How to Shoot Surreal Portrait Photography

Surreal portraits are often thought-provoking, haunting, otherworldly, or a mix of all three.

Want to make your portraits look surreal and feel exciting at the same time? Here are a few important (and easy!) tricks you need to keep in mind.

What Is Surreal Photography?

Surrealism is a form of art that focuses on dream-like elements. These elements can be bizarre, like Dali’s The Elephants , or unbelievably realistic, like Justin Peters’ Cloud Whale .

These two examples are very different. But they share the same characteristics. They aren’t something you’d see in everyday life.

Yet, they’re still capable of making you think from a different perspective. You might even find them relatable on an emotional level. Surreal pictures are often something you could potentially see in a dream.

Recreating dreams is a common technique in various photography genres. But it’s especially popular in surreal portrait photography.

You can shoot stunning surreal portraits if you play around with facial expressions, poses, or props.

Surrealism allows you to express yourself, experiment, and create fine art.

Keep Facial Expressions Serious to Intensify the Surreal Effect

In surreal portrait photography, you’ll notice that models have similar expressions. They might look lost in thought, confused, unaware of the camera, and so on.

The seriousness of their expressions plays an important role. It has the ability to intensify the surreal effect of the portrait.

If they looked cheerful in the middle of an unusual landscape, the image would look out of place. There’s nothing wrong with this mix, but it doesn’t define the surreal portraits genre.

The more serious your model looks, the easier it is to make even simple compositions look surreal.

Here are a few general portrait examples to use as references. Share them with your model before the photoshoot to ensure that you’re both on the same page.

Not every expression will go well with your theme. Be open to your model’s feedback. Don’t hesitate to experiment!

Simply looking up will make your model look like they’re lost in thought or looking at something mysterious in the distance.

When you shoot profiles, take a few photos where your model looks straight ahead or a little to the side. Like the previous expression, this will create mystery and continuity.

This way, your model’s expression will suggest that there’s more to your photo than meets the eye.

One of the best ways to create pure surrealism is to hide your model’s face completely. You can do this by asking them to stand with their back to the camera.

You can also have them cover their faces with masks, hair, or their hands.

This expression is great for emotional or tranquil photographs. All your model has to do is close their eyes and slightly part their lips.

Last but not least, ask your model to make an intense expression when looking at the camera. This is perfect for close-up portraits, as the viewer can make eye contact with the model.

This way, they will not be distracted by other subjects.

Use Moody Lighting to Enhance Your Story

Moody lighting can also intensify the surreal effect. This setting makes it easier for you to set the mood at the beginning of your photoshoot.

Moody lighting exists in many forms. If you want to use natural light, shoot when it’s cloudy or gloomy outside. You can also shoot indoors when it’s cloudy for an even moodier effect.

You can also use artificial light for a sharper result. This will give you more control over the atmosphere in your images. Artificial light also allows you to shoot as much as you can, without having to worry about unpredictable weather changes.

Keep your artificial light bright but limited. You can use neon lights or cover any light source with colored gel filters.

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