Dino Kužnik is a master of the creative portrait. His portfolio contains striking photos of Tyler The Creator and Jay Versace, posing in front of vast desert landscapes or crouching amongst vibrant flora. Here, he brings that creativity indoors with 6 ideas for taking psychedelic portraits at home. Over to Dino.
Words and Photography by Dino Kužnik
2020 has been a tough year. With the lockdown here in New York in effect and the harsh realities faced by the wider world served on a platter daily, I needed to keep busy to not fall too deep into the rabbit hole of negativity.
So I started to experiment with portraiture of the person I was quarantined with – my girlfriend. The challenge was to experiment with items and gear that I could find at home. Namely, a cat laser toy, a small IKEA mirror, some kitchen grease, and a few other things.
You can see the techniques used and see the results below. And don’t forget – stay busy and stay safe!
3. Using a Mirror
A mirror can be used in so many ways to achieve creative results in photography, but in terms of portraiture, I love to use it to reflect the person photographed. This effect can be achieved by any reflective surface, not only a mirror. You can even use your phone’s screen and hold it under your lens to reflect the person you are photographing. In the example I am providing, I used a regular mirror from IKEA, which I use as a mobile reflective surface. Not only can you achieve a cool effect, but you can also cover the clutter underneath the subject if you are photographing in a small space or at home.
2. Smudge Grease on Your Lens Filter
This technique softens your image and produces very intense hazing, especially when photographing towards light sources. I discovered this while taking a photo with my iPhone a few years back. The camera lens was all smudgy from me, touching it after a greasy meal.
Similarly, I started applying grease on some old lens filters – you can use chapstick, butter, anything greasy. If you don’t have anything like that, smudge the lens filter on your forehead… I know, weird… but it works. In my example, you can see how pronounced the hazing can be.
Try smudging the grease in different patterns and amounts for different effects (zigzag, straight, small smudge, thin line across the filter, etc.) Make sure that you clean the filter after you finish; you don’t want to get that grease anywhere else.
5. Using Acrylic/Plexi
Recently I discovered that a piece of Radiant Iridescent Acrylic Sheet I once used for a still life photograph could be used for some interesting effects. Not only was I able to produce almost double exposure like shots in one photo, but the iridescent filter shifts the colours so the results can be very psychedelic. This particular sheet has a foil over that changes colour with the viewing angle and also reflects lights. Anything that produces or changes the colour of the light can be used in a similar manner. You can see the different effects in the photo examples below.
4. Photographing Through Coloured Gels
Nowadays, most lens manufacturers market their lenses to be tack sharp, and it became the norm that new products are amazingly sharp, to the point of being a bit sterile, so I tend to stick to older glass for my personal work – which I find has a lot more character. But you can achieve a softening effect by using gels – that you usually put over lights or flashes. Well, heck, even trashy transparent bags work great. For this example, I used a red color gel to achieve a surreal and soft portrait with a bit of reflection from the light falling on the colored gel I held in front of my lens.
6. Long Exposure with a Laser
If you have a tripod and a single light source, you can experiment with this technique. Any light source will do, but I find lasers (if you have a cat, you must have one) particularly appealing. (be careful with the eyes of the model and especially your camera sensor – don’t point it at it). In the below example, I use a laser and an iPhone to produce long exposure portraits. You can find many apps on the iStore/GooglePlay where you can change the colour of the screen – so the screen works as the light source.
1. Photographing Through Glass
Glass refracts lights, so shooting though it, can produce some extraordinary results. Many household items can be used this way – kitchen glasses, crystal glasses, eyeglasses, or just plain regular windows can yield some cool results. Even broken lens filters aren’t to be discarded, instead used for these sorts of effects. In my example, I used a glass prism, which bends the image and can yield some extreme chromatic aberrations while reflecting another part of your surroundings on to the sensor/film.