Guide to Fantasy Photography
Fantasy photography is an ever-growing genre. It’s popular because it shows a novel view of the world – adding new and fantastical elements to create artistic and creative images.
In this guide, we’ll look at what fantasy photography is, highlight some amazing work from contemporary fantasy photographers, and also give a few pointers if you’re looking to try it yourself.
You can use this guide as inspiration to help you as you take your own surreal photos – or you can borrow elements to use in more regular photography.
What is Fantasy Photography?
Fantasy photography, also known as surreal photography, contains fantastical elements or surreal touches. It takes the viewer out of the normal world, into unreal and fictional scenes.
Most fantasy photography is an extension of portrait photography – but it’s portrait photography with a difference. You could say it’s otherworldly portraiture.
At first, you may think of Photoshop and digital manipulation. Undoubtedly, post-processing is a huge part of the genre.
But as you’ll see as you read this guide, there are so many ways of making fantasy photographs. It can be with special effects style makeup, elaborate costumes, clever lighting… The only common thread you’ll see within all the photographers we’ve featured below is how incredibly talented they all are.
Fantasy photographers can imprint their own style on their work with how they make it – some specialise in superimposing or blending different images together, others with elaborate makeup or science fiction style sets – but equally, with their choice of subject. Anything can be added to a scene to represent the world in a new way.
These scenes can be close to our own reality, by heightening certain elements. Or you can alter everything and manipulate the world completely.
Some fantasy photographers take inspiration from folklore – fairies and other characters that would be at home in Middle Earth, for example – others from paintings and art.
You really can take your inspiration from anywhere.
Your concept will drive the images you make. You could start by editing some existing photos, adding new elements to them. Or, you could combine two scenes together.
Then why not set up a scene – you can start with a self-portrait – and take some photographs. The canvas is blank – you can pick the most fantastic location, the most elaborate costume, and spend hours perfecting the makeup for your fantasy portraits.
Or you can start simply, with a relatively simple scene, then add anything you choose in post-production. The main thing to remember is that fantasy photography has no limits.
23 Fantasy Photographers to Follow in 2021
We’ve compiled a list of 23 photographers who take images with at least a touch of the fantastical in their style.
Some are very well known, some are starting on their journey, some specialise in just fantasy photography whereas some work in various genres – but they’re all amazing at what they do!
1. Kirsty Mitchell – This award-winning British photographer creates fantasy photos with strong fine art influences. The scenes she creates are immersive and beautiful and, unlike many of the others on this list, she shies away from too much photo manipulation. Mitchell is best known for the amazing imagery that she created for her ‘Wonderland’ series.
2. Susan Schroder – Using a combination of real models and costumes with post-processing to add in completely new elements, Susan Shroder works in a way that combines illustration and photography.
3. Sarah Ann Loreth – A Fine Art photographer based in Alaska, Sarah Ann Loreth displays a real connection to the natural world in her images. Her conceptual photography starts with ‘real’ images taken in real scenes, but these are often manipulated in post-production with the addition of fantasy elements.
4. Bella Kotak – A UK-based fine art photographer, Bella Kotak takes beautiful images using real-world makeup and costumes to bring her fairytales to life!
5. Lillian Liu – Lillian Liu is not just an award-winning photographer but also a classical musician. She travels the world with her creative photography work, creating perfectly styled atmospheric scenes.
6. Annie Leibovitz – Perhaps one surprising name on this list is that of Annie Leibovitz! One of the biggest names in contemporary photography, she often takes beautifully fantastical pictures.
7. Agnieszka Lorek – Lorek is UK based and creates fairytale imagery, often shooting in the woods or forest near her home.
8. Stanislav Istratov – Istratov’s photos have an almost editorial look that underpins them. From this starting point of fashion type images, he adds in more fantastical elements using mainly ‘real-life’ additions, such as hair styling, makeup and other accessories.
9. Rebecca Millen – A highly adept photographer and digital artist, Millen is a german portrait photographer who combines makeup and fantastical costumes to create striking work.
10. Margarita Kareva – This Russian photographer is known for including animals and humans together in her fantasy pictures.
11. Hannah Dare Walker – Not just a photographer but also a fashion designer, Walker handcrafts costumes for incredible fantasy images.
12. Dmitry Rogozhkin – Rogozhkin (@r7dii on Instagram) creates wonderfully immersive images, taking influences from cinema and fine art. There’s more than a hint of surrealism to his work – it’s beautifully realised and it’s clear why he has won many awards.
13. Renee Robyn – Often using cinema as an inspiration, Robyn is a leading light of fantasy photography and an amazingly talented digital artist.
14. Bryan Huynh – A Canadian photographer with a fantasy client list (from Louis Vuitton to Dior!) Huynh often works within the studio, creating stunning work.
15. Cheryl Walsh – Walsh creates amazing and fantastical underwater photographs.
16. Benjamin Von Wong – Predominantly working in the studio, Von Wong creates amazing sets to help add weight to his fantastical images.
17. Bekka Bjorke – Bjorke uses digital manipulation to transport the viewer to another world.
18. Karen Jerzyk – Jerzyk takes ordinary scenes of American everyday life and then adds in unexpected and wonderful characters to create something very different.
19. Grace Almera – Taking inspiration from paintings, Almera creates different realities by photographing characters and narratives from her own imagination.
20. Kelly Robitaille – Working mainly in the studio, Robitaille utilises stunning makeup artist work to transform her subjects.
21. Ashley Joncas – Joncas is a Seattle-based fantasy photographer specialising in dark atmospheric imagery.
22. Eugenio Recuenco – A photographer and director, Eugenio Recuenco is based in Spain and creates some almost painterly looking images, with fantastical twists.
