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16 Surreal Photography Ideas to Get You Inspired

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black and white hand shaped into bulb

One of the most unique and challenging styles of photography to get into is surreal photography. It’s about highlighting things that can’t exist or simply making something look more than it is.

You can create mind-boggling photos with surreal photography, but sometimes, you require extra inspiration to come up with good ideas. So, here are 16 different surreal ideas to get your creative juices flowing for your next photo shoot.

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The Top 16 Surreal Photography Ideas to Get You Inspired

1. Photo Composites

Effectiveness  High
Ease of Completion Moderate

Photo composites can create a wide array of surreal scenes. You take parts of one image or scene and add them to another, and when you find the right pieces and pictures, you can create amazingly surreal images.


2. Go Underwater

man sitting underwater

Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

Effectiveness  Moderate
Ease of Completion Easy

It takes a bit of creativity to unlock a surreal underwater image, but the potential is certainly there. You can head underwater to create these images, or you can use editing software to make areas appear underwater that aren’t really.


3. Use a Glass Cup

Effectiveness  Moderate
Ease of Completion Easy

This idea is relatively easy to pull off, but the trick is using it in a way that creates a truly surreal image. You can edit things into the cup that shouldn’t be there, or you can point your camera through the bottom of the glass to twist the perspective around.


4. Use Multiple Exposures

multiple exposure of a man standing up

Image Credit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Effectiveness  High
Ease of Completion Challenging

There are a few different ways that you can use multiple exposures to take surreal photographs, but the key is to highlight something in motion in a way that tells a story. It’s not always the easiest trick to complete, but if you can pull it off, you’ll get extremely surreal photographs.


5. Take Out the Face

Effectiveness  Moderate
Ease of Completion Moderate

You can use shadows, editing, hair, and many other things to take the subject’s face out of a picture. No matter how you do it, a faceless person can make an otherwise ordinary photo surreal. We humans have a unique attachment to faces, and when they go missing, it puts us on edge.


6. Find Faces

Effectiveness  High
Ease of Completion Moderate

One great way to take a surreal photo is to find faces. You can highlight faces found in nature, and since humans do a great job with pattern recognition, it’s usually easy for people to put the pieces together.

You can also use editing effects to add more faces to a single person, and it’s sure to make a surreal photo.


7. Use Food

Effectiveness  Low
Ease of Completion Easy

With enough creativity, food is a great way to create a surreal image. You can put food into areas where it shouldn’t be, or you can change something about the food so it doesn’t look right. Food is an everyday staple in our lives, so when you can change it around, you can make people look twice at your pictures.


8. Defy Gravity

young woman floating in the air

Image Credit: Ashley Bean, Unsplash

Effectiveness  High
Ease of Completion Moderate

We all know how gravity works, so when we see something that doesn’t follow the laws of gravity, it’s surreal. There are a few different ways that the subject of your photo can “defy” gravity. You can use photo-editing software or optical illusions to create the effect. Either method makes for a surreal image.


9. Move Objects Around

Effectiveness  High
Ease of Completion Moderate

We all know where certain objects usually are: The moon and sun are up in the sky, buildings belong on the ground, etc.

But anytime there’s an object that usually stays in one place, if you move it somewhere new and potentially change the size, it makes for a surreal image.


10. Use Silhouettes

Effectiveness  Low
Ease of Completion Easy

It takes extra creativity to make a silhouette seem surreal because they can appear in regular life. You can put silhouettes in odd places, or you can make something a silhouette in a situation where it clearly shouldn’t be.


11. Change the Perspective

Effectiveness  Low
Ease of Completion Easy

With this idea, you can’t just throw a few edits in there and get a surreal image. When you change the perspective of something, you need to be creative. You can turn the world upside down or just look at things from a new angle to take this effect to the next level.


12. Resize Yourself

lady in bikini seating on a cup of coffee

Image Credit: SarahRichterArt, Pixabay

Effectiveness  High
Ease of Completion Moderate

For the most part, we know how people fit in the world, so when a person is significantly smaller or larger in a photo, it makes us question things. It can also be a great way to tell a story and even highlight someone’s psychological state if you use it effectively.


