How to create a levitation effect in Photoshop
Discover how to shoot and edit a levitation image with a retro effect using clever camera techniques and Photoshop tools
At first glance levitation photographs seem to require a good level of editing experience and hours of free time, but provided you’ve got competent camera skills, some Photoshop ability and plenty of imagination, they can be pretty straightforward to create. The key is to capture as much of the effect in-camera as you can. To do this, you’ll need a good-quality camera and a sturdy stool or step ladder, which will enable you to photograph your model in situ.
By photographing your model on location, you’ll be able to ensure that the focus, lighting and colour balance match accurately with the rest of the scene, which is something you can’t always guarantee if you’re photographing your model seperately with the intent to create a composite during the editing stage.
Once you’ve captured your posed model in-camera, you’ll also need to shoot the landscape – you can use this image later to accurately edit out and replace the step ladder your model will need to stand on, using Photoshop layers and layer masks.
Once you’re ready to begin editing, work with layers and adjustment tools to bring the scene together and create a convincing levitation image. You can add to the dream-like narrative by creating a retro camera filter effect too. Adjust the tonal range for intentional colour casts and create a sweet spot of focus to finish up. To help you get the same results, you can follow the tutorial below. You’ll discover how to shoot, edit and enhance your own levitation images easily.
Step 1 – Set up your shot
Start by selecting your location and setting up your equipment. once you’ve got the step ladder in place, position your model within the frame. Be clear with directions and offer suggestions for poses. Wait until they are posed before handing over the prop.
Step 2 – Use shutter priority
Shoot using your shutter priority mode. this is particularly important if your model is having to balance on something or if it’s a windy day, as you’ll be able to use a fast shutter to freeze motion while the camea takes care of the rest.
Step 3 – Stay in focus
Switch your camera to auto focus mode to ensure the model appears sharp and in focus. Place your single AF point over the model’s face so that the camera does not hunt to find focus in other areas of the image while you’re shooting.
Step 4 – Burst mode
Working outside, against the wind, and with a balancing model means you may need to use your camera’s burst mode setting. Switch to a low continuous burst mode to ensure high-res images and then release the shutter when you’re ready.
Step 5 – Change perspective
Once your camera settings are in place, get into position. Shoot from a low angle in order to reinforce the levitation effect in your photos. this perspective will look a lot more convincing when you’ve finished editing your image.
Step 6 – Frame the shot
Position the model centrally within the frame and if possible, look at getting their feet above the horizon line. always ensure there’s a strong enough shadow on the ground to creating a convincing levitation effect later. photograph the landscape seperately too.
Step 7 – Align the layers
Open your start image in photoshop alongside the straightforward landscape shot of the scene. Using the move tool, drag the landscape shot over the start image and align them. You can lower the layer opacity to ensure it overlays correctly.
Step 8 – Add a layer mask
Add an inversed layer mask to the landscape layer and select the paintbrush tool with the foreground colour set to white with a high opacity. Click on the layer mask to activate it and then zoom into your image. Using the brush, slowly paint out the ladder.
Step 9 – Remove the ladder
Zoom in close to areas where the model and ladder meet, and use a smaller brush size to accurately paint out the ladder. if you make a mistake, switch the foreground colour to black in order to correct but don’t forget to switch back to white to continue editing.
Step 10 – Correct the shadow
Once you’ve removed the ladder, you’ll need to remove its shadow. remember to retain the model’s shadow however, to ensure the levitation looks convincing. Select the clone stamp to start and work with a soft-edge brush wih a high opacity.
Step 11 – Clone out
Hold down the alt key and select an area that is clear of the shadow. Move the brush over the area you want to replace and slowly begin to paint it out. Be careful not remove too much of the shadow here as you don’t want it to affect the shadow cast by the model.
Step 12 – Merge visible layers
Zoom out and check the ladder has been removed successfully and then merge all visible layers without flattening the image by holding down Cmd+alt+Shift+e. You can now add a retro filter: select Solid Color from the adjustment menu in the layers palette.
Step 13 – Add solid colour
Select a yellow/ green tone from the colour picker dialog box and click oK. Select the layer mask next to the block of colour in the layers palette and select Darken from the layer blending mode options. You can also reduce the layer’s opacity to around 26%.
Step 14 – Blend tones together
Repeat the last step but this time select a blue colour hue in the colour picker dialog box and opt for lighten as your layer blending mode. You can now adjust the layer opacity in the same way as before until you’re pleased with the blending results.
Step 15 – Complete retro colour effect
Repeat the last step again but now opt for a creamy pink hue with a low layer opacity and lighten blending mode. Before you continue on to create a vignette and sweet spot effect, merge all of the visible layers again using Cmd+Alt+Shift+E.
Step 16 – Add a vignette
Now select gradient from the adjustment menu and set your foreground colour to black. in the dialog box select a radial style and click reverse with the Scale set to around 176%. You can also reduce the layer opacity if necessary.
Step 17 – Create a blur
To create a retro sweet spot effect you’ll need to add a blur to your image. go to filter>Blur>gaussian blur. increase the radius to around 3.7 pixels. Now add a layer mask to the blur layer and set your foreground colour to black.
Step 18 – Add a sweet spot
Select the gradient tool from the tools palette with a foreground- to-transparent setting, radial type with 100% opacity. place the cursor on the model’s face and pull out to a desired width; this will remove the blur from the area, creating a focused sweet spot.
Step 19 – Brighten up
To enhance the summery, dreamy effect, you’ll need to brighten it all up. Merge all of the visible layers via Cmd+alt+Shift+e and then select Screen from the layer blending mode options. You’ll need to reduce the layer opacity here too.
Step 20 – Flatten layers
Before you flatten your image, save your shot as a photoshop file (.psd), this will enable you to retain all of the layers for possible continued editing in future.
Now flatten all of the layers via layer>Flatten image and save your levitation image as a Jpeg.