Fantasy Photography: A Guide to Shooting Imaginary Worlds

Have you ever imagined yourself as a character in a fairy tale, movie, or book? Or, have you ever pictured yourself as nobility from days long gone? Have you ever wondered how you could create these worlds yourself? If so, then fantasy photography might be right up your alley.

The fantasy photography genre has the power to transport us directly into worlds we’ve only dreamed about. This guide will show you how to get there. We’ll show you what gear you’ll need, what camera settings, how to edit, tips and tricks for fantasy photographers, and we’ll tell you some out-of-this-world fantasy photographers you should be following.

fantasy photography
Photo by Dmitry Vechorko

What is fantasy photography?

Fantasy photography uses images to create imaginary worlds. They may be based on fictional stories, movies, books, or come straight from the photographer’s imagination. Common themes seen in fantasy photography are magic, folklore, mythology, and fairy tales. It’s not uncommon to see elaborate costumes, intricate set designs, and extensive photo manipulation in the final image.

Styles of fantasy photography

While fantasy photography is its own genre, it has roots in other styles. You will see these styles overlapping and sharing many of the same traits.

Fantasy photo
Photo by Alice Alinari 

What’s the best gear for fantasy photography?

The camera you choose is largely personal preference, but since so much of the final photo in fantasy photography is dependant on the editing process, opt for a camera that has high megapixels. A full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera will fit the bill nicely. 

For lenses, 85mm is the gold standard for portraits. Choose one with a low maximum aperture of at least f/2.8 — lower is even better — so you can get a shallow depth of field and nice bokeh. An 85mm f/1.8 is widely accepted as a terrific portrait lens and would be a great lens for most fantasy photography, too.

Depending on what you’re shooting and where you shoot it, you might also need to invest in some studio lighting. And, of course, you should always have extra batteries and memory cards.

Camera settings for fantasy photography

Your camera settings will vary depending on what you’re shooting, where you’re shooting, and what the lighting conditions are on that particular day. There are no standard camera settings for fantasy photography. However, here are some basic guidelines to always keep in mind:

  • Set your camera’s aperture wide (a low f-stop) to allow for more light, a shallow depth of field, and to separate your subject from the background. 
  • ISO should always be set to the lowest possible setting to avoid noise. Usually, your camera’s lowest setting is 100, so start there and raise as necessary.
  • Your Shutter Speed should never be lower than the focal point of whatever lens you’re using to avoid blur from camera shake. For example, if you’re using a 100mm lens, your shutter speed shouldn’t be less than 1/100th of a second. Unless, of course, you have your camera on a tripod.
  • Shoot in manual mode so you’ll have full control over your exposure settings.
  • We almost always will recommend that you shoot in RAW, but this is especially important for fantasy photography where post-processing has such a large hand in how your final image will look.

5 Tips for fantasy photographers

fantasy photo costume
Photo by Damir Spanic

Use costumes and props

One surefire way to emphasize your story is by using costumes and props. They add to your story and help transport the subject into the world their character lives in. Only use props that add to the story, nothing that distracts from it.

fantasy photography story
Photo by Alice Alinari

Tell a story

Before you press the shutter button, define what story you want to tell. This will help you envision your final photograph and bring your ideas to life. Rather than simply photographing models in costumes, tell their stories. Shoot everything with purpose.

Photo by MaddiesCreation

Remember the rules of composition

Your fantasy photography may be a personal project rather than a paid job, but that doesn’t mean the rules of composition and framing shouldn’t still apply! Applying the basics of composition, like the rule of thirds, the golden ratio, or any number of other design tricks will improve the look of your images.

fantasy mermaid
Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen 

Look for unique locations

Think of your location as another prop. Only use it if it adds to the story and don’t use it if it distracts from the story. Remember, you’re creating a fantasy world, so the location you choose should look like it. Fortunately, much of that can be created in post-processing.

Fantasy photo makeup
Photo by Paz shots

Don’t forget hair and makeup

No costume is complete without hair and makeup to finish the look. Don’t be afraid to get very elaborate! Remember, this is fantasy — anything goes! 

Editing fantasy photos

Almost all pro photographers will edit their images in some way. Even if it’s just to crop and sharpen for print. However, when it comes to fantasy photography, there is usually a lot of post-processing. And, this is usually when the real magic happens.

If you intend to become a famous fantasy photographer, it would practically be a necessity to become proficient with photo manipulation in Photoshop, as you’ll see from the work by the photographers below.

Fantasy photographers to follow

There are so many incredible fantasy photographers, it’s hard to narrow this list down to a manageable size! But, here are a few photographers who are working right now that you should follow. Their work will both blow you away and inspire you:

  • Rosie Hardy: A self-portrait photographer who uses amazing post-processing techniques to tell classic tales of chivalry and heroism with her playful images of princesses and castles. 
  • Natacha Einat: Her clever, highly processed work marries photography and visual art to change reality.  
  • Luisa Azevedo: Whimsical, magical, clean, light, and soft. She is a lover of nature and animals and shows it in her work.
  • Kirsty Mitchell: Fine art and fantasy photographer who creates her own extremely elaborate, meticulously detailed props and costumes. 
  • Anil Saxena: Playful and colorful, he is a visual artist who uses his skills to bend reality and blur the line between reality and fantasy.

Final thoughts

The wonderful thing about fantasy photography is that you are only limited by your imagination and your skill as a photographer. Beyond that, anything is possible! The most important element is the concept. What imaginary world will you create when you shoot fantasy photography?

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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