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How to levitate with Photoshop

The law of gravity is absolute unless you are a mystic and know how to use the magic of Photoshop to float above it all.

Photographing the mystic

A model named Aria and I were having coffee when she said she loved mystic and fantasy magicians. We talked further and decided to turn her into one of these mythical characters. Along with my makeup artist, Jypsy Nichols, we go to work.

Aria brought outfits sourced from thrift shops — great places for costumes! Jypsy styled the hair and created the makeup look. I built the set with a thunder gray paper background and a set of Matthews apple boxes.


I have used studio electronic flash my entire career. The new LED lights I am working with are because I am shooting more video. For this project, I wanted to step into a new realm and work with continuous light for still photos featuring people. I loved the idea that the Luxli lights made all of the colors of the rainbow. I used a Luxi Timpani2 as the main light and a pair of Luxli Cello2 panels for the background and hair lights.

I had to get used to slow shutter speeds with the continuous lights. Any movement results in motion blur because the shutter speed was 1/30s.


Floating a person without wire work is the realm of Photoshop. The setup is simple. I put a half-height apple box on the floor with a full-size apple box on top of it. Aria sat cross-legged on top of the stack. Her skirt dangled down but did not hit the floor. The boxes are removed in Photoshop to make her float above the floor.

Aria, the model, sits on a full-sized apple box on top of a half-height one. Her hands look like they are holding a ball.
Aria on the set.

Select subject

The fairly new Object Selection tool is ideal for making the initial selection. This tool is nested with the Magic Wand and the Quick Selection tools. The shortcut to cycle through these tools is Shift + W.

Tip: Go to Photoshop > Preferences > Tools… and uncheck Use Shift for Tool Change. Now simply tapping W will cycle through them. Preferences on Windows is under the Edit menu.

I moved the cursor over Aria and the tool gave a selection preview in purple. A click turns it into a selection. Clicking Select Subject works too.

Object Selection preview
Object Selection preview

Make the layer mask

The selection shows as marching ants. Click Select and Mask. Aria, our mystic appears to be floating on a transparent background. Next, I click Refine Hair. The second tool down is the Refine Edge tool.

Refine edge begins with clicking Refine Hair
Cleaning up the selection starts with clicking Refine Hair.

Refine Edge tool

Using a small brush, I work the edges around Aria where the edges look contaminated with the background. I also go around her hair. Once the edge looks better I move on to cleaning up the mask.

The mystic on a transparent background with the Select and Mask dialog.
The mystic on a transparent background with the Select and Mask dialog.

Refine the mask

There are a bunch of flaws in the mask. Select Subject is a good starting point and it will always want tweaks. I clicked the View menu at the top to choose Overlay (V) to see the mystic against red.

The Overlay view in Select and Mask.
The overlay view in Select and Mask. The mask can be changed with the Brush tool.

With the Brush tool active, I paint black on the red mask to hide the parts of the apple boxes that wound up in the selection.

Part of one on the left shows under her as do parts around the train of her skirt. Then, I click OK. That produces a marching ants selection around Aria. I click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to make the mask.

The mask can be modified later in Select and Mask by right-clicking it and then choosing Select and Mask.

The finished layer mask shows Aria floating on a transparent background.
The finished layer mask shows Aria floating on a transparent background.

I always shoot a photo or two of the background with nothing on it. I moved the apple boxes and pushed the light stands out of the way. I open that file in Photoshop. I click the lock icon on the Background layer to change it to Layer 0. It is highlighted in the layer stack. I type Cmd + C (Win: Ctrl + C) to copy the layer. Next, I paste it into the photo of Aria floating. All I see is the backdrop. I move it below the transparent layer with Aria on it. In the Move tool (V), I position her layer a bit higher on the background.

The final layer stack
The final layer stack.

And there you have it … Aria the mystic is levitating.

Aria floats above the floor thanks to the magic of Photoshop.
Aria floats above the floor thanks to the magic of Photoshop.

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Rafael Jones

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