Surreal Photography Ideas & Examples

Surreal Photography Ideas & Examples

Surrealism photography creates pictures that are defying our reality. People, animals and objects are usually placed in scenarios that are bizarre and virtually impossible. It lets our imagination run wild and encourages the viewers to think outside the box.

This genre presupposes the use of such methods as photo overlapping, applying abstract forms or burst of light. Mastering this genre of photography could be a challenge, but you can learn its basics by studying the examples of surreal images carefully.

Top 15 Surreal Photography Ideas to Repeat

In this article we have collected fifteen great examples of surreal photos. These images will prompt creative ideas and make you start thinking in the direction of surrealism. Some effects may be achieved with appropriate camera settings, while others require certain photo editing skills.

1. Create Strange Juxtapositions

surreal photography example

One of the greatest methods of practicing surreal photography is to connect unrelated things or join them in an illogical way. The more different things you combine, the more dramatic effect you will achieve. This photo depicting a woman with a fishtank on her head filled with fish is an excellent example.

2. Alter the Colors

surreal photography colors

Playing with colors is one of the most frequent techniques used in surreal photography. Each thing in our world has its specific shade that we are accustomed to: the grass is green, the sky is blue, the sun is yellow. However, if you want to make stunning surreal images, you need to intensify or alter the colors drastically. One more trick is desaturating parts of a photo for creating eye-catching pictures.

3. Play with Natural Elements

surreal photography kyle thompson

For producing original surreal photos, play with elements of nature. Kyle Thompson is a photographer, who actively uses natural elements in his art.

In his self portrait photography, he is depicted cloaked in water, wrapped in a blazing fire, etc. He looks very harmonious, although the surroundings around him look rather chaotic. Such a photography technique proves an effective collaboration between natural and unnatural forces.

4. Make Your Subject Levitate

surreal photography georgia rose hardy

Making things float in photographs is what can help you achieve great photo surrealism results. To turn your levitation photography ideas into reality, you need to take two shots. One photo should feature a levitating subject, the second image should feature the same scene but without the subject.

To achieve the desired effect, you should use a monopod from any tripod brand. The other important thing to prepare is a chair to support the model. The piece of furniture can be removed in Photoshop. To edit your surreal pictures in this program, you need to create the second layer. Then get rid of the unnecessary objects from the top layer to achieve the effect of levitation.

5. Go Underwater

surreal photography lara zankoul
surreal photography lara zankoul

Underwater photography can perfectly be mixed with surrealistic concepts. To perform such a photoshoot, you need a waterproof camera.

Lebanese photographer Lara Zankoul is a pioneer in the genre of surreal underwater photography. Her series “The Unseen” shows us original and captivating images.

Zankoul used a water tank that is visually divided into two halves by the water surface, and the models pose in an unrealistic setting. A special thing about “The Unseen” series is that all the surreal photography effects were achieved by the use of a camera, and not by dint of Photoshop or other similar programs.

6. Make Sure the Lighting Is Consistent Across All Composites

surreal photography erik johansson

Consistent lighting is one of the most important factors for achieving naturally-look pictures. Unappropriated light and shadows may ruin the whole magic of surreal photos. So, to create great images, especially when shooting inside, you need proper photography light bulbs.

If your photoshoot is conducted outdoor, keep in mind that the sun rays should comply with the direction of the camera lens. Erik Johansson is a professional in this sphere, and it would be a great idea to learn from his experience. This photographer claims that you can produce stunning surreal photos by planning and paying attention to the slightest detail.

7. Go for Unexpected

surreal photography flora borsi

The essence of surrealism photography is to astonish and surprise the viewers. Flora Borsi amazes her fans with surreal images that show unusual scenarios.

A woman scratching off the skin, revealing what’s underneath makes viewers wonder about the message the photographer was trying to convey. To achieve a similar effect, don’t be afraid to try unexpected ideas.

8. Use Forced Perspective

surreal photography forced perspective

Forced perspective photography is a stunning optical illusion technique that allows a photographer to make objects appear larger or smaller, further or closer due to the angle they have been shot from.

Forced perspective photography can make tiny things look giant, and vice versa. By experimenting with this approach, you can create bizarre-looking surreal pictures.

9. Add Shock Value

surreal photography frieke janssen
surreal photography frieke janssen

Surreal photography is not always shocking people with unrealistic, odd images. Very often photographers decide to amaze their spectators with improbable cause. For example, Frieke Janssen presented surrealistic images of smoking children. Such photos caused much controversy and mixed feelings.