13. Use Reflections

Effectiveness  Low
Ease of Completion Easy

This is a trick that you can use in multiple ways to create surreal images. You can have reflections with nothing there to actually reflect, or you can have a subject with no reflection while everything else reflects normally.

Another option is to have a completely different background with the same subject, or you can simply use mirrors and reflections to twist and distort perceptions. Any way you go about it, reflections can be a great way to create surreal photos.


14. Edit Away

Effectiveness  High
Ease of Completion Easy to challenging

When you’re looking to create surreal images, photo-editing software is your best friend. With it, you can create images that simply can’t exist in the real world, and when you’re trying to capture the surreal, highlighting the impossible is a great place to start.

With photo editing and surreal images, the only limitations are your editing skill set and your creativity.


15. Minimalism

Effectiveness  High
Ease of Completion Easy

Minimalism is ideal when trying to obtain a surreal photograph. Such pictures use extremely limited colors and mostly empty space to force the viewer’s attention and create a feeling of loneliness or isolation. It’s an idea that doesn’t require any tools, so you can immediately look for the best location or setting for your next photograph.


16. Motion Blur

Effectiveness  Low
Ease of Completion Moderate

Motion blur uses a combination of movement and a long shutter speed to create a surreal photograph that can look fantastic. You don’t need any special tools, but it can take several tries to get the right settings and develop the skills required to capture the image. FStoppers provides a great tutorial with plenty of tips to help you.

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How Can I Take Better Pictures?

Get a Better Camera

The most popular cameras are on cell phones, and while many people can take amazing pictures with their phone cameras, they lack a few important features of professional cameras. Professional cameras have movable lenses with real zooming so you can get good images from far away. Your cell phone has a fixed lens, and all zooming is digital, which is similar to cropping. A professional camera also enables you to change the lens to suit a wide variety of needs, while a smartphone does not have that option. Smartphones are great for getting started, and they’re perfect for selfies and close-up images, but you’ll likely want a better camera to capture birds and other distant objects.

woman using camera

Image Credit: Billion Photos, Shutterstock

Learn How to Use Your Camera

Many people can instantly take better pictures simply by learning how to use a camera correctly. Unfortunately, many people never know how to do more than point and shoot, so they can’t get the higher quality images possible by manipulating the settings. Taking a few minutes to read over the camera manual can make a big difference.

Learn How to Adjust the Shutter Speed and ISO

ISO

Two of the most important settings to learn on your camera are the ISO and shutter speed. These settings are also available on most cell phones. ISO controls the image’s brightness, and a higher number will produce a brighter image. Lowering the ISO can help you get a better picture on a sunny day, while raising it will improve a night photo.

Shutter speed

The shutter speed controls how long the camera stays open when you press the button. Fast shutter speeds will help you capture quick movement without blurring, so choose high speeds when you want to take photos of a sporting event or a playful pet. Decreasing the shutter speed allows more light to hit the film, so it’s a good option when you want to take pictures of dimly lit objects, like stars. Long shutter speeds also tend to create blurry images, so you can exploit it to create interesting light streaks in night photos, as many people do with traffic.

man using camera

Image Credit: Markus Spiske, Shutterstock

Plan

One thing that many new photographers forget to do is plan their adventure. As you gain experience in photography, you’ll realize that most pictures are not spontaneous and require a great deal of preparation. So, always think about your subject, plan your location, check your lighting, and take test photos well in advance to see an improvement in your craft.

Take Plenty of Pictures

When it comes to photography, there is no substitute for hands-on experience. The more pictures you take, the better you will get. You will learn from every mistake and remember what works so you can repeat it.

 

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Conclusion

Now that you have a few ideas for your next surreal photoshoot, it’s up to you to get out there and try a few of them for yourself. Don’t be afraid to mix and match, do new things, and see where your creativity takes you.

Not every photo is going to turn out just like you want it, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Before long, you’ll have many surreal photographs to show off.


Featured Image Credit: Rishabh Dharmani, Unsplash

About the Author Ed Malaker

Ed Malaker is a veteran writer who contributes to a wide range of blogs covering information on computer programming, pets, birding, tools, fitness, guitars, and optics. Outside of writing, Ed is often found working in the garden or performing DIY projects in the house. Ed is also a musician, spending his time composing music for independent films or helping people repair their guitars.

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