Surreal Images

These images are also known as Ultra-Real, Illustrative, and Hyper-Real. Some good examples come from photographer David Hill.

The effect is helped along by proper lighting. For outdoor shots, it’s best to over-power the sun with your strobe. I use an older Sunpack 522 to blow out the sun, and a faster shutter speed. My Nikon D50 can sync with its internal flash at 1/500th, but with the Sunpack, it’s synced at 1/250 or slower.

Most professional photographers are familiar with the idea of “Key Shifting”. This is where you darken the ambient light while exposing the model or subject with a flash. (More on this in another post)

The steps to achieve this image effect is different for each image, but for the most part you need to flatten out the highlights and shadows using the Image-Adjustments-Shadows/Highlights tool, then run a filter called Local Contrast Enhancer. I set this filter to get as much of an outline as possible, usually 80, 20, 200. You can set the layer to 80% opacity at normal, or leave it at 100%.

For color dodging and burning, I use a new layer on top, fill with a 50% grey and mode set at overlay, and then I use a soft brush with either white or black to accomplish the color dodge/burn effect. There is also an action you can run to accomplish this.

I finish with a copy of the first layer on top, with a high pass filter, the layer set on Overlay.

You can find most of these actions on and and search for some action sets by Chip Springer.

Have fun!

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