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A still life with food lev­i­tat­ing above a plate is a clas­sic sub­ject for adver­tis­ing pho­tog­ra­phy and an inter­est­ing exer­cise for devel­op­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher’s cre­ativ­i­ty. The move­ment in the frame with tra­di­tion­al­ly sta­tion­ary objects makes the pho­to unusu­al and attrac­tive. To learn how to make food fly in a pho­to, read this mate­r­i­al.

Shoot­ing with ele­ments of lev­i­ta­tion is appro­pri­ate both in mul­ti­fac­eted com­po­si­tions and in vari­ants with a plain back­ground / Pho­to: unsplash.com

How to shoot lev­i­ta­tion with­out a lot of work in Pho­to­shop
How to fix objects when shoot­ing a lev­i­tat­ing still life
Equip­ment and set­tings for a lev­i­tat­ing still life
How to Com­po­si­tion for Pho­to Lev­i­ta­tion
Work­ing with water, flour and oth­er bulk prod­ucts
Refine­ment of a still life in Adobe Pho­to­shop
How to assem­ble a lev­i­tat­ing still life from indi­vid­ual ele­ments
Impor­tant nuances when shoot­ing lev­i­ta­tion for assem­bly in Pho­to­shop
Assem­bling a still life from indi­vid­ual ele­ments in Pho­to­shop

To an unpre­pared view­er, it may seem that for shoot­ing such still lifes, food is real­ly thrown into the air and a good moment is caught. In fact, this would be an unjus­ti­fied waste of both time and prod­ucts. You can’t throw a toma­to twice — it will break. What can we say about more frag­ile prod­ucts, such as berries or sushi.

The first, most tra­di­tion­al way to shoot a lev­i­tat­ing still life is to hang the desired objects on threads or attach them to a wire.

Shoot­ing a fly­ing still life from impro­vised means dur­ing self-iso­la­tion in 2020 / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

How to fix objects when shooting a levitating still life

In the pic­ture above, we use both thread and wire for fas­ten­ing. There are thick woolen threads here, because oth­ers could not stand the toma­toes, and the trip to the hard­ware store in March 2020 was more like a quest. It’s bet­ter, of course, to take a fish­ing line, it’s eas­i­er to erase it lat­er in post-pro­cess­ing. The threads in this com­po­si­tion hold the veg­eta­bles at the right height, the wire helps keep them in posi­tion rel­a­tive to each oth­er. The cuvette and tow­el absorb water.

There are many options for fix­ing items. There are spe­cial frames and clips that pro­fes­sion­al sub­ject hold­ers use.

For the first exper­i­ments with lev­i­ta­tion, you can use impro­vised means: assem­ble frames from wood­en slats, use thin plas­tic tooth­picks or sushi sticks for light objects.

Soft objects (fruits, veg­eta­bles, sushi, and so on) can sim­ply be pricked on sticks and tooth­picks. Sol­id ones (bot­tles with cos­met­ics, felt-tip pens) should be put on dou­ble-sided tape or glued. The glue gun works well.

A com­plex wire struc­ture fixed the straw­ber­ries well, but then it will need to be erased in Pho­to­shop / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Equipment and settings for a levitating still life

As with any still life pho­tog­ra­phy, you will need a tri­pod to lev­i­tate. Shoot­ing still com­po­si­tions is more con­ve­nient with a tri­pod for two rea­sons. First­ly, it allows you to use slow shut­ter speeds and gives more free­dom to your hands in terms of select­ing cam­era set­tings. Espe­cial­ly if you are work­ing with low pow­er light sources. Sec­ond­ly, when the cam­era is sta­tion­ary, it is eas­i­er to com­pose the frame.

You can shoot with both pulsed light and con­stant light. For shoot­ing with water, it is bet­ter to take a pulse. In this case, flash­es and radio syn­chro­niz­ers will be use­ful. It is con­ve­nient to use racks as a basis for attach­ing still lifes.

As for the cam­era set­tings, in the case of lev­i­ta­tion, they are not too dif­fer­ent from the clas­sic ones used for still lifes.

  • first set the ISO to the min­i­mum val­ue (most often it is 100–200);
  • We select the aper­ture val­ue based on the plot. If the com­po­si­tion is mul­ti­fac­eted and the back­ground is impor­tant, the aper­ture should be cov­ered so that the objects behind are dis­tin­guish­able. If you work on a plain back­ground, you can work on open aper­tures;
  • we set the shut­ter speed to the one that the cam­era offers with these set­tings.

