Photography can be more than a recording of fact. Discover how these six pros create vivid fantasy scenes that stretch reality and the imagination.
In the mid to late 19th century, a British woman named Julia Margaret Cameron decided to do something unexpected. She read poetry and mythology, and with help from her camera and models, she brought the characters in her favorite stories to life. There was the wizard Merlin and the classical Cupid; she dreamt up angels and nymphs. At the time, it was unusual for an artist to portray these magical tales in such a realistic way, but as decades have passed, Cameron’s influence has remained.
Fantasy-themed photographs and photo collages continue to inspire and delight us. In fact, Shutterstock named fantasy as one of its top creative trends of 2018, and searches for mythical creatures and magical themes soared. Below, we speak to six talented photographers about how they make the impossible seem possible. They use a variety of techniques and software with varying degrees of realism and make-believe, and while some draw inspiration from the past, others look towards the future. However, they’re all bound by their tremendous imaginations.
1. “As someone who is in the business of marketing images, I can tell you that listening to the client and writing notes is essential.”
Image by 3000ad. Gear: Nikon D7500 camera, NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR lens. Settings: Focal length: 20.0mm; Exposure: 1/250 sec; f/8; ISO 100.
What’s the story behind this photo?
Microstock has to be the best way to transform a hobby into actual paying work. We are a two-person architectural visualization team with two hobbies: science fiction and world travel. While our 3D modeling day job helps with imagining structures and building objects, our travel photography provides the backgrounds and the inspiration.
The “alien invasion” theme in this shot was not an afterthought. We arrived at Grand View Point at Utah’s Canyonlands National Park right after a storm had passed, and there, we witnessed a sense pure, overwhelming awe. I do not remember which one of us was the first to say, “What if…?” But our vision came to life as we worked in 3D Studio MAX and Photoshop.
Image by 3000ad
We find inspiration in science fiction literature, general scientific concepts, and the news. It’s more fun to imagine and build original scenes without having a direct visual influence. It’s more lucrative too. As someone who is in the business of marketing images, I can tell you that listening to the client and writing notes is essential.
In terms of technique, it is important to render (we use 3D Studio MAX) with an actual photo as a background or as a reflection map. This increases the realism of the objects placed within the landscape. It also makes it easy to adjust the 3D model, isolated on its own layer, within the original photo, and to add effects or filters in Photoshop or AfterEffects.
2. “Don’t be afraid or intimidated by ambitious productions or complex props.”
Image by Evgeniia Litovchenko. Gear: Canon 5D Mark III camera, Sigma 35mm ART f1.4 lens, Canon 430ex II, Yongnuo 460 II, 2 umbrellas. Settings: Exposure 1/128 sec; f2.2; ISO 100.
What’s the story behind this photo?
This idea was born after I saw a fashion photo of a girl with giant white wings. I wanted to do something similar but with black wings and a darker atmosphere. The main problem was that I couldn’t find anywhere in the world to buy wings like these that were already made. I found some options made of synthetic materials, but they looked fake and lifeless. In the end, I decided to make them myself, despite the fact that I had no experience at all.
My living conditions at the time of this shoot were quite modest. The room where I lived and worked was only ten square meters, but nothing could stop me from creating this image. I bought more than 1500 feathers, and after two months of trial and error, I managed to make the wings.
I wanted an unusual location with a desolate atmosphere. Fortunately, I had learned not long before that there was an ash dump in our city. On the day of the shoot, I visited it for the first time. I had a makeup artist and a hair stylist working on this shoot, and after they finished, we arrived at the ash dump. A large space opened before us, its surfaces covered with fine gray dust.
It was almost sunset, and the scene looked apocalyptic; it was as if the earth had been burned to the ground. We were delighted. I worked with an assistant and this model, and we were all knee-deep in ash but excited. Initially, I had planned for the model to be a bird, but in the end, she became an angel of the apocalypse.
One of my favorite shots is this one, where the model is lying on the ground, her arms outstretched, as if fallen. I noticed the cracks on the ground, and they reminded me of the desert, the surface of the moon, or the area near a volcano, and I wanted them in the frame. But since there was no other way for me to shoot the model from above, I had to climb up on an assistant’s shoulders. It was scary and funny, but it was worth it.