Since the discovery of gravity, humans have searched for ways to defy it. From airplanes to personal jetpacks to daring acrobatic acts, anti-gravitational feats have been attempted with varying degrees of success. While not everyone is brave enough to walk the high wire or fly through the air on a trapeze, anyone can replicate these stunts through the magic of photography.
You don’t need superpowers or sophisticated equipment to stage stunning images that defy gravity. By using forced perspective, you can create the optical illusion of people floating in mid-air without ever leaving the ground. Forced perspective is generally used to manipulate depth perception to give the viewer the impression that an object is larger, smaller or in a completely different location.
Creating optical illusions in photography is some of the most fun you’ll have with a camera, and it’s easier than you may think. To take effective gravity-defying images, all you need is your Canon DSLR camera and plenty of imagination. Grab your camera, an assistant and some props and get ready to turn the world on its head.
• DSLR camera
• Ladder (optional)
• A friend to pose as your subject
1. Plan Your Illusion
Forced perspective photos are meant to challenge the viewer’s perception of reality. It’s a way to take ordinary sights and make them extraordinary by adding drama or humor. Photographers of all levels are able to experiment with composition and depth that will elevate standard snapshots into works of art.
In many cases, you can defy gravity merely by changing the orientation of your camera. Simply have your subject sit upside down in a chair or lean out of a doorway or window. Pose your model sitting with their back against the sidewalk and their feet propped on the wall, then add another dimension by having another person normally walk or stand on the sidewalk behind your seated subject. Then tilt your camera at a 90º angle to achieve the effect of a world turned upside down.
Create the illusion of flying or falling by posing your subjects on the ground and shoot from a high angle. Use sidewalk chalk to design fantastical worlds for your subjects to “fly” over or draw balloons for your subjects to hold while drifting into the “air.”
No models? No problem. Use props like chairs and tables to devise a scene that defies all the laws of physics.
2. Select Your Camera Mode
No matter how much work you put into setting up your illusion, capturing the effect is literally as easy as pressing your Shutter button.
Shooting your gravity-defying photos in full Auto or Creative Auto (CA) mode lets you concentrate on the details of your scene instead of the settings on your camera. To select Creative Auto mode, available on many Canon EOS cameras, turn your Mode dial to CA. From there, you can adjust simple settings such as color, brightness and Drive mode, which includes settings for timers and the number of images, or frames, you can capture each time you press the Shutter button. Disable the automatic flash if you think it will cast distracting shadows or if you’re photographing outdoors and want to use natural light.
Depending on the complexity of your photo concept, you may want to control the depth-of-field — how much of the scene between the foreground and background is in sharp focus — in your composition. While working in Creative Auto mode, use the settings to adjust background blur. For more control over depth-of-field, Aperture Priority (Av) mode allows you to set your aperture while the camera chooses the optimal shutter speed. Aperture settings may have little effect on depth-of-field in scenes where your subject is flat against the background.
When shooting forced perspective images, you generally want to maximize your depth-of-field as much as possible for the illusion to have impact. Use any standard zoom, such as the EF-S 18-55mm lens, with small aperture settings like f/11 or f/16 to keep your full scene in focus.
If your lens has the image stabilization feature, try switching it on while taking handheld shots from high angles. Image stabilization reduces the amount of blurriness and camera shake that may occur with handheld shooting.
3. Choose Your Location
Location plays a major role in forced perspective photography, so you want to choose a spot with potential to create rich gravity-defying images. Cities and developed areas will offer more opportunities for forced perspective angles than parks and fields. Look for interesting combinations of building and ground textures that could be flipped to realistically create your effects.
With a little ingenuity, any space can be transformed into a gravity-challenged alternative reality. Consider using long tunnels and hallways, staircases and parking lots as backdrops for the perception of dangling, climbing or flying off of a bicycle. Ordinary city sidewalks can be turned into building ledges or a street lamp could be a balance beam suspended above the ground.
Find a quiet street and transform the asphalt into an oversized chalkboard wonderland. Use sidewalk chalk to draw simple objects or whimsical landscapes for your subjects to pose with.
4. Compose Your Shot
Great gravity-defying photography depends on the effectiveness of the image’s composition. The smallest detail can betray the entire illusion, so it’s important to be mindful of the scene inside and outside of your camera’s viewfinder.
A straight horizon line is vital to taking successful gravity-defying images. When composing your image in the viewfinder or in Live View, always keep the horizon line as straight as possible. If the horizon line is askew when you turn your photo’s orientation, the overall effect could fall flat. To keep your horizon line as straight as possible, use your camera’s grid display in the viewfinder and Live View. You can enable the grid display on most Canon EOS cameras in the Tool Menu settings.
In most photo sessions, you can experiment with a lot of different angles to get the most flattering or interesting shot. For zero gravity shots, you need to shoot the scene straight on as shooting from an angle may not fully capture the effect as intended. However, don’t be afraid to play with different poses within the shot.
Pay close attention to the details within your set. Remove objects that distract from your forced perspective effect and take care that the objects included within the frame support the story in your photo. Be mindful of your subject’s appearance whenever they change poses. Try to keep hair and fabric draping consistent with direction of the pose.
Schedule your photo shoot for an overcast day, when the clouds will diffuse the light, and you'll avoid harsh shadows that would spoil the effect.
If your subjects are lying on the ground, you may need to shoot from a high angle. Instead of carrying a ladder around town, consider using a tripod or monopod to position your camera above the scene. A monopod is a pole that gives photographers extra stability while allowing for freedom of movement in the field. In this case, the monopod would enable you to hold your camera above head height to shoot from a higher angle. Use the self-timer or a remote shutter to take your shots. If your camera has an articulated LCD swivel screen, you can tilt the screen to easily see your composition in Live View.
Whether you’re creating moments or capturing them, you’ll always be shooting for greatness with a Canon DSLR camera.