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How to work with a model, build a pose and frame in surreal portrait photography

Surrealistic portraits often suggest, fall into memory, represent something from another world or all together. Do you want your portraits to look surreal and at the same time exciting? Photographer Taya Ivanova shares several important (and most importantly, simple) tricks that you should be aware of when shooting such frames. Surrealistic portraits almost always make you think about the story behind the image. There are more questions than answers. But isn’t that the whole point of surrealism as such?

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What is surreal photography?

Surrealism is an art form that focuses on elements as if from a dream. They can be fancy like Dali’s Elephants, or incredibly realistic like Justin Peters’ Cloud Whale. Despite the fact that these two examples are very different, they have the same characteristics. You will not find similar images in everyday life. However, they can make the viewer think and look at things from a different perspective. Recreating dreams is a common technique in different genres of photography. But it is especially common in surreal portrait photography. When playing with model facial expressions, poses, or props, you can shoot stunning surreal portraits. Surrealism allows you to express yourself, experiment and create real art.

Keep serious facial expressions to enhance the surreal effect

You will notice that in surreal portrait photography, models have similar facial expressions. They may look lost in thought, unsuspecting of the camera and so on. The seriousness of their faces plays an important role: with its help you enhance the surreal effect of the portrait. A cheerful face in the midst of an unusual landscape in the photograph will look inappropriate. There is nothing wrong with such a combination, it just does not fit the surreal genre. The more serious your model looks, the easier it is to make even simple compositions surrealistic. Here are some common portrait examples to use as references. Share them with your model before the photo shoot to synchronize your vision of the result. Not every expression will fit your theme. Be open to feedback for the model. Feel free to experiment!

A simple look up will make your model look as if immersed in her thoughts or looking at something from a distance. When you take profiles, take some photos where the model is looking straight or slightly to the side. As in the previous version of facial expressions, this will create a secret and a sense of continuity. Thus, the facial expression of the model will suggest that your photo has more than it seems at first glance. One of the best ways to create pure surrealism is to completely hide the face, for example, asking the model to stand with his back to the camera. You can also ask her to cover her face with a mask, hair or hands. This trick is great for emotional or serene photos. All your model needs to do is close your eyes and slightly open your lips. Ask the model to look expressively at the camera. Talk to her, push her into a feeling. This is ideal for close-up portraits. Thus, the viewer will not be distracted by other elements of the photo, but focus on the eyes.

Dark lighting to enhance the story

Gloomy lighting can also enhance the surreal effect. This will help create a certain mood at the beginning of the photo shoot.  Dull lighting exists in many forms. If you want to use natural light, shoot in cloudy weather. For an even more gloomy effect, you can also shoot indoors when it is cloudy outside.Artificial lighting will give sharper pictures. This will allow you more control over the atmosphere in the pictures. Artificial light also makes the photographer independent of unpredictable weather changes. Let the lighting be bright but limited. You can use neon lights or cover any light source with colored gel filters .

Use layers to create a sense of depth and mystery.

Surrealism goes hand in hand with unusual ideas, so you can use cheap, but at the same time unusual props to enhance portraits. It can be curtains, transparent sheets of paper or something else with a pronounced texture. Props can be used to hide parts of the face of the subject, make them less visible, or add depth to photographs. The more textured material you use, the more mysterious the resulting images will look. Using layers is also an easy way to highlight a muted composition. All you have to do is shoot through them when the model poses somewhere in the distance. For a softer effect, use an open aperture, such as f / 2.5. This blurs all layers that are out of focus and creates even greater depth of the frame. The blur effect will also make it difficult for viewers to understand what is going on inside the image. This approach is ideal for abstract and surrealistic portraits.

Use smoke bombs to create a dream atmosphere.

Such concepts are inspiring, but also represent some danger. Do not try to recreate this if you do not know how to handle smoke bombs in a professional manner. Another easy way to get expressive surrealistic portraits is to use colorful smoke bombs . They are quite budgetary and can be used in various conditions. You can use them as a background, foreground or props to hide the model’s face. With all this, they can be quite dangerous, especially when used indoors. Familiarize yourself with the risks associated with the smoke bomb to protect yourself and the model. If the risks outweigh the creative benefits, you can use incense sticks or plain flour instead.

Use slow shutter speed to create creepy motion blur.

In order for the motion blur to cause tension in the viewer, convert your surreal portraits to black and white immediately in the camera or during post-processing. Remember that converting images later in post-processing will give you more control over the tones of the image. High shutter speeds are great for capturing movements in detail. Slow shutter speed is ideal for soft and creepy images. It is often used in landscape photography to track the natural movements of water or wind. In surreal portrait photography, you can use motion blur to capture ghostly shapes or create a more abstract effect. If you want to capture a certain movement without blurring the entire photo, use a tripod .

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