10 Different Ways to Get Surreal Photography

Surely by now, as a good fan of other people’s photographs, you will have been moved by some surprisingly magical or unreal image that has caught your attention, right? Those extraordinary images almost certainly conjure up at least one of two questions: Why? And how? The why, you will have to look for it in the depths of your being, because that is what it is about, that is what the artist wants, to show you the most hidden part of their being, their dreams, their instincts… And the how, we will try solve in this article, but first we will make a brief summary of the meaning of surrealism to understand what it is and what its main objectives and characteristics are.

A brief introduction to surrealism

Surrealism emerged almost a century ago and completely changed the way of perceiving, understanding and expressing art. His groundbreaking and provocative conception is based on spontaneity, on creation without mind control, on the exploration of the subconscious and the world of dreams, to reach through this path, the true essence of the human being.

It is an art that is beyond reality or social conventions, it seeks everything that is unique in the depths of the human being’s mind, the wonderful, the ambiguous, the strange… Everything that is part of the most remote spaces of our essence; our most basic instincts. For all these reasons, it is an art that we conceive as unreal, which allows us, through its expression, to delve into the magical and mysterious world of the artist who created the work.

The main promoters and creators of the movement were Marx Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró, Man Ray, René Magritte, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. All of them used various techniques such as free writing, collages, the found object or the free association of images, among others.

And now that you are somewhat more situated in the context of surrealism, we are going to see what really interests us, how we can apply theory to practice in photography. For this we are going to see 10 different ways to get surreal photography.

1. Forced perspective

Forced Perspective is an optical illusion created through the combination of different sizes and planes in one image.

A moon in a basket, a dog in the foreground with its mouth open that seems to be eating someone who is walking in the background of the image… Or something as well known as the typical image of someone holding the Taj Mahal from the cusp.

All these images are real, there is no montage behind them, but it is the perspective used that provides us with these impossible images that deceive our eyes.

Here is an example of this kind of perspective:

And here are a few tips for creating forced perspective images:

  • View the image before you press the shutter
  • Play with the proportions of objects or people
  • Move around to get the desired angle and effect
  • Play with closed diaphragms, since in this case the two or more planes of the image are equally important, it is important that they all remain in focus.
  • Give free rein to the imagination
  • Get inspired by seeing photos of other photographers; Creativity is learned like everything else!

2. Double exposure

It is a fairly simple technique that can give you surprising results. It is about merging two images into one, by superimposing them on top of each other.

There are some cameras that have this option directly in the menu, but if you do not have this option, doing it through an image processing program is very simple.

Here is an image made with double exposure

You can read the tips for making amazing double exposure images in this fantastic article.

And don’t forget to take a look at the challenge that was held on this topic, here. His images will surely inspire you.

3. Light painting

As its name already indicates, it is the technique of painting with light. You can achieve amazingly surreal images through light plays with long exposures. It is basically about finding a preferably dark place and a point of light that can be whatever you think; candles, flares, flashes… Any element that gives off light, even the stars or the moon, only to capture their movement, the exposures must be quite long.

Once you’ve decided what you want to ‘draw’, it’s all about putting your camera on a tripod and in Bulb mode, which means the shutter will be open for as long as you decide. And from this point, you begin to draw and create a unique and surprising image.

Here I leave you an image made with the lightpainting technique.

If you need to know more about the process, you can read this article from Iaio where it explains it perfectly.

And if you want to get a little more inspired, check out what a fantastic selection of lightpainting photos the participants of the challenge of this topic contributed.

4. Object found (objet found)

It is a technique widely used by surrealist artists, and basically it is about bringing existing common or everyday objects, which are not normally considered artistic, to the category of art. For example, in 1960 Marcel Duchamp exhibited a toilet in the New York Museum as part of his work, using this concept of the found object. It can be a modified everyday object, but always recognizable, and it is usually out of context, which gives it a more unreal and shocking meaning.

