Surreal Portrait Photography Guide: Unlocking the Magic

Michael • June 17, 2023 • 5 min read

Surreal Portrait Photography

Enter a realm where reality defies its own boundaries, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Prepare to be captivated by the magical allure of surreal portrait photography.

In this captivating genre, imagination takes center stage, weaving narratives that transcend the constraints of the everyday.

Join us as we embark on a journey into the depths of creativity, unraveling the techniques and inspiration behind surreal portraits.

Discover how to unlock your artistic vision and create images that transport viewers to a realm where dreams come alive.

1. What is Surreal Portrait Photography?

Surreal portrait photography is an artistic expression that melds the principles of surrealism with the captivating art of portraiture.

It goes beyond capturing a mere likeness; it delves into the realm of the subconscious, employing elements of surprise, juxtaposition, and visual illusions to create thought-provoking and visually stunning images.

By embracing the unexpected and blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, surreal portrait photography taps into our emotions and perceptions, evoking a sense of wonder and intrigue that lingers long after we’ve laid our eyes upon the image.

The incorporation of surreal elements into portrait photography is a delicate art form. It requires a skilled photographer who can seamlessly blend the real and the unreal, the ordinary and the extraordinary, to create a harmonious composition that captivates the viewer.

By introducing elements such as levitation, floating objects, distorted proportions, or unexpected juxtapositions, the photographer crafts a narrative that transcends the conventional and invites viewers to explore the depths of their own imagination.

To explore portrait photography in greater depth, be sure to visit our comprehensive guide about all types of portrait photography here.

Psychological Effects of Surreal Portraits

2. The Psychological Effects of Surreal Portraits

Beyond their visual impact, surreal portraits hold a profound psychological effect on the viewer. As we engage with these extraordinary images, our minds are stimulated, and our emotions are stirred.

Surreal elements challenge our preconceived notions of reality and provoke us to question our own perceptions. They tap into the depths of our subconscious, unlocking hidden emotions, desires, and fears.

By delving into the psychological realm, surreal portrait photography provides a gateway to self-reflection and introspection, offering viewers a unique opportunity to explore the hidden recesses of their own psyche.

In the upcoming sections of this article, we will explore various aspects of surreal portrait photography, including the techniques used to create these mesmerizing images, conceptualization, and the impact of renowned surreal photographers.

3. Surreal Photography Ideas

To create captivating surreal portraits, photographers often venture into the realm of imagination and push the boundaries of reality. Here are some creative ideas and techniques that will help you produce awe-inspiring and mind-bending images:

  • Manipulating reality through props, costumes, and makeup: Explore the transformative power of props, costumes, and makeup to alter the perception of reality. Incorporate elements that defy expectations and challenge the ordinary. Unleash your creativity by using unexpected objects, unconventional clothing, or intricate face and body art to create a surreal atmosphere.
  • Playing with perspectives, scale, and proportions: Bend the rules of perception by experimenting with different perspectives, scale, and proportions. Play with forced perspectives to create illusions of size or distance. Combine oversized or undersized objects with human subjects to create a sense of wonder and visual intrigue.
  • Incorporating symbolic or metaphorical elements: Infuse your portraits with symbolic or metaphorical elements that convey deeper meanings. Utilize objects or elements that represent ideas, emotions, or concepts, adding layers of symbolism to your images. By intertwining the real and the symbolic, you create narratives that spark introspection and invite viewers to interpret your work in their own unique way.
  • Blending multiple exposures or using double exposures: Merge different exposures or superimpose multiple images to create ethereal and otherworldly effects. By seamlessly blending elements from various shots, you can create a sense of duality or fusion, blurring the boundaries between reality and fantasy.
  • Experimenting with lighting techniques for dramatic effects: Lighting is a powerful tool in surreal portrait photography. Explore the interplay of light and shadow to create dramatic and mysterious atmospheres. Experiment with techniques such as low-key lighting, high-key lighting, or chiaroscuro to enhance the surreal aspects of your images.
Eric Almas surreal portrait photography
©Eric Almas

4. Using Digital Manipulation for Surreal Portraits

With the advancements in digital technology, photographers now have a vast array of tools at their disposal for creating surreal portraits. Digital manipulation allows for endless possibilities, enabling you to blend, warp, and transform images in ways that were once unimaginable.

Embrace the world of photo editing software and explore techniques like photo compositing, texture overlays, and digital painting to add an extra layer of surrealism to your portraits.

Just remember to maintain a balance between enhancing your vision and preserving the integrity of the original photograph.

By incorporating these ideas and techniques into your photography, you will unlock a realm of boundless creativity and produce surreal portraits that leave viewers mesmerized and captivated.

