Ever since I discovered Joel Robison's surreal photography work, I've loved creating portraits like the above. Go check out his work; it's amazing. He inspired me to think outside the box. To run wild with your own imagination. To use photography and Photoshop to create your own worlds.
I created the above image to express the feeling of serenity and peace I feel when taking time for self-care. I could almost label this image "How I feel when I get to take a nice long shower after a long day". Every conceptual piece like this I create begins as a feeling. Then I have to find a way to translate it into a visual.
The process is as complicated as you want it to be. I'm still learning this technique (and have a lot of room to improve) so my own methods are fairly simple.
Step 1. You need two basic elements - a subject and an environment. For this image, I am the subject and a lake of rose petals is the environment. You will be photographing these elements separately and combining them in Photoshop. Feel free to add additional elements, like sun flare or blowing leaves. The possibilities are endless.
Step 2. Follow these five basic principles when obtaining your elements: lighting, angle, perspective, focus, and shadow. Match the lighting between subject, environment, and any additional elements you are photographing. The direction of light, intensity of light, and temperature of light should match as closely as possible. I don't have a studio, so lighting can be hard to control. Therefore, I typically photograph both element and subject in the same spot to make things easy for myself. Angle is also very important. If you're shooting a high angle of your environment, you need to shoot high angle for the subject as well. When I say perspective, I mean shooting all elements at a similar focal length. Focus can be a bit tricky. For the above self-portrait, I wanted to make it appear to be shot at a wide aperture, with the focus quickly dissolving into blurriness on either side of my body. I shot the rose petals at a wide aperture, but I had to shoot myself at a narrower aperture to make sure my entire body was in focus. Finally, when photographing the environment, I like to place a small object (like a salt shaker) in the place where I will eventually place my subject. This helps create a size-accurate shadow in the image.
Step 3. I used Photoshop to combine my subject and object into one image. This process involves creating several layers and working with masks. Essentially, I created a mask through the rose petal image into my portrait image. Play around with shadows, placement, and scale until it feels right. The last thing I do, to tie everything together and really make it feel like both elements naturally exist together, is to apply color correction and lighting effects to the entire project. I gave the image a greenish blue cast and added a light layer of grain.
That's it! There are so many possibilities for cool-looking images and worlds you can create, without even leaving your house! If you really want to try some crazy ideas, I would recommend setting up a dedicated "studio" space in your house where you can easily manipulate lighting and angles for your shots.
Thanks for reading! Check out my other articles to see more shenanigans I've gotten up to.