And since a picture is worth a thousand words… Here’s an image that fits the surreal found object technique:


Surely you have made many collages throughout your life, but have you tried it in photography? And I’m not talking about any image retouching program, I’m talking about preparing a live scenario through the combination of several images. For example, in a portrait. Look at the following image:

Simple, right? But at the same time surprising and mysterious.

6. Light and mystery

Surrealism, since it aims to delve into the essence of the unknown, the depths of the human being, has many doses of mystery and unreality. Light, as always, is your great ally in the search for everything you want to express. It can give your images unreality, drama, magic… everything you can conceive in your mind. It’s just a matter of being aware of its possibilities and knowing how to play with it.

Take for example the following image, it is an image that shines for its apparent simplicity, here there is only a face and some light, but the effect achieved with the latter does not leave you indifferent.

7. Fog and unreal landscapes

A photograph is the sum of countless variables, starting with the imagination of each photographer, the knowledge of your camera, the behavior of light, color temperature and a long etcetera. So are the weather conditions, where foggy landscapes are perhaps the most inspiring in surreal photography, since they evoke mystery or the unknown, because the fog lets you see something but not enough, which instantly leads you to want to see more there, to feel that something is happening but escapes your knowledge.

If you need advice when photographing fog, you cannot miss this article.

8. Symbology

Since most of us share a fairly similar culture, we also share some common symbols, which can be great allies in photography when it comes to transmitting a specific message and that the viewer perceives and understands it correctly.

For example, a withered flower transports you to lost beauty; to decadence, you associate wings with freedom, a butterfly with the ephemeral, or a watch with the passage of time. These symbols are a message in themselves, and playing with them when explaining your image can provide a very interesting visual narrative.

9. Levitation

Is there anything more surreal than making objects or people fly that are incapable of themselves? To get your protagonists to fly you have two options; one without Photoshop and the other with Photoshop.

The first option without an image editor is also known as Bed Jumping, and as its name suggests, it involves jumping on a bed and shooting the subject when he is in the air. To achieve this image, you will need a support for your camera, the flash, the self-timer mode if you are the protagonist, the camera in automatic mode, and some other attempt to achieve the desired effect.

Here is an article that contains everything you need to know about Bed Jumping.

For the second option, you will need some basic notions of Photoshop, but since I am sure that many of you have already surrendered to its charms, it will not be difficult for you.

Basically it is about putting our ‘flying’ subject on top of some surface that supports it: a box, a chair, etc., thinking if it can be a priori that it can be easily eliminated later in Photoshop. Once we have the image of our subject and the material that we have used to support it, we take a second photo of the same scene without any object.

Here is a video tutorial that explains it step by step:

The possibilities of this technique are endless, as much as your imagination and creativity. Here are some example images:

10. Filters

Anything that allows us to change conscious reality to show our unconscious reality will work for your surreal photography. As you well know, there are many filters in photography, here is a list of some filters that you can find related to special effects.

Playing with them and getting to know them will open the doors of creativity. Of course you also have the ones provided by most of today’s mobile phones, so if you want to start playing with them and see their myriad possibilities, you can start with those. The question, as always, is to take pictures, with what you have at hand and according to your possibilities.

Ready to transform your imagination into reality? Creativity above all, the possibilities in photography are endless, just like your imagination, and contrary to what you usually think when you see a surreal photograph that inspires you, many of the effects achieved can be obtained easily, without the need for retouching or great knowledge of Photoshop. Yes, there are many worked with image editing programs, but many others shine precisely because of their simplicity, their minimalist, simple and profound message, and on a personal level, the latter are the ones that make me stand longer in front of them, asking myself more: Why? What? How? Because the how is relatively simple, it is about learning this or that program, but those that have been made with basic, simple objects, those that have only needed a little light, a piece of mesh or a deep message, they are the ones that sometimes penetrate the most, the ones you remember the most and the ones that…