Cam­era set­tings should be fixed using man­u­al mode M or the expo­sure lock but­ton. Aut­o­fo­cus should also be turned off so that the cam­era does not refo­cus between frames and does not lose focus.

How to Composition for Photo Levitation

Choose the main object: the one around which all the oth­ers will line up.

Here the main object is a box. It can also be a cup, the largest fruit, etc. / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

We com­pose the rest of the still life ele­ments rel­a­tive to the main one. Lay­outs can be dif­fer­ent, based on the mean­ing of the pic­ture. If these are berries that fall into a cup, it is best to line them up with a cone taper­ing towards it. If, as in the exam­ple above, cos­met­ics falling out of the box, small items can fit into the expand­ing cone. If it’s a dis­as­sem­bled burg­er, its frag­ments can be laid in a zigzag pat­tern and sup­ple­ment­ed with small details such as herbs and spices.

Start with the largest still life ele­ments and work your way down to the small­er ones. If you plan to sprin­kle the com­po­si­tion with green­ery or pour water, leave free space in the frame above and below.

Working with water, flour and other bulk products

Often, in order to add dynam­ics as much as pos­si­ble, water, flour, rice and the like are used in lev­i­tat­ing still lifes. Indeed, toma­toes fly­ing through a stream of water look more impres­sive and mobile than just hang­ing in the air. Still lifes with bread are sprin­kled with flour, with burg­ers — with herbs, with sweets — with pow­dered sug­ar.

You can’t hang all this on strings — you real­ly have to water and sprin­kle. First you need to take care of safe­ty: put a basin under the still life so as not to flood the floor, put a tow­el on it. It is also worth choos­ing the longest lens and tak­ing the cam­era as far as pos­si­ble so as not to splash it or sprin­kle it with pow­der.

If you didn’t flood the floor, walls and sock­ets while shoot­ing at home, con­sid­er your­self lucky / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

The sec­ond point con­cerns light. When work­ing with tech­niques like this, add a back-to-back source to your cir­cuit. It will max­i­mize the empha­sis on flour par­ti­cles or water splash­es in the air. Also remem­ber that when shoot­ing in motion (we will have water or flour pour­ing and pour­ing), we need faster shut­ter speeds (from 1/100). Or if you are shoot­ing with a pulsed light, the move­ment will be frozen by the length of the pulse itself.

Water on a still life is best poured from a gar­den water­ing can, which has a noz­zle with sev­er­al holes. If you pour sim­ply from a bot­tle, you will get one stream of water, which is not very aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing. If there is no water­ing can, you can take a plas­tic bot­tle, make sev­er­al holes in it with an awl. It is also bet­ter to pour flour and pow­dered sug­ar with a sieve.

When shoot­ing with water or flour, do more takes. These sub­stances are an unpre­dictable thing, beau­ti­ful splash­es may not come out from the first frame.

Refinement of a still life in Adobe Photoshop

The pic­ture is ready, it remains only to remove the threads, wire and oth­er tech­ni­cal parts of the still life. To do this, we will use two tools in Adobe Pho­to­shop: Heal­ing brush (Spot heal­ing brush) and Stamp (Stamp). We select the dou­ble that is the most attrac­tive and open it in a graph­ic edi­tor.

It is nec­es­sary to remove the wire, threads and part of the wood­en frame. Tools are marked on the left side of the pan­el / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Let’s start with the heal­ing brush. She can sim­ply swipe over unwant­ed ele­ments and the pro­gram will auto­mat­i­cal­ly remove them. And an impor­tant point: it is bet­ter to make any cor­rec­tions on a copy of the lay­er: this will allow you to remove some of the unsuc­cess­ful ones using lay­er masks at any time. To make a copy of the lay­er, press Ctrl+J.

On plain back­grounds, the heal­ing brush does a good job / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

With its help, most of the threads, wires and part of the wood­en frame can be removed from this pic­ture. How­ev­er, there are a few places where the heal­ing brush will not give the result we want.

Here, an attempt to remove a piece of wire led to the defor­ma­tion of the toma­to / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

This prob­lem aris­es because of the prin­ci­ple of the heal­ing brush: it ana­lyzes the envi­ron­ment of the select­ed frag­ment and cre­ates some­thing aver­aged on it.

