Capturing stranger Polaroid pictures.
Article written by DJ Pangburn.
In Stranger Things, the Upside Down is a world parallel to our own. Like stepping through the looking glass, the Upside Down is a mirror image of our reality, accessible through portals, but one that is warped and full of terrors. And like any good portal into another plane of existence, good things disappear through it, while all manner of horrors spill out of it.
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For inspiration, Polaroid Originals’ in-house photographer Harriet Browse details three different techniques for entering a parallel dimension of otherworldly image-making.
Explore the following techniques at your own risk.
The Mirror Mystery
To reveal the hidden energy of a subject or objects, use surfaces like mirrors or even reflective paint and stickers. When strategically placed in a scene, mirrors can create doubles or even introduce an artifact of something that exists outside the camera’s frame, or hidden by the image’s subject or object. And in a forest, the dense network of trees can be reflected through a mirror to make it seem as though a body or an object has disappeared.
“Mirrors have always fascinated me,” says Harriet. “This idea of doubles and symmetry makes for really interesting and beautiful photography, and this was a really good opportunity to explore that.”
“With mirrors, there are two things you need to remember: one is that you need a lot of light because the camera flash just bounces back and obviously looks bad, so you need light sources for the images,” Harriet explains. “The other thing is to pay attention to the thing that you’re reflecting. For the photo I shot of the model balancing the mirror on his shoulder, it took a while to figure out that position so that you couldn’t see that the mirror was reflecting the camera. You’ve got to be patient in figuring that out, but it’s really satisfying when you build this really cool vibe with a mirror.”
To capture the best image, use lights for the subject, and then illuminate what is seen in the mirror with another light. Also, make sure that what appears in the mirror is clear so that the imagery is properly exposed. If you want the mirrored image to be more opaque or warped, play with that image’s lighting, which will imbue your image with a more mysterious quality.
“I used continuous lights, so there was no camera flash involved,” Harriet says. “You have to really think about the setup because there is the image itself and then the image inside the mirror world.”
“Outside, the natural light does the work for you,” she adds. “But you still have to remember to override the flash so you’re not bouncing it off the mirror.”
Lights, Camera, Parallel Dimension
In the Upside Down, light differs markedly from the fictional world’s everyday reality: it’s dark with bluish hues, full of fog and a sense of foreboding. Simulate this in-camera by experimenting with colored light, low light, and even artificial light sources. In doing so, you can play with the fabric of reality and journey into parts unknown.
In one of our examples in the slideshow above, we photographed a model’s shadow set against a colorful projected backdrop. This allowed us to play with light, shadow, and colour all at once in a more abstract way.
“I was trying to think of ways you can creatively use light,” Harriet says. “I wanted to mix light and shadow, so I had this idea of projecting an image on the wall and have my model block the projection. Again, this is one without the flash.”
As a result, what happened off-camera was just as important as what is seen inside the frame, just as events in the Upside Down cause ripples in Stranger Things’ everyday reality. In her other photo, Harriet played with colored light over time.
“In my other image, I wanted to create a long exposure and then play with colored torches,” Harriet explains. “I didn’t want to use normal lights with colored gels, I wanted to have this really moody look. You can see the little shards, which is where the light is bouncing from the torches. Then I had my model hold this big 80s phone, which I like because it looks like Back to the Future or something, and the shards sort of look like electricity.”
For another fantastical approach, consider using Polaroid filters. In one of our other photographs, we used the starburst filter to make a chandelier seem to pulsate, just as lights flicker and buzz as the nervous system connecting the parallel dimensions of Stranger Things.
Once again, it’s important to not use the camera flash with this technique. If you do, the shadow will be washed out and erased. While strange in its own way, it won’t make for dynamic imagery.
A Strange New Perspective
We’ve all noticed how when looking at a glass of water, objects placed behind it become enlarged, bent, and otherwise warped. Another technique we suggest is using this magnifying effect to create strange new perspectives of everyday objects.
“Smaller glass objects would probably work better because I think they would give the effect of warping a bit more,” says Harriet. “[Larger glass objects] might give the effect of just looking farther away rather than giving this different perspective.”
Another trick is to play with the placement of the camera itself.
“I wanted my model to look as though they were walking out of a wall of water so I really considered how the image would look if I held the camera on its side,” says Harriet. “I also experimented with turning the camera upside down, creating the illusion of defying gravity.”
“When using glasses of water, override the flash as otherwise it might blow out the object or person,” she adds.