In her photos, the children are wearing vintage clothes and holding cigarettes, inducing the viewers to think and express their opinion.

10. Incorporate Mirrors

surreal photography with mirrors

Incorporating mirrors into your photoshoot gives you another opportunity for creating amazing pictures. Cover one or another part of the model’s body with a mirror, or produce an “infinity mirror” effect.

Using this accessory bends reality, which is perfect for surrealism photography. One of the photographers, who often use mirrors in their art is Lin Yung Cheng.

11. Try Solarization

surreal photography solarization

The Sabattier effect or solarization is a surreal photography technique that presupposes partial or complete reversal of picture tone. You can achieve this effect digitally or by exposing the partially developed film into the light for a short time in the darkness.

You’ll achieve the reversal of highlights and shadows, and a high-contrast image. A lot of famous photographers who actively employ solarization for producing stunning surreal pictures are Man Ray and Edward Weston.

12. Freeze the Movement

surreal photography atomicus salvador dali

You can achieve the effect of freezing motion by modifying camera shutter speeds. Professionals often incorporate this technique in their surrealism photography workflow. The collection of the most iconic photos also include images created with the help of this approach.

The most famed one is “Atomicus” by Salvador Dali. This picture surprises the spectators with a variety of freezing details. A high speed of every object that is moving is caught in reality and mounted into eternity.

13. Incorporate Blur

surreal photography motion blur
surreal photography motion blur

Many of us see the world around distinctly and clearly. That’s why, the blurring is widely associated with such states as fainting, being disoriented, feeling dizzy, falling asleep, etc. The dreamlike effect of blurring is very important for surreal photography and it can be achieved with a variety of techniques.

You can shake, pan or rack the lens of the camera to apply a blurring effect to an image. Lower the aperture and the depth of field of your picture will decrease so that you’ll be able to blur the moving objects. Use long exposure photography principles or numerous blur filters to produce eerie but magic photos.

14. Try Double Exposure Photography

surreal photography double exposure

Double exposure photography is a genre that implies blending two different worlds into one illusory picture. Fuse portraits with landscapes and you’ll get a perfect surreal image.

Create double exposure in Photoshop or follow a traditional film photography approach, by creating it in-camera.

Double exposure photography is a favorite genre of such surrealist photographers as Antonio Mora and Daniel Mountford.

15. Incorporate Shadows

surreal photography with shadows

Add some shadows to your surreal photos to create stunning compositions. To highlight the effect of shadowing, you can use texture, focus, or misdirection and learn some helpful shadow photography tips.

One of the best recommendations I can give you is to use this tip in combination with black and white photography. Many famous photographers are very active in this subgenre, one of them is Alexey Bednij. He is a Russian photographer known for his virtuosic play with shadows of the objects and subjects around. He produces original collages by bending the reality.

Freebies for Surreal Photography

The success of surreal photography highly depends on image post-production. To save your time, I have selected 5 free Photoshop and Lightroom tools that will help you achieve professional results, even if you are new to this sphere.

Double Exposure

double exposure photoshop freebie for surreal photography double exposure photoshop freebie for surreal photography

This Photoshop action allows adding stunning double exposure effects to an image not using your camera settings. This will add another layer of surrealism to your photos.

Black and White

black and white lightroom freebie for surreal photography black and white lightroom freebie for surreal photography

It is advisable to use this preset for perfecting surreal photos taken indoors. It adds a classic black and white effect, and makes your photos look attention-grabbing.

Swirling Night Sky

night sky photoshop freebie for surreal photography night sky photoshop freebie for surreal photography

Taking long exposure pictures of the night sky can be very difficult. To get such images, you need to be very patient and organize your photoshoot in perfect weather conditions. However, applying this Photoshop star overlay will definitely make this task easier without compromising the quality of the image.

After the Rain

rainbow photoshop freebie for surreal photography rainbow photoshop freebie for surreal photography

The rainbow overlay is one of the most effective ways of creating a perfect surreal scene. As this overlay goes from the right central part to the left side, use it to highlight the right side of a picture, or if you have an empty area on the left.


portrait lightroom freebie for surreal photography portrait lightroom freebie for surreal photography

This great Lightroom preset helps you enhance the colors of your photos and make them look natural. It is helpful for improving pictures taken in poor lighting conditions.