In-Camera Photography Technique: Create Distorted Portraits and More With Mylar

In-Camera Photography Technique: Create Distorted Portraits and More With Mylar

Distorted portraits are all the rage in fashion photography at the moment, with elongated body proportions. Take it one step further by using highly reflective mylar during your next photoshoot. This article explains all you need to know to achieve this effect.

Some of the great storytellers of the past have used mirrors to add a layer of meaning into portraits and self-portraits and used wide-angle lenses and long shutter speeds to distort and warp the proportions and appearance of portrait subjects. Imagine all of the visual effects of this rolled into one, and you are imagining the outcome of using highly reflective mylar film to add distortion to your images.

What Is Mylar Film?

Mylar is a specialized type of polyester film crafted from stretched polyethylene terephthalate (PET). It is engineered to possess exceptional reflectivity properties, making it ideal for optimizing light distribution within greenhouse environments, where it is normally used to optimize light dispersion. It is also widely used in gift packaging for gift baskets due to its attractive appearance. As mylar is lightweight and flexible, it is ideal for maximizing the distribution of available light wherever it is needed. This lightweight, flexible, and portable quality has piqued the interest of a growing number of lens-based creatives as a useful tool in photography and filmmaking.

Distortions and Portraiture 

Distorted portraits offer new depths of nuanced visual language that photographers can use to convey a wide range of ideas, emotions, and concepts. Distorted portraits can be fantastic storytelling tools, evoking a sense of surrealism or perhaps a dreamlike quality. By bending reality, photographers can create visually striking images that blur the line between fantasy and reality, inviting viewers to question their perceptions.

Mylar can be placed on the floor to offer water-like reflections of your portrait subject. By sitting or standing your model directly on the surface of the mylar, the resulting image will look like your subject is walking on water. Experiment by laying the mylar flat and also creating creases for different visual effects.

©Lee McAdam

This technique has become synonymous with music and fashion over the last few months, with many musicians and fashion houses adopting the creative styling of the photographers that they hire in order to promote their new material.

Using Mylar to Distort Portraits

Mylar film has become a cool new tool in artistic and experimental portrait and fashion photography. Its super-reflective surface bends and twists the images it shows, making regular portraits look wild and different; its reflective nature isn't just practical; it's a painter's brush on a surreal canvas. By pointing your lens at the reflection in the mylar instead of your subject, you will see a distorted view of your subject. The resulting images are like glimpses into a parallel universe, where the familiar becomes fantastical, and the mundane takes on a dreamlike quality.

By placing the mylar film within the frame and directing your model to interact with it, you can lead to some very creative results. These images here play with notions of reality, identity, and fantasy.

Using Mylar as a Creative Light Source 

Using mylar film is a unique technique for creative lighting in photography and moving image projects as it gives a refracted effect similar to the reflection of sunlight on a body of water. By strategically placing the film to reflect light onto the subject, you can create dynamic highlights and shadows, adding depth and dimension to the final output. In the video below, you can see the effects of an LED light pointed at a hanging sheet of mylar, being manipulated and moved by hand. The outcome of this is the appearance of a moving watery light source. The reflective surface adds interesting highlights and reflections to the subject's face, enhancing the overall visual appeal.

Go Beyond Portraiture

Why stop at portraits? Mylar can be used to create distorted images of all manner of subjects. Experiment with different materials, patterns, and colors to create visually engaging and cohesive compositions. Mylar can add a fascinating dimension to any genre of photography, creating unique reflections and enhancing the visual appeal of your subject whatever it may be. As objects reflect upon the mylar surface, they become distorted and transformed, blurring the boundaries between the tangible and the intangible, the known and the unknown. An added layer of interest for still-life photography, allowing otherwise mundane objects to be captured in intriguing ways.

If, like me, you are interested in conceptual photography, then mylar can be a fantastic tool for you. I experiment with mylar to explore notions of duality and contradiction, as reflected images intersect and overlap, blurring the boundaries between opposites such as order and chaos or reality and illusion. If you just like pretty pictures, then mylar can still be for you.

Incorporating mylar into your photographic practice is easily accessible but does require a balance between creativity and technical skill. Patience is a necessary component, as small movements change the outcome, and an element of trial and error is required in order to get that key shot. Experiment with different setups, lighting conditions, and mylar manipulations to achieve unique effects and unconventional images.

Mylar is available in different grades. For the best optical reflective qualities, invest in 98% reflective mylar over 95% and buy from greenhouse and hydroponic supply retailers for the best quality.

Kim Simpson's picture

Kim Simpson is a photographer based in the West of Scotland. Her photographic practice is an exploration of the human experience, with a particular emphasis on themes of identity and belonging.

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