7 Tips How to Shoot Surreal Photos

Surreal: More than real; hyper-real, and therefore interesting and novel to look at, analyze, and experience!

The art movement of surrealism was a movement that tried to emphasize the creative benefits and imaginative powers of the subconscious mind.

For example, Henri Cartier-Bresson hung out with a lot of the surrealist painters and writers/philosophers. If you study HCB’s photos, they are essential surrealistic paintings; shot in photos. Henri Cartier-Bresson was the original surrealist photographer >

Even if you study most contemporary street photography (or anyone who comes after Henri Cartier-Bresson), they are all trying to make surreal photos. If you study the portfolio of photographers in In-Public, all their styles are pretty much surreal.

In terms of the etymology (root of the word) surreal, I interpret it as:

  • SUR: More than
  • REAL: Reality

But what is ‘real’?

Philosophically, the word ‘real’ means “actual-thing” or “truth”.

So when we see a photo or artwork that is ‘surreal’, we don’t think it is a real/actual thing.

And this is fun– because it challenges our perception of ‘reality’ (like Salvador Dali).


1. Shoot through the bottom of glass cups

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2. Shoot layers

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Shoot layers with photos in them, like this photo with Cindy’s parents (as a young couple in the past) on the far left, whereas Cindy and her reflection is in the center of the frame, and the right.

3. Look for faces where they don’t really exist

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For example, shoot textures, and look for faces!

4. Flash x Interesting Background

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Use a flash in street photography, get close to your subject, and try to get a poster of a face in the background!

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Another tip: try to get the reflection of your flash in the eye of a face, an eye, or an intimate thing.

5. Photograph things without faces or eyes

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For example, a cutout.

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Or the surreal face of something without eyes:


6. Photograph the eyes through glasses

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Magnify eyes to make them surreal, by photographing them through magnifying lenses

7. Silhouette

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Or make something look surreal (like this ominous silhouette of this oxen that looks like a devil) by shooting from super-low angles, and shooting -1 or -2 exposure compensation to make the photos more epic!

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