"All Together on the Downbeat"

by Chad Fenner




The first thing people say when they see this image is “what the heck? . . . how did you? . . .”.

The is a form of photography called “levitation photography” (Google it).  The basic premise is that you take a photo of your background with no subject in it.  Then add your subject, supported by some prop – either a ladder, stool, chair, box, bucket, other people . . .  whatever, and take a second shot.  Pull both images into Photoshop as layers with your subject layer in front of the empty background layer.  Then, align the layers and using a mask took, mask out the props supporting your subject (and anything else you don't want in the final shot) leaving the background layer to show through.  The result is your subject “floating” in the air.

I practiced this technique a couple of times on a small scale, but I really wanted to do this on a big scale.  I had shot a local Christian Rock band called Drive Thru Society live on several occasions, and had been wanting to do a photo shoot with them.  I thought this would be perfect.  Once I explained the concept to them, they totally embraced it.  While I may have the one pulling the trigger and doing the post-processing, I really do have to thank the band for their creative ideas in the implementation.  When we showed up for the shoot, I had a 3' and 4' step ladders.  They had the 8’ step ladder that the drummer is sitting on.  They came up with the theme of “down beat”.  They had a basic idea of how each band member should be posed.  They really were the creative geniuses of this image. (As a side note, they also had some ideas that were well beyond my current skill level – I look forward to working with them again as I expand my capabilities.)

In this case, there are 8 stacked layers:  The background, each of the 5 band members, the amp in the top left, and the random papers flying through the air.  In every layer, each of the other band members helped to support the band member in that layer either by steadying the ladder, holding up a symbol or amp or being a part of the team that supported those long guitar cords.  This really was a team effort.  I’ve included thumbnails of each of the 8 layers for reference.

I made a few mistakes.  On the front two band members, the lighting was not as bright as it was for the band members higher up in the frame, so I decided to use a small fill-in flash to help illuminate them.  That resulted in those two being lit differently than the rest.  I could mostly adjust out the differences in the white balance, but there was nothing I could do about the difference in shadowing.

I also wished I had been further back and used a longer lens.  Using the short lens created a large perspective difference between the two people in front and the drummer in back.  They look huge compared to him.

There were also little things, like having the supporting band members standing right behind the item they are holding on to.  That mean more fine masking.  Had they stood off to the side, I could have masked them in one fell swoop with only a bit of fine masking where they were holding the item.

But I learned a lot from the exercise, and won’t make those mistakes again.  And while I had a ton of fun doing it, I won't be doing it for free next time!