Levitation Workshop

This past weekend we had our fourth postdoc photo workshop, the theme was levitation. The idea is that we use either precisely timed jumping shots, or composite images, to make it look like our subject is flying. Our group was joined by a dancer, Tara Thean. The evening started with Jean-François Mercure talking about depth of focus, exposure and curves in the new PdOC centre on Mill Lane. After that we had a short presentation showing what we were going to do, and some inspirational shots to get everyone in a creative frame of mind. One of the things I was eager to try out was to see if we could do some floating over water photos.


In between jumps. The first few shots are just warming up, trying to figure out what angle works, getting the exposure right and building report with our subject.

We walked out on the grass behind the Anchor and did some normal jumping shots with Tara on land while Zuzana went off to procure a punt. When shooting jumping shots you have to think about your timing. If you catch the jumper at the peak of the jump they will be hanging still for a split second, and if the jumper is a dancer then this is probably the time when the pose looks the best, limbs fully extended. On the decent you get the hair flying upwards, which may or may not be what you want. Be sure to pay attention to the background. Here there are two options, either you want to put your subject in an interesting context that adds something to the image, or you want a background that does not distract from your subject. Both can give great shots, but try and make it a conscious decision. At one point we all lay down with our cameras close to the ground to try and get our dancer silhouetted against the sky.

Shooting from a low angle allowed us to isolate the dancer from most of the background. If I had been just a little bit closer then her legs would have separated from the background.
Here I was trying to use the tree as a background. Looking at the photo now again it might be fun to do a closer square crop and clone stamp the tree into the entire frame.

Once the punt arrived then JF and Tara went out on the water. Here the idea was that after JF had positioned the punt Tara would make a few jumps, then while we all kept the cameras fixed, the punt would leave and we would take one more shot this time of just the background. By combining a jumping shot with a background shot, we could use some quick photoshopping to remove the punt and make it look Tara was floating over the water. You can do this hand-held, but if you have a tripod, then that helps a lot. Positioning the punt seemed to be the most difficult bit of this shot, just make sure that there is no part of the punt that is behind your subject, otherwise you will have a lot more photoshop work to do.

Composite shot, here the punt that she was jumping on has been removed by taking the background from another photo shot from the same angle. The duck was being chased by the punt.
Same idea as the photo above, here the three ducks were taken from other photos shot from the same position. I wanted to make the photo come alive a bit.
This is what it looked like behind the scenes. Instead of replacing the background from an empty photo I here put in one taken slightly before with the punt a bit to the left just so you get an idea how we positioned the punt if you want to try this with some friends.

After doing this for a while we swapped places, and put some of the photographers in the punt and had our dancer run around to the other bank of the river. Those who did not fit in the punt kept shooting from the river bank. Here the original plan was to get low to work with the reflections in the water.

We mixed things up by having the photographers and our dancer swap places. Here Helena and the rest of the boat crew are getting ready to shoot Tara on the river bank.
We had a few props with us, here I wanted to get a different angle on the jump so I lay down on the ground and used my 20 mm lens. Most of the other photos were shot with 50 mm. At the last minute I had left the 85 mm at home, and I was regretting it a bit since my own walking on water skills are a bit lacking, forcing me to shoot from the river bank.

Time really passes quickly, and it was time for lunch so we went over to the Granta to eat and debrief. It was a lot of fun, and I am quite happy with how the photos turned out. Photoshopping the punt out is relatively easy since you have two photos. If they are a bit misaligned then you can use the auto-align function in photoshop to fix that. The only thing you need after that is a layer mask. Of course, a bit of curves adjustments and sharpening (I’m still getting used to doing that, only did it in one of these photos). Have fun and play around with this! If you want to see what we did during the previous workshops have a look at our fire spinning workshop, our Grantchester workshop and our portrait workshop.

– Johannes




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