Ethereal Photography That Evokes a Sense of Wonder
A while ago, I asked a group of artists how they would describe my photography style – something I always struggled to put into words. One of the most common answers, among other beautiful replies like ‚soulscapes‘ or ‚magical realism‘, was ethereal photography.
As a non-native English speaker, it took me a while to grasp the meaning of this beautiful word – but now I feel like it does indeed perfectly describe what I do.
We all want to dream and my work allows you to do just that. So welcome – let’s enjoy a moment of wild wonder together as we look through some of my nature-inspired self portraits and talk about ethereal photography.
What is ethereal photography?
Ethereal photography is a photography style that is particularly dreamy and atmospheric. According to OxfordLanguages, ethereal describes something „extremely delicate and light in a way that seems not to be of this world“.
Ethereal photography may also feature surreal elements or use creative post-processing to create an otherworldly look. Other words to describe this style of photography are dreamy, celestial, soft, mystical, magical, evocative, serene, or poetic.
Ethereal art also focuses a lot on story-telling – they are images that speak to your imagination and let your mind wander off to places you may remember from a distant dream.
Finding inspiration for an ethereal photoshoot
I‘ve been frequently asked where I find inspiration for my ethereal photography. Whether you would simply like to get to know my work more or are looking for ideas to do an ethereal photoshoot yourself, here are some inspiring themes often found in dreamy art.
My number one inspiration always has been and always will be nature. The more years I get to live on this beautiful planet, the more I am in awe of all the wonders it holds.
A big part of my everyday life is exploring nature, going on walks and observing all the little details. And once in a while, nature rewards you with spectacles that seem otherworldly.
The many moods of nature, from foggy mornings to golden sunsets above the clouds, are perfect for creating ethereal photography.
A great source of inspiration for ethereal photoshoots are fairy-tales. As humans, we are natural storytellers – it is how we relate and understand important concepts. The images that speak to us often do so because they tell powerful stories.
I‘ve always been an avid reader and I spent my childhood dreaming myself into fairtales and other stories. To this day, I find great inspiration in these stories.
Our imagination is one of our most precious gifts. And just like some people craft stories with their words, others have the magical talent to express them in photos.
When people let their imagination run wild, surreal elements may make their way into their work. One of my favorite surreal photographs is „A Light to Hold Onto“.
I created this photograph as a message of hope and found the glowing moths and fireflies to be perfect for adding a little spark of magic to the image.
Ethereal photography often evokes feelings that speak very deeply to our souls. There is a mystical quality to it that seems like the scene is not quite from this world.
I feel like my personal spiritual journey is deeply connected to my artistic self portraits. What I feel in those moments – often profound feelings of gratitude and oneness with nature – all flows into my work.
Ethereal pictures are deeply connected to our inner worlds and often capture exactly this otherworldy magic that we can all relate to but find hard to express in words.
This artwork, titled “Into the Light” specifically expresses a feeling of universal oneness as the person and the tree become one, bathing in golden light.
As an introvert, I find solitude (especially in nature) to be very calming and inspiring. I think that is part of the reason why most of my photographs do not feel lonely but rather ethereal.
Ethereal landscape photography combined with a person can really help us to connect to the beauty of solitude. It also helps us to the explore the relationship with ourselves and truly be present in the moment.
When there is just you and nature, no distractions, you can observe your feelings, breathe deeply and come back to yourself.
How do you get a dreamy effect on photos?
1. Shoot in moody weather
Overcast conditions are perfect for ethereal photography. Harsh sunlight can create very powerful photos, too, but they rarely look dreamy. When I take photos, I love feeling the raw power of the elements. Fog never fails to give an image an ethereal, mystical feel and an approaching storm can help to create dramatic imagery.
2. Use a shallow depth-of-field
Ethereal photography goes really well well a certain softness in the image. One of the best ways to achieve this effect is to use a shallow depth of field – this means that there is a small, sharp focal area while large parts of the image are blurred (read more on how to do that here).
3. Experiment with props
Often you can add a dreamy effect to photos by placing out-of-focus objects in the foreground. You could try shooting through transparent fabric to create beautiful softness or using the reflections of a window. In my photography, I often shoot low to the ground or use plants in the foreground to create more depth.
A dreamy effect can also be created in editing software like Photoshop. A lot of people like to add a soft glow to their images. There are countless ways of doing this but a common one is to duplicate the entire image. Apply a little bit of Gaussian blur to the top layer, then change the blending mode to ‘soft light’. This enhances both contrast and softness.
How I edit my ethereal photography
Editing plays a huge role in my creation process. A RAW image straight out of the camera often looks flat and soulless – post-processing helps to create that ethereal look I am going for.
With Adobe Photoshop, I can can bring to life whatever my imagination comes up with. It allows me to transform the mood of an image completely and evoke an ethereal mood that allowers the viewer to step into a dream world for a little while.
A lot of ethereal photography tends to have dark tones and personally, that is something is also love to use in my editing process.
Dark ethereal photography helps to get us in touch with our dark and mystical side – which does not have to feel heavy or negative, it can be quite the opposite. There is a lot of beauty in darkness.
These are typical adjustments I make in my photos:
- darken the image a little
- increase contrast
- adjust the colors (can be also slightly surreal, e.g. turning green grass red)
- fix little flaws like pimples or other disruptive elements
- possibly combine several images to create surreal effects
I usually edit my photos over several days – to make sure the light and colors are really like I want them to be. Often, if you stare at the screen for too long you tend to overdo the editing.
Here is a before/after of my artwork “Prairie Wanderer”:
Ethereal Wall Art
Many of the ethereal photos you have just seen above are available as Fine Art Prints. Would you love to have some dreamy wall art in your home? Please feel free to have a look at my print shop – they also make a perfect gift for that special someone in your life.
Here‘s what you need to know about my ethereal Fine Art Prints:
- Exclusive Limited Edition Prints – perfect for collectors
- Available in 4 sizes (extra-large: only on demand)
- Printed on high-end archival paper – made to last a lifetime
- 100% carbon-neutral printing process + sustainable materials and inks
- Each print comes with a Certificate of Authenticity
If you‘d like to see more of my ethereal photography in the future, please subscribe to my newsletter. It is written with lots of love and features both art as well as insights I find through my adventures:
Thank you for joining me today and I hope you enjoyed our little excursion into the fantastical world of ethereal photography!