23. Alex Stoddard – Stoddard has a dark aesthetic style, creating images with clear gothic and horror influences and grisly flourishes.
24 Incredible Fantasy Photography Examples
Below you’ll find 24 amazing fantasy photography examples. They really will blow your mind!
1. The Stars of Spring Will Carry You Home, 2014, From The Wonderland Series by Kirsty Mitchell
Just one example of why Mitchell is on our list above. Such a stunning fantasy photograph, with a female model covered in flowers and icy white makeup.
2. The Ghosts of Harry Potter, Leavesden, Herfordshire, UK, 2001 by Annie Leibovitz
A huge influence on contemporary photography, Annie Leibovitz has been taking portraits of the stars since the 1970s. Sometimes Leibovitz adds an element of fantasy into her imagery, either with the content of the image or with the editing (as with this example).
3. Untitled by Bella Kotak
A stunning image of a Warrior Queen-like character, with a cool edit to match the metallic armour.
4. Untitled by Dmitry Rogozhkin
Dmitry Rogozhkin explains: “This composition was made with shots that were made in different locations: Russia and Holland”. He brings the different images together and adds more than a dash of Salvador Dali.
5. Summer’s Child by Bella Kotak
Bella Kotak took this woodland image through undergrowth and trees, accentuating the natural circular framing in post-production.
Kotak explains: “I tweaked the brightness and contrast to amplify the effect, but it was there, it existed and at that moment in time it allowed me to peek into the other world of magic that I so dearly love to look into.”
6. Untitled by Agnieszka Lorek
Lorek often introduces animals into her work, with wolves a particular favourite. Here an owl is used and is the focal point of the image, with the icily white model in softer focus, melting into the background. The editing has really emphasised the bright and ethereal feel of the image.
7. Untitled by Rebecca Millen
Wigs, makeup and costumes are a feature of Millen’s work and you can see all these elements here, in this stunning portrait.
8. Kin by Lillian Liu
A combination of two images, this artwork brings together a fantasy-styled portrait with a flying bird edited into the scene. Liu’s editing accentuates the combination of cool skin tones contrasting with rich reds.
9. Untitled by Stanislav Istratov
A dark portrait of a female model with warm flame-like flashes of colour juxtaposed with silvery and cool makeup.
10. Untitled by Renne Robyn
A nightmarish image straight out of a horror film, set in a classic horror location: a deserted warehouse! This image shows how fantasy photography often takes its cues from other art, including cinema.
11. Mermaid by Cheryl Walsh
A red-hued underwater image of a mermaid character, beautifully realised.
12. Plastikophobia by Benjamin Von Wong
This is fantasy photography with a social conscience. This powerful image shows a world created with plastic cups, with a single figure at its centre seemingly cradling a plastic globe, highlighting the dangers of climate change.
13. Recess 2020 by Bekka Bjorke
This is an apocalyptic image of a dystopian football match, with the image created using different digital and real elements.
14. Untitled by Karen Jerzyk
A seemingly ordinary scene of middle America is used as a background – with an astronaut as an anachronistic foreground subject. This juxtaposition creates an arresting sci-fi image with a three-dimensional feel.
15. Untitled by Benjamin Von Wong
A digitally constructed image using multiple photographs showing knights fighting, with added effects!
16. Three Eyed Ouija Raven by Kelly Robitaille
A macabre image of a model with Ouija touches.
17. She’ll Wait For You In The Shadows of Summer by Kirsty Mitchell
Another stunning image from Mitchell’s Wonderland series.
18. Untitled by Kelly Robitaille
A straight portrait of a model looking at the camera, transformed with the addition of angel wings, showing that you can add smaller elements of fantasy to your photography.
19. Untitled by Dmitry Rogozhkin
Another wonderful image from the creative mind of Dmitry Rogozhkin, showing an astronaut falling towards two hugely oversized hands. Zombie-like figures can be glimpsed in the background. Dmitry Rogozhkin’s Photoshop skills are so good, it’s impossible to see where one different element joins together with another. We know they must be edited though, as none of the scenes he depicts could be real!
20. Untitled by Bella Kotak
Bella Kotak uses the pink and purple of gypsophila flowers as a starting point to this beautiful image.
21. Untitled by Hannah Dare Walker
Props, costumes and accessories combine to create a stunningly fantastical image, with the subject seemingly levitating a metal moon-like object.
22. Untitled by Bryan Huynh
A stunning sci-fi styled image from leading commercial and fine art photographer Bryan Huynh.
23. The Great Escape by Hannah Dare Walker
Another stunning image created by Hannah Dare Walker, showcasing fantasy photography at its finest.
24. Untitled by Dmitry Rogozhkin
One last fantasy photo from the amazing Dmitry Rogozhkin – and what an image. The model is perched on the top of a piano, surrounded by water as it spills onto the keys, reminiscent of the half-submerged nature of milk bath photography (see guide).
This stunning piece of photography mixed with digital art must be seen to be believed – this is just one pane of the photograph, scroll across his Instagram to see the full image.
We loved compiling this guide to fantasy photography. As you can now see, for some photographers it’s all about altering reality through post-production of images, for others it’s about creating a fantastical scene ‘for real’ and then photographing it.
People have been manipulating photographs – and creating otherworldly images – for years. See the work of Man Ray for instance. Other highly influential photographers such as Cindy Sherman and Duane Michaels had fantastical elements to their important work.
So this is no new phenomenon – but as we’ve shown you, there are so many photographers creating mind-bending work right now. And there are so many elements that you can try in your own work – be that special effects makeup, costumes for your subjects, or honing your Photoshop skills.
So why not try experimenting with fantasy photography today – and if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments below.