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Zero Gravity photography

Zero Gravity photography - In this technique, ePHOTOzine gets to grips with zero gravity photography.

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Category : Portraits and People
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There are two types of zero gravity photography and until I get sent up into space, I'm happy to try the other style. Zero gravity is taken in a way that makes the subject look as though they're naturally floating in mid-air.
Zero gravity shoot 5

After seeing the video on ePHOTOzine.tv about zero gravity photography, I decided I wanted to have a go myself, but a search on the internet revealed no technique guides on it. Not wanting to be put off, I decided to have a go anyway and simply learn the technique for myself through trial and error.

It doesn't take long to master this simple, yet effective photography style. It is, in effect, a photograph of someone jumping in the air. In fact, it only took me two shoots to have it cracked. After that, it's all about adding props or poses to make it look unique and honing your style.

Preparation
Over the two shoots, I learned that there are a few considerations needing to be addressed before going on a shoot:
  1. Camera
  2. Lens
  3. Clothes (model)
  4. Hair style
  5. Location
  6. Light
  7. Shutter speed
  8. ISO performance
  9. Props

Thinking about the technique, it was a simple idea so the equipment shouldn't be too much of a problem. To get the best results is all about timing. I decided that to be in with the best chance of getting the shot, I should use a camera that's fast at focusing, in case the model moves. It also needs a high burst rate so I can start shooting when the model jumps and still be shooting as they're on their way down. I chose the Olympus E-3 because it has one of the fastest autofocus systems available and a maximum burst rate of 5fps. I chose the 50-200mm lens for better compression of depth-of-field when I had the space to use such a long length. It was a brilliantly bright day, so I had no worries over exposure. I also took the 12-60mm in case space was going to be an issue for me.

Shoot #1: Emma-Nicole
My first attempt at zero-g photography involved a location shoot at a deserted building on the outskirts of Sheffield. It was the middle of summer and a blisteringly hot day. Before the shoot, I sent the model the link to the video where I got my inspiration, so she knew exactly what to expect, but I made a point of explaining what I wanted anyway once we'd met. We'd decided on an outfit of a white floaty dress and she came with darkened eyes to make the shot look ghostly.
After a couple of shots of me missing her jumping, we decided on a “One, Two Three, Jump!” system. I would then start shooting from Jump and she'd jump in the air.

It's important that your model relaxes their entire upper torso because my initial shots showed she tended to brace herself when jumping and this led to her head sinking into her neck and her arms going rigid. After a look back at the images we'd taken, she could see what I meant and she relaxed.

After an hour of floaty photographs, we both tired and I went home to check the work. The only area that the images had failed on was the clothing. Because we'd chosen a light, floaty outfit, it rose up and looked too high regardless of the position she was in the air. Her hair was down and this also billowed out slightly. I also noticed a few shots were slightly blurred as I tested the right shutter speed. The minimum shutter speed to use is 1/500sec.

So two areas to change are the light, floaty clothes and no loose hair.

Zero gravity technique Emma-Nicole shot 1
Results from the first shoot show a wrong outfit choice. The background isn't correct either.
Zero gravity technique Emma-Nicole shot 2
Try different options such as cropping the head off. I think this works with the ghost effect.

Emma-Nicole is a brilliant model and is available for hire. You can contact her through her portfolio here:

Emma-Nicole portfolio

Shoot #2: Chloe
Building on the previous shoot, I'd worked out that the definite settings for the camera were at least 1/500sec, but that isn't always viable if using a low ISO unless I use controlled lighting. The reason also being that part of the effect is showing the model floating and a shadow beneath her feet is necessary. Strong light is therefore needed and that isn't always a possibility. Indeed, the second shoot happened a couple of months after the first and Autumn was setting in. I decided to try the shoot in a studio to see if I could do it that way. After all, the initial video I drew inspiration from was set in a studio. My main problem with that was timing. I'd relied on the camera's drive mode originally, but this time, I wouldn't be able to rapidly fire a studio flash, so my reflexes were going to be an important factor.

I was in the middle of our full frame group test, so this time I opted for the Canon EOS 5D MkII and 50mm lens. I didn't have to worry about depth of field compression but space was an issue, so couldn't go too long on the telephoto. The lights were sat at 45 degree angles to the model and if you have one, use a hair light directly above to cast more light on the floor and create a stronger shadow. Just beware of over-exposure on the head.

I contacted the model and asked her to bring clothes that fit properly instead of loose, floppy types and in the end we opted for a pair of shorts and a vest top. She has long hair so I asked her to put it in a style that was controlled. Simply tying it back worked a treat.

Once we'd got into the swing of things and I was getting the shot at the right time, I tried to mix it up and make the picture more interesting. I asked her to stand straight on and hold her hands out to the side, looking like an angel. I also tried different camera angles, but this proves difficult to get the shadow under the feet and for the model to look at the camera while they're jumping.
Zero gravity technique Chloe shot 3
I had to leave the floor in to add shadow and keep some realism.
Zero gravity technique Chloe shot 4
Not including a shadow doesn't give the effect of floating.
Zero gravity technique Chloe shot 1
Using props brings a real item into a surreal situation.
Zero gravity technique Chloe shot 2
You may find using different angles works for you.

Chloe is excellent at taking direction and is available for hire. You can contact her through her portfolio here:

Chloe's portfolio.


By the end of the shoot, I'd worked out the correct technique for this type of shoot:

  1. A Camera with good ISO performance to keep the shutter speed ramped up but not allow noise to destroy the image.
  2. Good AF on the camera, set to continuous.
  3. A high burst rate is an advantage if you're working without flash.
  4. In a studio, you need your reflexes.
  5. A prime lens for sharp images.
  6. Good communication with the model.
  7. A lot of light to create shadows which define the effect of floating.
  8. Add everyday props to further separate the normality of life with the abnormality of zero gravity life.
If you find the light can't get going for you, try using the burn tool to create a shadow under the model. It can look false but most of the time it looks ok and accentuates the effect you're after.

It's great fun to do, is easy to master and there's not a lot of examples on the internet, so your work will stand out. Other ideas I thought of for zero-g shooting was the inclusion of props. We introduced props, such as the Lily but other props would work too. Ideas I thought of were to use a Plasma globe or an umbrella and having the model's hand resting on top.


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