Surreal Photography

surreal photography

Surreal photography is a growing genre in the field of art photography. The goal of surreal photography is either to show a situation or image that would be impossible in reality, or to present an alternate reality that illustrates impossible scenarios.  The surreal photography artist uses the photograph as a way to present images and thoughts that could otherwise only exist in the mind. The world of surreal photography doesn’t follow rules. Photos that can be classified as surreal photography can have some digital editing, but too much editing would reclassify the photo as a “manipulated” photo, which is another art form in photography. The general guideline is that the set up and taking of the shot should have taken more time than the editing process done after taking the shot in order to keep the photo within the general guidelines of surreal photography.  Rather than achieving surreal results through digital manipulation, the results can be created with surreal environments, makeup, costuming, lighting, angles, levels, shadows, backgrounds and movement. The subjects themselves do not necessarily even need to be things that do not exist in real life. The goal instead is to create the feeling that the subjects are a little out of this world. Once you have your concept and the subjects ready, use the following tips to enhance the effects of our surreal photography.


Ultimately, the lighting of surreal photography should not mimic natural light in a simplistic way.  By having light focused in an unnatural way, the photos take on the imaginative look that the artist is trying to accomplish. One way of doing this is by having multiple lighting focuses, each with a different type of lighting. Some natural light may be used, in addition to filtered lighting such as yellow gel lighting.  Another technique is to light multiple subjects within the photo, and some of them not necessarily what you would expect.  You may shine special lighting on an interesting background prop, for example.

surreal photography

Angles and Levels

Another way to achieve a surreal and imaginative effect in surreal photography is through the creative use of angles and levels which create a warped effect on the subjects. This is called perspective distortion. Using creative angles and levels can make the subject appear larger, smaller or of much different proportions than it normally would. This adds a surreal level to the photograph and enhances the effects.

surreal photography


Shadows are often used in surreal photography to create unique and thought provoking imagery. The shadows are often treated as subject matter themselves. The subjects and their shadows can create interesting dual mirror images. This technique is usually done with black and white exposures.


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