A Quick Guide To Surrealism In Photography

Surrealism in photography more often than not requires manipulation of multiple images into one.

This means that you will need decent knowledge and experience in photo manipulation and photography as well.

Creating surreal photos is practically the same as creating photo manipulation. There are no strict rules when it comes to surreal photography, but there are some things that should be considered when it comes to surrealism in photography (Creative Surreal Photo Manipulation Ideas by Dariusz Klimczak).

First of all, you will need to make a sketch. Clearly, this sketch should include the rough idea you have in mind.

Planning for the Surrealism in Photography

It is good to define how many pictures you will need to stitch into one and which element will be on which picture.

Note that it is always better to make all the pictures you will use yourself, as well as textures. It always feels great to get a the final product that is completely yours.

Everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey by Caroline
Everybody’s got something to hide except for me and my monkey by Caroline

Setup the Light Direction

After you create the sketch, it is good to figure out the light you are going to use since you will need to take really good care of that. Your light must be consistent in the donor images in order to fit well in the final image (Lightning Photography Basics).

surrealism in photography
Scapegoat by Hartwig HKD

Once you have the light figured out and set up, start building from the background towards the final details. I see many people go randomly, but this usually turns out to be harder than it seems.

Shoot in Raw

Make sure you shoot Raw (if you can) in order to be able to manipulate white balance on the donor images if necessary. If you can’t shoot Raw then set your camera to fixed white balance point in order to have it consistent throughout the images. Take a few shots until you figure out which white balance setting suits you best (tungsten, daylight, cloudy, etc).

Destroyed Innocence by Hartwig HKD
Destroyed Innocence by Hartwig HKD

Consider the Depth of Field

While you are cutting up the donor images make sure you keep the depth of field in mind and set the images properly in their location while blurring some which should be out of focus. Photoshop has good lens blur filter that will allow you to calculate the values and so on (even set lens aperture type for the bokeh). Check How To Creatively Use Depth Of Field In Your Photos.

Choose Soft Light Shots

Fit everything together and you are done, right? Not so fast . Now comes the hard part. It is good to photograph using soft light in order to have soft shadows because they are easier to replicate in photoshop afterwards because you will be cutting parts of an image and attaching them to another you will need to have the shadows in place or it will look bad. Therefore, make sure everything has its own shadow in place. Don’t worry if it’s taking long, since light is the hardest thing when it comes to replicating it.

After you have finished replicating the necessary shadows, use the burn/dodge tools to exaggerate certain points of interest and add more to the 3 dimensional feel.

Add Textures to Your Composition

Lastly, apply the textures, correct the colors levels, add some vignetting to steer the eye towards the thing you want to be seen the most (don’t overdo it, though) and you are done.
Textures and vignetting aren’t necessary, so if you feel that you don’t need them, don’t use them. There are no rules when it comes to surrealism, just some general guides in order to keep things smooth and professional looking (as with any type of art).

surrealism in photography
Red Balloon by Hartwig HKD

If this guide did help you, please post the results in the comments below as we want to see your works of wonder!

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About Dzvonko Petrovski

Photographer who loves challenging and experimental photography and is not afraid to share the knowledge about it.

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