Teaching Materials - Exercise

Optical Illusion Photography (Outdoor photography series)

Name of Artist Educator: Enoch Cheung
Excercise Category: Class Prelude, Photographer's eye

“Optical illusion photography” is a type of conceptual photography based on Gestalt psychology and perceptual illusions that has gained popularity since the late 20th century.

Concept / Inspiration:

“Optical illusion photography” is a type of conceptual photography based on Gestalt psychology and perceptual illusions that has gained popularity since the late 20th century. By composing a scene with certain props and objects, the photographer questions reality from a unique point of view and explores possibilities of the visual language.

Many contemporary photographers are keen followers of optical illusion photography, including French photographer Laurent Laveder who created images with the moon in his photo series Moon Games. In this series, the moon was turned into various objects like a balloon, a lamp or even a scoop of ice cream. In 2010, Belgian artist Ben Heine created a collection called Pencil and Camera, which combined photography of real scenes with pencil sketches, while Swedish photographer Erik Johansson invented impossible scenes using photo retouching.


“Optical Illusion Photography” can be regarded as the extension of the exercise “Hide Your Features”. Students are encouraged to let their imagination fly by creating something new out of the partial portraits of their partners and establish a connection between the subject and the environment.

As a warm-up exercise, students are encouraged to blend imagination with reality. They will come up with spontaneous ideas using simple drawing and apply them in illusion photography. To achieve a better result and motivate students, the instructor may assist them with their basic photography techniques regarding camera operation, aperture values, shutter speeds and depths of field.

Materials / Equipment:

  • Cameras
  • Photo journals
  • Paper
  • Pens


Any location

Workshop Description:

  1. Students are asked to do some drawings in their photo journals and bring the journal along, so they could add more graphic during their outdoor photography session.
  2. Apply the graphics to an outdoor photography session.

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Expected Outcome:

This exercise allows photography beginners to be creative while benefiting from the instructor’s on-hand assistance.

Actual Outcome:

Students were motivated to learn from and exchange ideas with the instructor. In future workshops, it is preferrable to have more instructors in case the teacher-student ratio is too high. The instructor may also step up the exercise gradually.

During the session, students came up with a lot of interesting ideas and effects. Some of them managed to make use of very simple sketches of a bird or a railing and combined them with the sky or their subject. Students who are painters often possess stronger associative abilities. Some only started improvising when they were outdoors, while several others were comfortable with the distance between their sketch and their camera when they were holding the sketch with one arm and taking photos with the other. All these details revealed students’ subconscious visual habits and associative abilities.


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Reference Materials:

Works of Belgian artist Ben Heine:


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