Sam Kacey

Sam's expertise is in Landscape, Portrait, and Travel photography. He and his team also review the best Cameras and Lenses on the market in 2022 for B&H Photo.

Anyone who appreciates good art must have heard about surrealism.

If you’re a true artist, you must know that there is a popular photography genre devoted to it as well. So many photographers are using their skills to capture photos that defy the laws of physics and force the viewer to think outside the box.

In simple words, it is pushing boundaries of the impact an image can have by connecting dreams to reality. This is often done through imagination or strange elements that aren’t meant to be real.

Through surrealism, photographers create something that draws a person’s attention. Surrealism photography is about capturing pictures that make people think about the world in a different way than they usually do.

In simple words, it stretches viewers’ imagination and gets them to think outside the box.

Surrealism Photography of ladies scarf floating in mid-air

How Can You Show Who You Are Through Surrealism?

There are many ways to use surrealism as a photographer to show who you are and how you think about different things. Some artists like to keep a visual diary. For example, they might use dream imagery to show the inner workings of the mind.

It’s surprising to know that today, surrealism is popular because it allows one to get away from the outside world and look inside photographers’ minds to see what’s hidden there.

Surrealism raises big questions about how people think. On the other hand, it encourages people to change how they think about themselves by playing with their imaginative worlds.

Surrealism Photography Techniques

Experimentation takes place in the realm of surrealism photography. Photographers use manual camera settings, innovative composition, and unique picture processing techniques to express their subconscious thoughts, dreams, and emotions. Some surrealists attempt to utilize photography to capture light. Certain effects are thoroughly perfected, while others are entirely incidental. Finally, they stage their subjects or ask the editors to modify the final image during the printing process.

Features of Surreal Images

The basic process influences different styles of surrealistic photography thought traits outlined above.

Surrealism photography also includes capturing unusual or strange subject matters. Visual style also plays a major role in surrealism photography. Complex, surreal photos may be created using a range of fundamental processes during the shooting, composition, and post-processing stages.

the moon

Combination Printing

Photographers use the negatives of at least two images together to make a single image. This is called combination printing. The idea of combination printing is to make photography look more like fine art. The technique is also used to make new, unique compositions and give photographers new ways to be more innovative with their work. Before photomontage, this was the only method used.


People use photomontage to make a new picture by cutting, gluing, rearranging, and layering two or more photos together to make a new picture. Sometimes, the final composite image is photographed so that the final print looks like a single image. Even though surrealists make a lot of collages, most of them like the double exposures the best.


Unless one has bad eyesight, the actual world seems relatively clear and focused. As a result, photographers associate blur with unique modes of perception, such as fainting, moving quickly, and being confused, dizzy, or intoxicated. The traditional surrealist method of using motion blur in photographs is still used today. Photographers take a picture of the effect using a variety of techniques, including panning, slowing down shutter speed, racking the camera, etc.


Solarization is a photographic effect in which the tones of a picture are partly or entirely reversed, which is bizarre. The process includes exposing a partly developed film to light. Turning the light on in the darkroom for a brief period might expose the partly developed film. Consequently, the shadows and highlights are reversed, increasing the contrast.

Intense Sharpness, Detail, and Contrast

The clarity, details, and contrasts push a souped-up reality into our eyes. Animated films and computer-generated imagery have the same impact. It is similar to what people feel during LCD trips. It’s just as simple as enhancing an image’s sharpness, contrast, and clarity in post-production.

Composites and Blendings

To create a composite picture, photographers use several exposures, image editing software, or reflecting objects like mirrors, water, glass, and metal. When surrealists do this, they end up with distorted images in time, like the shot of the multicolored branches above a lake like a sky, reflecting trees, or a house with reflections. Rather than presenting one version of reality, photographers combine numerous. This is how the unconscious mind works.

lady streched out holding moon above her head

Shutter Speed

A camera’s shutter speed may be used to generate fantastic, surreal images. Slower shutter speeds may show movement in a picture of a moving subject, whereas faster shutter speeds can freeze the action. Shutter speeds that don’t last more than one-millisecond result in a surreal effect by distorting movement.


To create optical illusions, photographers use the camera’s viewpoint. To reduce the size of an item, they move it further away from the camera. On the other hand, they move it closer to the lens to increase its size. By manipulating the proportions of objects in the photographs, it is possible to create situations that seem absurd and out of place with reality.

Floating Subject

Use a chair or a stool to prop the subject up so that it seems to be floating in the air. Photographers keep their cameras in manual mode and deactivate the auto-focus option to create this look. A tripod is needed to maintain a tight focus between the two images. Most photographers take two photos: one with the subject atop a prop and the other without the object or person.

A lday floating in mid-air shor using surrealism photography

Color Choice

Colors are added to chosen areas or regions to enhance the surreal features of black-and-white photographs. An item may have many impacts and aesthetics by highlighting and adding different tones. When using Photoshop, photographers first choose the area they want to color by utilizing various Magic Wand or Quick Selection tools.

The Most Famous Surreal Photos

Philippe Halsman’s Dali Atomicus is the most famous surrealist image ever taken. Philippe Halsman was a well-known surrealist and portrait photographer. Interestingly though, Salvador Dali’s surrealist style is more a result of the subject matter than the actual photographer.

As a surrealist photographer, Halsman’s shot of a floating Dali, several cats, a chair, and a streak of water flying across the artist’s studio perfectly captures the essence of surrealism.

Man Ray’s Le Violin d’Ingres, a picture of a naked woman’s back with the violin’s markings, is perhaps the most well-known surrealist photograph.

What Makes Surreal Photography So Appealing?

Surrealism Photographs often resemble moments from our dreams.

We see hundreds of images every day, all vying for our attention and time. However, only a few stay with us for an unexpected period of time. Images that reveal unexpected or strange situations are more likely to stick with us and appeal to something deep in the unconscious parts of our minds.

How Computers Changed the World of Surreal Photography

It’s safe to say that early Surrealist photographers were constrained in their ability to translate their imaginative concepts into photographs. But the emergence of digital modification applications like Photoshop has changed everything, making the artist’s imagination the only true barrier to generating fantastic surrealist creations.

Importance of Surreal Photography

When seen through the eyes of a Surrealist, even the dullest image may be freed from its basic role and granted a unique purpose. This revelation was equally crucial.

Today, the importance of surreal photography can’t be overstated. Since its origin, it has peeked into the unconscious minds and discovered what’s hidden there. As a result, viewers are compelled to reevaluate their sense of self in light of their inner worlds.

Final Thoughts

The genre of surrealist photography has long been considered an “underground” one because of how little is known about it and how rarely it is discussed. As a result, you won’t quickly forget a surrealist photograph, which makes it good to have in your portfolio when you’re trying your luck as a photographer.

Many surreal photographers have shown us that all you need is a camera and photo-editing software to depict strange concepts. There are a variety of surreal photography techniques, ranging from stylized compositions to more standard camera procedures.

We hope this article helped you understand what surrealism photography is.

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