Ian Norman

Photographer / Creator of Lonely Speck

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Gravity Defying Portraits: A Sample Gallery by Ian Norman

Hey everyone! I wanted to share my experience shooting levitation portraits in Zócalo, the center of the center of México City. 

I contacted several friends and let them know what time I would be shooting. I aimed to have everyone available about an hour before sunset so that I could shoot in softer shaded light. I told everyone that they could wear whatever they felt was most comfortable. 

I shot my photos on a few different cameras including a Sony RX100M3 point and shoot and a Sony a7II mirrorless camera with 35mm/2.8 lens. I used a little compact travel tripod and kept it as low as it would let me go for the duration of the shoot. 

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We started with Rodrigo who decided that he wanted to position himself on his stomach. After he was too tire to hold his poses any longer, I shoot an alternative to the levitating flock. Rather than doing a bunch of levitating cranes for his portrait, I instead made several long exposures by adding a 10-stop ND filter to my lens and slowing my shutter to about 1/4 to 0.5 second. I had everyone involved in the shoot to walk around in circles  in the shot to make the blurry moving figures that you see in the final result. They were added in post processing using the same method as the levitating flock. One Easter egg is that the white figure behind Rodrigo is also Rodrigo!

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Next up was Leilani. We decided to shoot her portraits in the same location as Rodrigo. Shooting Leilani turned out ot be a much faster experience. She's a professional dancer and it really showed: her movements and positions were all very natural and fluid, just like this was just another dance performance. If you know any friends that are dancers, I think they'd probably be a great candidate for a levitation shoot. We were done really quickly with Leilani and right after she was finished we shot a whole bunch of images of a really large paper crane made from an unusually large piece of paper. It turned out to fill the area of the photograph so much more than a "regular" sized paper crane that I chose to include only 7 of probably 100 different possible positions in the final photograph. I particularly loved the look of the cranes that were super close to the camera and I'd recommend to not forget to shoot a few shots with your levitating object nice and close to the camera, too. 

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After we finished Leilani's shots, we turned around 180 degrees to shoot towards the North in the direction of the Catedral Metropolitana and started shooting portraits of LuLu, Rodrigo's girlfriend. LuLu is not a professional dancer like Leilani and it was a very different experience shooting her. She like to move her limbs a little bit faster and that made it harder to catch her at the right moment so I had to take a lot more photos of her than pretty much anyone else just to keep up with her movements. I think, in hindsight, I would have told her to slow down her movements. I used a smaller origami crane for this shoot and actually used the same photographs and background image to help create the photo of Monica below. You can see that I reused a couple of the same cranes in each photo:

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Monica's portrait above is the same one that I featured in the post processing video. While I initially like the colorful kite flying in the background, now I'm not so sure if I like it in the finished work. I think if I were to make some changes to this one, I would remove it and perhaps that man in the blue shirt behind Monica using the same methods that I used to remove the stool that was supporting Monica. Other than that, I really really love that Monica wore a red dress. It's not typical to see someone in a red dress and it really makes the image pop. If your dress wearing model is trying to pick a color and red is an option, I'd say go for it! 

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When we were done shooting in the direction of the cathedral, we turned to the East and shot towards the Palacio Nacional. I've had the concept for the above photo of Andrés (Leilani's boyfriend) in my mind for a long time. I always wanted to use paper airplanes in a levitation portrait, being such an avid paper airplane maker when I was a kid. Some things that came together unexpectedly in this photo: all the blue tones. Andrés's denim, blue shirt and blue shoes coupled with the blue shadows on the underside of the paper airplans and the blue tones of the ground all came together to make for an interesting result.

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Finally, as the sun was almost set, we repositioned to face Madero, a busy walking path with a ton of fasionable stores that leads right to Torre Latinoamericano, the tall highrise building visible in the background. For this final shoot, we actually had Monica positioned IN the street and shot her poses during a moment of minimal traffic. After her shots were done I made some more long exposures like the ones from the first portrait of Rodrigo, this time using shutter times of about 0.5 to 1 second long. I tried my best to capture as much moving traffic as possible. The final editing to add the moving cars was performed in the same manner as all the levitating flock photos using layer masks. 

I really hope you all enjoyed my sample photos and enjoy the class. I'm available for questions in the discussion section!

Cheers!

Ian

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