5 Tips & Tricks for Getting Started With Surreal Photography

Surreal photography is a genre of its own for artists and photographers. It usually relies heavily on Photoshop to create images that are impossible to create with a single shot from one moment in time. Doing the composition work, while tedious, is often the easy part. The hard part is coming up with a creative concept that blows people’s minds and gives them something they have never seen before.

Read on to discover some ideas for getting your feet wet in surreal photography

Surreal photograph of a giant zebra towering over a man riding a horse Photo via Flickr user Magdalena Roeseler

1. Develop your concept

Look through surreal photography on Tumblr, Flickr, or DeviantArt and you will see a lot of creative concepts. Many images are clearly thought through and tell a story. What story would you like to tell? How can you pull different pieces together or manipulate images to tell it? What kind of an image can you imagine that you have never seen in a photograph before? These are some of the questions you can ask yourself as you are putting together a creative vision for a surreal image.

2. Explore Photoshop

You must have a pretty good handle on Photoshop or a similar image editing application to create realistic looking surreal images. The key to a killer surreal image is that it looks so real that it leaves the viewer open to the possibility that the moment captured actually happened.

Remember, as with all things photography, practice makes perfect, so learning as you go is also a great way to become proficient. Check out Craftsy;s great Photoshop tutorials for beginners. You might also enjoy our post on the basics of using Photoshop.

3. Utilize creative commons

You can certainly create surreal images using simple imagery and simple camera equipment. However, if you don’t have the time or means to carry out your vision with your own photos, some artists believe in sharing their work for the greater good of the art and offer up their photos through a creative commons license.

You can find some of these images on Flickr or DeviantArt. The original artists typically allow usage of their photos and derivative works for non-commerical purposes without a fee. Of course, make sure you have the permission of the original photographer if you choose to use images that do not belong to you.

4. Simple techniques

Sometimes you can add just a touch of surreal to your images with simple techniques. For example, using the HDR mode on your camera or HDR software can take your images into surreal territory. HDR works really well for landscapes or building photography.

Manipulating the color temperature of a RAW image can turn a normal image into a surreal image—if you make it abnormally cool or warm it can completely change the look and feel of the photo.

You can also selectively change the color of parts of the photo to make them look realistic. For example, you could make water turn purple or the sky turn green. This changes the mood of the photograph and makes it look otherworldly.

You can also magnify one feature of a photograph pretty easily to make it surreal. Beauty retouchers do this (mostly) with restraint: changing proportions of legs, curves and eyes, and modifying skin color and texture. You can really overdo this kind of retouching for a surreal effect.

Photograph of a woman on a swing Photo via Flickr user PYLmom

5. Juxtaposition

Juxataposing two things that have opposite characteristics is a popular way to create a surreal image. For example, a body of water in the sky and clouds covering the ground. We are used to seeing clouds in the air and water covering the ground. The imagery is opposite of what we expect. Or, think of a boulder tied to a small balloon and floating away. Visually speaking, we know the boulder would be too heavy to be lifted by the balloon. The juxtaposition of something light carrying something heavier works for surreal photography.

You might also enjoy our post on surreal landscape photography.

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