Who hasn't wanted to know what it's like to fly? Well, that was my daughter and my weekend project. To fly. That is, to do a levitation photo of her.
This type of photo manipulation has captured me for a while and I have been dying to try it out.
I sat last week and talked through some ideas with my daughter (age 6) and we came up with a good concept... a field, a tree, her in a flowing pretty dress, balloons and a stool kicked over (we forgot this at home, so it was left out). And her flying. This is how the photo ended up:


Let me take a step back - I have been smitten with Brooke Shaden's photography (google her). She does these amazing composites and I have watched her workshops on Creative Live. I also read Miss Aniela's tutorials/interviews and books on the subject. She is also an amazing composite artist, who became famous through Flickr.

So these ideas have been churning in my head for a while and while driving to work from a different direction one morning, I saw this field with a lonely tree that would be perfect as the background for our project. I got super excited and couldn't wait for Saturday to come! Both me and my girl were all fired up about this! Come Saturday morning, I grabbed with me my "assistant photographer" son (age 10) and our trusty dog and all my equipment.
With the early spring air, we headed out with the windows rolled down and the music blaring. My favorite kind of weekend project.

I realized the same morning that I had forgotten to buy balloons the day before. My plan was to buy three balloons with helium and then later to duplicate them in PS. Luckily, I found five balloons at the bottom of my photography bag (from some other shoot we had). I brought along some garden bamboo sticks to tie the balloons to, because I wanted her to be able to control them better. My plan was to erase the stick later. While inflating them out there in the field, some popped right away and I ended up with a single balloon on a stick. This was rather ridiculous, but I went with it anyway. I was planning to photograph her at a later stage, with a bunch of balloons and then transfer only the balloons. I ended up however, downloading a googled photo of balloons and inserting it. You can probably tell it's not the "real thing", but I don't care, I like how it turned out.

Here is how you do it: (I will write assuming you have a fairly good knowledge of Photoshop.)

1. With the camera on a tripod, I first shot the background scene. I decided to shoot it with three exposures and combined them in PS later.
2. I then let Maya, my daughter, climb the small ladder we took along. We had already discussed how to pose her. I then shot several shots of her, making sure I got: the hand holding the balloons high, the other hand trailing behind, left and right foot stretched out behind and pointed toes, one after the other. I didn't shoot many shots, totally about 25 or so I think. Within half an hour we were finished.

3. The big work is, of course, done on the computer. I first took the three exposures of the background and combined in an HDR program I have. I ended up using the patch tool and content aware to remove some distractions in the background. You certainly don't need to do this, but rather just choose one shot for the background.
I looked at all the photos in Lightroom/Bridge and chose which ones I wanted to use for the composite. One of her body/head, right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot.
I then loaded them into PS. Like anything in PS, there are tons of ways you can do this. This is pretty much how I did it. Mind you, this was my first time trying this out. I might end up changing my flow in future productions as I learn from my mistakes.

4. Since all of them were taken within a very short frame of time, the exposure was the same and I didn't have to change it on the photos. The important thing to me was that the light and the shadows were coming from the same direction.
5. I took in the background image (without Maya).
6. I then took in the main photo of her and placed it above the background image. I layer masked it and erased everything but her. I also erased most of the ladder stool she was on. This left a "hole" where her dress was missing, but I knew I could fill it in later.
7. Then I started "rebuilding" her flying. I used the Lasso tool to select her backfoot with a little of the dress, I feathered it lightly (10-15) and copied it to a layer, then dragged it into my project page. I layer masked it and with a fairly soft brush (about 50 hardness) and low opacity (30-40), I blended the backfoot in place.
8. I then did the same for all the limbs.
9. Once I had the limbs in place, I made some more selections of the dress in areas where the ladder had been and a few other areas where it needed some extra touches. Some patches I ended up using transform tool and warp mode in order to drag and fit the selections into place.
10. Once I was happy with her flying body, I collected all the layers into a group. I then added an empty layer above this and used my patch tool and healing brushes to fix color differences in the background and to remove the white silhouette around her. You need to make sure you have Sample:All Layers for this to work well.

11. When I was happy with how she looked in the photo, I cut out the bunch of balloons from the other photo (I was lucky to find one that fit perfectly with a white bg that was easy to remove) and placed them in her hand. I reduced the saturation and played with the color hue a bit.
12. Thoughtout this whole process, I made sure I saved the project several times. You can merge the layers, but I preferred to merge as little as possible and rather saved several versions as pdf files as I worked.
The next step was to add a shadow to her and the balloons. I merged the layers of her and made a selected from this layer. I then filled it in with black, used a good blur and dragged it down and below her, transformed it into place that looked more of less OK to my eye. I then used multiply or darken blend mode (I think) on the shadow layer and lowered the opacity. Of course I did the same to the balloons.

12. I then experimented with several layers of textures that I have (from Florabella and Pain the Moon) and a sun flair layer also. I played with the opacities and removed the textures from her face and body using layer mask.

That's pretty much it. I spent about three hours working on it totally. My photo is obviously far from original, but I was happy with my first attempt. And Maya was more than thrilled about it! It will be a canvas on the wall in not too long I am sure. There are tons of ideas out there on the net. Google levitation photography and have a look. I am now working with my son to make a photo of him using composites and it should be a fun project too.

Here are some screen shots of my work in progress: