Introduction

My name is Iris Ferret Photography; a model turned photographer, I've been shooting primarily beauty and fantasy works for about a year and a half now. I've always been interested in the fantasy genre because it allows me to live my best life. Create worlds that I could never hope to live in and find a little bit of light where there might otherwise be darkness.

Fantasy photography allows me to completely escape from the drudgery and mundane reality that is modern day life, in pursuit of something more innocent and pure. Coming from a family of authors, poets and storytellers, I've always been fascinated by the powers of narrative and where it can take us. I'm here today to talk to you about the decline in fantasy photography on Purpleport, why and what you can do to begin shooting fantasy sets without the need for Photoshop or tonnes of money.

Coming from a minimum wage lifestyle, I didn't have a lot of money to spend on props and outfits when I started out and I always figured that'd be a death sentence for any particularly complicated concepts that I wanted to try. However, this wasn't the case. No matter your technical skill or bank balance, there are plenty of low budget and user friendly methods for creating beautiful, atmospheric fantasy sets. You just have to know how to look for them.

The Trouble with Fantasy Photography

Fantasy photography is a well known and established category within the photography industry, though some might argue, one that isn't as widely represented as it once was. Considered to be somewhat niche, there seem to be fewer and fewer creatives delving into the world of fantasy as the genre slowly retreats into a darkened corner of the room to hibernate. Fantasy sets are in decline.

Why is this, you ask? There could be any number of reasons.

Chances are, it's because the fantasy genre is synonymous with heavy Photoshop use. Not everyone can or wants to learn the ins and outs of digital artistry and the recommended time to spend learning the craft (a minimum of 100 hours is the yardstick to become competent at a new skill), isn't always appealing or financially viable.

Perhaps it's due to the level of detail required to set up for a fantasy set: numerous props, headpieces, weaponry, period clothing and seemingly endless smoke bombs don't come cheaply to many of us working on a budget. Or it could perhaps be down to something as simple as not knowing where to start.

"All of the usual fantasy tropes have been done to death!" I hear many say.

"I'm not very creative and wouldn't know where to start."

"I don't understand what makes an image 'fantasy' anyway."

So, what can you do to create beautiful fantasy images without breaking the bank, or following the already overdone fantasy tropes in circulation? What if I told you, you don't need to know even a dot of Photoshop to begin shooting fantasy themes? All you need is your camera and a new perspective.

Conceiving Fantasy Concepts

There's a knack to conceiving ideas for fantasy photography. It's not necessarily about flashy dragons, fairies and magical sparkles that take hours to digitally insert. Fantasy doesn't have to be bells and whistles. It's all about creating stories from the everyday and making something fantastical from nothing, something unique and dream-like. Making magic from the mundane and seeing narrative in things that others just don't. You can do this even without Photoshop!

Here's how.

Take a look at early children's books. Kids books, you ask? What does that have to do with anything? Well, have you ever noticed that early children's books often have entire stories derived from small, seemingly insignificant, everyday things or thoughts?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Charlotte's Web. Where the Wild Things Are. Even Aesops Fables. Each of these books were inspired by individual things observed in our busy lives. How does a caterpillar live? What does a spider do all day? Where might all the imaginary friends of the world live? Who would win in a race, a tortoise or a hare? These world famous and successful books made something out of what might seem like passing thoughts to the rest of us and all because they looked for the narrative.

It's the tiny, almost juvenile questions we mentally ask ourselves each day that can yield the biggest inspiration for photography concepts.

I once spotted a birds nest and found myself wondering what life would be like if humans laid eggs instead of giving birth like mammals. From that initial (and fairly daft) question, birthed an idea. What would it look like if humans were more like birds? I decided to create my own human sized nest in the woods. It took half an hour to collect enough sticks to create the nest and after sitting on my assistant's shoulders to take the shot of my model with a wide angle lens, boom! We had a fantasy shot! All in under forty-five minutes and completely free!

Although I did end up Photoshopping an egg into the final image, the shot would have worked either way. All of a sudden, I had a fantasy concept, from nothing but a sudden strange thought. And look, no sign of essential Photoshop or expensive props to make it happen! Phew!

Creating Practical Fantasy Effects On A Budget

Fantasy doesn't even need to contain the fantastical to still fit into the genre. Props can make the difference between a straight portraiture set and a fantasy one. Something as simple as a garden lantern (available from The Range for less than £5) can immediately transform the mood of your image and provide a narrative. Is the model lost? What are they looking for? Are they in danger? Where are they going?

Or perhaps you do want to maintain elements of the fantastic, without extensive Photoshop use or tonnes of props. Practical effects can do just that.

I had wanted to do a witch inspired set for a long time, specifically one that included fire. Having no experience at the time with creating fire in Photoshop, I decided to just use real fire. I grabbed an old book from my shelf, removed the cover and bought myself a small jug of lighter fluid. After talking extensively with the model about safety measures beforehand, explaining what to do in a worst case scenario and having plenty of water on standby, we decided to set the book alight. Suddenly, my witchy shoot was catapulted into the realms of magic, all thanks to practical effects. So long as they're done safely and consciously, this can be invaluable in creating a narrative. 

Practical effects can open a variety of doors to the fantasy genre. Here's another where I'd pre-made paper planes at home and once at the location, hung them from the trees with almost invisible fishing wire. Suddenly you have magical, independent paper planes buzzing about. And again, all without the need for Photoshop or big bucks. 

Fishing wire can be invaluable for a lot of projects, particularly where magic or levitation is involved. You can suspend almost anything given enough planning, even heavier objects like candles.

Sometimes inspiration can spring at you even whilst on a shoot. After working with a model on a Gothic theme, we came across a manky glass bottle in the woods filled with pond water. It looked like it could have been a poisonous witches brew and so, that's exactly what it became. It's all about finding the magic in mundane.

You can utilise all sorts of things like bubbles, glitter, LED lights, flowers, tea cups, picture frames and flowing material to create mood and narrative. The list is endless. Even things you find out on shoot can be of great use when seen in the proper light. At the end of the day, creative fantasy concepts are a lot easier to conceive when you look at things like a child. That sense of awe and wonder you had as a kid is what will aid you in looking deeper into the possibilities around you.

Children ask endless questions about the world that surrounds them. Always asking 'why?'. Try to embrace that inner child and ask yourself the weird questions. What if? Says who? Let your mind run like it did as a child, looking out the window at school and dreaming of better things. If you know how to look for it, you'll find narrative in nothing and go on to create fantastical images full of character and depth.

All you need to do is look at the smaller picture, instead of the big one.

Inspiration Going Forward

There are some absolute master works on Purpleport from fantasy photographers, digital artists and Photoshop retouchers. Don't be daunted by Photoshop-heavy fantasy concepts. Even if you perhaps aren't Photoshop savvy, you can take inspiration from their examples and start considering what story it is that you want to tell and how best to tell it.

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