot's requires I tryto edge them over to the edge of the storage of so that their kind of hanging off a little bit rather than being confined by the stool another example of what I don't recommend doing most of the time which is jumping specifically into a concrete wall so why I recommend not doing this is because it looks like somebody's jumping now in this case I wanted it to be really you know wild so I didn't mind the hair and the dress going everywhere I liked that but typically if I were to jump right now then everything does something very specific that dress kind of comes up with me my hair does this bubble effect appear like that and that looks like a jump I mean people know that as somebody jumping so if that's the case then that's not really gonna work now you can always again if the light is coming straight in it somebody that's when you can rotate them so you know if the light let's just say that the light was hitting me perfectly evenly head to toe and I wanted to like go like that or something then maybe if I got a good enough pose I could rotate it but generally it still looks like a jump it still looks like somebody struggling to be in the air to do something unless you're on a trampoline so I don't recommend doing something like this which this was shot like that and so obviously nothing really had to happen it was just run and jump and it was kind of like click and then wait two seconds and run and jump in and so one well I don't need to explain that it's very obvious what happened and then I tilted the camera up and I also tilted the camera down and in doing that I could create that final frame of the expanded frame with the subject in the center of the image that's a closeup okay now this one has a story to go with it which is that we were at this beautiful place in l a it's called the paramount ranch and it's where lots of movies used to be filmed and still some go there to be filmed and it's sort of like an old western town it looks really need lots of awesome buildings and we were there one day taking some pictures and I kind of knew I wasn't supposed to be there but you know when you have just a camera and a tripod and like you're very unassuming but I did take this for a reason this is another example of how jumping sometimes works I was able to have her jump and catch her on the upswing eso instead of having her come down at all where the gravity starts to slow that's not actually what's happening but so instead of that where I see the hair ballooning and the dress ballooning it was bright that day and I didn't have to worry about direct son but it was still really bright so I could catch her as she was moving very quickly and the motion was captured so because of that I had her just jump and I shot that image and then I got some hair swinging so that I could add that on leader just tow have the sort of motion of hair moving and then I held her braid up to the edge of the buildings so that I could have her hanging from something which was her braid and for this one I very simply panned my camera left took that shot and then I was able to sort of piece them together to create a square I think that's it actually any questions about those images before we jump into shooting irene stevenson and one of the people are one of the person how many shots does it typically take when working solo to get all of the images you need for your composite you see it's a hard question because of the different types of compositing you're doing and all that but do you have an average yeah definitely if it's an average composite and it's not just like I need to pictures to make it happen typically about ten to fifteen images I would say is normal and I usually because I'm not spending my time experimenting while shooting a lot of the time I have the vision and then I go do that but the rial test I guess is the fact that I have to really pay attention to which limbs in which objects and photographing and if they're in the right place and so every once in a while I'll just take a lot of safety shot it's where all do different focal points on an object or try different backgrounds on an object but I would say about ten to fifteen shots is typical and once it gets anywhere above that I start to get really freaked out when I get into bridge and I don't know what to do and then I just don't edit them so I try not to do that

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Logic Checklist
Must Have Shots
Favorite Photoshop Tools
Lighting Effects
Practice Files - Cutting out Hair from Background
Practice Files - Building a Dress
Practice Files - Swapping Hand
Practice Files - Levitation
Adorama Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

Logan Fox

I'm so thrilled to have come across this course and to have been introduced to Brooke Shaden. As a bit of background I do photography as a hobby, and always had an appetite to composite my work. It's only after watching this course that I can finally put a name to a craft that I love, that being 'fine art photography'. Through my own personal journey I've read various books, followed online tutorials both paid and free. When I came across this course I did hesitate. I wondered 'is it going to teach me anything new'... 'would the standard of the course be up to scratch'. Well, I can honestly say with hand on heart that this is by far is one of the best courses I've come across to date. As a solo photographer myself I've found it difficult at times to be both photographer and subject at the same time. From the outset what became clear was that Brooke is just like me in this respect which made the course so 'relevant' to what I do. Brooke shows throughout the course what can be achieved with a little planning and some creative approaches to situations that can be difficult to pull off when on your own. She is such a joy to watch and listen to, I loved her sense of humor and great how the audience were involved in some of the shoots. All I can say is, if you're in to photography and interested in compositing your work, you should give this a go, you wont regret it!


I'd like to show my gratitude and gratefulness to Ms Shaden and other wonderful people at CreativeLIVE for sharing your vast knowledge without making a fuss. Not everybody has a super computer and a top-notch camera, not everyone has a studio to work in and not everyone needs to know everything as perfectly as some instructors and professionals do. I, for one, have gained so much insight and have been intrigued by Ms Shaden's present and past lessons, she makes the most difficult and surreal subjects unfold so easily and effortlessly. Ms Shaden has made me believe no matter where I be and no matter what i have, as long as i have a good story to tell, and the right vision, I should be able to handle it with a working camera and any version of Photoshop. Unlike many other instructors who kill us every 5 minutes to buy their flashes or gear and support this or that company and agency, Ms Shaden has spent the whole time teaching and teaching and teaching and I am sorry I cannot be there to thank you in person, but you, Ms Shaden, are awesome and nobody can unawesome you :)


Brooke has a wonderful way of not only making it all look so easy, but actually be easy. In a plain and down to earth manner, she can make both beginner and advanced pro comfortable with the material covered in this class. From a simple starting point to a polished post-production finished work of art, she takes us on a relaxed and joyous journey. I am a former professional commercial photographer returning to the art after a 30 year absence. When I left, there was no such thing as digital photography. Now, to be able to embrace such concepts and techniques as taught by Brooke, without any difficulty to me, says that this course provides great value and time well spent. Well done Brooke! Well done Creative Live!

Student Work