This is where the stamp tool comes in handy. It works dif­fer­ent­ly from the heal­ing brush: it copies a piece of an image and pastes it on click. We select a stamp on the tool­bar, find a suit­able place for the source (the clos­er to the defect, the bet­ter, as a rule), hold down Alt and click the left mouse but­ton. Next, click on the area that you want to remove.

The source is tak­en just above a piece of wire, the stamp did a good job. The rest of the wire can be removed with a heal­ing brush / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

In addi­tion to cov­er­ing the wire in Pho­to­shop, you can com­bine sev­er­al pho­tos. This is use­ful when, for exam­ple, on one of the takes, splash­es of water or light fell more suc­cess­ful­ly. How­ev­er, this focus will only work if you are shoot­ing from a tri­pod.

Read more about the method of com­pos­ite pho­tog­ra­phy in this arti­cle.

You can’t hang some objects on threads and you can’t wrap them with wire. For exam­ple, it will be very dif­fi­cult to shoot such a pic­ture in one frame.

This is a col­lage of a dozen pho­tographs tak­en in a spe­cial way / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

On the Inter­net, you can find the opin­ion that lev­i­ta­tion is “all pho­to­shop”. That peo­ple lit­er­al­ly find ten dif­fer­ent pho­tos on the Inter­net and mag­i­cal­ly glue them into one beau­ti­ful pic­ture with fly­ing objects using Pho­to­shop.

Ah, if only it were real­ly that easy. In fact, to assem­ble a beau­ti­ful col­lage from a dozen ran­dom­ly select­ed pic­tures on the Inter­net, you need to be an extra-class retouch­er. It is much eas­i­er to assem­ble a col­lage of pic­tures that were spe­cial­ly tak­en for this pur­pose.

Important nuances when shooting levitation for assembly in Photoshop

In gen­er­al, shoot­ing a lev­i­tat­ing still life for assem­bly is not much dif­fer­ent from shoot­ing a still life on strings. And shoot­ing para­me­ters and light are select­ed accord­ing to the same prin­ci­ples. The only dif­fer­ence is that the fin­ished com­po­si­tion should be in your head, it will not be on the screen.

The more truth there is in the col­lage, the soon­er the view­er will believe that “this is not pho­to­shop.” That’s why:

  • draw on paper in advance what the fin­ished still life should look like, or find a ref­er­ence that you will be guid­ed by;
  • place each object in real­i­ty, plus or minus, in the place where it should be in an imag­i­nary com­po­si­tion. If, as planned, the sec­ond piece of land is clos­er to the light than the first, it should be filmed clos­er to the light. If it is clos­er to the cam­era and slight­ly over­laps the first one, then shoot — clos­er to the cam­era;
  • do sev­er­al takes for each item. It can be moved a lit­tle fur­ther and a lit­tle clos­er, a lit­tle high­er and a lit­tle low­er, slight­ly rotat­ed rel­a­tive to the light. This will give more options when assem­bling;
  • if you work with bulk prod­ucts (we have, for exam­ple, rice), do sev­er­al takes: clos­er and fur­ther from the cam­era. This is nec­es­sary so that part of the pic­ture is in sharp­ness, part goes into bokeh for greater real­ism.

Assembling a still life from individual elements in Photoshop

It is most con­ve­nient to add all the cap­tured pho­tos to one Pho­to­shop file and place them on sep­a­rate lay­ers. If you are work­ing on a dark back­ground, set all but the bot­tom lay­er to blend mode Lighten/Lighterif on light — Darken/Darker. After that, we begin to add them one by one in accor­dance with the planned com­po­si­tion.

It is best to choose one main object and build the com­po­si­tion around it. It can be a mug if you have a still life like the one in the first pic­ture of this arti­cle, or a hand with chop­sticks, as in our case with a sushi still life.

The process of work­ing on a still life looks like this / Video: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert


We remove unnec­es­sary sticks with the help of a heal­ing brush and a stamp, just like in a still life with toma­toes. Anoth­er point for a pre­fab­ri­cat­ed still life: if objects in your com­po­si­tion should cast shad­ows on each oth­er, they will have to be com­plet­ed. Read more about how to cre­ate a shad­ow in Pho­to­shop here.

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