Experiment, embrace the unexpected, and let your imagination soar as you embark on your surreal portrait photography journey.

Diane Arbus surreal portrait photography
©Diane Arbus

5. Conceptual Portrait Photography

Conceptual portrait photography is a genre that goes hand in hand with surrealism, as it emphasizes the fusion of ideas, emotions, and storytelling within a single frame.

It transcends the mere representation of physical appearances and aims to convey deeper meanings and messages. When creating conceptual portraits with a surreal twist, consider the following tips:

  • Developing a concept for a surreal portrait shoot: Start by brainstorming ideas that evoke a sense of intrigue or challenge conventional norms. Explore themes like dreams, fears, personal narratives, or social issues. Think about how you can visually represent these concepts through symbolism, composition, and the use of surreal elements.
  • Importance of pre-planning, visualization, and communication with models: Before the actual shoot, invest time in meticulous planning. Visualize the desired outcome and consider the technical aspects such as lighting, props, and locations. Effective communication with models is crucial to ensure they understand the concept and can convey the intended emotions or messages through their expressions and body language.
  • Highlighting the role of collaboration and creative experimentation: Collaborate with models, makeup artists, stylists, and other creatives to bring your vision to life. Embrace experimentation and be open to unexpected ideas or changes during the shoot. Sometimes, the most remarkable results emerge from spontaneous moments of creative exploration.
Brooke DiDonato surreal portrait photography
©Brooke DiDonato

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6. Surreal Photographers

Throughout history, influential photographers have left an indelible mark on the genre of surreal portrait photography. Their unique styles and contributions have paved the way for the exploration of surrealism within this art form. Let’s delve into the works of some notable surreal photographers:

  • Man Ray: Known for his avant-garde approach, Man Ray combined elements of surrealism, Dadaism, and abstract photography. His photograms and unconventional techniques brought a fresh perspective to the genre.
  • Diane Arbus: Arbus captured the essence of the human condition through her thought-provoking portraits. With a focus on marginalized individuals, her images often had an unsettling and surreal quality, challenging societal norms.
  • Francesca Woodman: Woodman’s ethereal and introspective self-portraits explored themes of identity, body, and gender. Her use of long exposures, multiple exposures, and innovative compositions created surreal narratives within her work.

Contemporary photographers continue to draw inspiration from surrealism, infusing it with their own unique visions. Some notable names include Brooke Shaden and Erik Johansson, who each bring a fresh perspective to the genre with their innovative techniques and thought-provoking imagery.

Francesca Woodman surreal portrait photography
©Francesca Woodman

7. Surrealist Photographers in the Modern Era

In the modern era, surrealism and photography intersect in fascinating ways. Contemporary photographers not only reinterpret the genre but also push its boundaries through technological advancements and creative experimentation. Let’s explore the work of these visionary artists:

  • Erik Almas: Almas creates surreal landscapes and portraits that blur the line between reality and fantasy. His masterful use of digital manipulation and compositing techniques transports viewers to mesmerizing and otherworldly realms.
  • Brooke DiDonato: DiDonato’s dreamlike and surreal portraits explore themes of identity, vulnerability, and transformation. Through her use of props, symbolism, and vivid colors, she constructs narratives that challenge perceptions and ignite the imagination.

The Intersection of Surrealism and Technology in Photography

The advent of technology has revolutionized the way surrealism is expressed in photography. Digital manipulation, 3D rendering, and virtual reality have opened up new possibilities for photographers to create immersive and mind-bending experiences.

Artists like Laurent Rosset and Anka Zhuravleva embrace these technological advancements to produce surreal portraits that merge the realms


Surreal portrait photography offers a captivating blend of imagination, creativity, and storytelling. Throughout this article, we’ve explored the essence of surrealism within portraiture and provided actionable insights for both average people and photography enthusiasts.

We’ve delved into the concept of surreal portrait photography, understanding its characteristics and the impact it has on viewers’ emotions and perceptions.

We’ve also discussed a range of creative ideas, from manipulating reality through props and makeup to playing with perspectives and lighting techniques.

Furthermore, we’ve explored the realm of conceptual portrait photography, highlighting the importance of pre-planning, visualization, and collaboration.

Surreal portrait photography holds immense value as a means of self-expression and creative exploration. It allows us to break free from the constraints of reality and delve into the depths of our imagination.

We encourage you, our readers, to experiment, think outside the box, and embrace your own unique style within this genre.

Tools to bring your portrait photography to life:

What is your take on Surreal Portrait Photography? Let us know in the comments!

By Furoore team member Michael
Furoore Team is here to assist you in capturing the most significant moments in your life. To create exciting photographs, discover photography guides, find unique photo ideas, and limitless image inspiration.

Turn your snapshots into awesome portraits.

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