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Lens Levitation Experiment
BTS: A Photo Breakdown

BTS: A Photo Breakdown'>

Elysia Griffin - Lens Levitation Experiment

Everyday this week Ive been working on pushing myself creatively by creating a portrait every day using new techniques that I hope to master and use more frequently in my work.

In all the years Ive done photography, Ive never attempted to do a levitation shot of any sort (not counting the time I helped set one up) – which seems crazy to me! So of course I had to remedy that!

My model for the week day would be my lovely boyfriend, LA. Since he is also a photographer and an avid Star Wars fan, I knew I could incorporate those two things into a perfect levitation theme.

As the great Jedi Master Yoda says “Always pass on what you have learned” heres a behind the shot look on how I got the image and steps on how you can create your own levitation portrait!

Elysia Griffin - Photography Lens Mugs

First I had to decide what photography themed item I wanted to suspend in the air. Since Im not as daring as one photographer who tosses their camera in the air for cool aerial shots, I realized HEY, I can finally put all the lens mugs we received as gifts to a good use ;)

(Friends of photographers, as much as we love photography themed gifts, make sure we havent already been gifted a mug.. or five haha)

I ended up using the 24-105mm mug with a ridiculous realistic glass top and the 70-200mm mug. You can see the later pictured alongside with the real deal – pretty convincing, eh?

Once youve decided on your floaty item of choice, you’ll need a good, sturdy tripod. Ours is a cheap-this-will-do-the-job sort, but I would highly recommend investing in a quality one for your kit. Even with the legs extended, I still had to extend the center column so itd be tall enough but it would slowly inch downwards during the shoot – not ideal when you need every frame to be exactly the same!

Elysia Griffin - Flash Setup

Moving on to my lighting setup! Your setup can be as simple as having a speedlite on your camera or going flash crazy like I did haha. Its also possible to use natural light, the only downside is that the light will be constantly changing so its challenging to have consistent shots to merge together later in post.

I ended up using four separate Yongnuo Speedlites: one for my main light, two for the background (one gel’d red, the other blue), and one for.. a hair-flare effect (gel’d red). All the flashes are bare* except for my main light where I used a generic Octabank with a grid modifier.

(*Okay, while I did put together a makeshift snoot on the red background flash, it didnt make a noticeable difference so it could have been left off. Also, left over business cards make are perfect for a DIY Snoot!)

So here’s what the background setup look liked in camera:

Elysia Griffin - Red Blue Flash Lens Flare

Oooo! Wait, so whats going on with that red flash you ask?

For all my Star Trekies, Im sure you loved the creative, gratuitous use of lens flare in the Into Darkness film. You can channel your inner JJ Abrams and add some nifty flare effects to your shots. The secret? Cheap ol’ fishing line!

Simply snip off enough fishing line to cover the front of your lens, use a hair tie to hold it in place and “Engage”! A simple and cheap way to add a little extra flair to your photos :D

Next I added my lovely model, LA.

Elysia Griffin - Portrait Red Blue Lens Flare

Isnt he handsome? You can see how much he loves being in front of the camera! ;)

At this point I had to make some adjustments to the main light (to make sure it didnt spill onto the background) and the back light (so the lens flare wouldnt intersect with his face).

Once you get the perfect shot with your model, set your lens to manual focus and leave it alone. Beware of the dark side urge to adjust it. Ill explain why in a bit, but now you get to move onto the fun part:

THROWING ALL THE THINGS. Have this glorious potato quality gif of mugs dancing around! Whee!

Elysia Griffin - Lens Levitation Experiment

Youll want to toss your object at different points around the frame – up close, in the middle and far, far away. Take a couple of different shots before you move so you have a variety of possible angles to use.

By leaving your focus alone after your main photo, your floating subjects will be in and out of focus, relative to where the model was standing. When you compose these shots in post, it’ll give a much more realistic feel to your final image.

(Also, you can see how the tripod was slowly moving around, tsk.)

Elysia Griffin - Lens Levitation Experiment

Heres a couple of dud shots that didnt make the cut, for various reasons:

Often times I could see the top of LA’s head or lone hand show up along the bottom of the frame, which is fine because I would end up only cutting out the lens anyway. However, in the first shot, his head ends up merging with the lens and would be a pain to separate later in post.

In the second panel, you see why its important to get your model shot first – that way, youll have an idea where your subject will be in the frame. While a floating lens could work if it was closer to the camera, having it tossed where he would be standing or behind him wouldn’t.

Finally, the last shot wouldnt have worked because its completely blocking my flare light source and woudl defeat the purpose of having it. If it had been moved over slightly, it wouldve made for a cool laser Canon.. unintentional pun, ha!

Elysia Griffin - Lens Levitation Photoshop Layers

Once you get all your shots or your assistants arm gets tired, its time to take it over to the computer!

In Lightroom, I culled through all the dud throwing shots and did my basic global edits on the photo of LA. So that all the images are consistent, I also synced the editing settings with the rest of the lens images.

Then I opened all the images in Photoshop and started layering them into one file. While there is an easier way to have Photoshop automatically stack and align the images, I ended up doing it manually because it was a complete hit or miss and it refused to align them correctly.

Reasons why we should invest in a solid tripod haha.

The hardest part is trying to decide which toss attempts would make it in the final shot but I finally narrowed it down to 10 lenses that were relatively spaced out. Once you pick out a solid set, lasso your floaty object > select inverse > delete background and erase back the edges so it blends in with the original background.

Elysia Griffin - Lens Levitation Experiment

With the final the final image down, I did some light retouching using the frequency separation technique and tweaked the overall colors to create the final image:

Elysia Griffin - Lens Levitation Photographer Portrait

I hope this inspires you to create your own spin on levitation photography! If youve tired this technique before or created a gravity defying masterpiece after reading this post, Id love to see it in the comments! :D

May the force be with you!

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