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How to Photograph Special Effects

Updated on January 14, 2017
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.


Ever wondered how the movies seem to portray things that you know are impossible such as men flying, scaling tall buildings as if they were spiders, swimming underwater as if they were fish, jumping so high that the city below looks like a small toy village and so on. Off course you should realize that this is nothing but Hollywood special effects.

You can recreate some of these impossible feats through photography. Hollywood special effects teams have at their disposal a plethora of props and equipment to achieve the desired effect, and further manipulate the film with the aid of sophisticated digital & computer programs.

However one of the most important tools of their trade is what they normally refer to as a green/blue screen also known as chroma key. They film the actor simulating a feat such as flying directly in front of this giant sized screen and digitally add the scenes and other elements later such as the buildings and clouds rolling by as the actor "flies" through.

It goes without saying that most of us do not have access or the means to have one of these giant blue/green screens. But this does not mean that we cannot be creative. Large walls that are preferably neutral in color or actually any color can be used the same way. You will also need to improvise.

For example an actor flying will be photographed against this screen while he or she is suspended by cables from the ceiling. Since it's doubtful that we can do this, budget not included, you can use a strong thin table and have the actor just lay on top of it, subsequently editing the image later to eliminate the table and polish the image. Even if parts of the image do not seem just right you can even change parts of it for other parts of other photographs. Often what does not look right is the face. If you have other images where the face of the model is what you are looking for to be just right then you can also interchange these. Here is tutorial for doing just this.

Much easier is if you use the floor as the platform; have the subject lay in the floor as if they were falling or flying, then add the clouds digitally. By now you should have realized that you will need a photographic digital editing software such as Photoshop and the knowledge of how to use it, better yet, find a friend who has it and knows how to use it. Here are some links to digital backgrounds and for a tutorial in properly using digital green screens.

As far as I know there are very few creatures capable of scaling up a vertical wall, building or surface and we are not one of those. Yet using the same principle, the same effect of apparently scaling a skyscraper can be represented in your photos.

If you are artistically creative you can paint what appears to be a tall building, clouds, underwater scenery and many more scenes on any flat horizontal/vertical surface and photograph your subjects against it.

You must, regardless of the scene or situation, pay close attention to every detail encompassed by the scene, The less miscues, loose ends that you have from the beginning the less that you will have to edit later.

You can also build your own "green studio" if you have the space and are sorts of "handy" with tools and paint. Green paint or chroma key paint is nothing special.

"There is nothing special about chroma key paint. It's just green latex paint.........really it is. There is nothing special about it. Its generally a flat latex."

This is not a serious photographic project in the business part of it since the majority of images will be done as a personal project, but if you are technically sound and the images are of good visual quality then they can be submitted to many photographic stock houses and other photographic publications.

If you on the other hand count with a budget or are contracted by a client to do this type of shoot, then the project takes on an entirely new perspective as more elaborate scenes can be done as well as enlisting the help of professionals in their respective fields.

Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) | Source

Mostly try to have fun with this particular project, even if your images are not suitable to summit or publish, at least it gives you yet another venue to practice your skills and hone your abilities.

If you can enlist the aid of someone in the "movie business" then by all means ask for ideas and tips to assist you in your endeavors.

Often they will directly lend you a hand and sometimes they even have the ability of letting you use some of the props which are otherwise unavailable to most of us.

Some smaller local studios also have many of these props, especially blue/green screens and for a small fee will let you rent the space and its use.

But all is not lost if you cannot locate anything that can be used in this project. You have surely heard the phrase "sandwiching" used in a photographic term; take two images then digitally "sandwich" them together to form one image. Not as much fun or creativity involved with this technique but will accomplish the purpose nevertheless.

Just pay attention to the location within the frame in which you place each subject' If a building is framed on the left of the frame in the first image, then frame the person "scaling" right on the "side" of the building. If your first image is of clouds frame them against a blue sky then for the second image frame the subject to fall where the blue sky portion is. This makes it easier to edit later.

Don't be lazy and use this technique as a last resort. However, if you are so inclined to nevertheless use it, here is a link that explains how to "sandwich" two images together.

Pre plan your activities so that you don't arrive at location and then start deciding on the correct plan of action.

Be attentive to details and to your techniques to ensure that your images are technically sound, whether or not you intent them for publication.

A sloppy job will be noticed even by those not involved with you as clients which can be cruelly demanding and critical.

© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      pmccray:Thank you very much

    • pmccray profile image

      pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

      These photos are awesome thanks for sharing. Voted up, marked useful, beautiful and interesting

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Credence2: Thank you, and it's easier than most people think

    • Credence2 profile image

      Credence2 6 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

      Luis, Thanks for the education, with all the incredible things that they can do with the camera and illusion, this gives me a bit of an inkling as to how it is done...


    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Eiddwen: thank you

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting and usefu indeed.

      Also well presented and easy to follow.

      Take care



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